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Daniel Altman is Big Think's Chief Economist and an adjunct faculty member at New York University's Stern School of Business.  Daniel wrote economic commentary for The Economist, The New York[…]

Economist and Author Daniel Altman explains why middlemen are thriving in the global economy.

Daniel Altman: If you're looking for a way to be a middleman, consider any way in which you might be a bridge between cultures.  Do you have experience working in another country? Did you learn a foreign language? Is your family made up of people who may be from other countries who gave you an insight into foreign cultures? These are the things that the global economy needs because it needs someone who is fluent in two cultures, who can talk to the company that is coming from one country and help them to integrate into another country. These are the niches that exist and they’re all the different services that a company might need.  It’s not just lawyers and accountants and translators, but it's things as simple as people who can recruit workers in a new place or set up food services in a new place. There are tons of different occupations that you can have as a middleman or a middlewoman.

One of my favorite middlemen is a guy named Roy Lee.  He's not a household name for most people, but most of you have probably been touched by him because Roy Lee was the guy who figured out that there were a lot of great movies being made in East Asia that would have a fantastic American audience but that it had never occurred to their East Asian producers to bring them to America, and it had never occurred to American production houses to bring in these films.  Roy Lee was the guy who brought The Ring to America and now he has over 60 films to his credit. He found that he could buy the rights to one of these films fairly cheaply and then all he had to do was either find a distributor in the United States or find someone who wanted to remake it as an English language version.  And he found both.

This has been one of the greatest plugs into the Hollywood movie industry that a middleman could achieve because it has created a whole new genre of films that did not exist before that's probably worth on the order of a billion dollars.  So here is one middleman who found his niche.  He got a percentage of all those profits, but he also created a lot more economic activity as a result. 

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd