Tag Archives: globalization

the toxic language of entrepreneurship

What is an entrepreneur? The entrepreneur is an ideal type of market individual – a person who works for “themselves”, whose only boss is the ebb and flow of the market. As an example of this, a comment on Nate Thayer’s piece on the troubles of freelance journalism:

Nate. Sympathies, and dilemma noted. Journalists today are forced to be entrepreneurs, and negotiate business deals. Perhaps, if you offered them a much truncated piece with links back to a site on which you had ads that paid you, or they gave you a venue to sell something from which you made money (books, for example). So, it’s perplexing, yes. But the market is what it is and the challenge is how to sustain yourself while doing quality work.

Meanwhile, talk of entrepreneurism has also proliferated in the NGO/non-profit world, as exemplified by the latest trends in microfinance/microlending and in the language of organizations. For example, again, from Ashoka:

Ashoka is leading a profound transformation in society. In the past three decades, the global citizen sector, led by social entrepreneurs, has grown exponentially. Just as the business sector experienced a tremendous spurt in productivity over the last century, the citizen sector is experiencing a similar revolution, with the number and sophistication of citizen organizations increasing dramatically.

Rather than leaving societal needs for the government or business sectors to address, social entrepreneurs are creating innovative solutions, delivering extraordinary results, and improving the lives of millions of people. (Emphasis mine)

Entrepreneurship is another word for “take care of it yourself”. Even at companies where it is clear there is a structure of management, of wage labor, the language of individualism and personal responsibility is found:

Screen shot 2013-03-17 at 1.45.21 PMThe offices of LivingSocial, from a Washington Post office exposé 

Worldwide, the idea of taking care of it yourself, of working for yourself, of “personal brands” is gaining traction. What does it do? It destroys camaraderie  as all engage in competition with one another. Microfinance is not the silver bullet it pretends to be – it can tear communities apart. The rise of the independent contractor – the freelancer – correlates with the longest era of wage stagnation/loss in the last 100 years. The language of entrepreneurship also correlates with the plummeting rates of union membership in the United States, in spreading global poverty. Why do we keep hearing about this toxic idea of entrepreneurship, of “standing alone” and “taking responsibility for your own destiny” when we are more vulnerable on our own than ever?

At a time when the state and capital offer labor less than ever in terms of protection, security or even basic living essentials, we are encouraged to become stronger individuals and take care of ourselves – to blame only ourselves if things go wrong.

Was 2012 really the best year ever?

 

The Christmas issue of the conservative Spectator magazine featured an article titled “Why 2012 was the best year ever”, offering up positive news about the state of things in 2012. According to the article, there is more prosperity and less people dying worldwide now thanks to global capitalism. People are dying less from malaria and AIDS, inequality is dipping and the developing world is booming. Politicians, meanwhile, are a bunch of pessimists, jealous of the free market’s success where government programs have presumably failed. The Spectator offers that the reason why we weren’t popping champagne when the Millennium Goal to halve extreme poverty was met in 2008 was because “it was not achieved by any government scheme but by the pace of global capitalism”.

I spent a lot of time in graduate school going over the sorts of indicators quoted by the Spectator. The program I attended was a haven for pessimists such as myself, and attending my courses and conducting research made me an even stronger and better-prepared pessimist. Of course, pessimism is out of style. My friends moan and groan about my constant doomsdaying, but the fact of the matter is that I, along with my legion of pessimist like-minders, wouldn’t be in the business of shouting to the skies about impending doom if there wasn’t a leg to stand on. Meanwhile, the status quo has every interest in making things seem like they’re better than ever. This is where loyal magazines such as The Spectator come in handy, working together with recent releases like “Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think” and “The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves” to paint rosy views of the future, where life will be improved by buying toys from China and fracking our way out of an energy crisis (here they linked to a BP study, ha ha) – all supplemented by advances in smart phone technology, of course.

Even a pessimist such as myself has to recognize that, worldwide, mortality indicators have improved over the last several decades. Global inequality has eased between countries, and of course, we have all made exciting advances in new technology. My pessimism is actually couched in the deep belief that human potential is far greater than is currently recognized. This is why we should not shy away from the reality of our situation.

Here are some basic facts to consider, though. Things might be getting better, but they are getting better for some far faster than they are getting better for others. For example, taking China and India out of most calculations of global indices changes the numbers completely. Even within China and India, we must admit that calculations can be misleading. China especially has refused to release GINI calculations for over a decade now.  Papers published that measure GINI as meaningfully improving worldwide depend on shoddy data and tilt the numbers to their pleasure. And the real reason why the UN might not have been celebrating the drop in global poverty is because the number of those who are living on less than $2 per day (as opposed to $1 per day) have increased in recent years, and not all of them from the $1 per day crowd. People got poorer, though they middled out at a more acceptable number. Wealth is growing – at the top – and it comes from somewhere. Watching a graph about income growth in the last 10 years, it becomes clear from where this wealth is extracted. Productivity gains are out of the ballpark, the wealth at the top gets more and more massive, and the income levels of those behind the top 10% worldwide generally squeak by just a tiny bit below rates of inflation.  This is the growing income gap.

Of course, it will be argued that – despite lack of strong data – the worldwide GINI has lessened. This is probably true. There are nearly a million millionaires in China now, joined by new millionaires popping up all over the global south. Having a million millionaires will certainly bring your overall standing with other millionaires in other countries closer. However, the GINI index within countries is not improving. Indeed, it’s going down. The spread of millionaires is more fair, perhaps, but the spread of wealth outside of privileged circles is not.

c/o the economist

In countries like Russia, nearly 20% of the GDP is from counting billionaires. If we were to count millionaires in this figure, the number would be far higher worldwide. Growth is coming from spawning new millionaires and billionaires, who are hoovering up productivity gains at the expense of those actually creating wealth.

USA: c/o mother jones

Of course, these “rising standards”, so quickly being hailed as results of the free market by magazines such as The Spectator, are actually the cause of state intervention. The neoliberal reforms of the past three decades have paved the way for this extraction at expense of labor.

So back to the idea that 2012 was better than any year in history: we must ask, by what standards? Mortality has fallen steadily since the dawn of the 20th century, but this less about free market reforms and more about lessening infant mortality rates. It’s not difficult to do this. Fifty cents worth of education can prevent most deaths in infancy, vaccines and basic childcare can do the rest. This is not a trillion dollar project, though there are plenty at the UN who have made a very nice living doing it. Advances in medicine and technology cannot be chalked up to capitalism either. The Soviets were first in space and our own domestic R&D sector is the most subsidized part of the United States government – otherwise known as the defense industry.

It used to be that you could call out a piece of filthy propaganda for what it was. If the Soviets or the Chinese were putting out ridiculous information about how great everything was, nobody felt too bad about calling it out. If the Nazis said life was never better in Germany while the Red Army was beating down their door, we knew it to be horse shit. Yet today, calling out articles such as those in The Spectator or putting down books like Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” is met with groans and rolled-eyes. Our eyes are glued to our smartphones with the world collapsing down around us. Things are actually getting worse for most, though far better for some. Of course, those who are benefiting from the status quo also happen to own all the newspapers, happen to take more part in bankrolling research at universities and also have more influence in government than the guy who is living on $2 a day.

jordan is a harley-davidson dealership

As I prepare to return to the West, as a I brace myself for re-entry into a world nearly alien to the one I have been living in for a year, I have been coming up bit by bit out of my “Palestinian Experience”. Jordan is a great place to lose the bends and refocus on the West. Less than 100 miles away from Jerusalem, Amman sits as a shining city on 7 hills, a prime example of a “good” Arab country in a region torn by strife. What makes Jordan so good?

A friend of mine asked me to describe Jordan to her and I said, “Jordan is a Harley-Davidson dealership”. It seems silly to launch into prose, but Jordan is a Harley-Davidson dealership, a strip of Popeyes, KFC, McDonalds, Audi dealerships, Burger King, Western Union, Pizza Hut, Dominos, Holiday Inn Hotels, Louis Vitton Boutiques, and shopping mall after shopping mall after shopping mall. If Cairo is the city of a thousand minarets, then Amman is the city of a thousand shopping malls.

There’s no old city in Amman except for the relics of Roman imperial history. One wonders what the legacy of American imperialism will leave standing. Will it be as majestic as the Nabateans Petra, or as impressive as the Philidelphia Theater? Will the rotting and stagnant dollar leave something behind as priceless as a springtime in Jerash?

What modern day imperialism will leave behind is the very state of Jordan itself, a shining example of neo-colonialism. Her inhabitants are made up of a mishmash of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, Bedouins, the Circassians, and the royal family and their cousins called “Real Jordanians”. All together they seek a common national identity only an absolute monarch and the helpful excess of foreign capital can provide.

Yet for me it is a fitting segue back into the loving arms of my homeland. Likewise a nation shattered by conflicting identities, ravaged by the forces of capital, likewise authoritarian in its methodologies but not its heart – note the photos of the king playing golf, spending time with his family – Jordan has been good in reminding me what I will encounter when I am home for some time. As my stomach turns at the subtle draining of this Hashemite kingdom, I can at least look forward to the pleasures of home, where the people have already been drained and at least everyone in Wal Mart will speak English.

revolution in name only

The Nile stretches thousands of miles from the center of Africa to the Mediterranean Sea, cutting a swath of fertile green through an endless expanse of desert which we call Egypt. Here are the fellaheen, the farmers who have been tending their land in the same way since the Pharaohs decided to create a priest class.  Police officers man nominal checkpoints and smoke cheap cut Cleopatra cigarettes. The revolutionary zeal puffs chests in Cairo and Alexandria, but what here in Qana Province? Where do the fellaheen fit into your globalized vision for the future?

This working force of millions must be galvanized into democracy, liberal economy, and good-old secular living.

Mubarak was a dictator no matter what Joe Biden says. He kept the foot on the necks of the Egyptian people for three decades. His methodology was perfect for control. The Pharaohs themselves could not have asked for a more docile Egypt for those years. Despite flares of resistance, it all paled in comparison to the grand monuments, the photos of his stately visage raised high and painted into DPRK murals at the Citadel in Cairo. Yet his mistake was simple – even innocent. When the going got tough, nobody was willing to save his neck because he wasn’t willing and able to move peasants and galvanize the 80 million plus Egyptian workforce into the 21st century.

After all, these tiny parcels of land handed down generation to generation don’t do anybody good in the long run. A fellah will stay a fellah. Wouldn’t it be better to move him to the aluminum factory down the road, even better as a porter in Cairo? Where is the trajectory in this backwater, where is the promise of human potential?

Maybe now is the time, the West contemplated, for Egypt to really enter the 21st century. Of course, it can’t look like the control mechanisms of the past. We need a democracy now, something more manageable than the irrationalities of a dictator in a 24 hour news cycle. When Qaddafi or Mubarak wanted to step out of line, there was little to do except cajole and bribe. The whole mess looked very unseemly in this new Global Society. Yet a democracy! Like one blossoming in Palestine, where the ruling party holds elections that expells more than half of the voting population and yet dutifully courts the Western Foreign Investor. Now that’s what we’re talking about!

Or look at Jordan, a nation with that ancient archaic method of “kingdom”. Easily looked past, indeed – England has a queen! So long as there are special visa counters for “VIP – Foreign Investors” we can stomach that kind of system, especially since a fractured society like Jordan requires – much like Iraq once did – a strong man at the top to seem like father and who will take orders docilely from the benefactors and still agreed to be interviewed on the Daily Show in perfect, slightly-accented British English. He Gets It, we nod to each other. This Mubarak guy… not so much.

The Egyptians themselves still sit in waiting. Their pride overwhelms them, and banners with the martyrs of the revolution wave proudly in Cairo. Yet he remains unmolested in Sharm el-Sheikh, a favorite destination of European and Israeli holiday-seekers. The army remains at every street corner, and a curfew runs from midnight to six in the morning.

Very little has changed besides this new novelty of “free speech”, something we have decided is not too dangerous in today’s Global Society, something Marx labeled a fraud almost a hundred and fifty years before the invention of twitter.

Nowadays the US Government pays agents to twitter, to troll message boards, to blog, and more. Television stations are bought up by large conglomerates who call elections and have the men who advise the President on speed-dial. Mubarak thought he had a chance at trying to contain speech by working the state – shutting down NileSat and the internet.  Yet the mistake he made was assuming the state has any more power in this New World Order. No, the right investors have the power. The businessmen have the power. Nobody will work with you Mubarak, when they can work with Muhammad Yunus or the Koch brothers instead.

So – let the clean up efforts begin! Don’t worry about the litter, Cairenes, because the new government will find someone to contract for that matter. Don’t worry about jobs, that parcel of land in Middle Egypt, the peace treaty with Israel, the phone company, or the internet ever again. Indeed, don’t worry about anything at all (except your foreign debt of course!). Thank you for your revolution. Now here is a call center. Time to get to work helping to build a new Egyptian society; one that will be of benefit to the entire world, not simply your fellaheen.

why egypt might in fact fail

To return to the Tunisian riot, it is very likely that it is itself going to continue – and divide itself – by proclaiming that the figure of power that it will put in place it is so disconnected from the popular movement that it no longer wants it. On what criteria, then, can we evaluate the riot? In the first place, the criteria must have a definite empathy towards the riot, this is an absolutely necessary condition. It’s negative power is recognised, a lamentable [honni] power that vanishes [effrondre] fully into its own image [symboles]. But what is affirmed? The Western press has already responded by saying that what was expressed their was a Western desire. What we can affirm is that a desire for liberty is involved and that such a desire is without debate a legitimate desire under a regime both despotic and corrupt as was that of Ben Ali. How this desire as such suggests a Western desire is very uncertain [plus problématique].

Alain Badiou, 19 January 2011

I told my friends Egypt was too big to fail – words heralding some sort of nasty bailout at any cost to the livelihood of the people whose “stake” was involved. I still believe Egypt is too big to fail. Western revolutionaries sit on the edge of their seats watching Al Jazeera, biting their nails because – as Badiou says – the end of history is not yet here! We can still take to the streets and enact change through revolutionary non-violent means – a million people in Tahrir square!

Yet, I am pessimistic. If Egypt can be salvaged as a client state of the West in any way, then it will be salvaged at any cost. Perhaps the poison has already entered the veins of the people as they choose to protest peacefully for the cameras, appealing to the Western mindset of nonviolence and peaceful flower-laden revolutions. They tweet, update facebook statuses, call in to radio and television shows… their message is united: Mubarak ETLA min Masr! They forget, though, that the Western news cycle is fickle. A manufactured win, like Mubarak offering to leave office in September,  will stand in for actual closure. A new story will rise up on the wave and – if conditions persist- Egypt will be forgotten in a month.

The Western media, accusing Obama now of “abandoning” Mubarak, is not abandoning the people of Egypt. CNN, FOX, etc raise the terrifying specter of Islamic fundamentalism, war with Israel (a big no-no!), and anti-American sentiments in Egypt. I intend to travel to Egypt myself in the coming weeks to prove this to be untrue and to see for myself what happens when democracy is betrayed.

Egypt is the lynchpin that holds the status quo of the Middle East in place. Our prisoners are tortured there, our oil goes through the Suez, and our catspaw Israel gets to lash out at whoever they like so long as Egypt holds a shaky peace. The West stood on uncertain feet at this strong show of displeasure and was careful to craft their responses, but their actions will speak louder than words when they install a new puppet more friendly to global economic interests at the end of 2011. Actions will speak louder than words when a new government just as friendly to Western interests is installed in Tunisia.

The one benefit of this whole exercise for the Western observer is that we have finally seen the face of hypocrisy and naked greed laid bare. Our propaganda slips and falls in a terribly undignified way with our response to Egypt. Yet this too may be forgotten in the coming weeks, as the news cycle turns over and over again, leaving the 79 million people of Egypt in the dust of the “end of history”.

sharia law is not a cultural practice

Too many in the West equate Sharia’ (the road or the way) law to cultural practices. This is incorrect and does a disservice to Islam. Islam and Sharia, after all, are systems that exist very separately from culture, if not antithetical to it. Islam came along in the time of Jahaliyyah, the dark ages of the Arabian peninsula where blood feuds were the way of law and women were treated as cattle and slaves, if not buried alive in the desert. Islam quickly raised up the status of women, children, and the poor in ways unrivaled by the West until less than a hundred years ago. In addition, Islam was an expanding religion and within a hundred years of Muhammad’s death it ruled nearly everything between the Himalayas and the Pyrenees. It’s success was partially due because it would seek to eradicate every injustice done in a system while leaving intact the aspects of culture deemed inoffensive. People kept eating the same food, wearing the same clothes, living their same lives … so long as everything was halal (acceptable in Islam). They kept their own languages and forms of art, their poetry and music, and the basic traditions that kept them whole as a distinct community. In this way, Islam was both throwing out the religions of the fathers while keeping that which made the world diverse. In the Quran it is even mentioned:

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. (43:19)

Indeed, the diversity within the Islamic world – even today in the age of Saudi globalization – is truly breathtaking. However, just because these societies are Islamic in character – meaning, many of their population is Muslim – do not for a second think that Islamic societies represent Islam or Sharia. For instance, despite the fact that a staggering rate of Egyptian women have been vaginally mutilated, this is a practice frowned upon in Sharia’ and Islam, as women are supposed to feel pleasure during sex as a gift from God. Beating women and children is against the Sunnah (way of the Prophet) and suicide of any sort – including self-immolation and suicide bombing – is forbidden as well. Keeping women from leaving the house or learning to read, marrying off children to each other without consulting them at a proper age, and honor killings are all issues people in the West traditionally associate with Islam and Sharia’, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Sharia’ law is a legalistic school of philosophy based around the Qur’an, Hadith (sayings of the Prophet), and Sunnah. A very small percentage of the global Islamic community is qualified to make rulings on what Sharia’ is or what it entails, but it basically breaks down into being a set guideline for living life – issues like marriage, inheritance, contracts, etc. It is something designed to bring a set standard of justice to people all over the world, regardless of their culture. Sharia’ law and Islam in general respects the diversity of people and their cultures, but not at the expense of justice.

the rich feast on the dead flesh of americans, how long will we stand by?

“It’s going to a cause a lot of panic on Wall Street,” said Richard Stein of Global Sage, an executive search firm. “Everybody is talking about it, but they’re actually concerned about it becoming public. I would not want to be head of compensation at a Wall Street firm right now.”

In some ways, a zero bonus should not come as a surprise to many bankers. As a result of the 2008 financial crisis, Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs and banks like Citigroup raised base pay substantially in 2009 and 2010. They were seeking to placate regulators who had argued that bonuses based on performance encouraged excessive risk.

At Goldman, for instance, the base salary for managing directors rose to $500,000 from $300,000, while at Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse it jumped to $400,000 from $200,000.

Even though employees will receive roughly the same amount of money, the psychological blow of not getting a bonus is substantial, especially in a Wall Street culture that has long equated success and prestige with bonus size. So there are sure to be plenty of long faces on employees across the financial sector who have come to expect a bonus on top of their base pay. Wall Streeters typically find out what their bonuses will be in January, with the payout coming in February.

From NYTimes

Senator Bernie Sanders (I) from Vermont stood on the floor of the Senate two Fridays ago and spoke for nine hours on the situation in America. He spoke frankly and convincingly, using charts, graphs, and real-life examples. He was joined by other senators who also brought their perspectives. The message was simple: The rich are feasting on us. The economic and social policies ushered in by war criminal Ronald Reagan have boosted the rich to a position of power unprecedented in American society since the end of slavery.  They’ve grown so large that they’ve sprouted wings and flown away to places like Bangladesh, where workers earn .23 cents an hour. When things falter in their search to expand, as capital always must, they return to America to suck more blood from the heartland and then redouble their efforts in smashing up the rest of the world. Capital flies on the wings of the American military and in the hallways of world banking institutions. What wings do the poor fly on?

Despite the situation worsening in America, the poor stay mainly silent. Drug use is rife, the prisons are packed, and more and more young people are graduating with debt with college degrees that mean close to nothing. Senator Sanders pointed out that we have little to inherit from our parents. Indeed, some of them are moving abroad – those who can afford it.

SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, Mexico — The new Starbucks on the corner of the main plaza is bustling. The local library has an impressive selection of English-language romance titles. The bulletin board at the arts center touts ads for tai chi, West African dance, textile instruction and more.

And hey! Isn’t that Martha Stewart strolling through the plaza? It is indeed. She’s here for the star-studded unveiling of an American-owned hotel.

Despite its gringo trappings, this lovely 17th-century city appears quintessentially Mexican, fromits jardín (or garden, as the plaza is called) to the rosy luminescence of La Parroquia, its iconic neo-gothic church.

But it’s also home to a large community of North Americans, many of whom have come to stretch their retirement nest eggs in a tranquil setting that boasts most of the comforts of home—and then some.

“San Miguel is summer camp for Baby Boomers,” declares Marjorie Pope, 64, who arrived here from Atlanta with her husband, Mike, five years ago.

As the first wave of 79 million Baby Boomers turns 65 in 2011, many will be spending their Social Security checks in far-flung locales, from Boquete, Panama, to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Though numbers are mere conjecture, some estimates say 1 million American retirees already live abroad.

From USAToday

Is it too painful for the baby boomers to watch their children struggle in the world they created for them? Or is it simply too difficult to live in the United States on the amount of money they’ve set aside for retirement? Outsourcing retirement also means tax money such as social security will be spent outside of the United States.

The question is really how long the next generation will stand for such distractions at the expense of their livelihood. Will we continue to be sucked into two-party politics and reality television, or can we stand up and fight against the system that brought us into being? We are the product of a time when things seemed plentiful and peaceful, but as we come to understand at what cost, we must be wary of falling into the same traps as the previous generations.

What is needed is a ground-up effort to rebuild our country on real wealth and capital. As Senator Sanders said, there was a time when a man working a factory job in Detroit could afford to support a family of three and send a child or two to college. This framework has not evaporated. It is not forgotten. The question is, does a generation raised on instant gratification have the guts to roll up our sleeves and do real work for a change? Raised on promises that “You can do anything”, are we prepared to settle for decent before we slide into a lifetime of denial?