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Lula and the global south - Accretions

Fata Morgana
2003-12-03 15:13
Lula and the global south
Public
hopefulhopeful
In class yesterday we talked about an article about Brazil's president Lula, found in the Dec. 1 issue of The Nation, that paints a hopeful picture of globalism in a sea of pessimistic literature. It's a good read.


If solutions to hunger, disease, environmental degradation, illiteracy, and poverty in the global south come out of the global north, they necessarily benefit the global north. Why else would the global north bother? It will be global north companies that invest in the so-called "solutions," and these companies are naturally interested in making a profit (in fact, I've heard that executives can be ousted by their shareholders if they fail to make as much profit as they could). From what I've seen I don't think making a profit for the global north while really benefiting the global south is likely or even possible. Companies and governments in the global north are invested in the current power distribution for cheap raw materials, cheap labor, and low export tariffs (often imposed by the IMF or WTO, or directly by trade agreements with global north countries), and will recognize efforts that have the potential to actually change that as harmful to their profits/economies and resist them. (The U.S., Japan, European countries, and other first-world countries were so threatened by the G22 alliance at the World Bank negotiations in Cancun in October because the cost of labor is so high in their countries that they depend on being able to import cheaply from these places, and to dump agricultural surpluses there.

The rhetoric filling the ICT4B class is "defining and developing a market" in the poor in India and elsewhere, and while many of our speakers (especially the businesspeople) littered their speeches with claims of "promoting women's education" and "eliminating poverty" and such things, their talk, as author Arundhati Roy points out in Power Politics, only obfuscates their lack of understanding of the issues and their real goal of profit.

Moreover, the companies will follow the model of capitalism used in the global north, which is perfectly fine with, for example, selling products that have been shown to be harmful to one's health (such as skin-lightening creams, many cosmetics, high-sugar candy and sodas, high-fat snacks, hormone-laced meat, and many more). For capitalism in the global north, it's often just important to just sell as many products as possible, regardless of potential harms, and it's up to the individual to decide to be socially-responsible (which often reduces profit, and is thus undesirable). (Based on this tendency, scholars have somewhat cynically suggested that such environmental disasters as oil spills and thinning ozone are actually GOOD, because they provide so many opportunities for spending on environmental cleanup and health-care and much more, thus stimulating the economy! It's no secret that wars stimulate the economy through manufacture of defense materials ... and even without wars, the U.S. economy is very invested in continually selling arms overseas. But that's a topic for another rant ...)

If solutions are to truly benefit the global south, they may have to change the current balance of power, and thus be at the expense of the global north. Thus, solutions must necessarily come from the global south - from their engineers, and concerned citizens and their representatives. They know the situation better than any businesspeople from the global north, better than any global north governments, and they will be able to consider solutions that may not benefit the global north.
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stevendj
2003-12-03 16:08 (UTC)
(no subject)
The "global north" isn't a monolith, though. You are part of the global north. If you find a solution that helps the global south, it isn't automatically bad just because you're from the north. There may be more difficulty in implementing the idea than if somebody from the south came up with the same idea, but the solution has equal merit regardless of where it originates. Furthermore, you as a citizen of the north have a role in deciding the north's policies--you can write letters to your congressional representatives pushing for fairer trade policies, for instance. The flip side of "the north can't/shouldn't control the process" is not "the south has to do everything without any help from the north", which is where your final paragraph seems to be leading.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2003-12-03 17:52 (UTC)
(no subject)
The "global north" isn't a monolith, though. You are part of the global north.

This is true - and I have mixed feelings about it. My political and economic development professor is of the opinion that people raised in the global north won't do anything positive in the global south, by historical precedent. Generations of scholars and activists have claimed compassion and suggested solutions, and they haven't changed the global power structure: some move in for a few months and erect capital-intensive infrastructure only to have it fall into disrepair because there's no local resources to repair or maintain it; others do their research and publish academic papers and aren't interested in seeing that any ideas for change that they suggest are carried out. But since I'm very interested all this stuff, I don't want to believe it. Can't we learn from their mistakes, and espouse "mundane" science and appropriate technologies? Aren't there countless nonprofits, such as Amnesty International and The Nautilus Institute, who are vehemently dedicated to social justice? Yet it's true that my way of life is naturally heavily dependent on the current system ...

The flip side of "the north can't/shouldn't control the process" is not "the south has to do everything without any help from the north", which is where your final paragraph seems to be leading.

I don't think this is quite what I was implying: people in the global north could help without controlling it. I do think that effective solutions will originate from a deep understanding of issues in the global south; from there, potentially many may help the movement, both from the global south and north. Leaders in the global south are in the perfect position to have this understanding and to work for change. The global north is just so aggressive in imposing trade sanctions and lobbying the WTO and IMF for policies that force the global south to open its markets, only to ignore the policies themselves (recently with steel, but also with agriculture subsidies and more), that it doesn't seem likely that change will come there - governments in the global north have too much invested in the current system.
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Kragen Sitaker
kragen
2003-12-03 17:33 (UTC)
is this a quote?
If solutions to hunger etc. come from some people in the global north, they probably benefit those people, but they may not benefit all people in the global north. So one is not justified in reasoning that because some change to, say, ameliorate third-world illiteracy is being proposed or promoted by someone from the US, it will necessarily benefit all of the people in the US, or everyone in the global north --- even allowing, for the sake of argument, that we're discussing a zero-sum game here, and that therefore equalizing the balance of power is bad for the global north.

And there's good reason to think that we're not, in fact, discussing a zero-sum game --- that solving the third world's problems will ameliorate the worst problems around here too.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2003-12-03 18:15 (UTC)
Re: is this a quote?
Good points. I guess my main issue is with business solutions in the global south - I cringe and think of Enron in India and Bechtel in Bolivia when people espouse privatization and other solutions that they claim will benefit the poor in the third-world.

I don't think I know enough to say whether it's a zero-sum game or not - I'd like to think it isn't, but prepared to accept that it is, I guess. I have so many more questions than answers.

Two of the questions I continually ask myself in class, as I learn about social problems here or environmental problems there, are: if things continue the way they are now, what will happen? If they go another way, what will happen? For example, how severe of an environmental disaster are we heading into if we continue to consume so much, and what will the nature of it be? How much would we have to change? How could that change happen? or ... what will happen to the U.S. as more and more skilled labor is imported to India and other overseas places, where they pay one tenth or less of what they pay here? Economic depression? Joblessness? What will U.S. workers do? Will we all go into the defense industry? Will the U.S. industrial focus shift to something else? Will we just be more invested in defense? (When I get a glimpse of these massive global power structures, it's so easy to feel helpless.)

In this case, the questions that come to mind are, what would change if countries in the global south were able to charge more for raw materials, tax their exports, and pay their workers more? Where does that money come from? How much would prices in the U.S. rise as a result? What would be the effects on our economy? What would our government do to keep stability? I don't know enough to answer these questions ... and I guess from what I've been reading and learning in class, I don't have a sense of how problems in the global south can be ameliorated while maintaining economic well-being in the global north. I'd love to hear your ideas. :~)
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stevendj
2003-12-03 20:21 (UTC)
Re: is this a quote?
Well, the only way for countries to charge more for raw materials is either if they have a monopoly, or if they form a cartel. There's one example of a powerful third-world cartel: OPEC. The end result was that they got fabulously rich, and entrenched authoritarian governments bred religious fanaticism which exported terrorism worldwide. I'm being a little flippant, but there is a school of thought that third-world nations rich in material resources are worse off than other countries, because it encourages kleptocracy. The path to wealth is really through developing manufacturing, educating your population, and having a strong system of property law so people can, for instance, start businesses and make money. Achieving that is...a lot harder than it seems.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2003-12-24 19:10 (UTC)
Re: is this a quote?
... there is a school of thought that third-world nations rich in material resources are worse off than other countries, because it encourages kleptocracy.

This is true in some cases - I'm currently researching coltan mining in the Congo, and it is certainly true there that their vast coltan reserves (80% of the world's known reserves) fund renegade military groups and corrupt governments alike. But I don't agree that the only way for countries to charge more for raw materials is through monopolies or cartels.

The path to wealth is really through developing manufacturing, educating your population, and having a strong system of property law so people can, for instance, start businesses and make money. Achieving that is...a lot harder than it seems.

I agree that those steps would help, but I'm not sure how difficult it is - it's very difficult if the IMF actively resists the development of manufacturing and first-world corporations can put the pressure on to overthrow good governments to replace them with ones sympathetic to them. But if countries were allowed to develop their own policies of trade and manufacture, and governments who cared about their own people more than first-world business interests were left in place, perhaps it wouldn't be so hard at all.
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nikita
hukuma
2003-12-04 02:03 (UTC)
(no subject)
I think the problem with the global north is that the only truly global force is the market and hence is amoral and profit-driven. As such, you're right, exploitation is a more likely result than improving the lives of the 4B people. The problem with the global south is that there is no global south, as best as I can tell (though efforts like those of the Brazilian president are encouraging). I think solutions will come from "local" north and south; the latter is much better informed about the situation and needs, but the former has access ot many more resources. And while share your cynicism about the global forces of the north, I do believe that there are many people in the north with good motives. I would go further to say that some people start businesses with the goal of improving the world, and some even succeed. There is a benefit to structuring these things as for-profit enterprises, since if you're successful, you get to devote the resources of many other people to your task.
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