Friday, November 22, 2013

Interlude VI - Competition for Everyone

According to Richard B. Freeman (2008), "almost all at once in the 1990s, China, India, and the former Soviet bloc joined the global economy, and the entire world came together into a single economic world based on capitalism and markets." Describe two (2) important effects this development has had on the global labor market.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the joining of that area's workers, along with those of India and China, into the global work force had the immediate effect of increasing competition around the world for many of the simplest and most portable jobs. Market capitalism had been great for the West, in particular the United States, in the years after World War II. Before the war, no middle class existed in the US and so much money was concentrated in so few hands that the entire economy was susceptible to the disaster of the Great Depression--what was a bad turn of events for the wealthy meant unmitigated devastation for the poor, who depended upon the upper class for their employment, and upon the banks for their savings. After the war, new industries existed that served to boost more people up to genuine self-sufficiency than had ever before been the case, which combined with all-time-high taxes on the highest incomes to create the most equal society (at least financially) the US had ever experienced. Once the global labor market opened up in the nineties, however, the finite number of jobs offered by those new industries faced a vastly-increased pool of workers. The United States had pioneered a lot of the technology of globalization, and now that technology was making it harder and harder to justify leaving a basic, low-to-moderate-skill job in the same city as a company's headquarters when there were people on the other side of the planet willing to do it for far less, because a generation ago they were picking rice for a living. Market competition was the thing that created the United States' successful economy in the first place, so it made sense that if Company A only hired middle-class Americans and Company B hired destitute Indians and Chinese, Company B would be the winner of that competition, and thus you'd start seeing more of that in the future.

The second effect of this increased competition was the lowering of wages for those jobs that did remain in the United States. Even companies that preferred at first not to outsource their jobs overseas felt economic pressure from those that did, and whose operating costs were therefore lower) and were motivated to lower their wages nevertheless. Also, more unemployed American workers means higher competition for those few jobs, and once again, lower wages. Of course, this was only a problem in the West; while these new workers in the East were theoretically open to all sorts of exploitative business practices due to their desperation, the immediate effect of their sudden employment was indeed higher levels of income, and a large boost to those countries' urban areas as more and more people moved away from their farms. Time will tell, but in my opinion, workers in the East are going through a process similar to what happened in the United States after the Great Depression; now that work is available, they will become higher-skilled and better-educated, leading to yet higher wages until they eventually catch up with the West, thereby eliminating the impetus for outsourcing as a cost-saving venture and leading to a "genuinely integrated world economy", as Professor Hoberman describes it.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Interlude V - The Marriage of East and West

Why are certain cultural products globally popular while others are not? What are some of the SPECIFIC QUALITIES or CHARACTERISTICS that make cultural products (books, music, films, sports) most accessible to global audiences?

While the United States happened to be uniquely positioned at the dawn of globalization to produce cultural products like films, television, and music that could reach cultures all around the world, the last couple decades of experience have been excellently instructive as far as which products are truly global in their appeal, and which are limited to the West, or even the US in particular, in their scope.

In the example of Avatar, one of the two highest-grossing feature films of all time, the movie was the quintessential merging of numerous global sensibilities into a universal product that would be familiar to many cultures without being too specific to any one. Set in the far future, it embodied the promise of technology—a theme that also has universal appeal in the present due to the internet and popular music—in both the high-tech universe of its story and in the groundbreaking-yet-real technology that brought its universe to the big screen (and in three dimensions, no less).

But tempering that promise was, as Professor Hoberman noted, a very anti-imperialist, philosophically-Eastern narrative and moral message. The worldwide success of American cinema demonstrated that global audiences were happy to embrace Western-style storytelling from the get-to, so adding a layer of non-Western themes only upped the ante and enhanced the film’s palatability to far-flung cultures. The lesson to take from this going forward is that even the most universal experiences and messages—love, honor, autonomy—can benefit from being filtered through the proficient delivery system that is American cinema.

A different sort of success has been found by Cosmopolitan magazine, but one no less worldwide in its reach. What Cosmo, as it is known colloquially, has done is to distill its own essence down to a core message—that of feminine pride, independence, and self-assurance—and tailor that to the individual boundaries of a wealth of different nations and cultures. An article about having great sex, for example, could be seen as passé in Sweden yet appalling in Saudi Arabia—but it would be right at home in America. As such, each nation’s editors have been able to translate the same core principles according to their own respective mores in a way that retains the same positive, forward-leaning position in each respective culture; without inciting riots, of course.

From these examples, one may conclude that there are multiple avenues through which the producers of cultural product can appeal to global audiences. While the United States remains in an exceptional position thanks to the length and breadth, and generations-long experience, of its creative industries, the force-multiplier that is universal experience (not to mention diverse casts of characters) cannot be underestimated. Not only will a marriage of both Eastern and Western storytelling strengths produce more globally-appealing commodities, but it serves to further universalize their messages, as well—something that cloistered Western audiences can benefit from as much as the East can benefit from the West’s technology.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Interlude IV - America's Example Trumps Its Flaws

Imagine that the content of the Internet were controlled by a powerful global agency comparable to the United Nations. Explain the possible ADVANTAGES and/or DISADVANTAGES of such a system.

Ironically, the primary advantage of assigning all power over the regulation of the internet to one giant agency like the United Nations would be the decentralization of said power--by taking it out of America's hands. While the existence of one authoritative international body in the place of, for example, ICANN, would mean decisions regarding content control, censorship, naming conventions, and so on would still be in as few hands as always, those hands would then be from a much wider variety of cultures and international powers. This would also mean that said body would be in a better position to adapt to the sudden and unexpected challenges that so often characterize the internet, whereas right now it's much harder for anyone to get anything done if they're not in a position of power in the American system. It would also produce the intangible benefits that come with improved perception--regardless of its actual effectiveness as a regulatory body, the myriad nations of the world would likely be more patient in dealing with it given that they'd have at least nominal say in the decisions it makes.

Of course, without the military and financial might of the United States to back it up, other nations also might be less inclined to pay it much heed to begin with--as the United Nations in its current form can tell you already. Furthermore, modeling the disbursement of power over the internet after the powers of the UN would also mean dealing with the UN's extensive procedural and bureaucratic problems, making it harder to settle on effective regulatory policies and platforms in the first place.

Where censorship is concerned, while the United States pursuing free speech in China at the same time as it's pursuing Edward Snowden and Julian Assange means that we maybe don't have the strongest position from which to criticize China's censorship of the internet, one disadvantage of having a global agency manage the internet would mean detaching it from free speech in even a rhetorical sense--without powerful American corporations like Google loudly championing free speech in the popular culture, censorship would become a matter of popular opinion. One of the biggest procedural problems in the United Nations is overcoming vetoes from China and Russia, two countries who clearly aren't overly concerned about free speech, so if they were given equal footing in a theoretical internet management entity they could simply use their weight in the international community to prevent the enactment of any anti-censorship policies they disagree with.

In conclusion, I think that the best thing about the current system is that it highlights the problems of Chinese censorship by throwing them into harsh relief. While the Unites States should not, and cannot, lead the world forever on this or any other matter, I believe that the example our Bill of Rights sets for the rest of the world (a tainted example though it may be) is a strong motivator to drag more totalitarian countries into a more tolerant, Western mindset, where divorcing the internet from the American example, while philosophically appealing, would just mean a more tepid set of policies all around. Ultimately, I believe the most American thing about the internet is its free-market values; if the rest of the world comes up with a better system, I believe it will supplant ours whether we want it to or not.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Interlude III - The Leveling of the Playing Field

Describe two (2) major aspects of the globalization process that promote transnational organized crime.

Two major aspects of the globalization process that promote transnational organized crime are the leveling of the international playing field and the democratization of technology.

As I have discussed previously, a primary feature of the globalization process is a leveling of the field for all involved--the loss of jobs in the West, for example, is matched by an increase in jobs in the East. We are still very much in the beginning of this process, which indeed could take generations to truly even out, but while this can mean increased "fairness" in the economic system eventually, right now it means a lot of formerly well-off people suddenly losing their power, wealth, and privilege, which makes them more likely to pursue extra-legal, or at least unregulated, opportunities to further their own ends. European companies dumping their waste off the coast of Somalia is a major example of this--these companies aren't criminals in the traditional sense, but they've become so used to being at the top of the economic pile that they're willing to go to ever-greater lengths to maintain their bottom lines. Meanwhile, those previously at the bottom of said pile are now finding themselves with all the benefits of connectivity to the rest of the world that the powerful enjoy, but without the economic infrastructure to support the responsible use of that connectivity--so they become pirates, or prey on those in need of organ transplants, or trade on the very lives and freedoms of those still even worse-off than themselves.

In keeping with this same leveling, technology is, of course, the key enabler of our newfound connectivity, and as such, it is the easiest and most readily-available tool for those who with to operate outside the law. Even more so than oceanic piracy or black-market organ sales, the hacking and theft of sensitive data from individuals, organizations, and even governments is the greatest leveler of the powerful and the powerless the world has yet experienced, because it only requires a single person. A teenager from Belgium could break into the database of a multinational corporation as easily as a hardened member of Al Qaeda or al-Shabaab, which means that genuine safety and security cannot be simply a matter of law enforcement; we must learn how to shape global culture to discourage these kinds of attacks, from which we have fewer and fewer surefire protections all the time. And of course, even individuals are susceptible to cybercrime in the form of identity theft or ransomware. It would be nice to think that "democratization" of technology means that more power is in the hands of "the people" in a collective sense, but really, it means more power in the hands of individuals--individuals who can have pure, if potentially-misguided motives, as some would describe the members of Anonymous, but certainly just as many corrupt or petty individuals who would just as soon con the average working-class person out of a thousand dollars here and there.