Tag Archives: commonwealth games

The Mixed Blessings of Globalization

_68305314_india_middle_classDelhi    When I first flew into Delhi, it was a wild experience.  Three or four long lines of people in dilapidated, entry hall waiting forever on hard concrete floors.  My first trip was with a delegation of organizers and many of the women regaled us with stories of coming off of a 14 hour flight and not knowing what to make of the squat toilet as an only option.  Now only a dozen years later there’s a gleaming airport here with newly carpeted concourses, a bank of twenty or more customs agents, speeding everyone through.  Well, maybe not exactly speeding since there was a computer breakdown, but what’s a five minute delay, when from touchdown to home base was hardly an hour-and-a-half, when that used to be just the time through Customs. 

Part of the difference is the huge, and controversial, expenditure and graft of India’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games two years ago in Delhi, but the other part is reflected in the chock full nonstop plane from Newark to Delhi.  Sure there were the usual tribe of businessmen in first class, but compared to the past, it was a mixed crowd with the majority Indian, and in the other seats a milk run for Indians visiting relatives and children in the United States or vice versa to India.  This was the great, emerging middle class of India on the move.  In a country with over a billion people, an emerging middle class of 150 million and growing is an economic power.  And, with the impending elections and the rise the Common Man Party and the newly found concerns about public corruption, they are force to be reckoned with, even if they are still a long way from power.

Eduardo Porter of the Times reported on studies of the last twenty years of globalization and the good and bad news.  The good news is that globalization has reduced inequality worldwide by creating a middle class in China and India, and that’s what I can see in the airports in India, and in neighbors like Greater Kalish II, where I have now stayed in a rooming house off and on over the last decade as I visit.  A traditional sweets shop in the marketplace is now a Benetton clothing store for example.  Two convenience stores are now one as prices have risen.  

            The other side of globalization though is the increased inequality in the United States and some other developed nations.  Porter quotes Damon Silver of the AFL-CIO though saying,

If there are hundreds of millions of people that were in abject poverty one generation ago and are not anymore, that is an important and positive thing.  But I don’t think we should accept radical inequality as a necessary corollary of equal development.

            But, it’s not just the United States, because as easy as it is to notice the emerging middle class here, it is also impossible not to also notice how little the areas where we organize in Delhi, Bengaluru, and Mumbai have materially changed.  When I get to Mumbai at the end of this visit, undoubtedly in Dharavi I will see some improvements in our organization, but in the slum itself, I will also see the continuing encroachment of development moving to eliminate the jobs and homes altogether as the clock keeps ticking.  Here in Delhi over the next couple of days, I’ll hear about the progress of the shelters we assist in running for the city for migrant workers, and their miserable existence, helping fuel this growing middle class will perhaps feel a bit better, but be fundamentally little different over the last decade.

            Porter also mentions the fact that even as some level of global inequality is being relieved by globalization the American problem of increased efficiency of production with a decreased worker share is also being exported to China and elsewhere exacerbating inequality between the rich and workers even as a middle class is built.  Whether the issue is globalization or not, development without equitable distribution is not only unacceptable, but a tinderbox for the future on a worldwide basis as well.


Industrial Tourism Ghost Towns: Another Sports Hustle Revealed as Mirage

London Ghost Town

New Orleans    There is no bigger industrial tourism hustle than what we witness with regularity around the hype connected to major international sporting events.  The Olympics are grand quadrennial fare with plenty of “bread” for the masses and are quite moving for the athletes, as indicated by NBA and USA center, Tyson Chandler’s comment that getting a medal felt like someone was “pouring hot water down his back.”  Meanwhile the rest of us are being taken to ice cold showers.

Once again, the Olympics were a major league bust for the host city.  This may come as a surprise, but there’s no news there.  The Commonwealth Games in Delhi recently were also a billion dollar fiasco once again proving that “if you build it, they will NOT come!”  Television is trumping tourism, even though the sales pitch by the promoters and industrial tourism developers are chock full of sky high projections about the number of tourists that will travel to the games and swell city and commercial coffers.  Reality shows it simply is not happening.  London spent between an admitted $14 billion and an estimated $20 billion in getting ready for the Olympic Games, but to quote John Burns in the New York Times “fears of the Gridlock Games have transformed into complaints about the Ghost Town Olympics.”  London experienced the usual situation ignoring “the lessons of other Olympic host cities that have emptied out during the Games over the past 20 years.”

How do they get away with it?  The official spin is always that these expenditures will pay off in the future, but what’s the real story?

It is impossible to believe that the promoters and public officials are not winking-and-nodding in concert here as they pull the wool over the biscuit eaters paying the bills.  Part of this is easy to understand, because there is no harder sell than the need to hunker down to pay for “infrastructure improvements.”  In tough times what citizen wants to have to double down to pay for bricks-and-mortar?  What mayor, governor, or higher wants to risk fame and future just to ensure better mass transit, better roads, and the rest?  The promoters and politicians are easily complicit on industrial tourism.  Big time sports and the publicity and media that come with it, tart up the package enough that no one looks too long at the final bill and long term payment plans.  The developers, contractors, and construction folks cover the blowback for the politicians by being able to back slap about the improved image of the city or the prospects for the future as part of the corporate cushion.

One-time events like the Super Bowl are corporate fandangos so they fill the planes and party locations while the fans watch on TV and understand that is their due.  Even World Cup events leave cities groping for explanations on the costs, as proven by Johannesburg and South Africa last time around, where the endgame rationalizations, as usual, centered on the increased appeal of South Africa in the global tourism market.  I would love to see the figures that have made Jo-burg a destination tourism location since the World Cup.  Now we have Rio de Janeiro at war in the favelas as it prepares for both the next World Cup and the next Olympics.  Brazil fortunately has a strong economy, but so did India two years ago.

The real Olympic dreams are clearly not those of the athletes, but of the developers and the promoters, and theirs are the only ones coming true consistently with the politicians riding on their backs on the money train.  There has to be a better, and more honest, way to build major infrastructure and support ALL of the population rather than the big boys.