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.

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Unspeakable Crimes: Delhi, Dakar, and Newtown

protests in New Delhi

Dauphine Island         In an editorial in the Times mourning the gruesome circumstances of the death of the 23-year old Delhi woman in a Singapore hospital where she had been taken for treatment, they called it an “unspeakable crime,” which seemed the perfect phrase for so much of what we are living through these days on so many fronts.  I know men and women who are now on the streets of Delhi protesting this gross injustice and demanding that there finally be a seismic cultural shift around the role of women.  Sonia Gandhi, the head of the ruling Congress Party, has said that this is important to her “as a woman” and “as a mother,” but she and thousands of others need to demand and deliver change from their homes to the streets to the halls of government and the desks at the police stations.

There was more on the tragic spin game that Walmart continues to play around worker conditions in factories they fueled with cheap, hurry-up orders regardless of fire conditions.  Their international president reportedly was in Bangladesh meeting with suppliers, government, and other industry officials but his work was so opaque and obviously duplicitous that sources indicated that they would not allow “cell phones” or “fountain pens” to enter the meeting so that no notes, pictures, or record of any of the conversations could be reproduced.  To believe current CEO Duke’s claim to the Council on Foreign Relations that they will demand better fire safety standards for their suppliers is ludicrous in the face of the hundreds death through negligence where they cannot escape some deep level of responsibility for “unspeakable” crimes.

Even in the wake of the slaughter of children in Newtown, Connecticut in the United States, every day seems to bring yet more heinous reports of killings of firefighters, murders of police, and more slayings of innocent civilians in the armed camp that has now become our country.  No matter the NRA’s dissembling, these too are “unspeakable” crimes.

The problem is that to finally confront these crimes and force change, they in fact have to become “speakable” crimes, rather than “unspeakable” crimes.  They have to dominate the discourse in country after country and throughout the world until we have the change that must come to eliminate these crimes against women, workers, children, and others.

We need to speak in shouts about all of these crimes, rather than allowing silence to shield in its shadows the men, companies, and gun toting killers that continue to make this a world a horror everywhere around us.

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