Asian-American Forum
Spring 2010 Issue no. 5

Book Review

In Defense of Globalization by Jagdish Bhagwati

A Recommended Read

I like how readable this book is; the author writes on a complex subject in ways that are friendly, inviting, and accessible. The book is arranged according to issue, so one might just read Chapter 6 Child Labor: Increased or Reduced? or Chapter 11 Environment in Peril? Several of the chapters provide innovative market ideas regarding how to create compensation infrastructures to encourage less pollution (that since the publication of this book have emerged as proposed policy) and more laissez-faire sort of corporate economic responsibility. He points out the fallacy of NGOs not reading into the issues and how their good intentions sometimes backfire. I don't agree with the author in his belief about corporations having a history of developing responsibly because on the contrary, they often have not and continue to conspire not to, especially in the energy sectors. However he has a point that even remediation policies often do little more than provide surface treatments to altered ecosystems. As a layperson, I found it very instructive because it represents both sides on issues even if it is biased in support of globalization. Every NGO office ought to have a copy of this book.


President Obama: Living Up to His Campaign Promises

Editorial   

            Once upon a time, Americans invested too heavily upon a stockmarket that was rife with pyramid schemes, the likes of "Bernie Cornfields" who bid and bid on paper money until one day, there was an accounting of it by the People and it all came crashing down, down, down.....Such was the Great Depression of 1930. No one can forget the photographs by Dorothea Lange as she traveled across the country taking still lifes of breadlines, dust-bowl farmers, natives, young and old, beggars of every persuasion. Here in Washington D.C., the FDR Memorial is a testimony to the days when President Franklin, and his wife Eleanor, Roosevelt, campaigned to save the country, revitalize the economy, promote humanitarianism and end educational injustices of all kinds. It was an ambitious campaign platform, but the monumental works which made American stand tall once again--new dams, highways, bridges--effectively employed hundreds of thousands of people for decades. Not only this, but the job-training they received allowed people to move up: construction workers could become technicians, then surveyors, even engineers if they studied the government training manuals, gained qualifying experience, studied hard, and passed the exams. There were so many such public projects produced by the Workers Progress Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, Civil Works Administration, and National Recovery Administration that the scale and scope of these projects appeared to restore the dignity and work of each individual.

            What is different with the Great Recession of 2008? Why aren't we "seeing a lot of improvement overnight?" Well for one thing, we have to remember that we are living in the 21st century, a here and now much more vastly complex, globally interconnected, and difficult to assess then previously. The manufacture of goods often takes place upon several continents, and yet I am glad that my mail-order blouses are well made and feature the latest technology in loomed cottons. One reason why the U.S. Federal Reserve is just that, reserved in action, speech, and mindset is that they hold the standard on the U.S. dollar, particularly now that it is tied to the stockmarkets rather than the gold standard as it once used to be. Imagine when someone is in the middle of a sandstorm, how difficult it is to see what one would otherwise see from above, such as in satellite imagery, or what one is better able to recognize in hindsight, such as contained within the books written by historians. We "won't see" the results of all the new projects being started right now for, as President Obama is trying to remind us, possibly a decade to come. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave President Bush a D-rating on the economy in 2005(http://www.asce.org/reportcard/2005/index.cfm). But in his very first act of Office, early in 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA aka. H.R.1), an act which grants billions of dollars to long neglected publics works infrastructures, including for schools and hospitals. The American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454 passed the House) also promises to revamp our economy even when right now we continue to see new layoffs, home foreclosures, and worst of all, particularly here in D.C., a continual stream of homeless people who flock here because in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, they still have no home, no job, and no loved ones who can take them in. The hundreds of billions of dollars are something they and we "don't see." But aren't we glad there are no long breadlines or middle-class Americans standing around for weeks in unemployment lines?

             According to optimists--even apologists--like economist Jagdish Bhagwati (whose book I am presently reading) in In Defense of Globalization, globalization is about making available a vast array of choices, options which previously were heretofore unavailable, and this is why capitalism is not inherently "evil." In the short term, when Walmart moves in and the local mom-and-pop stores go out of business, it looks bad, really bad. But it was going to happen sooner or later--when a small economy is outdated, inefficient, overpriced, and cannot serve the vaster majority of the People, then it goes out of business. This happened to the Indians, but it also happened to the hillbillies of Kentucky, and the farmers in Oklahoma. Their means were too vast, too wasted, too inefficient to serve the vaster majority of the People, and larger well-heeled eastern corporations or conglomerates--whether agribusiness, coal interests, or business--moved in to take over. What we decry is not so much what they do, but how corporations do it--how they displace people, dispose of toxic wastes without remediation, and how certain corporations capitalize upon disasters or war with mercenary ruthlessness and impunity.

            The process is not inherently evil, but its consequences, such as the displacement of people without adequate compensation and options is. And this is what all the Thinktanks are working on now, while we, the People, are rightly doing our duty and crying out for Social Justice, even when the best we may be able to do is to reign in the number of scandals. In the short term, what President Obama has done is shore up the most logical possible middle-class investments: home, education, and job opportunities. ARRA allows home foreclosures to be delayed or prevented through refinancing options. Thanks to this Act, I don't have to see my brother and his family broken up, and living out in the street or standing in the middle of a long breadline. In the short term also, President Obama has increased student educational financing resources by "buying out" troubled institutions such as Sallie Mae and Freddie Mac and increasing Pell Grants. Thus, without even having to serve the time that veterans or returning G.I.'s earned, many unemployed Americans now have the opportunity to return to school. What better way to increase our knowledge, skills, and abilities than by investing in our innate talents? In an ideal world--read Utopia by Sir Thomas More--people live out the luxury of attending symposiums for free. Granted our education is not free, but it is definitely supported by low-interest and time-delayed government-guaranteed loans. I am glad to be able to attend U.D.C. rather than work at a job which never was my choosing. In the short term also, President Obama and Congress are even hammering together a marketable National Healthcare Plan (H.R.3962), something which would benefit all citizens while preventing Medicare from going broke within the next two decades as the Baby-Boomers retire.

              Our education here at U.D.C. will provide us the tools, the mental development, and psychological stamina to step into the 21st century economy. One day, we must step out of these vaulted halls and once again join the rank and file at the Unemployment Lines. But won't we be then be much better equipped? Won't we have had the benefit of something akin to a "Rest and Recreation" hiatus? Just think about the network of classmates, mentors, and even life friends we may have made by having the opportunity to attend college. If we are qualified, we may even continue to advance to higher institutions of learning and become well-qualified "Thinktanks" ourselves! In fact, one of the Thinktank's books we are now reading in SOAR4 classes is Van Jones's The Green Collar Economy. Another book I have digitally downloaded but have yet to read is Thomas Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded. These books provide us with a palette of visions by which the executors may stimulate our economy through "green" ecosensitive, sustainably viable measures such as by investing in alternative new manufacturers. But as students and citizens, we have the time, power, and human energy to participate as codevelopers in these visionary possibilities. In fact, it is our responsibility! We can write to them to express our opinions and tell these Thinktanks what we, also, think will work because not only can capitalists not work without human capital or our enthusiasm, but regardless of what they say, they depend upon our experience and ingenuities! For instance, what should be done about unabated immigration from South America or people who move to the U.S. but immediately apply for federally funded health benefits? What can we do to equalize the playing field between contractors who only hire the cheapest construction specialists instead of offering to train unskilled workers who "have never experienced an equal opportunity"? Why has the wall-building between U.S. and Mexico been halted? We should investigate these issues and make our opinions heard.

            Part of our duty, as activists and philosophers as various as John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Sojourner Truth have advocated, is as free citizens to be unafraid to learn about government, participate in civic affairs, and research issues which are of vital concern for us as individuals. It was in part because of citizenship concern and action about the irresponsibilities of banks that the Credit Card Act (H.R.627) was signed by President Obama last summer and is now in effect. This is why one should read newspapers as various as the Washington Times, Washington Post, and Internet news such as by Michael Moore, Mother Jones, National Public Radio (NPR), and Democracy Now. Syndicates as well as alternative news sources help scope out for us the big picture, for the truth is, as U.D.C. English professor Dr. Hamilton states, is that "there is no real truth." An issue is not so simple as yes versus no, good versus evil, or "to be or not to be." In fact, it is more like the five blind Jains groping an elephant and not able to tell which part they are holding or even what the elephant looks like. Your informed opinion, in other words, may often be just as good as your other informed fellow citizen's.

            In summary, I do believe that in general, President Obama is trying to live up to his most critical campaign promises. More importantly, the Executive is trying to lead the country in a new direction, one in which we will become less dependent upon fossil fuels, reduce unrecyclable wastes, strengthen our energy grid, and even create many new economically sustainable green jobs in various traditional job sectors. We may not agree with everything Mr. Obama is doing, and bureaucratic inefficacies or corporate fraud may not disappear, but I believe right now, the best thing we students can do is to learn about The American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454), the "Green Economy Bill" and write to your legislators if you want them to pass it.

Originally prepared by Christine H. Kroll for Trilogy Newspaper at UDC (since edited)

Characters and events are fictitious and serve thematic purposes only.

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