Friday, March 26, 2010

Globalization: For WHO?

What is behind the desire for variety and quantity over quality? Was this desire intentionally shaped? How has this contributed to world-wide poverty, climate change and loss of culture? Who really benefits from globalization? These questions relate to the ever-expanding global market where a small percentage of people benefit, while the majority is exploited. It is clear that the producers in the globalized economy, primarily in the global south, have experienced ecological destruction, loss of self-sufficiency and culture with complete reliance on the exports of the concentrated commodities they are producing. Although it can be argued that the ‘consumers’ of the developed world benefit from the commodities of globalization, it is evident that the resulting culture of disposability has been extremely inefficient, unhealthy and unsustainable. The unconscious and relentless consumer demand for a variety of commodities has strengthened the power of transnational corporations and their control over the producers and consumers of these commodities.

If the majority of people do not benefit from globalization in the long-run, why does this inefficient system continue to dominate and exploit the world? To understand this, we can first look at the illusions that are set up through marketing and societal standards. In “Development and Globalization,” McMichael describes how the media displays an illusion of the world’s diversity as a source of wealth which reduces it to a single, global entity. With this, consumers do not consider what globalization does to the people who do not benefit from the material and images of it and are increasingly disconnected from the origins of their commodities. This leads to further consumption; again, the beneficiary is the corporation. We can look at ancient Rome and find a similar model with the idea of “bread and circuses”. You provide people with food and entertainment and they will not pay attention to the decisions of the government. In ancient Rome, this system was a factor in the collapse of the empire as the price of imports could not be sustained[1]. Even then, about 90% of the population was still engaged with farming. This unregulated market through transnational corporations is becoming hard to sustain and generating tensions between the global north and south.

McMichael explains the tension between profits and meaning that arise from unregulated markets. For example, the stages of production for most products have been broken up around the globe where one producing community is only one step in the process. All of the community’s land and resources are used for a singular entity. The failure of this entity becomes catastrophic, not to mention the total reliance on the global market for a community’s survival as they are no longer able to produce self-sustaining food on their land. An example of this is yogurt in Germany. When taking into account its ingredients, we find that the strawberries, milk, and cardboard and ink for the carton travel more than 6000 miles to reach the market when it all could be produced within a 50 mile radius[2]. This cannot be beneficial from an environmental, cultural or social standpoint.

What is fueling globalization is the designed dependability of developing nations on the corporate market, the ignorance of consumers in their sources for consumption and the lack of alternatives for the consumer. The illusion of variety in the supermarket is illustrated by Michael Pollan in the Omnivore’s Dilemma where almost all food items are coming from the mass production of fewer and fewer ingredients and producers. So who is globalization really for? The answer is simple, not very many people!

[1] Geoff Tansey and Tony Worsley. “Modern Food: Where did it come from?” pp. 30
[2] Philip McMichael. Development and Social Change. Pp. 29.

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