Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Ports, Inc.: Welcome to FlatWorld

Everyone is missing the point.

My fellow liberals are screaming bloody murder about the UAE ports deal--about the idiocy, incompetence, the corruption, and the hypocrisy--emphasizing every detail of the emerging scandal.  But almost nobody's paying attention to the much bigger--and more dangerous--picture.

When I watch Republicans like Orrin Hatch and Dennis Hastert object stridently to the UAE port deal, all I can do is sit back and laugh.  Grimly.  Because they've been so stupid and myopic that they couldn't even see what kind of world they've been creating and celebrating.  It's world that spells the doom of America--and every other Nation-State on this earth.

The truth is that we've been well on this path for a long time now.  And both Republicans and Democrats have been applauding its arrival on the world stage.

The path that has led us to this point is called economic neoliberalism.  Most of you are familiar with its tenets: it has been the guiding light of American economic thinking for the last 20 years at least.  To quote Wikipedia, whose description of the philosophy is quite apt:

Neoliberalism is widely used as a (mostly pejorative) description of the revived form of economic liberalism that became increasingly important in international economic policy discussions from the 1970s onwards.

In its dominant international use, neoliberalism refers to a political-economic philosophy that de-emphasizes or rejects government intervention in the domestic economy. It focuses on free-market methods, fewer restrictions on business operations, and property rights. In foreign policy, neoliberalism favors the opening of foreign markets by political means, using economic pressure, diplomacy, and/or military intervention. Opening of markets refers to free trade and an international division of labor. Neoliberalism generally favors multilateral political pressure through international organizations or treaty devices such as the WTO and World Bank. It promotes reducing the role of national governments to a minimum. Neoliberalism favors laissez-faire over direct government intervention (such as Keynesianism), and measures success in overall economic gain. To improve corporate efficiency, it strives to reject or mitigate labor policies such as minimum wage, and collective bargaining rights.

It opposes socialism, protectionism and environmentalism. Neoliberalism is often at odds with fair trade and other movements that argue that labor rights and social justice should have a greater priority in international relations and economics.

[Emphasis added]

This economic philosophy of globalization has been lauded by the majority of economists and politicians on both sides of the aisle, with only smatterings of dissent in the United States.

Perhaps the most visible celebration of this new world is Thomas Friedman, author of The Lexus and the Olive Tree, in his book The World is Flat.  As most of you know, Friedman celebrates a world of global companies with vast supply chains breaking down barriers of trade, ethnicity, language, etc., to provide beneficial economic growth to the developing world, and lower prices and higher-quality products around the globe.  Of course, it goes without saying that, as Joseph Stiglitz or Greg Palast can easily tell you, anybody who looks deeply into the issue can see that this "globalization" is nothing more than a tool for first-world countries to exploit third-world nations and benefit only the elites in each nation.

But the point of this diary is not to discuss all the benefits and drawbacks of globalization and neoliberalism.  The point is, rather, to emphasize one of the most important corollaries of Friedman's FlatWorld even under the best of circumstances--and to illustrate what it has to do with our ports.

To quote the American Communications Journal:

Other scholars argue that globalization and informatization are likely to diminish the concept of the nation as a political institution at all (Poster, 1999). Friedman (1999) argues that as nation-states decline in importance, multi-national corporations, nongovernmental organizations, and "superempowered individuals" such as George Soros gain influence and importance. As these non-political organizations and institutions gain importance, there are inevitable challenges to political, economic, and cultural processes.

And therein lies the key: in the neoliberal world of Republican, Friedmanesque fantasy, Nation-States as we know them today become increasingly irrelevant.  All that matters is business, and the interests of corporations in securing their maximum bottom line.  No one on either side of the debate argues this point: for liberals, the exploitation is done to enrich corporate coffers; for conservatives, it is done to maximize growth and lower prices.  But no one denies that the Nation-State becomes almost a spectator in this grand opera.

For Democrats and Kossacks to frame this issue as anything but yet another example of corporate profits coming before American security is be utterly short-sighted.

But for Republicans, the situation is far worse and far more vexing.

To be sure, most Republicans have embraced this out of a belief that, in the globalized game of exploitation, Americans would come out the winners.  After all, when Halliburton reconstructs Iraq, American businessmen profit.  When McDonalds expands into Afghanistan, American businessmen profit there, too.  We liberals continue to complain that free-trade has come at the expense of the American worker--but in the moral vaccuum inhabited by Republicans, globalization is good because the American big-wig profits.


The problem, of course, is that free-trade is a two-way street, and even the most progressive or patriotic corporations fall sway to an influence far bigger and more important than loyalty, morality, progressivism, patriotism or even common sense: namely, the bottom line.

Thus it is that even an extremely progressive company like Google will sell out its values when dealing with China because in a globalized world, Google cannot afford not to do business with China.  But in the long run, Chinese oppression will be the loser for the business impact that Google's mere presence makes on the Chinese citizenry.


And the bottom line dictates that products, services, and yes, even national ports, will be sold off to the higest bidder--no matter which country they are from.  Because the World is now Flat.

Thus it is that we now live in a world where Americans build Dubai's oil infrastructure (thus ensuring anti-American sentiment in the region), while Arab Emirates control our port security (thus rendering us vulnerable to terrorism).  And no one can even complain.  Because to complain would be to challenge the very economic system that our elites believe in almost as a religion.


In this brave new FlatWorld, National Sovereignty is a thing of the past.  Your new corporate overlords now dictate your future OVER THE TOP of your government.  And if your government tries to stop it, your Corporatist President will just veto your attempt.  You're the frog in the boiling pot who has been merrily buying up cheap crap at Wal-Mart, failing to understand that the very system that has allowed you to buy cheap Chinese crap has also ensured the sale of your personal safety to Arab terrorist-connected governments.

And it's only going to get worse.  Whenever I see the Bush Administration talk about "National Security", it always gives me a belly-laugh.  The "Nation" isn't in control anymore.  For the last long while, our government has operated at the behest of our corporate overlords.

And for a while, to certain amoral Republicans, that system has been okay--because they were our corrupt corporate overlords (with a few Saudi exceptions here and there.)

Now--all of a sudden--these Republicans are in shock.  They're in shock because--horror of horrors!--their comfortable asses are being sold down the river to foreign corporate overlords.  And wait a minute!  That wasn't supposed to happen!  That wasn't part of the bargain!

But it is.  It was inexorable and totally predictable.  Already, many sci-fi video-game makers posit a universe dominated not by planetary or species governments--but by multi-planetary corporations.  And they're right.  The inevitable byproduct of Friedman's world is just that: total corporate control of everything from your drinking water to your personal safety.

Welcome to FlatWord, boys and girls.  It's gonna be a bumpy ride.  Unless we do something about it, of course.


Blogger RenaRF said...

We all have a blog!! Muaahahaha!! I'll blogroll you as well. ;-)

5:59 PM  
Blogger hekebolos said...

I like the concept and the explanatory power. The only thing I'm wondering is why they didn't see this coming when Lenovo acquired IBM.

I was thinking of writing a diary that compared the two, but I don't think I will now. The basic point I was going to make is that when it comes to economic dominance--and whether or not we're ceding it to foreign powers--the Lenovo/IBM deal was just viewed as part of the business cycle, in the same misguided way that our national debt is perceived as such.

But this has ramifications outside of just being one salvo in a war between two nations fighting for economic dominance. This actually hits home--or at least, it should--because it may have security ramifications in terms of a one-time static event rather than the slow progress of a macroeconomic shift of dominance.

6:58 PM  
Blogger Roberta1 said...

Hello Mr.Spoon,
I came over here to your blog from dailyKos, where I always read and recommend you (I have a different name over there). I am not a diary writer so you probably don't know me.
I want to say I am a huge fan of your writing and thinking. I have rarely seen a blogger that has as prescient a view as you.

And now that I know you are in market research, I somewhat understand. You have a Gladwellian macro view that works for me. I have done some work in market research and it does require a certain "And therefore..." kind of thinking. Which you do well.

Congratulations. You'll see me here again. Oh, and I really liked your comments about flying back East. I agree, mostly. Not entirely. Perhaps we can debate.


6:59 PM  
Blogger thereisnospoon said...

thanks Roberta.

What's your dKos username?

12:43 AM  
Blogger thereisnospoon said...

Yes, Rena--we all have a blog!

very cool. look forward to more diaries!

12:43 AM  

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