The factories are closing and the army’s full/I don’t know what I’m going to do
In our class, we talk about the key problem of globalisation: that its benefits are spread fairly broadly, but its costs are not – referring, specificall, to lost US jobs. The IHT has an interesting story from India – a story no doubt repeated all over this country, too (with different key features, one can assume, but nevertheless) – about globalisation and the distribution of its impact within a single family.
… the professional letter writer is confronting the fate of middlemen everywhere: to be cut out. In India, the fastest-growing market for mobile phones in the world, calling the village or sending a text message has all but supplanted the practice of dictating your intimacies to someone else.
And so Sawant, 61 years old and by his own guess the author of more than 10,000 of other people’s letters, was sitting idly at his stall on a recent Monday, having earned just 12 cents from an afternoon spent filling out forms, submitting money orders, wrapping parcels – the postal trivialities that have survived the evaporation of his letter-writing trade.
But this is not the familiar story of the artisan flattened by the new economy, because, it turns out, his family has gained more from that economy than it has lost.
Sawant has three children riding the Indian economic boom, including a daughter, Suchitra, who works at Infosys, one of the preeminent Indian outsourcing firms. In the very years that a telecommunications revolution was squashing her father’s business, it was plugging India into the global networks that would allow her industry to explode. Suchitra now earns $9,000 a year, three times as much as her father did at his peak.
Globalization is said to create winners and losers. In the Sawants, it created both. And that duality reflects the furious pace at which entire professions are being invented and entire professions destroyed in the rush to modernize India.
Professional letter-writers are so cool. Here’s some interesting sequelae: what happens as an emergent Middle Class comes to demand the same plasticised, amorphously consumerist quality of life that the rest of us are pretending we enjoy? I put to you that Suchitra’s 9 thou won’t help her find a man, settle down and start a family, while simultaneously supporting her parents. Her parents are probably downwardly socially-mobile, from about this point onwards. Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure this is an improvement, overall. Health care, sanitation, etc. – provided they avoid the slums, urban environmental health must improve. Things just aren’t as symmetric as we would be led to believe.
Second: if our labour all went to India, where’d our manufacturing go?
When residents of this northern Chinese city hang their clothes out to dry, the black fallout from nearby Handan Iron and Steel often sends them back to the wash.
Half a world away, neighbors of ThyssenKrupp’s former steel mill in the Ruhr Valley of Germany once had a similar problem. The white shirts men wore to church on Sundays turned gray by the time they got home.
These two steel towns have an unusual kinship, spanning 5,000 miles and a decade of economic upheaval. They have shared the same hulking blast furnace, dismantled and shipped piece by piece from Germany’s old industrial heartland to Hebei Province, China’s new Ruhr Valley.
The transfer, one of dozens since the late 1990s, contributed to a burst in China’s steel production, which now exceeds that of Germany, Japan and the United States combined. It left Germany with lost jobs and a bad case of postindustrial angst.
But steel mills spewing particulates into the air and sucking electricity from China’s coal-fired power plants account for a big chunk of the country’s surging emissions of sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. Germany, in contrast, has cleaned its skies and is now leading the fight against global warming.
In its rush to recreate the industrial revolution that made the West rich, China has absorbed most of the major industries that once made the West dirty. Spurred by strong state support, Chinese companies have become the dominant makers of steel, coke, aluminum, cement, chemicals, leather, paper and other goods that faced high costs, including tougher environmental rules, in other parts of the world. China has become the world’s factory, but also its smokestack.
First, I think it’s hardly fair to suggest that China’s “rush to recreate the industrial revolution that made the West rich” is what caused these problems. Sure, China’s got some pretty ass-headed principles of governance, but we dangled all the cash in their faces, too. Second, was this cool insight:
China’s worsening environment has also upended the geopolitics of global warming. It produces and exports so many goods once made in the West that many wealthy countries can boast of declining carbon emissions, even while the world’s overall emissions are rising quickly, not falling.
China also lacks natural resources, including iron ore, oil and wood, for heavy industry and for its own rising consumer class. So its growth strains the environment as far away as Canada, Brazil, Australia and Indonesia, where it buys raw materials by the shipload.
Not that many people call the West on their emissions scam – the US an excellent (not unique, by any means, but the worst) case in point, with its arguments over not capping emissions. Think an “economy” equivalent of screaming, “but what about the baby?!” All the while, of course, the crap we import is pumping immeasurable shit in the atmosphere, already.
If you’re bored, go read The Storm Cloud of the Nineteenth Century.