Sunday, July 31, 2005

Greed is bad. Capitalism is great. Free Trade is awesome. Really ?

This is a picture I took, in New York city. I saw this sign near a plush neighborhood, where all the swanky show rooms were.

It was quite early in the morning and the streets were pretty much empty. The only ones on the street were the homeless. I wondered what they thought about the sign. They could care less.

A few years ago, I would have been among the vast majority that thought Capitalism was the coolest thing since sliced bread. Not any more.

Growing up in the erstwhile socialist leaning India, I developed a loathe for Socialism. The private enterprise were few and far between. Things were state controlled. Subsidies, inefficiencies and bureaucracy was ever present. Customer service was a concept unborn. Consumerism was a concept very foreign. It was the age of License Raj that took over British Raj.

The job opportunities were few and the people competing for it were many. Through out my student life, I kept hearing the same one thing. Study hard, else you will be unemployed.

It was the 90s when the Indian foreign exchange crisis happened. Suits from the IMF and the World Bank stepped in. The then finance minister Manmohan Singh flagged in the Liberalization Raj. The rest is history.

Had it not been for that opening up, my career path would have been very different (possibly nonexistent). So why have I turned against trade liberalization? So why am I asking all these questions ? Why am I complaining ? Why now ? Lot of my friends have asked me that. Some even have gone to the point of saying that I am aiming for Utopia.

I still remember that day when NAFTA made headlines the world over. A new era of growth said the news report. There was a general drumbeat of all the good things it would achieve. The news report had a small segment towards the end, which showed a few protestors angry about the treaty. I couldn't understand why someone would protest against growth and job creation. How dumb was I ?

A decade later, it is clear what NAFTA has accomplished. 10 - 15 million Mexican farmers displaced. Agricultural & Food mega-corporations such as Tyson, Cargill, ConAgra and Midland have made record profits. Thanks to large scale mechanized farming, low wages and nonexistent environmental standards, prices have plummeted. Small scale farming has been rendered uneconomical. I think NAFTA should be renamed to North American Forced Trek Agreement. Poor Mexican farmers forced to trek the Arizona border.

So when the senate and the house of representatives both approved CAFTA, I couldn't help but wonder...Isn't there common sense anymore ? Krystal Kyer at asks the question What rhymes with NAFTA, But smells worse ? CAFTA !

The consequences of this "neoliberal" trade system is not just felt in Mexico. Remember the Tsunami ? Had the mangroves across South East Asia not been commercially and systemically destroyed, the large scale loss could have been avoided. Large aquaculture and tourism corporations have been able to sue local governments, violate local environmental laws and destroy the mangroves. All in the name of Trade Liberalization and WTO.

If you were to look at the corporations that are lobbying for this neoliberal trade system, one will find companies that we work for, our friends work for, companies we have bought shares of. As I sit here and blog all this, I feel like a total hypocrite. I feel, I am just another blogger with a broadband connection and a digital camera.

Quote of the day
"Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy sh*t we don't need"... From the movie Fight Club


Jithu said...

interesting read! ppl say that liberalization opened different avenues for indian economy. jobs were created. indian companies went global. bt the ppl who are saying this, who are benefitted by this, becomes only 10% of India's population. agriculture suffered in india and is on it was to being extirpated. many indian companies were thrown out in the competition. solidare tv is an example. i think liberalisation gave us indians a building with a damaged foundation, on top of which v think ourselves to be. donno how long will it go before it collapses.

One More Reason said...


I agree with you. The people who have really benefitted from liberalization are a minority.

For a country like India, cash flow is vital. But that cash flow comes with strings attached. I am not an expert in economics, but what I am seeing is worrisome.

Could there be a happy medium ?

Sunil said...

I think a lot of us are looking for a happy medium.

I don't know if we'll ever find one.

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