Thursday, November 10, 2011

History Repeating Part IV

History Repeats Itself In A Flat World Where Currency Value Is The Holy Grail: Understanding The World Here And Now

6. The American State And Neo-Imperialism

The servants may change, the master remains the same. And the masters react badly when their authority is challenged. What did America do after it came to be the sole super power? It tried very hard to maintain this power. One way of doing this was to interfere the running of other nations and states, especially those nations and states from which American can benefit. American is at loggerheads with the dictatorship in Cuba, or more recently in Venezuela, not because it cares about these nations, but because these nations pose threat to the American free market policy. Venezuela has fuel oil, but it does not want to do business the way American wants it to. The gulf war was fought not to restore Kuwait as a nation, but to save American oil business. Same is the case with the current crisis in the Middle East.

Masters need slaves to do their dirty works. In British India, the Indian population was taught English not to enlighten them but to make them work for the empire. Hence, Indian workers were sent to Africa to build railroads, to Mauritius to harvest poppy. African slaves were brought to American to work in the cotton fields.
The same thing is happening with the business of outsourcing. This is less about quality and ability, as we would like to think, but more about cheap labour. America is asking Indian to work for them not because Indians are better workers, but because they are cheap.

It’s a win-win situation because, in the bargain, India gets the riches too. But at what cost? For one thing, America would not acknowledge this work force. That is why a call centre employee offering services to American is asked to assume an American identity, complete with an American name and American accent. What does this mean in the context of the indigenous identity?

The traditional idea of imperialism needs colonies outside the empire. In neo-imperialism, this colony has become virtual, and it works slyly. Neo-imperialism works in the guise of something else. America waged war in Afghanistan against the Taliban on humanitarian grounds. It killed Saddam Hussain because he was a bad guy. But who gave American the power that they can go to any nation and decide what they can do? No one. It seized the power itself, like imperialism does.

7. Rupee, Dollar, Dirham, Euro And The Protest Against Money

It is said that greed is the root of all evil. This is what happened in the context of the current global meltdown. Economy rising up and going down is not a new phenomenon. It’s an accepted fact. In the recent memory, this happened soon after the dot-com boom. The internet arrived, and everyone jumped the bandwagon. Soon, the boom bust, and only those companies who were the fittest survived.

This time however, the players in the economy did not calculate the risk, and it grew out of proportion. After the economy went virtual in a flat world where the sensex in the stock market ruled the roost, where money became more accessible and more widespread, and became a commodity in itself (earlier money was used to buy and sell other products; it was a mode of exchange. Now, money became the product itself; one could buy and sell money), banks become the powerful entities, and they decided to make and break the rules according to their own conveniences. It was capitalism at its height, which demands that the state’s interference in economy should be minimum or nil. Without the state’s interference, in the United States, the banks started to sell money, more money than they owned. These numbers looked good on paper. But when this money was expected to perform its traditional duties, to buy tangible products, like a home, or a car, it could not, and the banks collapsed. But, as we all know, banks do not own money. Citizens keep their money in the bank for safekeeping, for future. And when the banks went down, it took along the people’s money, leaving an entire section of population poorer than ever.

This is the side-effect of capitalism. When it works, it works for everyone. And when it fails, it’s the working class, the labour force that has to pay the price. After Lehman Brothers went down and global meltdown begun in 2008, it was the common man who paid the price. (How India survived the meltdown? Though there has been cost-cutting in the industries which has direct connection to the US economy, Indian economy more or less came unscathed, as opposed to what the industry would make us believe, from the recession because despite the free economy after 1991, the banks in India are still under tight control of the state; which according to the Tatas and the Ambanis and the ICICI, HDFC banks may not be a desirable situation, but it saved the middle class Indians losing their hard earned money, as their counterparts in US and Europe did.)

After years of suffering, when the common men lose everything they had, their savings, their jobs, their houses, their future, how they are supposed to react?
Marx would tell us: “Revolution.” We have the history of Russia, Cuba, China (?). But, Marx is dead, so is Che Guevara. And, we don’t want socialism, for, we want our individual freedom as well, which socialism denies to a certain extent, we want our fancy iPads, and our Facebooks, and our ability to spend money. Yet, we don’t want banks to decide our fate. What would we do?

Is ‘Occupy Wall Street’ is a revolution in the offing, or it’s just an angry reaction which will eventually die down?

But first, what is this occupy movement? Simply, it is the public reaction, a non-violent, civil disobedience protest to the late-2000s financial crisis and the subprime mortgage crisis in the US, which first begun in September 17, 2011.
It started in New York City and San Francisco with Occupy Wall Street and Occupy San Francisco and is primarily directed against social and economic inequality. By October 9, Occupy protests had taken place or were ongoing in over 95 cities across 82 countries and over 600 communities in the United States. As of November 4 the Meet-up page "Occupy Together" listed "Occupy" communities in 2,464 towns and cities worldwide.

Initiated by the Canadian activist group Adbusters, the movement is partly inspired by the Arab Spring, especially Cairo's Tahrir Square protests, and the Spanish Indignant. Occupy protests take their name from Occupy Wall Street, and commonly use the slogan “We are the 99, and organise through websites such as "Occupy Together". The protests, which have been described as a "democratic awakening," are difficult to distill to a few demands.

Indeed, the movement has gone further to create a diverse, multi-media culture of art production and distribution, which is being archived and gathered by institutions such as the Smithsonian Museum of American History and New York Historical Society. The purpose of much of the art produced is to visually impact the mainstream through imagery to create solidarity and unity among the 99%.
On 19 October 2011, Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, described the protests as "a warning for all those who are in charge of the processes of governance."

8. Our Money, Their Money, Everyone’s Money

Why money is important? Why the US is important? These two are not really a different thing, since post-WWII, the US has been described as the place where one can make money. If Last Vegas is the casino of the US, the US is the casino of the world. People from all over the world started migrating to the US following WWII, and the trend continues. Till recently, the US also encouraged these migrations, because more people means more labour, more industries, more money. Following the IT revolution, when the world was flattened, these migrations turned into a global phenomenon, where other countries, especially the developing once (the third world), tried to accommodate the American model in the context of their own economy, hence, the rise of outsourcing industry. The American capitalism had sprouted roots in all over the world. This was American imperialism. So, when the dollar value went down, it took along with it the other currencies, for example, the Indian rupee. If American economy collapses, its ripples would be felt in India too, and strongly, not only in the Information Technology industry, and in the BPO industry, but also in all walks of life, for, with being a monetary and political power, the United States, over the years, has also become the arbitrator of the widespread public taste.

Thus, the mainstream culture the world over as we know today is the American culture. That’s why Hollywood movies are so popular, because they are more accessible, so is Hip-hop music or Lady Gaga, wireless internet, live-in relationships, easy divorces, the examples are endless. That’s why a young gay man in India, without being aware of the history of the own existence, dream of marrying a male partner as they have done in the US. We follow the US, the world does. Our money follows the US money. Our wellbeing follows the wellbeing of the United States. Hence, the fear. We are not worried about the fall of United States. We are worried that this fall will take us along with it.

And, right now, we do not have an alternative model to rely our fate on. There’s no Robin Hood, no Hitler, no Gandhi, no Lenin, no Castro, no Mao; the nationalist insurgency movements are dead or dying, and they are not the ideal alternatives anyway.

(The author of this piece has copied liberally from entries to make himself clear)

Further Reading

Fukuyama, Francis. The End of History and the Last Man. 1992.
Friedman, Thomas L. The World is Flat. 2005.
Levitt, Steven D & Stephen J Dubner. Freakonomics. New Delhi: Penguin. 2006
Sen, Amartya, The Argumentative Indian. New Delhi: Penguin. 2005.
Nilekani, Nandan, Imaging India: Ideas for the New Century. New Delhi: Allen Lane. 2008.

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