Monday, October 27, 2008


I have some misgivings about a Barrack Obama presidency and how it would affect us, most especially his stance towards global trade. For one whom Mukoma Wa Ngugi describes as "a mosaic of cultures and experiences...probably the first political leader to fit snugly into the skin of globalization", his proclamations on protecting American jobs and his opposition to Free Trade Agreements smack of good old-fashioned protectionism cloaked in the guise of a paternalistic and condescendng concern over the plight of poor people everywhere. 

In his memoir, Dreams From My Father, here's what he had to say on the subject of globalisation: 
"I tried to imagine the Indonesian workers who were now making their way to the sorts of factories that had once sat along the banks of the Calumet River [in south Chicago], joining the ranks of wage labor to assemble the radios and sneakers that sold on Michigan Avenue. I imagined those same Indonesian workers ten, twenty years from now, when their factories would have closed down, a consequence of new technology or lower wages in some other part of the globe. And then the bitter discovery that their markets have vanished; that they no longer remember how to weave their own baskets or carve their own furniture or grow their own food; that even if they remember such craft, the forests that gave them wood are now owned by timber interests, the baskets they once wove have been replaced by more durable plastics. The very existence of the factories, the timber interests, the plastics manufacturer, will have rendered their culture obsolete; the values of hard work and individual initiative turnout to have depended on a system of belief that’s been scrambled by migration and urbanization and imported TV reruns. Some of them would prosper in this new order. Others would move to America. And the others, the millions left behind in Djakarta, or Lagos, or the West Bank, they would settle into their own Altgeld Gardens [the projects where Obama worked], into a deeper despair." 

Idealizing the lifestyles of the poor (I am yet to hear Obama urging the residents of Manhattan to settle the prairies, weave baskets and grow their own food) is a pretext employed by those who have the most to fear from globalisation. And that’s not the poor, who are suffering anyway, but those who have benefited from the skewed nature of global trade, America and Western Europe. 

Even worse, it is just such mercantilist thinking that pushed the world into an economic depression in following the stock market crash of 1929. Once again the global economy stands on the brink of the precipice and we must be careful that those, such as Obama, who seek to protect their ill-gotten gains behind trade barriers are not allowed to push us over.

No comments: