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Globalization sucks ...
November 25, 2000 1:42 AM   Subscribe

Globalization sucks ... venti lattes through a Starbucks straw in Beijing's Forbidden City.
posted by allaboutgeorge (34 comments total)

 
how do you post non-sign-in links? can some on?
I swear to god, NYTimes has got to have the worst site ever, actually blocking the user from entering. It's horrible.
posted by tiaka at 7:44 AM on November 25, 2000


New York times pisses me off. First you have to register just to read their content and now they are having server problems so I can't get an account.

If this is what globalization is going to come to, then yes it does suck.
posted by Brilliantcrank at 7:51 AM on November 25, 2000


I would have to agree. New York Times is shit. I have yet to read an article that someone posted on here from NY Times. I'm not going to register with their damn site. To hell with them. I'll get my news elsewhere.
posted by howa2396 at 8:34 AM on November 25, 2000


http://partners.nytimes.com/2000/11/25/business/25STAR.html should work. I've got my cookie so I can't easily test it right now. If it doesn't work, you should be able to get in with cypherpunk/cypherpunk among many other well-known logins.
posted by sudama at 8:41 AM on November 25, 2000


I live in abject fear that someone deep in the bowels of the New York Times headquarters is poring over server logs to see what I've read.

Cripes, it's free.
posted by dhartung at 12:06 PM on November 25, 2000


yes, after all, you did register here.

the article is interesting, but the idea of starbucks (and cell phones and palm pilots) as cultural colonizers abroad is less important to me than corporate chains like starbucks acting as economic colonizers at home, putting locally owned, perfectly good coffee shops out of business.
posted by chrismc at 12:28 PM on November 25, 2000


Just in case this thread is going to wander back on topic any time, I have to ask: what's wrong with Starbuck's in Beijing? What bothers me about this whole "globalization is evil" broadbrush agitprop campaign is that it doesn't take into account the "locals" who may actually WANT to have the product or service that's being imported. It's absolutely certain that Starbuck's couldn't have just waltzed in and set up a shop without the Chinese approving the move, so it's not like their sneaking in and snaring unsuspecting Chinese with caffeine-enhanced lattes...
posted by m.polo at 12:42 PM on November 25, 2000


I agree fully, m.polo. This article was syndicated, so even though I hate the NY Times, I read it in the Oregonian this morning (in an abbreviated version). Suffice to say, if people don't buy the cups of coffee from Starbucks, Starbucks wouldn't be setting up shop in China. If ppl in *your* town *wanted* to drink their coffee from Joe Q Public CoffeeHouse, then JQPC would stay in business and Starbucks would shut down their store. It's as simple as that. People in foreign countries *want* to eat McDonalds, they want to wear Adidas shoes, and they want to drink Starbucks coffee. Since none of these companies are using unfair business practices, I don't see where the problem would be.

Another piece of food-for-thought for the anti-globalists (ironically, Nader and Buchanan feel the exact same on the issue of globalization ^_^): In the 18th Century, English companies complained for social and economic reasons about the "cheap labor" provided by Americans that was "undercutting English companies' ability" to compete.

Yay Globalism.

Kevs
posted by Kevs at 1:05 PM on November 25, 2000


yes, after all, you did register here.

Uhh, yeah, but I registered here so I could say something, not just so I could read the site; not quite the same situation.
posted by webmutant at 1:14 PM on November 25, 2000


In the 18th Century, English companies complained for social and economic reasons about the "cheap labor" provided by Americans that was "undercutting English companies' ability" to compete.

It's also worth remembering that the chartered companies in the Americas and Asia were the basis of the British and Dutch Empires. From a historical perspective, corporate capitalism is proto-imperialism, and I don't see that changing in its new iteration.
posted by holgate at 1:16 PM on November 25, 2000


You have a point webmutant, but I was speaking to posters who did register, but I understand your thinking though.

It's an interesting point though, not wanting to register at sight like nyt, what are the reasons? I can only guess at this point why you wouldn't want to, but if it has anything to do do with questioning the motivations of corporations that fits in nicely with the article in question.

For me, not liking starbucks is as much about coffee shop employees being forced to wear stupid uniforms by some corporate lackey, as opposed to being yourself in a neighborhood place, as it is about economics. Although economic benifits of globalization are clearly suspect too, the cultural ones are troubling.

My concern is not for the yuppies who want to drink large cups of warm milk with some coffee in it (let them eat cake), but the employees serving it.





posted by chrismc at 1:34 PM on November 25, 2000


This reminds me of the old 'Bloom County' cartoon about how to undermine Communism.The X-17 Stealth Basselope:Phase One: Cross into enemy territory virtually invisible to all hostile Soviet detection.Phase Two: Melt invisibly into modern Russian social scene.Phase Three: Distribute secret payload of Mickey Mouse caps, tickets to 'The Dating Game', Sharper Image catalogs, Haagen-Daas bars and colored Calvin Klein fashion briefs to unsuspecting Marxists.Phase Four: Sit back and watch Capitalism blossom faster than you can say 'Ivana Trump'.Substitute 'China' for 'Russia' and the underlying principle is exactly the same.I love it when cartoons predict reality!
posted by Mr. skullhead at 3:25 PM on November 25, 2000


It's an interesting point though, not wanting to register at sight like nyt, what are the reasons?

Well, if you actually register -- even if through giving bogus information and thus corrupting their database, which is far more rebellious than boycotting the damn thing -- then you can't endlessly whine and bore eveyone with how you never register for such sites.

Even as you're posting such on a site that requires you to register to post. You know, like this one? (cough)

Using the same argument, one can say that one never uses libraries, because they always require you to get a card to check anything out. (Although in post-Prop 13 California, where the libraries have been gutted through lack of funds, that actually kinda makes sense -- far better to use Advanced Book Exchange and buy the used books you want, over time...

But I digress.

Back on topic, I agree that in cultures where the businesses didn't previously exist -- how many coffeehouses are there in Beijing, anyway? -- globalization is prehaps a good thing. And, further, that the more pernicious evil is when large chains push out existing mom'n'pop businesses.

But that's not really where the chains are growing.

Due to the fungal, low-density. crappy return on equity mode of USA suburban growth, the big chains are really growing in new developments where nothing existed, say, five years ago. Mom'n'pop businesses don't grow in such areas because nobody lived there until recently, and they don't have the ready access to capital the big chains do. (I'm thinking of areas like Dublin in SF; Frisco in Dallas; almost anywhere in NC, all of which I've been to in the last few years installing computers in new stores for my big-chain retail employer)

That's what's causing the increasing homogenization of at least the US -- the huge amounts of development in areas where the mom'n'pops simply don't exist, and therefore can't compete.

posted by aurelian at 3:33 PM on November 25, 2000


Why does "Mom'n'Pop" automatically mean "better"?
posted by m.polo at 4:07 PM on November 25, 2000


aurelian pretty much said it about the NYT thing. Fine, don't register, dno't read the article, and don't post in the thread about globalization that you hate privacy invasion. Really.

I have to ask all these opponents of globalization whether they believe it makes sense to oppose things that the residents want. My problem with globalization is the corporate power, but if it isn't a conflict between corporate power and local interests, I'm not sure why I should care. The question of whether there is going to be global cultural convergence, I should think, has long since been answered.

If tourists at the Forbidden City want Starbucks, that may seem strange, but not everybody is there to experience a Disneyfied hokum-ancient-Chinese-teahouse either. If the choice is between having a fun touristy time and the purely authentic, a lot of tourists just won't show up. Besides, the Forbidden City isn't nearly as pure an historic site as this article would suggest. If there's always been economic activity there, what's wrong with modern economic activity? Keep the signs unobtrusive and the ugly anachronisms at bay, and it can combine the best of both worlds.
posted by dhartung at 5:01 PM on November 25, 2000


Bloom County rocks!

I don't mind regsitering for nytimes.com but damn-it at least take care of your server so I can give you my personal information. Don't shame me into begging for it! I'm not that low...yet.
posted by Brilliantcrank at 5:10 PM on November 25, 2000


In the 18th Century, English companies complained for social and economic reasons about the "cheap labor" provided by Americans that was "undercutting English companies' ability" to compete.

This is hard to believe since labor was never cheap in the U.S. particularly at this time. There were no vast depots of ready workers nor was there much capital around. Later on, it was merchandise produced by "pauper labor" in Europe that workers in the U.S. had to be protected against.
posted by leo at 5:58 PM on November 25, 2000


The X-15 Cruise Basselope (I'm afraid I couldn't find any images of the X-17 Stealth Basselope. That babushka was great.)

Seriously though, I think the main complaint many have about this sort of globalization is that one place looks pretty much like another these days. Today, it's hard to tell suburban Savannah apart from suburban Pittsburgh. The Mom-and-Pop places provided a sense of identity for places. It's easy to see how people miss them, and even easier to see that most Chinese don't want another carbon copy.
posted by Aaaugh! at 7:04 PM on November 25, 2000


The problem is that Joe's Coffeehouse cannot go without profits for the same time as Starbucks can. Starbucks opens up and its not making any real money in the first few months, this would kill an indepedant store. In the meantime consumers are deciding whether to goto Joe's or goto Starbucks or both. Joe is losing money and so is Starbucks, but Starbucks wins because they have deep enough pockets to go with low profits for a long time.

They aren't undercutting Joe to drive him out of business, but a franchise with deep pockets can stay around long enough to the point where they aren't percieved as the fad they are.

I won't even go into how local government bends over backwards for the privledge of having a big name franchise on their block. Sweetheart deals and promises to be extra hard on the competition are way too common. A few bribes to the right city empolyees go a long long way.



posted by skallas at 7:17 PM on November 25, 2000


Skallas, I'm afraid you're wrong.

Starbucks is a franchise. When a store opens, it doesn't have any deeper pockets than any other store. There's an owner, and he's the one who opens it. It doesn't get subsidized by the Starbucks corporation -- on the contrary, he pays them and quite a lot, too. The same is true for McDonalds and other similar chains.

What he does have going for him, though, is a known product. People who see a McDonalds or a Starbucks have a pretty good idea what kind of product they will get if they go inside. If they see "Joe's Coffee House" it could be anything. That gives the franchisee a major advantage. He also gets the advantage of the national advertising that the corporation does, which Joe can't possibly match.

And that's why independent restaurants die far more often than franchises do. It has nothing to do with "deep pockets"; it's because a franchise store is more likely to turn profitable faster than a no-name, because it has a ready-made clientele who are already used to going to other stores in the same franchise chain.

Sometimes. And then, sometimes such a franchise chain bites the big one. "Boston Market" almost went bankrupt, for instance; what saved them was getting bought out by McDonalds, of all people.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:34 PM on November 25, 2000


Look, the point is not that there is a Starbucks in Beijing, it is that there is a Starbucks in the Forbidden City. An analogous situation would be to put a Starbucks in the fountain by the Civil War memorial right in front of the US Capitol building. Its a slap in the face to the history and culture of over 1 billion people.
posted by donkeymon at 9:22 PM on November 25, 2000


McDonalds would put a fast food restaurant in the nose of Abraham Lincoln at Mt Rushmore, but the government wouldn't allow it. Why did the Chinese let Starbucks into the forbidden city? Is nothing sacred?
posted by mathowie at 10:02 PM on November 25, 2000


If ppl in *your* town *wanted* to drink their coffee from Joe Q Public CoffeeHouse, then JQPC would stay in business and Starbucks would shut down their store. It's as simple as that.

Actually, it isn't as simple as that, because the new chain store (Walmart, Starbucks, McDonalds, etc) can fragment the market to the point where the existing, independent store is no longer viable. It's not like the entire town decides, en masse, to prefer JQPC over Starbucks or vice versa; some of JQPC's current customers will defect over to Starbucks and the rest will remain. Even if JQPC is really popular and most of its customers stick around, the fraction that leave (10%? 15%?) may be enough to put them out of business.

Poof! Starbucks owns the town, and nobody has a choice about it.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:04 AM on November 26, 2000


Here's a list of other things globalization might ruin:

- The government controls all of the the chinese media- from magazines to TV.
- Internet accounts are registered with the police in China
- In China, you could go to prison for some of the threads on metafilter
- The average income in China is under $1000/year (August 1999)

I worked with a Chinese guy who had a temporary work permit. He indicated that part of the job of building super included shutting off the power and going from apartment to apartment checking for porn tapes stuck in VCRs. Anyone caught with such items went to jail. China has far worse problems than Starbucks.
posted by internook at 1:05 AM on November 26, 2000


for me its a simple matter of not wanting to register for every site on the internet. this is just one step closer to that. if there is no reason for me to register (i.e. to allow me to post my thoughts) then I don't want to mess with it. Of course, if they had porn on their site I would probably change my mind about the whole thing. but thats a different story.
posted by howa2396 at 1:06 AM on November 26, 2000


The favorite thing about Starbucks ever said, for me, is that it's not a coffee company: it's a real estate company. Early entry into developing areas, prime locations, convertible structures, etc.
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:13 AM on November 26, 2000


Why does "Mom'n'Pop" automatically mean "better"?

It doesn't.

It does, however, almost automatically mean more variety, both good and bad. Large chains tend to become mediocre because, well, all large organizations, public or private, tend to be mediocre.

This is part of what large chains sell -- you'll never get a truly awful experience at one of them, as you might at a mom'n'pop.

On the other hand, you'll never get a genuinely excellent experience, either.

See, if I had it my way, zoning requirements would have a ceiling for businesses either owned or franchised by out-of-towners. Local businesses would be unrestricted, but non-local ones would have a numeric and/or square footage limit, and once all the licenses for that year were sold, phht!, that'd be it. I haven't yet seen anything else that would prevent us from becoming the United States of Burbland -- and I think the fact that Burbland real estate values are always the cheapest in a metro area, even compared to slums, is an informal plebicite that tells you how much Americans really want the homogenization that's taking place.

Mo Nickels: Ray Kroc made the comment regarding real estate about McDonald's decades ago, and it's still true.
posted by aurelian at 1:52 AM on November 26, 2000


The thing I hate most about this debate(and it's a debate I think everyone here has had a few times) is the presumption that mom n pops have a RIGHT to sell in their little local market. I think that's ridiculous.

Local stores have the same rights as big franchises, ie the right to open a business and offer your wares. If a franchise is better able to compete, ie if people PREFER the big business, then that's that.

Now, if the community thinks certain practices that big chains can engage in that little chains can't are unfair, then there is an avenue open to them;make it illegal. Each community gets to decide what practices is does and doesn't want. If you don't want Starbucks buying the leases out form under competitors, than make it illegal. etc.

No one here has the right to say to a community "You're not allowed to prefer Starbucks, and It's For Your Own Good."
posted by dcodea at 6:21 AM on November 26, 2000


This is part of what large chains sell -- you'll never get a truly awful experience at one of them, as you might at a mom'n'pop. On the other hand, you'll never get a genuinely excellent experience, either.

C'mon, Aurelian, that's demonstrably not true. Ever shopped at a Nordstrom's department store? Ever been hungry and stopped into a Wolfgang Puck Cafe? Ever found exactly the (relatively obscure) computer title you were looking for at a Borders Books & Music store? You can do any one of those things - and many, many more - in "big chain" places all over America and someday presumably in other countries as well. ("Coming soon! Just in time for Holy Week, Nordstrom's St. Peter's Square location is having a 30% off everything in the store sale!").

This whole "mom'n'pop" schtick is about as realistic and convincing as those Ronald Reagan "It's Morning in America" commercials. For heaven's sake, kids, it wasn't true then and it's not true now.
posted by m.polo at 8:48 AM on November 26, 2000


m.polo,

Sorry but I have to totally disagree. Try going to a Blockbuster or Hollywood video for obscure movies or even porn. They don't and won't stock it. Specialty video stores are the only places you are going to find this kind of stuff. The same is true of book stores. Nine times out of ten I eat at non-chain resturants where the quality is usually better. I have never shopped at Nordstrom's or ate at Pucks and have still managed to survive.

As far as rights go, we do have the right to choose where we buy stuff. The problem is that big chains erode that choice. I live and work in downtown Seattle. I have little choice in where I can buy coffee unless I go outside of downtown. It's either the Tully or Starbucks chain, which are identical.

Oh well, these things are going to be decided by the witless majority that has started this whole mess. I'll enjoy variety while I can.
posted by john at 1:04 PM on November 26, 2000


An analogous situation would be to put a Starbucks in the fountain by the Civil War memorial right in front of the US Capitol building.

Anyone ever been to Gettysburg? And it took a grass-roots campaign to stop the Disneyfication of the Civil War battlefield at Manassas.

As for the "mom'n'pop" argument: one of the refreshing things about working in Amsterdam last year was that there seemed to be a much smaller proportion of branded stores in comparison to London. There's also a much greater number of markets than anywhere I've been in the US. And there's a diversity and vibrancy about the place as a commercial entity that reminds me of what I read about the origins of modern capitalism.

What's depressing about the chains -- and this applies to franchises in particular -- is that they exert a disproportionately large influence on suppliers to come up with a homogenised, sanitised product. For instance, the Red Delicious apple (link via Rebecca's Pocket) has been bred into tastelessness because of the aesthetic demands and economies of the bulk retailers.

There needs to be room in commerce for the quirky and the diverse: the stuff of small-scale producers who make smelly cheeses and ugly apples. Brand-based globalisation challenges individual craftsmanship in commerce, and it takes away the element of surprise and discovery which drives me to wake early on market day, or to seek out the obscure little shops in the side-streets.

(That's probably why I like eBay, too, because it highlights the bric-a-brac at the fringes of commerce.)
posted by holgate at 1:21 PM on November 26, 2000


I have never shopped at Nordstrom's or ate at Pucks and have still managed to survive.

But John, I never said you couldn't. I pointed out, using Nordstrom and Puck's as examples, that better-than-average consumer experiences can be had in chain establishments. Nobody's saying that "Mom'n'Pop" can't be better than chains; I contend that it's not true to make the blanket statement that "no chains are as good as "Mom'n'Pop."
posted by m.polo at 3:24 PM on November 26, 2000


OK, we are talking about different points, but I do believe the bigger chains get the less likely they are to stock obscure items for fear of offending someone. That's why Walmart doesn't stock certain music and one of the many reasons you will never see me in one of their stores.
posted by john at 5:21 PM on November 26, 2000


I pointed out, using Nordstrom and Puck's as examples, that better-than-average consumer experiences can be had in chain establishments.

I would disagree. I'd say that the average has risen, and that Nordstrom and Puck, these days, are average. But Nordstrom is not as good as, say, many (note "many", not "all" -- that's relevant later) Savile Row tailors, or those in Hong Kong, or even (to use what was then a much smaller chain) Brooks Bros. pre-acquisition by Federated Stores.

But again, I'd stress that standards in US retail have been rising over the course of the 1990s boom, and that's raised all boats. (There's also been a boom in discounters like Walmart and the TJMaxx/Marshalls/Ross kinds of stores, but that's the long term trend for disintermediation at work, same as e-commerce and self-serve gasoline. Even there, the quality of the goods have been improving.)

Nobody's saying that "Mom'n'Pop" can't be better than chains; I contend that it's not true to make the blanket statement that "no chains are as good as "Mom'n'Pop."

But that's not what I've said. To extract from your own quote from me:

...you'll never get a truly awful experience at (a large chain), as you might at a mom'n'pop. (emphasis added)

Meaning, awful experiences happen at small locally-owned retail stores all the time, to the degree that just isn't true for large national chains.

What I would say is that no large national chains are as good as the extreme high end of locally-owned small stores. Because no national chain is even trying for that market.

So, a corollary to that would be that if we had nothing but large national chains, yes, the low end that some small shops bring to the market would go away. But so would the high end.

Obvious example: Banana Republic. Banana Republic used to be a small, funky operation, with maybe three or four shops and a mail order catalog. The catalogs had text by owner Mel Ziegler, and illustrations by Patricia, his wife. (They went on to found The Republic of Tea) They would go from dock to dock, around the world, finding some amazing things to sell -- UK Royal Navy sweater vests, shirts from India that were among the lightest weight (and fastest drying) I've ever had, photojournalist vests that would last for decades (as has mine), goat skin bomber jackets for $150 -- amazing stuff, at remarkably low prices.

Then they sold out to Gap.

Which I don't begrudge... They'd put in their sweat equity, and gotten bored. Anyone familiar with high-tech startups knows the symptoms well.

But what happened to the stores themselves? Whitebread, velveeta, Gap-lite is what happened.

Now, again, Gap and BR and Limited and all the rest have raised the average for retail, no doubt about it.

But have they excelled? Giv'st thou me a fucking break.

Or take Puck... I've been to some of the cafes, and to Chinois on Main. They're ok. But would I give up Chez Panisse in Berkeley, or better still, Ross Greco's place in Pasadena? (To use direct apples-to-apples comparisons for "California-style pizza") Not a chance. Again, it's not that Puck is bad, or that one can't find worse among small owners... But Puck's own best restaurant is Spago, which is a one-off unique place where he keeps his own personal hand in.

Look, think about the high tech aspect of this issue, which I touched on above with BR... Think about discussions comparing MS with Linux, or small shareware or open source companies with large corporate publishers. The parallels regarding quality of code (both good and bad), and responsiveness to customers are all right there.

Is this horse dead yet? :)

posted by aurelian at 2:26 AM on November 27, 2000


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