global poverty solutions: consumerism
February 3, 2004 10:42 PM   Subscribe

If the poor get richer, does the world see progress? The global "consumer class", defined by those who make $7,000 or more in local currency, is growing quickly but making it even more difficult for the worlds poor to get ahead. 1.7 billion belong to the consumer class while over 3 billion survive on less than $2 a day. Will the growing tide of new consumers in the developing world contribute to the solution of global poverty or simply add to the problem?
posted by stbalbach (26 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Global poverty, crap -- did you see the rest of the rather disturbing commentary on the situation? Poverty is the tip of the iceberg. How about the whole consumer way of life?

In a consumerist society, you are defined by what you own.

Sadly, most of the things we consider "the good life" only come from a consumer economy. The agrarian lifestyle, for example, can ill-finance a bunch of hardcore medical tech, despite the fact that if we were all able to live an agrarian lifestyle, things would probably be generally better for ourselves and the planet.

Obviously we can do nearly as well with less and some of those $2/day guys are living pretty damned high when their daily staples include such things as grubs and worms picked up off the forest floor.

In an equitable world one would be able to easily afford basic sustinance and reasonable medical care. No one would live forever and some people would die earlier than they do now. If you were doing better than that, then OK.

Past that, why do you want all this stuff? I know I want all this stuff because I believe my life would be boring and devoid if I didn't have it. Perhaps, like any other addict, I'd miss it most because it was gone.

But lets say tomorrow you wake up and its all gone, SARS2 has wiped it out or something. What would you take with you if you could? What would you leave behind? Most your posessions would, in fact, be crap.

We in America hear $2/day and think its horrible on the fact that its simply $2/day. I mean, shit, what can you do with that? Not much here, and that's rather sad when you think about it. $14 buys an axe somewhere and if you got through the week without having to replace last week's axe, then you are ahead of the game.

The whole world isn't the US and the whole world shouldn't be the US. Consumerists, like any other drug abusers, seem discontent lest they push their addiction on all comers.

We all need washing machines and satellite radio and mindless encabled entertainment. We start by saying "we should feed those starving babies" and won't end until they've got the Internet and satellite TV so they can really see what they were missing.

We should all make enough so we're not quite miserable, happy to be alive, and that's probably enough.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:38 PM on February 3, 2004

I'm a little confused by the article. As far as I can work out having a particular level of income doesn't make you a consumer, it just puts you in the consumer class. Is there a level between this class (as apparently defined by its income) and the poor? If not, how can people moving into this 'consumer' class on a world wide scale not be reducing the number of people in poverty? If they're in that class they're automatically not poor any more.

We in America hear $2/day and think its horrible on the fact that its simply $2/day. I mean, shit, what can you do with that? Not much here, and that's rather sad when you think about it. $14 buys an axe somewhere and if you got through the week without having to replace last week's axe, then you are ahead of the game.

Ogre Lawless: Yeah, if you don't mind going without clean water, food, housing, heat, clothing, medicine, reading materials, entertainment, the means to travel, etc for that week then that's just great.

I'm happy watching films on the telly, and I've never had need to use an axe in my life - I find nothing even slightly sad about that. Society moves along - if you don't want to keep up that's fine, but there's nothing noble about living as if its 200 years ago.
posted by biffa at 1:23 AM on February 4, 2004

If the rich don't get dramatically richer, does the world see progress?

The US "oligarchy class" , defined by those who inherit millions in local currency, has been seeing their income increase dramatically in the past 30 years while it has become increasingly difficult for the poor or middle class to improve their relative income. Many attribute this to the political class warfare waged during the Saint Raygun years.
posted by nofundy at 5:27 AM on February 4, 2004

Show me some evidence that "it has become increasingly difficult for the poor or middle class to improve their relative income." I find that hard to believe. Someone's either cooking the books to hate on the rich, or they're overlooking the obvious.
posted by techgnollogic at 6:05 AM on February 4, 2004

improve their relative income

The key word is relative, if the rich are getting richer at a faster rate than poor and middle class wealth is going up, then the statement is true, regardless of whether the poor and middle class are better off than they were (which isn't to say that they are of course).
posted by biffa at 6:46 AM on February 4, 2004

techgnollogic: Why do you say that? I can definitely see a shift in how many jobs allow for promotion to a higher income bracket.

It used to be that there were a number of blue-collar jobs where you could advance through the ranks and eventually move into an office job in the same industry. Construction, to name one. Now, most of the office jobs require a college degree or some sort of certification, with a lot less real-world experience.

There's also a shift in types of businesses. The old main street style of shopping doesn't really exist anymore, and neither do the corresponding jobs. It wasn't uncommon for someone who simply worked at one of those stores to take over the business when the owner retired. I hate to say it, but you're probably never going to end up working at Wal-Mart central if you started out sweeping the floors.
posted by mikeh at 6:51 AM on February 4, 2004

"Show me some evidence that "it has become increasingly difficult for the poor or middle class to improve their relative income." I find that hard to believe. " - Techgnollogic, based on US Census Dept. research, the bottom quintile of American wage earners has been losing relative ground since, roughly, 1970. It can be argued, based on this and other research, that the next lowest quintile is also losing relative ground. The increase in relative income discrepancies can also be viewed through the metric of the GINI index, ( a commonly used measure of relative inequality in family income which ranges from 0 to 100, 0 being perfectly equal income distribution and 100 being the case in which one family gets all the income. ) which reveals, according to US Census data, a stready and recently accelerating trend towards greater inequality, in US income distribution, since - once again - roughly 1970. Income inequality in America declined from the period 1948 to 1970, when that trend reversed and swung towards greater inequality. The trend has not deviated significantly since.

This trend - and surrounding aspects of income distribution in the US - has been discussed quite extensively on Metafilter. Here are some of the recent posts : Goodbye Horatio Alger, The Working Poor, The change in private employment, two years after recession began, for 1953 to Present., Soak the Rich Most State taxes are Regressive

I may have been the one to bust this territory open for discussion, in my Metafilter post US income distribution moves towards 3rd world profile?, Mefi 22844, which I've dubbed my "Slouching towards Sierra Leone" post.

The apparent trend in the GINI index for the US which I detailed in that post - a trend fiercely debated at the time on that post discussion - has only become more clear in the subsequent year. All the new data which have come in since have only further underlined this noteworthy change in US income distribution and - under the Presidency of George W. Bush - the trend seems to have accelerated. That is not, however, at all surprising.
posted by troutfishing at 7:02 AM on February 4, 2004

Further, there is considerable evidence to show that the bottom quintile of American wage earners have lost economic ground, since about 1970, in real terms. I have no time now to post evidence for that though ( for obvious reasons, I think - see comment below )
posted by troutfishing at 7:06 AM on February 4, 2004


Life on $0 a day ! - The Hunting and Gathering Way

Hunter/gatherers don't really need money and - as anthropological studies of those few hunting and gathering societies which existed by the time the fields of anthropology and ethnography had come into being to study them has revealed - they tended to spend only about 4 hours a day in providing for their basic needs.

By some measures - leisure time at least - they had a higher quality of life than the average industrial age consumer now does. That said, they are almost universally eager for the products of industrialism - those axe heads, cooking pots, synthetic clothes (which don't rot) and so on. But, in the transition typically made as "civilization" (industrialism) expands and it's periphery touches the lives of previously isolated hunting and gathering tribes, much is lost - including such cultural aspects as intimate knowledge of the natural world, and religious traditions and cosmologies exquisitely matched to their native natural contexts. [ for fascinating reading on this transition, see In the Spirit of the Earth - Rethinking History and Time, by Calvin Luther Martin (his real name, by way of his mildly sadistic father, a minister) Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993. Martin is an award winning historical of a most rare breed ]

It is seldom remarked upon or noticed that hunting and gathering peoples - "bereft" of their $2 or more a day - are always at home wherever they are, since for them there is no "outside". This is not always convenient, and they endure daily hardships which shocked even the relatively hardy (by today's standards) Europeans who encountered such now largely vanished cultures during the great European colonial expansion. The Europeans were amazed by the ability of indigenous peoples to go for long periods, days even, with little to no food - as well as their willingness to consume items considered out of the realm of "food" by the Europeans : insects, for example.

But, by the same token, hunting and gathering peoples tended to show little fear of starvation and predominantly seemed to feel embraced and upheld by the web of life they lived amidst - in a stark contrast to the Europeans, who tended to view the natural world as some corrupted form of the (manifestly, to them) neatly ordered Biblical Garden of Eden, as an evil - tinged, perhaps even cancerous overgowth of life gone amok, a jungle in need of wholesale clearance (pruning at least) - to be driven back in tandem with those "savage" (and possibly even satanic) cultures they seemed to encounter in all of their explorations.

So relatively few dispassionate or sympathetic chronicles have been made of these rapidly vanishing cultures that we are very lucky to have the amazing "Ring of Fire" documentary series - In volume 2, for example : "Volume 2 of the spectacular series follows filmmakers Lorne and Lawrence Blair to Komodo to film the giant, meat-eating lizard, the Komodo Dragon. They also visit the Bima people on the island of Sumba and the Asmat headhunters of New Guinea. Finally, they reach Bali where they help villagers build a home."

In one installment of this six part series, the Blairs decide to find a rumoured "lost tribe" (I seem to remember that this was on Borneo, but don't quote me on that) and set off with a distant relative who lived on the fringe of an urban area and expressed a wish to see his "lost" relatives who lived deep in the jungle. The Blairs set off with their guides (a few other prior members of the tribe also tagged along) and a week long trek brings them to the "lost tribe" who - of course - possess many off the artifacts of "civilization" - synthetic t-shirts, metal tools such as knives, axes, and cooking pots, and so on ; and yet they are otherwise living much as they would have been a thousand years ago and - to my fascination - displayed (through painted and woven patterns) amazingly complex religious symbols which suggested a cosmology of a very ancient lineage. That sort of complexity I saw displayed by this tribe, in the Blair's documentary footage, doesn't spring into existence overnight. The tribes' cultural graphical expressions were highly developed - baroque even - but were living as "primitives". But - of course - all of their cultures' complexity lay in their heads, in a nearly exact mirror image to the industrial people's who surround themselves with material complexity but whose religious cosmologies tend to be, in comparison with those of hunting and gathering cultures, starkly impoverished. [ For more, see this noted documentary : The Great Dance, a hunter's story

Back to Consumerism, and the sorry decline in handiness

Returning to the post at hand, after my long pedantic digression - there are, unfortunately, now far too many humans on the planet for us to revert back to the hunting and gathering lifestyle. So we are locked, for better or worse, into our industrial age consumer lifestyles.

But - how much consumerism does a high quality lifestyle require ? A lot, indeed, if one is addicted to the newest, fanciest goods and consumer trands, and even more so if one has lost (or never learned) many skills which - one hundred years ago - would have been considered basic ones probably for even children to possess. Carpentry, the mending of clothes, the knowledge of how to grow basic foodstuffs, hunting and tracking, even the basics of how to negotiate the terrain and ways of the natural world, its forests, jungles, deserts and so on, without becoming lost or injured.

The whole self-reliant range of skills once displayed by the average New England farmer, an example quite apparent in my life and region, has largely vanished and their intimate engagement with the physical world and the biological one - through farming and animal husbandry, and all of the skills implied in the construction of houses and barns, the maintenance of basic machinery, and so on, have mostly been forgotten.

So - given that vanishingly few individuals can now both build, farm, manage farm animals, tinker, mend, maintain and even invent, everything needed or desired can only be bought (provided one has sufficient money). Consequently, the disposal of broken and unwanted goods is a major problem in consumer societies (especially American ones), and it is common in many areas for a light toxic mist of Mercury, Lead, Cadmium, and other toxic trace heavy metal contaminants to precipitate out of the air, released by the smokestacks of garbage burning incinerators. The area in which I spent most of my childhood and young adult life, the Merrimack Valley (one of the earlier crucibles of the industrial revolution in the North America), is now a rather high rent real estate district and yet - unknown to most who live there - it has been identified as one of the top three Mercury pollution hot spots in the United States. The pervasive toxic effects of Mercury, on the neurological and central nervous system development of children in utero and through their entire development into mature adults, has been extensively documented. Consumerism.

The Big Nasty Question

Again, I digress. The question which comes to my mind in direct relation to stbalbach's post is : how much more "consumerism" can global and regional natural systems bear before they collapse? Many biologists argue that many of these systems are even now collapsing. Fish are disappearing from the oceans, some of the remaining tropical and temperate old-growth forests are showing systemic changes indicating underlying breakdown (for unclear reasons) and the whole dismal litany of natural systems in rapid retreat in most areas of the globe - exacerbated as well by the pressures of climate change - poses the question can humans achieve the sorts of reductions in materials consumption and pollution which many say will be necessary to halt pervasive systemic natural world declines - ten-fold reductions or more, through improved manufacturing, design and reuse technologies - before the accelerating global spread of industrialism sets of a wholesale systemic collapse ?

A Big Fat Plate of Pessimism

My immediate answer, a pessimistic one, is based upon the lag between the emergence and testing of improved technologies and "best practices" and their actual implementation - even in that much vaunted "Marketplace" of Free Market capitalism which is usually held up as the engine driving the innovation and adaption of new technologies in modern industrial societies.

This lag between best practices and worst case practices seems to persist even despite the seemingly bottomless cornucopia of information which is the internet. Emergent "best practices" typically tend to both reduce pollution, human suffering, and even (in certain cases) some social pathololgies - even as they improve bottom line profitability (and sometimes dramatically so). Bottom line profitability should be the most basic motivation behind human economic activity, right ? Unfortunately, other perhaps even more basic mechanisms seem to slow the spread of new, better methods and technologies.

First of all, it may turn out to be true that many, if not most, humans have a built in, instinctual conservatism, to guard against those rapid behavioral changes which - if proven by events to be incorrect guesses or have hidden, disastrous drawbacks - could have in the past spelled wholesale disaster for tribes, cultures, or even the species. An instinctual conservatism, or prudence, may once have been a very useful human behavior adaption : changes are often inherently risk and the sorts of relatively rapid technological changes characterstic of industrialism even more so. The discovery of the Chloroflourocarbon damaged "Ozone Hole" occured quite by accident - another decade or two could easily have spelled large scale disaster for biological systems on a Global scale (and though it seems to be slowly shrinking, it still might). So change IS often risky.

But what the sorts of new technologies and best practices I am talking about all have in common is that they incorporate new knowledge, knowledge of the kind of unanticipated impacts that were so dramatically demonstrated by the emergence of the Ozone Hole : the new technologies and methods are, so to speak, environmentally literate. And yet they also reduce the bottom line, and hence the question - what stands in the way of their more rapid implementation ? Is human curiosity only so great, and no more ? Does inherent, instinctual conservatism dictate a certain time lag and spread between best and worst practices ?


Lo ~ A Solution : It's the Market, Stupid !

The only answer to this riddle, the riddle of freely available methods and technologies which amount to, in a sense, "free money" may not result so much from human behavioral or cultural changes - though these could certainly help in this regard - but from another sort of conceptual innovation which exists now only embryonic form, and in a few corners of the business world : With a very simple conceptual shift, it becomes obvious that the spread between best and worst practices, methods and technologies represents a powerful financial gradient that can, in principle, be exploited by business enterprises which specialize in selling efficiency itself ! Information brokerages and firms selling efficiency - and hence dramatic improvements in bottom-line profitability - represent, potentially, an emergent capitalist revolution on a scale of magnitude which could only be compared to the original industrial revolution itself.

But - once again - the conceptual breakthrough which recognizes that, essentially, any significant information gradient - in best/worst technologies and practices applicable to manufacturing and financial ventures in general - translates fairly directly into a financial gradient which can be brokered, tapped, and exploited at fantastic profit. ( As a subtler point, humans, their health, happiness, motivation and business creativity represent an intrinsic and crucial element of this venture. )

I hardly think that this conceptual leap is unique to me, though I can guarantee that you, the reader, will need to do some careful digging to find those relative few who grasp even the beginning of this concept - and it is unlikely that you will find my exact conceptual formulation anywhere, in print or on the Net. [ But all the fundamentals just short of my concept (not completely expressed here in it's entirety) can be found in this book - Natural Capitalism ["Companies that adopt these principles will do very well, while those that do not won't be a problem, since ultimately they won't be around." —Edgar Woolard, former Chair of DuPont ] "

Metafilter - The next industrial revolution - you heard it here first. ( though you could have heard it far earlier, elsewhere, if you had been paying attention ! )
posted by troutfishing at 7:09 AM on February 4, 2004

Trout, great post. Who knows, it may end up verbatim in a journalists article in the NY Times.

The main topic at the world summit Davos, Switzerland this year was how to solve global poverty. Global poverty is the number one cause of war, human rights, the environment. Terrorism, global warming, etc.. all rest on the back of poverty and some say it is the only solution to the worlds problems and that it is solvable, solvable potentially in our lifetimes.

Or is the cure like Chemotherapy a worse poison than the cancer, are we destroying the world in order to save it.
posted by stbalbach at 8:16 AM on February 4, 2004

stbalbach - thanks. It wasn't quite on subject - err, exactly, so I'm glad you weren't offended. I held back on my conceptual punchline, because I think it's a great business model, bigger than Microsoft. There's one group implementing the idea, but I think they've missed some important possibilities. Ah, but who am I ? - just some guy from the neighborhood....

Underlying my long rumination, above, is the Malthusian vs. Cornucopian debate.

Meanwhile, this quote, from your linked article, left me scratching my head : ""The almost 3 billion people worldwide who barely survive on less than $2 a day will need to ramp up their consumption in order to satisfy basic needs for food, clean water, and sanitation," says Brian Halweil, codirector of Worldwatch's "State of the World 2004" project" - I'm sure Halweil didn't intend to say "Those hungry people need to buy more food !" - if George W. Bush had said that, we'd be cringing and rolling our eyes, and lambasting him as a modern day Marie Antionette.

But I'm rather sure it was, in the case of Halweil, an honest mistake.
posted by troutfishing at 8:35 AM on February 4, 2004

As for your question - I'd support very aggressive antipoverty measures. This could, among other things, cut deforestation and that environmental degradation which is driven by a simple, desperate struggle for survival on the part of the World's destitute. Meeting the basic needs of the world's desperately poor would not take so much money, in relative terms.

But global consumerism will increase anyway, and I do know one thing for certain - we've got to implement factor four - even better, factor ten - efficiencies, and soon !

Or - I'd say - Chinese and Indian industrialization and consumerism will deliver a systemic coup de grace to biospheric and climatic stability.

I'd have to say - developing world economies would do well to just leapfrog the "dirty industrialism" phase, to build more advanced energy and materials stingy concepts and technologies right into their developing infrastructures : With this, they could well leave the currently paleolithic, retrograde US economy and it's regressive infrastructure in the dust.
posted by troutfishing at 8:52 AM on February 4, 2004

If I was a native farmer in the mountains of Peru eating a healthy rich diet of local foods and living an otherwise happy life in Eden.. then one day TV arrives and I see how other people live I would want what they have also. I would feel "poor" in comparison to others, even though I might otherwise have everything I need and be happy with my $2 a day income, and I would start striving to be part of the consumer society.

I believe we are using up the planets resources not because we need too, but because we want too. We want more, we don't need more. I also believe consumerism is not the only choice, look at the Amish or any number of other lifestyles that practice back to basics and less is more. There are ways to be self-substainable for the long term without causing planet-wide systemic failures.

If we factor in the true cost of consumer goods in terms of the degradation to our natural world then I think we are in an economic bubble right now, we are paying less than what they should cost and the consumer lifestyle is a bankrupt one. The people who have real wealth are those with knowledge, like the New England farmer of old who is self-sufficient or the native Peruvian who needs no dental care or doctors because he ate the right foods and did the right things according to tradition. The 3 billion "poor" people have a lot to teach and that is the essence of the article, is progress really better?

To answer your question I think what he means is once you enter the "consumer class" you need a lot more than $2 to survive. If your not in the consumer class then your not in the money economy and have other means of survival. It's like, once you agree to play the game, your stuck having to strive to make money in order to survive.
posted by stbalbach at 10:40 AM on February 4, 2004

I don't see the problem as being that of the wealthy, but of the poor. Darwin has it in for them, because they have not adapted. Sooner or later, by hook or by crook, they will be wiped out.
The Stone Age peoples on the planet are almost gone, the Bronze Age peoples severely taxed, the medieval peoples under severe stress.
It's good and proper to mourn their loss, as it is a pity that there are no more Dodo birds.

P.J. O'Rourke pointed out the problem here, using as example Bangladesh. People living in abject poverty on top of some of the richest farmland in the world. Their major crop is jute--a worthless crop that nobody really wants. A larger government, per capita, then that of the United States. They are quite literate, friendly, and utterly hamstrung by a rotten government, culture and religion. Their population density is less than suburban California.

If they could give up the idea of a welfare state, foreign subsidies for a worthless commodity, a culture and religion that oppresses them and keeps them down, in twenty years they could have a standard of living as high as that of the Swiss.

But there isn't a major reform movement in Bangladesh. Conservatism has been replaced with deadly inertia, ennui and stagnation. Misery is the status quo and the people are content enough with it to not demand change.

And that is a recipe for annihilation, not wealth and progress.
posted by kablam at 10:42 AM on February 4, 2004

I don't see the problem as being that of the wealthy, but of the poor. Darwin has it in for them, because they have not adapted. Sooner or later, by hook or by crook, they will be wiped out.

Darwin has it in for all of us.

We will all be wiped out.

Consumerism doesn't help this.

I have a hard time believing in a world where people are not elevated by the labors of others without everyone taking a mandatory pay cut so the Bangalores can make some jack. If it goes down at all, that's how its going to go down.

The only way "we" can make them more like "us" is if we meet each other halfway, and I don't think many in the superior classes are going to willingly go that route (myself included).
posted by Ogre Lawless at 3:19 PM on February 4, 2004

kablam - Social Darwinism, as an ideology, went out about 100 years ago - for good reason. You are asserting that the poor are somehow inferior ( 1 ) and so they will be wiped out ( 2 ). But the poor tend to be poor, especially in the developing world, for cultural reasons, reasons of politics, privilege, lack of nutrition and access to education and medical care, and so on.

Your hypothetical economic playing field has about a 45 degree pitch of bias against the poor which you denigrate.

One of the curious factors in genetics (a subject in which I am very far from an expert) is a phenomenon called "regression to the mean" - this simply means that, in cases of parents who have characteristics which deviate significantly from the mean of the Bell Curve distribution, the offspring of these parents will tend to exhibit genetic traits which are less extreme and so move back towards that mid point : so the children of talented parents will tend to be less talented and - conversely - the offspring of your hypothetical poor would turn out to be, with a level developmental playing field of equal childhood conditions, smarter or more talented than their parents.

This phenomenon, alone, would tend to undercut your point even if there were initial relative genetic advantages enjoyed by the wealthy. But environmental conditions have an enormous impact on childhood development - and the wealthy enjoy the significant advantages here - and so it is much more likely the case that the bulk of advantages enjoyed by the wealthy are not based in significant and fundamental genetic differences from the poor. The crucial determinants are likely to be mostly cultural and economic.

One way of thinking about this lies in the distinction between genotypes and phenotypes. Genotypes amount to raw genetic blueprints. But phenotypes are the actual physical expression, in the flesh, of genotypes - and so a genotype can be expressed in a fairly wide range of phenotypes which exhibit significantly different degrees of intelligence, skills and aptitudes, and even, to an extent, physical form.

The phenotypic development of poor - and culturally impoverished - children tends to get squashed towards the lower range of possibility. The phenotypic development of children born from wealthy parents tends to be pushed towards the upper range of possible expression.


Meanwhile, to address your second point : How, exactly, will the world's poor be eradicated ?

I think your comment is a throwaway one tossed out as cover for an ideological point. I know you can think - I've read incisive comments of yours which I thought were noteworthy. But I don't feel that you were thinking when you wrote that last comment.
posted by troutfishing at 7:45 PM on February 4, 2004

stbalbach - ["I believe we are using up the planets resources not because we need too, but because we want too. We want more, we don't need more. I also believe consumerism is not the only choice, look at the Amish"] - I wholeheartedly agree.

And the things which are lost in the course of "progress" maybe be perhaps more valuable than that which is gained ( this is discussed in the Calvin Martin Luther book which I mentioned ).


Kablam - you might be right, as well, about Bangladesh. I don't know enough about that country to address your point - although I wouldn't be at all surprised if that country's economic development had been hampered by dysfunctional socialist economic ideology.

But that point, if true, would likely not support your earlier point about the genetic inferiority of the poor. Socialist ideology is not seared into the human genome, though kin-altruism certainly is.

"It's good and proper to mourn their loss, as it is a pity that there are no more Dodo birds." - Well, we might be the new Dodos - see Jared Diamond on Easter Island's End
posted by troutfishing at 8:01 PM on February 4, 2004

I am puzzled here. I made no genetic assertions at all. Just cultural and political ones. In fact I can assert the opposite: Bangladesh has a high literacy rate, what you would *expect* to be a ticket for success. Their government must struggle exceptionally hard to keep them down. Their religion and culture must be dead set against success and prosperity. How strong it all must be ingrained to stop them from improving their lives!

And they are just one example. Much of the Islamic world are caught in a time warp, in a way like the Amish. In the time of Mohammet, he insisted that everyone embrace the latest in technological achievements *for the time*; but without provision for changing, improving with the times!
On top of that, the influential Persian philosopher Al-Ghazali proclaimed that all learning outside of the Koran and its early commentaries was sinful and corrupting--killing innovation and scientific advancement dead in its tracks in the Moslem world.

Though the caste system in India has been outlawed for 50 years, the Dalits (untouchables) are still persecuted; even Dalits who have converted to Christianity to escape their caste are still persecuted by Brahmin Christians.

Broad sections of the world are best defined *not* by geopolitical maps, but by the historical century they most reflect.

troutfishing asked how will they be eliminated?

In the most horrible of ways. Many by the hand of neighbors more advanced. Many by disease. Some will just disintegrate as a people or culture before the onslaughts of modernity. Large numbers will be absorbed, surrendering what kept them back, losing their identity.

I would not call it social Darwinism, just Darwinism. You can cheer on those that succeed, you can try to help those that are failing; but sadness is unavoidable for those who just can't adapt and fall by the wayside.

But there is always hope.
posted by kablam at 9:20 PM on February 4, 2004

But there is always hope

Hope, yes. But also demographics: the rich are very successfully wiping themselves out with birth control. Darwin had a sense of humor, I guess.
posted by Ptrin at 10:06 PM on February 4, 2004

So? It's not like they're going to leave their vast amounts of wealth to us po' people.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:12 AM on February 5, 2004

kablam - sorry, I thought you were making a genetic argument. You meant non-genetic Darwinism. Culture and politics "red in tooth and claw", and all that ; tragic looming disasters propelled by the historically contingent weight of the past, as it curses the present through cultural inflexibility. Ok, then.

That was an excellent comment you added there.

My unce-in-law moved his family leather belt factory from Somerset, Mass., to Bangladesh about eight years ago. He's providing jobs.

Further, I think it's a given that Bangladesh - or many Bangladeshis anyway - will rise out of poverty. The manufacturing, customer service, and IT jobs will come from the US and the developed World.

Bangladeshis will export some of their poverty to the US.
posted by troutfishing at 11:23 AM on February 5, 2004

us po' people. -- Civil_Disobedient

Civil .. I don't know you, but if your posting on MeFi, your in the "rich" catagory by global comparison, you are not po'

I find the "not my problem" attitude distirbuing, it's like we have to be rich by American standards before takeing ownership or responsibility for the problem. Rich is defined by having affordable food, a job, basic health services, clean water(!), sewage, access to electricity, McDonalds, cars, etc.. if you have access to these things, you are rich and certainly not po' by global standards.
posted by stbalbach at 1:21 PM on February 5, 2004

troutfishing: Bangladesh still has some hope. It still has lots of positives to its credit, such as the aforementioned literacy. India, caught up in years of bureaucratic, political and cultural horror, is finally starting to get legs in the last few years--due to a fortuitous government, for once getting out of the way.

It will be interesting how India improves--and how it deals with its poor. A situation that bears parallels in China.
(The first step in a journey of a thousand miles.)

The bad other side of the coin is a place like Chiapas, with farmers using Mayan-period farming techniques on the richest farmland in Mexico--a country with an exploding population. I fear the worst, here. Eventually with their government either pushing them off their land, allowing someone else to do it (perhaps a corporation), or sending in the army to kill them.
They have the deadly combination of backwardness and a critical resource that others want, and no government to protect them at all.
posted by kablam at 4:23 PM on February 5, 2004

stbalbach - Two things. One, I was making a facetous remark to Ptrin's comment about the effects of birth control on the upper classes. My basic point was, it doesn't matter if they kill themselves off, because they'll figure out a way to keep the money they aquired from the hands of the people who need it. They'll start foundations. Trusts. That sort of thing.


if you have access to these things, you are rich and certainly not po' by global standards.

What's your point? What does this have to do with anything. Using your logic, none of us here should bother worrying about the 3rd world, or declining jobs in this country, or the consolodation of capital into the hands of a very small minority, since we're clearly very rich in a relative, global sense.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:58 PM on February 5, 2004

Civil_Disobedient: I hate to sound like a CATO-Institute type, but the problems you mentioned tend to resolve themselves.

Worrying about the 3rd world: what the US does in its own interests often helps the 3rd and 4th world improve itself. #1 preserving peace. #2 enabling markets. #3 exporting technologies. #4 cultural/linguistic/scientific syncronicity.

Each of these is a highly complex thing, with upsides and downsides, but for the most part are irresistibly attractive to 3rd and 4th world nations--to their overall benefit. So the argument is not that the US helps, but does it help enough? Too much help is paternalistic colonialism.

declining jobs in this country: specifically *manufacturing* jobs. But while manufacturing *used* to be the prime sector for high value employment, that is no longer the case. For as manufacturing replaced farming as a "good job", it has itself been replaced by jobs that require far greater intelligence and skill.

There is great nostalgia for the "romance" of manufacturing jobs, just as their used to be for life on the farm; but even demographically, the US has long been shifting *away* from manufacturing centers ("The Rust Belt"), and towards new centers of commerce.

The consolidation of capital into the hands of a very small minority: This is almost a nonsense argument. Let me rephrase it. "What produces a better use of a single dollar? For it to be spent in a store, or for it to be used by a business to improve quality and lower price?"

If you have ten thousand people with ten dollars, each of whom buys the same product, the profit from that money will go to the manufacturer, less costs. The manufacturer will use most of that money to improve itself, but the remainder will go to dividends to the people who invested their money in the manufacturer. Dividends are no different than interest you get from the bank.

If you have ONE person who invests one hundred thousand dollars into the manufacturer, you just input money into a different part of the process. The manufacturer uses his investment to improve itself, paying him dividends. Ironically, this may allow them to lower the price on what they sell, SAVING the TEN THOUSAND people money.

Seriously, anyone who *spends* more than a million dollars on something is being frivolous with that purchase, because *investing* it will almost certainly give better returns. So what do you do if you have $50M dollars? You *invest* $48-49M of it. YOU NO LONGER HAVE IT, because someone else is using it. So how rich are you?

Say Bill Gates, for example, has $100B dollars. But $80B of that is tied up in Microsoft stock. It is *worth* $80B ONLY until he tries to sell it; if he does, its value suddenly plummets to $10B, because the stock price drops. So he does an elaborate dodge: he give $40B of his STOCK to his charity, ON CONDITION they don't sell it. This allows him to sell off *some* of his shares without the price falling radically.

So if he's lucky, he gets $25B back from his $80B in stock; which he then TURNS RIGHT AROUND AND INVESTS in something else.

But Bill is not a good example of an evil concentrator of wealth; for he has created thousands of millionaires, and tens or hundreds of thousands of multi-hundred-thousand-aires. He unfairly lowers the curve.
posted by kablam at 9:39 AM on February 7, 2004

what the US does in its own interests often helps the 3rd and 4th world improve itself. #1 preserving peace. #2 enabling markets. #3 exporting technologies. #4 cultural/linguistic/scientific syncronicity.

#1 Preserving peace? In the last two years alone the US has invaded two countries, implied that two other countries may be up for trouble soon and made statements which suggested they favoured the overthrow of one democratically elected leader and his replacement with an unelected military-supported dictatorship (if indeed they did not offer material support). I find it hard to believe that any other country has put in anywhere near as much effort not to preserve peace while serving its own interests. Believing you are the 'good guys' does not make it so.

#2 enabling markets. As you correctly point out, this is a complex area and much depends on what you mean by the use of the term. The term is more generally applied to domestic industrial policy than to external policy. Applied to non-domestic markets it is difficult to see how it does not imply at best interference and at worst imperialism. The US driven efforts of the World Bank to foist a one-size fits all neo-liberalist policy on all 3rd world comers in order to enable US companies to take advantage of the privatisation of previously state-owned companies, while having the potential to introduce useful infrastructural investment has all too often resulted in economic failure for the liberalising country with a corresponding downgrading in the quality of life for its population.

#3 exporting technologies. Again a complex area. It is worth noting though that the US (and everybody else) will act to protect its technology from being copied by another nation, and indeed, this protection is becoming entrenched by the development of the TRIPS agreement through the WTO. So to address the concern, does the US help enough? - if it is interested in helping with regard to technology transfer then the way it is going about it does not seem likely to do so.

#4 cultural/linguistic/scientific synchronicity. I'm not quite sure what you're getting at here. The increasing scientific synchronicity perhaps - I agree this is in everyone's interest. Could you explain what you mean by the other two. I can guess at linguistic as being getting everyone to speak English but that doesn't really seem to fit with the other things on this list as it doesn't really reflect a policy outcome as the other things here all seem to be.
posted by biffa at 11:11 AM on February 7, 2004

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