June 27, 2017, 10:07 pm
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Populism’s globalization polemics

We were  in between millennia and as we crossed over nearly everyone had heard of the book that would inextricably define Joseph Stieglitz.  “Globalization and its Discontents” introduced us to the paradigm that would realign the world economic order, transform free enterprise and compel monolithic conglomerates to consider breaking down their internal processes and redistribute these across different parts of the planet.

Globalization was operationalized  through various combinations and permutations metamorphosed from the traditional and had resulted in diverse and novel forms that ranged from business process outsourcing to relocating manufacturing operations to economies that offered the most optimal chemistry among revenues, costs and tax structures.

Whether one was on the supply or the demand side, the old demarcations no longer mattered. Globalization is Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World -Revisited”. It is technology-driven and does not respect political borders.

Satellites can warn motorists of hidden policeman lurking behind corners in gridlocked Pasay City. Saudi oil transported via Panamanian Petromax tankers are sold, bought and traded several times in the high seas simply by tapping on a touch screen while commuting on an app-enabled Uber limousine . Volkswagen’s Santana is built in China alongside the VW Phaedon in a country that openly abhors luxury goods.  American jeans are sewn in Shanghai by Murjani, a company founded in India.

Technical customer service calls for woolen fleece-lined coats sold at pre-winter Black Friday weekend sales are answered in a Cebu suburb by local call center agents who’ve never seen a snowflake.

Globalization had also led to the various trade agreements, pacts and unions that govern the global economy today, each forcing domestic enterprises, no matter how small, to play by rules and regulations written and enforced by third parties.

Stieglitz had seen systemic stigma in globalization despite its inevitable development long before the very first protest by its discontents. While capital roamed the globe unhampered by physical and statutory barriers, debited and credited worldwide by clicks on keypads, less developed economies still relied on stationary brick and mortar and human capital.

While investments travelled at the speed of an internet connection thus reducing margins and optimizing costs, human assets from labor-exporting economies like the Philippines had to plod through a labyrinthine bureaucracy pockmarked and potholed by petty corruption that effectively increases costs and burdens these on those who could least afford them.

Globalization offered tremendous opportunities but its prospects for equitable development were not always inclusive. It robbed labor from old industrial towns in Michigan and transferred these to a Mexican barrio. It decimated the margins earned by American farmers when the Chinese devalued the Renminbi and made American products less competitive and more expensive. 

It wrenched away highly educated Filipinos from technical schools, created a class of drop-outs and offered them higher hourly wages in call centers whose only requisite was a proficiency in the mid western accents they mimicked.

Those in the upper-crust economy earned the widest margins. Unfortunately, those who remain merely as cogs along a globalized value chain often paid the highest social prices. 

Coffee bean farmers in the Ivory Coast are paid the equivalent of a dixie cup relative to the fantastic margins earned in a nicely appointed cafe. Exported labor broke families up and left children un-parented. 

Call center hours led to aberrant cultures if not dysfunctional social behavior. Education became utilitarian and focused on short term dead-end careers and contractual labor.

From the globalization petri dish grew the latent populism we now see. The “Have nots” in Venezuela, Brazil, South Korea and even among the glens of the United Kingdom and the “Forgotten Men” in the Rust Belt surrounding the Great Lakes in the United States, all are rebelling.

Note the numbers behind socialist presidential contender Bernie Sanders and the thousands behind the Brexit referendum. Analyze Donald Trump’s phenomenal mandate founded on building barriers, disengaging from global trade pacts and focusing on the American parochial.

Populism’s global polemic, its isolationist and anti-establishment DNA, is spawned by the gnawing failure of globalization to provide for its discontents inclusive equitable growth. Indeed the poor remain poor as opposed to the rich who’ve gotten richer. Analyze the rejection of both Hillary Clinton and Mar Roxas where both represented elitism’s continuity and the failure to recognize William Graham Sumner’s “Forgotten Man”.

Where the Occupy Wall Street protests have failed, this latent global wave of populism threatens with a vengeance. And indeed, vengeance is the most appropriate word.
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