I do some of my clearest thinking while sipping a strong cuppa joe at my favorite Makati Starbucks, especially early Saturday or Sunday mornings when it is a quiet haven rather than buzzing place-to-be-seen. The upstairs loft is generally deserted early on weekend mornings, and many Pearls have gestated in that particular setting.
Lately, I'd been devoting those early morning mini-R&Rs to trying to come up with a fresh spin on globalization, partly because I am fascinated with the issue and its impact on the Philippines and other developing countries and partly because I was recently asked to contribute a chapter to a serious academic volume on the topic. The latter invitation originated when a well-known American Prof came across my earlier humble efforts (see Globalization Part 1, Globalization Part 2, and Globalization Revisited) and apparently considered them of some value. As a long-frustrated academic and ABD (that would be "all but dissertation"), I was flattered and a bit flustered by the honor. Jeez, I thought I was just playing around when I started writing these Pearls but now they are being taken seriously!
This morning I convened my third Starbucks internal brainstorming session, the first two having proven mostly unproductive (participants included just me and my shadow, all alone and feeling blue). I smiled a bit as I realized the appropriateness (irony?) involved in trying to find an inspired take on this particular topic while sipping my regular Triple Tall Americano while sitting in a bastion of globalization. Having just survived a very demanding week and thus being a bit low on inspiration at 7:30 Saturday morning, I settled back in the de riguer fake-battered easy chair and allowed my mind to drift back a couple of decades...
...to a leisurely drive through upstate New York's Finger Lakes wine country on a sunny spring day, enjoying scenic beauty attributable to Ice Age glaciers, although Seneca (American Indian) legend has it that the Great Father blessed the region because of its tremendous beauty by leaving the imprint of his hand on the land to carve out the spectacular hills and lakes. My usual route was south on a curvy state highway from Cayuga Lake, down to Oswego, then on over to Binghamton.
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I usually stopped at one or more wineries along the way. I make no claim to being an oenologist, but confess to a certain weakness for fruit of the vine. My favorite winery was a little outfit situated on an old farm dating back to 1825, with proximity to the deep waters of Cayuga providing sufficient tempering for European grapes (Vitis vinifera) to thrive. I spent more than a couple of lost afternoons sipping Chardonnay and enjoying the scenic view from above Cayuga's waters.
However, such roadside stops were secondary to my real mission, which was to visit the Fernand Braudel Center at SUNY Binghamton, the home base of Immanuel Wallerstein. At the time, I was a graduate student in Government and Economics at Cornell, the motivating factor for the field trips being the significant influence that Wallerstein's The Modern World System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World Economy in the Sixteenth Century had had on my intellectual development to that point.
Wallerstein's opus (and the tremendous body of world systems research and commentary that he has generated since I left academia and quit keeping up with the literature) provides an overarching theoretical framework that sheds considerable light on the historical trends that led to the world as we know it today. Wallerstein traced the evolution of the modern capitalist world system as it emerged after the crisis of the feudal system, leading to the dominance of Western Europe from about 1450 to 1670. He argued that the capitalist world system was predicated on an international division of labor, with the most important distinction being that between core (at the time England, France, and Holland) and the periphery (the underdeveloped areas within those countries and later their colonies).
The SUNY Center was named after Fernand Braudel, a French intellectual whose massive Civilization and Capitalism is one of the most impressive works of history ever written. I plead guilty to having struggled with it for a year and sort of finishing it. Braudel's huge tome consists of three volumes. The Structures of Everyday Life is essentially a social history of the world, covering everything from demographics to food to energy sources to technology. The Wheels of Commerce initially covers the material culture of exchange, including markets, shops, and peddlers; more important is a comprehensive analysis of trading networks, supply and demand, and the relationship between gold and silver currencies.
Braudel's erudite analysis of capitalism focuses on how it initially related to agriculture and early industry, but then became dominant in finance and international trade. Braudel's dissection of the relationship between capitalism and social structures, the state, and culture is masterful, and substantially influenced Wallerstein.
In The Perspective of the World, Braudel presents a global, world-systemic approach that foreshadowed The Modern World System. Braudel identified multiple "world-economies," the first of which was the European world economy ruled during different portions of its evolution by "world cities" such as Venice, Antwerp, Genoa, Amsterdam, and London. The volume concludes with an analysis of the industrial revolution and its role in the evolution of the European world economy.
Interlude... A Random Encounter
My philosophical musings and odd flashback were rudely interrupted by a small commotion.
A couple of tough looking fellows in blue barongs with walkie-talkies held closely to their mouths came bounding up the stairs, taking militarily-precise positions and scanning the room. They were followed shortly by an older Chinese-Filipino fellow and a sweet young thing half his age. I immediately recognized him as a leading Manila taipan (from news photos rather than personal acquaintance), one of the wealthiest tycoons in the Philippines. I knew that he had recently entered into several joint ventures with global partners, that he had been a key player during the Marcos era, and that he is reputed to be one of the more ruthless practitioners of the capitalist trade around.
He and the presumed mistress settled on a couch over across the way and snuggled a bit, as a third goon followed shortly with their coffee. One of the goons was the official cell phone answerer and dialer; the contraption kept ringing every minute or so, he kept answering it and handing it to the boss. Sometimes boss man would signal him and whisper and he would call someone for him. Each call featured animated chattering in mixed Tagalog and Fukien, rather loudly I thought given the presumed importance of such goings-on. As soon as each call ended, he handed the cell back to the goon and returned to nuzzling his girl. Strange minuet indeed.
I wanted to approach him and introduce myself, as I am sometimes wont to do in my quest for full understanding of the Manila scene. However, I decided that in this particular case discretion would be the better part of valor and left the potentially valuable connection for another time and place.
We left at about the same time. I watched as the goons secured the area, whispered into their walkie-talkies, and whisked the couple down the stairs into their double parked, darkly tinted, bulletproof Benz. As I watched them pull away, I marveled at the symbolism of the chance encounter. On the way home I passed by the Makati Shang newsstand to pick up the weekend Herald Trib and stopped off at Ronald McDonald's to grab some burgers for the kids. Hmmm...
Later, while soaking in the tub and listening to Mississippi Fred McDowell, I ruminated on the morning's odd flashback to radical academe and the close encounter with the famous taipan. I closed my eyes and again tried to come up with a fresh approach to globalization for this academic contribution. Writing Pearls is so much easier (sigh...)
Manila, as described in numerous earlier Pearls and as anyone who passes through however briefly knows, is dominated by American culture. There are KFCs, California Pizza Kitchens, Shakey's, and Pizza Huts all about; cable TV and even local broadcast channels feature Ally McBeal and the Fox News Network; and nobody is bigger on the silver screen than Schwarzenneger. I hear that, in some provinces, toothpaste is called "Colgate". The Americans' cultural dominance of the Philippines raises fundamental questions about Filipino national identity and culture.
When FVR was elected in 1992, he instituted a new set of policies based on the three "tions" - liberalization, deregulation, and privatization. All were intended to finally transform the Philippines into a NIC (newly industrializing country, modeled on the "Tigers" of Southeast Asia prior to the crisis of '97).
But they have not achieved that.
During the early 1990s, the WTO was championed as the savior of the Philippine economy, and President Ramos was a disciple. Advocates said that it would:
- Create half a million jobs in both agriculture and industry
- Create unprecedented access to global markets
- Lead to increased trade volume and thus foreign exchange earnings
- Attract large amounts of foreign investment that would redound to the benefit of the Filipino people.
In reality, the impact of Ramos' liberalization initiatives, largely continued under Estrada and Arroyo, and globalization in general on the Philippines have not been pretty. By the mid-90s, there were huge contractions in many domestic industrial sectors, including tobacco, apparel, and wood furnishings. Agriculture in particular suffered, with agriculture imports increasing from $42 million in 1994 to $789 million in 1996. The country, which had historically been more or less self-sufficient in agriculture, is now an agricultural importer. Human consequences have been substantial in terms of massive dislocation and income loss among poor Filipinos in rural areas.
One of the most unfortunate consequences, related to the lack of economic opportunity for the Filipino labor force, has been the continued pressure on the country to export human sweat and blood (for some perspective on this sad situation see Leaving on a Jet Plane). Millions of Filipinos work abroad for years on end, with their dollar remittances now a mainstay of the Philippines economy. The human consequences are incredible, with families being torn apart and children being left with no real parents other than photos on the bedstand and shadowy memories. The pressure on families is growing as the proportion of OFWs ("overseas foreign workers") who are female continues to increase (females account for as much as 80-90% of OFWs in countries like Hong Kong, 100% in Kuwait, and even over 50% now in Saudi).
Indeed, radicals argue that the Philippines is nothing more than a neocolony, and I see their point. Look around and what do you see? Profit gouging, exploitative repatriation of profits by multinationals, sinking wages, increasing polarization between rich and poor, and ecological plunder. Multinational firms use the Philippines to dump their surplus products, hire cheap labor, and purchase cheap raw or semi-processed goods.
To return to the world systems flashback and its reference point of core and periphery. There are cores and peripheries at various levels. At the global level, America is the core to Manila's periphery. But here in the Philippines, Manila is core to the provincial periphery. Some scholars have referred to Manila as a primate city, which means that it has:
- A heavy concentration of industry and commerce
- Corporate headquarters of the largest domestic and virtually all multinational firms
- The federal government
- The elite educational institutions
- Headquarters of the military and national police
- The highest wages in the country
- Superior cultural status
Gramsci's concept of hegemony also comes into play. Gramsci showed how one class can dominate other classes without directly or militarily oppressing them. Hegemony implies that those being exploited actively agree to their own subjugation. This agreement results from the wholesale adoption of cultural icons, moral values, and ideology.
Actually, sounds pretty much like the Republic of the Philippines.
As those of you who have read the earlier globalization Pearls know, my perspective has shifted substantially over the years. I have evolved from a card-carrying leftist to a creature of the capitalist system. Indeed, my primary goal in life is now to build a management consulting business in the Philippines, even feeding the maw of globalization. As Director of Data Management for Amphil Tech, Inc, I direct CRM projects and utilize the services of relatively low paid Filipino programmers to serve global clients. I am also actively involved in helping the Philippines' incipient call center industry finally push through to big time success.
Given that current reality, it's not surprising that I have concluded my earlier globalization pieces by waffling and saying that developing countries like the Philippines simply can't afford to ignore globalization. International linkages are so intimate now (financial flows, production networks, trade networks) that the necessity of opting in seems clear. And yet, I agree with many of the anti-globalization arguments, thanks in large part to the early adulthood intellectual frameworks I rambled about above.
Anyway, to wrap up, let's just say I am immensely confused about globalization as I continue to stumble towards a meaningful contribution to a high-powered academic tome. Reckon I'll figure it out somehow. Perhaps next time I encounter my favorite taipan at Starbucks I'll interrupt his tête-à-tête with his cutie and get his two cents' worth.
Note: Credit for the brief quote from Me and My Shadow (Music by Al Jolson and Dave Dreyer, lyrics by Billy Rose, 1927). For academics who might stumble upon this Pearl, I already know that The Modern World System was written a long time ago, and that serious world systems theorists consider it all too elementary and that Braudel is a distant memory. I am working hard to update my working knowledge of the relevant academic gobbledygook and will make sure to be appropriately academic in my contribution to the globalization volume. However, I have written too many Pearls, which means that I probably won't be able to resist sneaking in random references to pop culture and making the occasional pun.