Today's mission is to go get some light cotton for those. The secret agenda is to be inspired by other fabric while there and suddenly have a complete picture of The Dress spring into my mind at the same time. Cunning, me.
* otherwise known as arse castanets. Ask Jodi or Rhi.
This trimester I'm studying State Crime. I went into it with no idea how it would affect me, and now I'm struggling.
I have no trouble with my research topic, that's progressing nicely and as long as I stop every now and then to have a vent about how silly it is, I'm good. But this week we're looking at crimes of globalisation. It's something I've always been vaguely aware of, but not given a lot of specific thought to. We looked at the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank (all international financial institutions). We looked at how countries are represented within these institutions, the makeup of their governance structures, and who actually controls how the international economy works.
Essentially, it's developed Western nations who run this show. No news there, right? And these organisations loan money to developing nations to help with development. No news there, either. These loans come with strings, of course. The strings are usually related to restructuring a country's government and economy. In some cases I imagine this is a good thing - "Hey, you need money, we have it and you can borrow it but you have to stop with the Pol Pot style dictatorship and the genocide, mmk?" Except the strings often require a liberalisation of trade that Western countries can then exploit to get cheap goods while maintaining protection of their own economy. Also not news.
The thing is, most developed Western nations got that way by using protectionist measures for their trade - tarriffs, subsidies, all that good nutritious Keynesian stuff. The development of Western nations relied on their ability to prevent the kind of exploitation that the international financial institutions are now inflicting on developing countries. Yet these countries are expected to 'develop' under these conditions of exploitatin and extraction. Oddly enough, this is really hard - you have this vulnerable country trying to compete with powerful countries in international trade, all the while attempting to service a debt that in some cases eats 90% of the country's income. Meanwhile, these powerful international organisations get to impose neoliberal policies that increase the inequalities within the developing nations (as neoliberal policies do everywhere) - lack of collective bargaining power means that employees must accept low wages and poor conditions or lose their jobs, then they can't afford the user-pays medical treatment that is only allowed to prescribe name-brand drugs imported from the US as part of the loan 'agreement', those who can't afford to pay school fees get less education and poorer prospects, and so on and so forth.
So the policies inflicted by the IFIs on developing countries actually increase poverty and inequality, all in the name of 'free trade'.
And in case you don't really care yet, please bear in mind that the expectation that a vulnerable nation will liberalise its trade with a more powerful nation while the powerful nation dictates the terms in protection of its own markets IS EXACTLY WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH THE TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT. We are not a developing nation, here in New Zealand. But we do lack power, and we lack numbers. And the TPPA is yet another example of a small nation being asked to open itself up to exploitation with no reciprocation. Our current government is neoliberalising all sorts of things within the country - the welfare reform, the tax cuts, the paring of the budget, the sacking of civil servants - these are all classic moves by governments who believe in trickle-down economics. Support the businesses and everyone else is better off too!
Only they aren't. This has been proven time and again throughout history. If you ask the supporters of this policy they'll say it failed because it wasn't taken far enough - because survival of the fittest wasn't borne out. In otherwords, the weakest weren't allowed to die. Because that's what neoliberal policy boils down to - those with advantage at the start consolidate that advantage, everyone else is worse off and the devil take the hindmost. And it's happening here in New Zealand with the current government. Everything's getting more expensive, wages are stagnant, benefits for the worst off amongst us have not increased in a number of years, yet tax breaks for businesses are more important than ensuring a decent wage for all or keeping the cost of necessities like food and rent low, and we must give the power in the employment relationship to the employer. This is neoliberalism at its finest *cough* - and meanwhile our government is courting a powerful nation that wants to restrict our pharmaceutical buyers' ability to buy off-brand medications instead of the (often several hundred percent more expensive) name brand ones manufactured in their country, while wagging their finger and saying "Nonono!" to our dairy exports. There are other things in the TPPA, but that one really strikes me because:
It's exactly the same thing that the IFIs have been doing in Africa. People die because of this kind of policy. Nations live in poverty because of this kind of policy. And while I understand that NZ is not a developing African nation, it scares the crap out of me to see this stuff because I can see how tentative our grasp of development really is. How many years of not maintaining infrastructure (both physical and social) while all our money goes overseas or into the pockets of the rich, will it take before we do have those levels of poverty? I used to say "Nobody starves to death in New Zealand". I am not sure I can say the same thing any more.
And you know what's scary? I brought up the TPPA in my tutorial yesterday and even the tutor hadn't heard of it. Nobody knew it existed. Fuck.
Anyway, back to Africa. After hearing all this stuff about how Western nations have created so much poverty in Africa first by exploiting and extracting, then by manipulating economies for their own advantage, the tutor thought she'd try to make us feel better by showing us a video about The Millennium Development Goals - eight goals set by the UN to try and eradicate poverty and inequality by 2015. It seems some progress has been made toward these goals, mainly in India and China, but Africa is lagging behind. So we watched this video. It had African music and Kofi Annan doing the voiceover, and it showed us starving brown people, sick brown people, dying brown people, brown people picking through the dirt for seeds, brown people working very hard for little gain. Then we got a brief rundown of the goals, and then there was a section showing brown people in classrooms, brown people tilling fertile-looking soil, brown people drinking clean water, etc etc etc.
And it didn't make me feel better. The message was "We can help them." Weirdly enough, I don't buy that "WE" have helped "THEM" very much at all. I get that the UN is mostly run by Westerners and that those people would see education in Western classrooms to be superior to no education at all. I get that it's an admirable goal for all people to have clean drinking water. I do, I get it. But what I saw in that video was an imposition of a set of values. Those brown people over there? Let us parade them for you, show you how they are suffering, exploit their poverty so that we have an excuse to swoop in and make their countries more like ours.
What I didn't see was a voice from the people of Africa. They weren't people in that video, they were symbols. Symbols of everything that needs 'fixing' - never mind who broke it, we obviously still know best, and 'best' is apparently to make them like us. I tried to articulate this in class and failed - I don't know if it's because it was an unexpected reaction, or if it was because I just can't communicate what I feel is so wrong about this, but I left feeling extremely upset. I see it this way:
On one hand, the UN is attempting to achieve these goals in developing nations, an admirable goal regardless of the hows and whys.
On the other hand, at the same time the IFIs are basically loansharking the same countries and manipulating their economies to the advantage of more powerful nations.
None of this is news, but for some reason watching that video juxtaposed these things for me and what I saw was fucking ugly.
And all this is messing with my head. I look into the future and all I see is bleakness for the world. The last time I felt like this was in the 1990s - but back then I knew if I could just get a job my life would be better. Now, I have a job. My life is better. And I know more about the world and right now, everywhere I look seems to point in one really depressing direction, with seemingly no relief.
I'm an optimist. I want to believe that people are good. I need something to counter this onslaught of doom that seems to be happening in my awareness. I want to withdraw my consent. I want to be wrong about this.
Yeah yeah, I want doesn't get. I know. Fuck.
Someone please tell me I have this all wrong.