File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0107, message 125

Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2001 19:06:36 -0500
Subject: Beneath the Golden Arches

Glen, I liked what you wrote. Thanks for sharing.

steve wrote:

To suggest that the state is in decline and that all that will remain in
the G8 countries is a consumer society founded on the backs of
industrial workers in the south, is to construct an image of societies
in which the aim of economic and social production is to enable a
comfortable living. Those who believe in the theories globalisation and
of political sovereignty/nation-state believe that this is a signifier
of the end of politics. H&T do not believe that this is an accurate
representation of the state of things and nor do I


When George W. Bush, economists, politicians and journalists accuse the
alternate globalization protestors of being anti-poor, they are usually
working with an abstract  model of development which goes loosely like
the following.

Nations which are poor and underdeveloped need to go through a phase of
menial cheap labor because over time a portion of the earnings will be
invested back into the local economy. This will gradually allow a
sustainable infrastructure to be built which in turn provides the basis
for greater wealth accumulation as industrialization develops.  Today's
poor working class will become tomorrow's middle class and a lucky few
will even become rich.  For an illustration, just look at the success of
the Asian tiger economies.  They provide the basic pattern for the
ultimate success of global free trade.

The problem with this model is that it assumes there is a fixed law of
economic development which tends towards both the metaphysical and the
ahistorical.  It seems reasonable to ask whether on not there are
tendencies in today's economic situation making this outcome less likely
to occur.

The anti-sweatshop movement has pointed to a number of such factors. 
One of these derives from the situation that multinationals currently
tend to outsource their assembly operations to the lowest possible

Typical workers live in a compound that houses them as well as providing
them with their workplace.  He or she is usually young and hired on a
temporary basis which means that no work entails no pay.  The pay that
is received is extremely low and most of it is returned back to the
contractor in the form of living expenses.  The hours are long, as many
as 16 hours a day, as much as seven days per week.  The benefits are
usually non-existent.  If someone becomes sick or pregnant, they are
simply let go. If there is no work, the same principle applies.

Furthermore, if these workers unionize, the compound is simply shut down
and the contracts sent to another place less expensive.  This allows
multinationals to cherry pick the cheapest supplier and play one country
off against another to obtain the best possible terms, while
simultaneously absolving themselves of any responsibility because they
are "just a buyer" themselves.

The spectre that results from this is that these areas may never follow
the mythical path of development to a middle class future at all. 
Rather they would simply form a permanent underclass that parallels
those which already exist in the inner cities of the industrialized

This would lead to exactly the scenario that Steve has outlined.  A vast
army of cheap and ready labor that would keep the Northern communities
supplied with a steady stream of brand name consumer goods while these
citizens have the additional luxury of smugly patting themselves on the
back and saying: "We are helping the poor to better themselves.  There
is no other way."

A new millenium. The same old lies.

This is why politics and protest are necessary.


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