The new face of globalisation: outsourced childbearing and international water shipments

Paul Raven @ 13-07-2010

Globalisation is a highly politicised word, but I’m increasingly thinking of it as a phenomenon rather than a project (the same way I think about postmodernism, as it happens). In a nutshell, globalisation is the trend toward global movement of things: people, ideas, jobs, money, resources. It’s an economic phenomenon, sure, but it’s increasingly social as well – not social as in “social media” (though thet’s a part of it), but as in the ongoing corrosion of geography erasing a lot of old ideas about who we do business with, what we consider to be business, and why we do it.

Take outsourcing. It’s an established idea to take a job like coding PHP and giving it to someone in a poorer country so you (theoretically, at least) get the same results for less expenditure, but what about a “job” like carrying your baby to term [via MetaFilter]?

“In the U.S. a childless couple would have to spend anything up to $50,000,” Gautam Allahbadia, a fertility specialist who helped a Singaporean couple obtain a child through an Indian surrogate last year, told Reuters.

“In India, it’s done for $10,000-$12,000.”

Fertility clinics usually charge $2,000-$3,000 for the procedure while a surrogate is paid anything between $3,000 and $6,000, a fortune in a country with an annual per capita income of around $500.

But the practice is not without its critics in India with some calling it the “commoditisation of motherhood” and an exploitation of the poor by the rich.

“It’s true I’m doing this for money, but is it also not true that a childless couple is benefiting?” said Rituja, a surrogate mother in Mumbai, who declined to give her full name.

For the surrogates — usually lower middleclass housewives — money is the primary motivator.

For their clients it’s infertility or — some claim — educated working women turning to hired wombs to avoid a pregnancy affecting careers.

And how about natural resources? We’re used to the idea of scarce commodities being shipped around at scary prices, but as populations (and their footprints) increase, some resources that we think of as givens become valuable enough to justify the overheads of stuffing them in a tanker and floating them across the globe. Water, for instance [also via MetaFilter]:

Sitka, a small town located on Baranof Island off Alaska’s southeast coast, will sell the water to Alaska Resource Management for one penny per gallon. S2C and True Alaska Bottling, which has a contract for the rights to export 2.9 billion gallons (10.9 billion liters) per year from Sitka’s Blue Lake Reservoir, formed Alaska Resource Management LLC to facilitate bulk exportation.

The city will earn $US26 million per year if ARM exports its entire allocation, and more than $US90 million annually if the city can export its maximum water right of 9 billion gallons. That amount of water is enough to meet the annual domestic needs of a city of 500,000 using 50 gallons per person per day.

Nice idea, at least on paper… but it makes the erroneous assumption that one can just keep taking [x] amount of water from an area, swap it for money and not experience any problems. A friend of mine who works in water treatment and reclamation here in the UK is at pains to point out to anyone who’ll listen that water is shaping up to be the new oil: essential to everyone’s survival, increasingly scarce and expensive, and the sort of thing that people will go to war over…. not only in developing nations, but right here in the privileged West, too.

When I’m having an optimistic day, I find myself thinking that increasing awareness of the finite limits of resources (human labour and skills and time very much included) will gradually push us toward a closer form of global unity: a recognition that we’re all in the same boat, and that the boat only has so much in the way of provisions, and that between us we can sail it pretty much anywhere. Of course, that won’t happen unless we work together to overcome geopolitical and economic barriers… which is why on my less optimistic days the boat metaphor tends to end with a hull full of corpses.

Small-g globalisation isn’t a bad thing; as borders become permeable, it’s an inevitability, like a thermodynamics of things. But the project of Big-G Globalisation is a different thing entirely: it’s a crude, rough-handed and successful attempt to profiteer from restricting and manipulating that ineluctable movement of things, performed by those who already have sufficiently rarified levels of power to influence the flow. The phenomenon of globalisation should be encouraged, supported and monitored; I believe it’s essential to the long-term survival of humans as a species. The project of globalisation needs to be exposed, deconstructed and shut down; it’s an ethical black hole baited with conspicuous consumption and confirmation bias, and it’s killing millions for the benefit of hundreds.

*steps off of soapbox*


Content is a public good: the abundance economics of digital media

Paul Raven @ 15-04-2010

In the absence of Charlie Stross (who is out in Japan, the fortunate devil), guest posts are appearing on his blog… and today’s is a little something different, namely a 101 guide to the economics of digital media from one Milena Popova:

So, to recap, for pure private goods, the market is both a practical and efficient way of allocating resources, and that’s what we do most of the time. As soon as we move away from the pure private good paradigm, either because our good is non-rival or non-excludable or both, the market ceases to look like a good idea. In practice, what happens is that we try to use technical and/or legislative means to help us approximate private goods when dealing with any type of not purely private good. We can, for instance, make it a crime to overfish the seas, or put fences around our golf course to stop people from overrunning it without paying; we can make it a crime not to pay the tax that contributes to running the armed forces. (Oh and, incidentally, using a public-type good without paying your dues is called “free-riding”. It’s something economists are obsessed with stopping.)

Okay, enough with the theory. Let’s look at content in practice. Remember that little clip at the start of your legally purchased DVD that delays your enjoyment of the film you’ve paid to see to tell you about how you wouldn’t steal a handbag and thus should not steal a movie either? If you’ve been paying attention you should by now have spotted that these two things (the handbag and the movie) are not alike. If I steal a handbag it stops you from having it; if I download a movie from Piratebay, there is nothing that stops you from enjoying that same movie (either by getting it from Piratebay yourself or by forking out 20 quid at HMV or a fiver at Tesco’s). In other words, while handbags are rival, movies aren’t.

Go read the whole thing; valuable straight-talking information.

And while we’re talking economics and new paradigms of consumption and ownership, here’s a post that suggests (rather plausibly) that a whole new generation of lawyers will be needed in a world where sharing and cooperation among communities becomes a stronger economic force [via Chairman Bruce]:

The evolving nature of our transactions has created the need for a new area of law practice. We are entering an age of innovative transactions, collaborative transactions, crowd transactions, micro-transactions, sharing transactions – transactions that the legal field hasn’t caught up with, like: Bartering. Sharing. Cooperatives. Buying clubs. Community currencies. Time banks. Microlending. Crowdsourcing. Crowdfunding. Open source. Community supported agriculture. Fair trade. Consensus decision-making. Cohousing. Intentional Communities. Community Gardens. Copyleft.

At present, there is not much literature explaining the legal implications of these kinds of transactions. To those of us who have made this our area of practice, many of the legal questions in this new field sit unanswered on our giant to-do lists. One-by-one, client-by-client, we are making headway. As the ground swells with people adopting more sharing and cooperative work and lifestyles, we can look forward to a growing body of law and literature on the subject.

At the same time, the answers will never be clear cut, and lines we have grown accustomed to will be increasingly blurred.

Until we evolve a new set of legal definitions, we’ll dance uncertainly around the lines between “income” and “gifts,” between “own” and “rent,” between “employees” and “volunteers,” between “work” and “hobby,” between “nonprofit” and “for-profit,” between “invest” and “donate,” and so on. Our clients may have outside-the-box livelihoods and organizations, but it’ll still be the job of lawyers to help them fit into boxes that are traditional enough to comply with the law.

Well, there goes my naive hope for a future where there are no lawyers at all. Guess we really do take the lord of the flies with us everywhere we go, after all… 😉


MAQUECH by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Paul Raven @ 01-07-2008

First of the month means fiction time at Futurismic; this month’s offering is “Maquech” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, a haunting and darkly beautiful tale of dreams and desperation set in a scarcity-riddled near-future Mexico City.

So get stuck in, and don’t forget to leave Silvia some feedback in the comments at the end!

Maquech

by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The jewel encrusted beetle walked slowly across the table, dragging its golden chain behind. It was bigger than any other maquech he’d ever seen before and more richly decorated.

Gerardo put down the eyeglass.

“It’s not my usual purchase,” he said.

“It’s rare,” Mario replied. “This is the last one my grandfather made before he passed away.”

“Monkeys are the thing now. Everyone wants a monkey.”

“But it doesn’t need a lot of food or water,” Mario protested. “That’s a benefit.”

“Do you think my clients worry about things like food or water? Listen, I sold five ostriches two months ago. People want large animals now.”

It was a lie. He sold fish and birds and maybe a reptile or two. He could not afford extravagant purchases like ostriches.

“I need the money,” Mario confessed. “I want to go to Canada.”

“What for?”

“I want to see the polar bears before they disappear. Before all the ice melts away.” Continue reading “MAQUECH by Silvia Moreno-Garcia”