Tag Archives: globalization

Thomas Barnett on post-national identity

Many thanks to one Gregory Lemieux for dropping me an email with a link to an article by political strategist Thomas P M Barnett, which he rightly identified as touching on “issues of post-national identity […] that are presented regularly on your site”*. It’s an interesting piece all over: Barnett is an advocate and defender of globalization, and he suggests that the push-back against it – what he calls the “friction” – is a function of “a fear-poisoned dialogue that frequently casts globalization’s expansion in zero-sum terms, when it is anything but.”

While I’m going to withold my judgement on that idea (as it’s a topic I just don’t know enough about at this point), the segment highlighted by Lemieux is very interesting… and, indeed, very Futurismic:

… while I do believe that “resistance [to globalization] is futile” in the collective sense, I do not believe that’s the case in the individual sense. In fact, the fundamental task I foresee for political leaders the world over is to foster a culture of what I call “progressive enclavism”: the ability of their citizens to lead lives of cross-cutting connectivity — across borders, cultures, industries, domains, etc. — while simultaneously retreating, however frequently they desire, into enclaved activities and lifestyles that nurture and sustain their preferred definitions of identity. In essence, I’m describing a personal resiliency based on balancing multiple-but-reinforcing identities.


I can foresee a future, for example, where my passport bears a resemblance to a stock portfolio, identifying me as majority-share American with minority shares in, say, China (where one of my children is from) and East Africa (from where another two will soon come). I’ll be willing to pay to maintain that portfolio, because I will find profound meaning in being able to say that my family’s blended identity connects me to all these enclaves — whether they’re called nations or unions or federations. My identity “shares” could logically also connect me to enclaves based on my religious preference, my preferred mix of technology, my willingness to alter my body to extend lifespan, and so on.

John Steinbeck famously said, “Texas is a state of mind.” I’d add that everybody has their own private “Texas,” which they want to add to their mix, whether they live there full-time or not.

Globalization as a planet of atomised but interconnected cultures that can be moved between freely, as opposed to a lockstep planet of monolithic corporate or state hegemonies… a science fictional idea, maybe, but one that offers an appealing alternative to some of the grimmer political futures on offer at the moment, at least from where I’m sitting.

[ * As a side note, that’s exactly how you pitch a link to blog editor, folks. I get maybe four or five “hey, check this out and link to it, PLZ!” emails every week here at Futurismic, but most of them are so wide of the site’s purview – if not ineptly written, or part of a bulk mailshot, or both – that they go straight into the trash folder. Word to the wise. ]

Globalisation is still going just fine for the big boys, thanks

Everyone’s suffering from the economic downturn, right? Well, not quite everyone; the really big corporations – the ones like IBM who are truly globalized – are doing just fine… and they’re managing it largely through detaching themselves from their parent nation-states, such as the US.

IBM’s world view has meant that hardware is an increasingly small portion of its revenue. It no longer makes personal computers, having sold its ThinkPad division to China’s Lenovo; higher-end servers now constitute only a quarter of its business. The rest is in software and consulting, which are increasingly based outside the U.S., making IBM less sensitive to the U.S. economy even as it remains—technically—an American company. IBM remains highly profitable. In the first six months of 2009, it earned nearly $6 billion in profits, even as the U.S. economy contracted sharply. This past quarter, about two thirds of its revenue came from outside the U.S., and that percentage is growing.

Some of the effects are undoubtedly negative for the U.S. Thousands of IBM employees have recently been offered a choice between losing their jobs in America or moving abroad to stay employed. Companies that once were icons of American power—like IBM and General Motors—will thrive only if they become more wedded to the world and less to the U.S. GM itself is a perfect example of what works and what doesn’t, with a U.S. division that failed and a Chinese division that is wildly successful. A world with more strong foreign markets means less money spent on labor and operations in the U.S., and more spent elsewhere. Companies like Intel and Microsoft are investing billions in R&D facilities in China because they believe that is where their future is.


IBM is hardly the only example of global business detaching from the U.S. Other technology and consulting companies such as HP and Accenture are charting similar paths. Firms in other industries have moved away from the U.S. altogether, most notably oil-services company Halliburton. Having been reviled in the U.S. for allegedly overcharging the U.S. military in Iraq, it decamped to Dubai, where no one cares. In fact, there is hardly an industry other than utilities that is not seeing its most significant growth outside the U.S. That was true before the crisis, but it is even more clear in financial results this year. In 2006 about 43 percent of the profits of the S&P 500 came from outside the U.S. In 2009 that percentage is poised to surpass 50 percent.

This is the new world of global business, one in which the U.S. becomes simply a market among markets, and not even the most interesting one. IBM is one of the multinationals that propelled America to the apex of its power, and it is now emblematic of the process of creative destruction pushing America to a new, less dominant, and less comfortable position.

Another nail in geography’s coffin. As more nation-states slip into “failed” status – and depending on where you’re looking from, none of them are completely safe from that prospect, no matter how large or formerly powerful – the durability and mobility of the corporation will start to look more appealing to career politicos and rootless would-be citizens alike. Why sign up for citizenship when a zaibatsu-style contract offers you more benefit and opportunity?

Is the economic future of the US that of client status to multinational corporations? [via SlashDot]

Better living through chemistry? Indian river water contains 21 pharmaceuticals

assorted pharmaceuticalsThe world is full of ironies. Many people can’t afford or get access to the drugs they need to make themselves well; meanwhile, others get more drugs than they need or want, whether they like it or not. In Pantacheru (near Hyderabad in India), recent samples of river water showed concentrations of an antibiotic high enough “to treat everyone living in Sweden for a work week”.

And it wasn’t just ciprofloxacin being detected. The supposedly cleaned water was a floating medicine cabinet — a soup of 21 different active pharmaceutical ingredients, used in generics for treatment of hypertension, heart disease, chronic liver ailments, depression, gonorrhea, ulcers and other ailments. Half of the drugs measured at the highest levels of pharmaceuticals ever detected in the environment, researchers say.

Those Indian factories produce drugs for much of the world, including many Americans. The result: Some of India’s poor are unwittingly consuming an array of chemicals that may be harmful, and could lead to the proliferation of drug-resistant bacteria.

Good old MSNBC… just in case the plight of the Indians didn’t move you, they reminded you of the drug-resistant nasties that you might encounter in your own country. This is the nasty underbelly of globalisation; industrial production moves to where it can be done most cheaply, regardless of what corners get cut in the process. Outta sight, outta mind, right? [via BLDGBLOG; image by Amanda M Hatfield]

Where will we send our trash now China doesn’t want it?

scrap wasteIt’s no secret that a lot of the West’s waste ends up in China and other far eastern countries. What you may not have realised is that a significant number of people make a living from sorting, reclaiming and reselling that waste; used plastics to packing chip factories, for example.

Or rather, they used to make a living doing it; now, scrap trading in China has fallen at the hands of the global economic slump:

Minter says the predicament is typical of the trade. “People would borrow money from relatives and buy a container of scrap and then throw all that money back in and reinvest it. Great if it goes up – but the moment it starts slipping, especially if it’s slipping 20-30%, you’re finished,” he said.

Even if you’re so hard-hearted as to think that the economic fate of Chinese scrap workers is no big deal to you, the consequences of this are going to be felt in your world too: China used to import scrap and waste from countries like the US and the UK. Now there’s no one who can make a meagre living by cleaning up behind us, we’re going to have to start doing it ourselves. [image by Paul Goyette]