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1. As a consumer buying goods in American shops and stores - how is globalization affecting your life today? Give a couple of examples of high ticket items you have purchased or are thinking of buying. Where were they made? How did that affect the price of the item?
2. As an employee who has worked for several years how has globalization affected your job salary so far or your job prospects over the coming years? If you have not yet spent a few years working, describe how globalization has affected the jobs or livelihood of your parents?
3. Think of the degree or profession you are pursuing at Pierce College? Can ANY part of it be outsourced to India or China? How will that affect you? Will the salary you are hoping to make be affected by salaries in similar professions in other countries?
4. Finally, do you think globalization is going to go away anytime soon? IF yes, describe how. If NO, what can you do NOW to prepare yourself to face its pressure? These are complex questions. They can't be answered in a sentence or two. I encourage you to use examples from the articles to support your arguments.
It is HIGHLY LIKELY that your Discussion Board this week will be substantially longer than 600 words. I will expect to see references and ideas to all of the articles posted here as well as your personal reaction to the questions I posted. Please also note that some of the articles have their own questions attached as well. Again, yes I expect answers but they need not be very long.
1) The Rise of the Rest -This article will give you a quick overview of the most important changes of global stratification during the last 50 years AND explain what it means for America's success in the 21st century!
2) The World is Flat - Please read this book review of one of the most pivotal books on globalization written during the last 10 years. The book author, Thomas Friedman, writes frequently about American competitiveness and the need for American workers (that's you and me!) to adjust to a global economy.
3) Globalization's Reality - Who makes our toys and why? Is it bad for Vietnam to produce our toys? Would it be better for the USA if we produced our own toys?
4) Our Safety Net is Disappearing - Why are American workers who do GOOD work being fired by their own employers? Is this just one of two cruel employers or are there greater , global pressures forcing companies to become so ruthless? How will these pressures affect you and your career?
5) The Life of an Undocumented South Asian Immigrant & 6) A Good Provider is One Who Leaves -
What would you do if you grew up in an underdeveloped country? What are the forces that push/pull these workers to go overseas? Is it good for their country if they go work overseas? Is it good for their families if they go and work overseas? Are these workers any different from Mexican workers coming to the United States to work? (NOTE for article 6: This is a long article; You only need to read up to the bookmark in the article, where it tells you "You need not read beyond this ...")
7) A completely optional article from last fall's headlines (Nov 3, 2013) IT'S THE GOLDEN AGE OF NEWS
ARTICLES TO READ FOR THIS WEEK:
ARTICLE I -The Rise of the Rest
ARTICLE II - THE WORLD IS FLAT
Book By Thomas Freedman, Article By Fareed Zakaria – NEW YORK TIMES
ARTICLE III - Globalization’s Reality: The Wheel That Turns
By Roger Cohen, International Herald Tribune
ARTICLE IV - One Safety Net Is Disappearing. What Will Follow?
By DAVID LEONHARDT , NEW YORK TIMES,
ARTICLE V - The Life of an Undocumented South Asian Immigrant
ARTICLE VI - A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves
The Rise of the Rest
By Fareed Zakaria (Links to an external site.) | NEWSWEEK
From the magazine issue dated May 12, 2008
Americans are glum at the moment. No, I mean really glum. In April, a new poll revealed that 81 percent of the American people believe that the country is on the "wrong track." In the 25 years that pollsters have asked this question, last month's response was by far the most negative. Other polls, asking similar questions, found levels of gloom that were even more alarming, often at 30- and 40-year highs. There are reasons to be pessimistic—a financial panic and looming recession, a seemingly endless war in Iraq, and the ongoing threat of terrorism. But the facts on the ground—unemployment numbers, foreclosure rates, deaths from terror attacks—are simply not dire enough to explain the present atmosphere of malaise.
American anxiety springs from something much deeper, a sense that large and disruptive forces are coursing through the world. In almost every industry, in every aspect of life, it feels like the patterns of the past are being scrambled. "Whirl is king, having driven out Zeus," wrote Aristophanes 2,400 years ago. And—for the first time in living memory—the United States does not seem to be leading the charge. Americans see that a new world is coming into being, but fear it is one being shaped in distant lands and by foreign people.
Look around. The world's tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood. Once quintessentially American icons have been usurped by the natives. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year. America no longer dominates even its favorite sport, shopping. The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn't make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world's ten richest people are American. These lists are arbitrary and a bit silly, but consider that only ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.
These factoids reflect a seismic shift in power and attitudes. It is one that I sense when I travel around the world. In America, we are still debating the nature and extent of anti-Americanism. One side says that the problem is real and worrying and that we must woo the world back. The other says this is the inevitable price of power and that many of these countries are envious—and vaguely French—so we can safely ignore their griping. But while we argue over why they hate us, "they" have moved on, and are now far more interested in other, more dynamic parts of the globe. The world has shifted from anti-Americanism to post-Americanism.
I. The End of Pax Americana
During the 1980s, when I would visit India—where I grew up—most Indians were fascinated by the United States. Their interest, I have to confess, was not in the important power players in Washington or the great intellectuals in Cambridge.
People would often ask me about … Donald Trump. He was the very symbol of the United States—brassy, rich, and modern. He symbolized the feeling that if you wanted to find the biggest and largest anything, you had to look to America. Today, outside of entertainment figures, there is no comparable interest in American personalities. If you wonder why, read India's newspapers or watch its television. There are dozens of Indian businessmen who are now wealthier than the Donald. Indians are obsessed by their own vulgar real estate billionaires. And that newfound interest in their own story is being replicated across much of the world.
How much? Well, consider this fact. In 2006 and 2007, 124 countries grew their economies at over 4 percent a year. That includes more than 30 countries in Africa. Over the last two decades, lands outside the industrialized West have been growing at rates that were once unthinkable. While there have been booms and busts, the overall trend has been unambiguously upward. Antoine van Agtmael, the fund manager who coined the term "emerging markets," has identified the 25 companies most likely to be the world's next great multinationals. His list includes four companies each from Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, and Taiwan; three from India, two from China, and one each from Argentina, Chile, Malaysia, and South Africa. This is something much broader than the much-ballyhooed rise of China or even Asia. It is the rise of the rest—the rest of the world.
We are living through the third great power shift in modern history. The first was the rise of the Western world, around the 15th century. It produced the world as we know it now—science and technology, commerce and capitalism, the industrial and agricultural revolutions. It also led to the prolonged political dominance of the nations of the Western world. The second shift, which took place in the closing years of the 19th century, was the rise of the United States. Once it industrialized, it soon became the most powerful nation in the world, stronger than any likely combination of other nations. For the last 20 years, America's superpower status in every realm has been largely unchallenged—something that's never happened before in history, at least since the Roman Empire dominated the known world 2,000 years ago. During this Pax Americana, the global economy has accelerated dramatically. And that expansion is the driver behind the third great power shift of the modern age—the rise of the rest.
At the military and political level, we still live in a unipolar world. But along every other dimension—industrial, financial, social, cultural—the distribution of power is shifting, moving away from American dominance. In terms of war and peace, economics and business, ideas and art, this will produce a landscape that is quite different from the one we have lived in until now—one defined and directed from many places and by many peoples.
The post-American world is naturally an unsettling prospect for Americans, but it should not be. This will not be a world defined by the decline of America but rather the rise of everyone else. It is the result of a series of positive trends that have been progressing over the last 20 years, trends that have created an international climate of unprecedented peace and prosperity.
I know. That's not the world that people perceive. We are told that we live in dark, dangerous times. Terrorism, rogue states, nuclear proliferation, financial panics, recession, outsourcing, and illegal immigrants all loom large in the national discourse. Al Qaeda, Iran, North Korea, China, Russia are all threats in some way or another. But just how violent is today's world, really?
A team of scholars at the University of Maryland has been tracking deaths caused by organized violence. Their data show that wars of all kinds have been declining since the mid-1980s and that we are now at the lowest levels of global violence since the 1950s. Deaths from terrorism are reported to have risen in recent years. But on closer examination, 80 percent of those casualties come from Afghanistan and Iraq, which are really war zones with ongoing insurgencies—and the overall numbers remain small. Looking at the evidence, Harvard's polymath professor Steven Pinker has ventured to speculate that we are probably living "in the most peaceful time of our species' existence."
Why does it not feel that way? Why do we think we live in scary times? Part of the problem is that as violence has been ebbing, information has been exploding. The last 20 years have produced an information revolution that brings us news and, most crucially, images from around the world all the time. The immediacy of the images and the intensity of the 24-hour news cycle combine to produce constant hype. Every weather disturbance is the "storm of the decade." Every bomb that explodes is BREAKING NEWS. Because the information revolution is so new, we—reporters, writers, readers, viewers—are all just now figuring out how to put everything in context.
We didn't watch daily footage of the two million people who died in Indochina in the 1970s, or the million who perished in the sands of the Iran-Iraq war ten years later. We saw little of the civil war in the Congo in the 1990s, where millions died. But today any bomb that goes off, any rocket that is fired, any death that results, is documented by someone, somewhere and ricochets instantly across the world. Add to this terrorist attacks, which are random and brutal. "That could have been me," you think. Actually, your chances of being killed in a terrorist attack are tiny—for an American, smaller than drowning in your bathtub. But it doesn't feel like that.
The threats we face are real. Islamic jihadists are a nasty bunch—they do want to attack civilians everywhere. But it is increasingly clear that militants and suicide bombers make up a tiny portion of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims. They can do real damage, especially if they get their hands on nuclear weapons. But the combined efforts of the world's governments have effectively put them on the run and continue to track them and their money. Jihad persists, but the jihadists have had to scatter, work in small local cells, and use simple and undetectable weapons. They have not been able to hit big, symbolic targets, especially ones involving Americans. So they blow up bombs in cafés, marketplaces, and subway stations. The problem is that in doing so, they kill locals and alienate ordinary Muslims. Look at the polls. Support for violence of any kind has dropped dramatically over the last five years in all Muslim countries.
Militant groups have reconstituted in certain areas where they exploit a particular local issue or have support from a local ethnic group or sect, most worryingly in Pakistan and Afghanistan where Islamic radicalism has become associated with Pashtun identity politics. But as a result, these groups are becoming more local and less global. Al Qaeda in Iraq, for example, has turned into a group that is more anti-Shiite than anti-American. The bottom line is this: since 9/11, Al Qaeda Central, the gang run by Osama bin Laden, has not been able to launch a single major terror attack in the West or any Arab country—its original targets. They used to do terrorism, now they make videotapes. Of course one day they will get lucky again, but that they have been stymied for almost seven years points out that in this battle between governments and terror groups, the former need not despair.
Some point to the dangers posed by countries like Iran. These rogue states present real problems, but look at them in context. The American economy is 68 times the size of Iran's. Its military budget is 110 times that of the mullahs. Were Iran to attain a nuclear capacity, it would complicate the geopolitics of the Middle East. But none of the problems we face compare with the dangers posed by a rising Germany in the first half of the 20th century or an expansionist Soviet Union in the second half. Those were great global powers bent on world domination. If this is 1938, as some neoconservatives tell us, then Iran is Romania, not Germany.
Others paint a dark picture of a world in which dictators are on the march. China and Russia and assorted other oil potentates are surging. We must draw the battle lines now, they warn, and engage in a great Manichean struggle that will define the next century. Some of John McCain's rhetoric has suggested that he adheres to this dire, dyspeptic view. But before we all sign on for a new Cold War, let's take a deep breath and gain some perspective. Today's rising great powers are relatively benign by historical measure. In the past, when countries grew rich they've wanted to become great military powers, overturn the existing order, and create their own empires or spheres of influence. But since the rise of Japan and Germany in the 1960s and 1970s, none have done this, choosing instead to get rich within the existing international order. China and India are clearly moving in this direction. Even Russia, the most aggressive and revanchist great power today, has done little that compares with past aggressors. The fact that for the first time in history, the United States can contest Russian influence in Ukraine—a country 4,800 miles away from Washington that Russia has dominated or ruled for 350 years—tells us something about the balance of power between the West and Russia.
Compare Russia and China with where they were 35 years ago. At the time both (particularly Russia) were great power threats, actively conspiring against the United States, arming guerrilla movement across the globe, funding insurgencies and civil wars, blocking every American plan in the United Nations. Now they are more integrated into the global economy and society than at any point in at least 100 years. They occupy an uncomfortable gray zone, neither friends nor foes, cooperating with the United States and the West on some issues, obstructing others. But how large is their potential for trouble? Russia's military spending is $35 billion, or 1/20th of the Pentagon's. China has about 20 nuclear missiles that can reach the United States. We have 830 missiles, most with multiple warheads, that can reach China. Who should be worried about whom? Other rising autocracies like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are close U.S. allies that shelter under America's military protection, buy its weapons, invest in its companies, and follow many of its diktats. With Iran's ambitions growing in the region, these countries are likely to become even closer allies, unless America gratuitously alienates them.
II. The Good News
In July 2006, I spoke with a senior member of the Israeli government, a few days after Israel's war with Hezbollah had ended. He was genuinely worried about his country's physical security. Hezbollah's rockets had reached farther into Israel than people had believed possible. The military response had clearly been ineffectual: Hezbollah launched as many rockets on the last day of the war as on the first. Then I asked him about the economy—the area in which he worked. His response was striking. "That's puzzled all of us," he said. "The stock market was higher on the last day of the war than on the first! The same with the shekel." The government was spooked, but the market wasn't.
Or consider the Iraq War, which has produced deep, lasting chaos and dysfunction in that country. Over two million refugees have crowded into neighboring lands. That would seem to be the kind of political crisis guaranteed to spill over. But as I've traveled in the Middle East over the last few years, I've been struck by how little Iraq's troubles have destabilized the region. Everywhere you go, people angrily denounce American foreign policy. But most Middle Eastern countries are booming. Iraq's neighbors—Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia—are enjoying unprecedented prosperity. The Gulf states are busy modernizing their economies and societies, asking the Louvre, New York University, and Cornell Medical School to set up remote branches in the desert. There's little evidence of chaos, instability, and rampant Islamic fundamentalism.
The underlying reality across the globe is of enormous vitality. For the first time ever, most countries around the world are practicing sensible economics. Consider inflation. Over the past 20 years hyperinflation, a problem that used to bedevil large swaths of the world from Turkey to Brazil to Indonesia, has largely vanished, tamed by successful fiscal and monetary policies. The results are clear and stunning. The share of people living on $1 a day has plummeted from 40 percent in 1981 to 18 percent in 2004 and is estimated to drop to 12 percent by 2015. Poverty is falling in countries that house 80 percent of the world's population. There remains real poverty in the world—most worryingly in 50 basket-case countries that contain 1 billion people—but the overall trend has never been more encouraging. The global economy has more than doubled in size over the last 15 years and is now approaching $54 trillion! Global trade has grown by 133 percent in the same period. The expansion of the global economic pie has been so large, with so many countries participating, that it has become the dominating force of the current era. Wars, terrorism, and civil strife cause disruptions temporarily but eventually they are overwhelmed by the waves of globalization. These circumstances may not last, but it is worth understanding what the world has looked like for the past few decades.
III. A New Nationalism
Of course, global growth is also responsible for some of the biggest problems in the world right now. It has produced tons of money—what businesspeople call liquidity—that moves around the world. The combination of low inflation and lots of cash has meant low interest rates, which in turn have made people act greedily and/or stupidly. So we have witnessed over the last two decades a series of bubbles—in East Asian countries, technology stocks, housing, subprime mortgages, and emerging market equities. Growth also explains one of the signature events of our times—soaring commodity prices. $100 oil is just the tip of the barrel. Almost all commodities are at 200-year highs. Food, only a few decades ago in danger of price collapse, is now in the midst of a scary rise. None of this is due to dramatic fall-offs in supply. It is demand, growing global demand, that is fueling these prices. The effect of more and more people eating, drinking, washing, driving, and consuming will have seismic effects on the global system. These may be high-quality problems, but they are deep problems nonetheless.
The most immediate effect of global growth is the appearance of new economic powerhouses on the scene. It is an accident of history that for the last several centuries, the richest countries in the world have all been very small in terms of population. Denmark has 5.5 million people, the Netherlands has 16.6 million. The United States is the biggest of the bunch and has dominated the advanced industrial world. But the real giants—China, India, Brazil—have been sleeping, unable or unwilling to join the world of functioning economies. Now they are on the move and naturally, given their size, they will have a large footprint on the map of the future. Even if people in these countries remain relatively poor, as nations their total wealth will be massive. Or to put it another way, any number, no matter how small, when multiplied by 2.5 billion becomes a very big number. (2.5 billion is the population of China plus India.)
The rise of China and India is really just the most obvious manifestation of a rising world. In dozens of big countries, one can see the same set of forces at work—a growing economy, a resurgent society, a vibrant culture, and a rising sense of national pride. That pride can morph into something uglier. For me, this was vividly illustrated a few years ago when I was chatting with a young Chinese executive in an Internet café in Shanghai. He wore Western clothes, spoke fluent English, and was immersed in global pop culture. He was a product of globalization and spoke its language of bridge building and cosmopolitan values. At least, he did so until we began talking about Taiwan, Japan, and even the United States. (We did not discuss Tibet, but I'm sure had we done so, I could have added it to this list.) His responses were filled with passion, bellicosity, and intolerance. I felt as if I were in Germany in 1910, speaking to a young German professional, who would have been equally modern and yet also a staunch nationalist.
As economic fortunes rise, so inevitably does nationalism. Imagine that your country has been poor and marginal for centuries. Finally, things turn around and it becomes a symbol of economic progress and success. You would be proud, and anxious that your people win recognition and respect throughout the world.
In many countries such nationalism arises from a pent-up frustration over having to accept an entirely Western, or American, narrative of world history—one in which they are miscast or remain bit players. Russians have long chafed over the manner in which Western countries remember World War II. The American narrative is one in which the United States and Britain heroically defeat the forces of fascism. The Normandy landings are the climactic highpoint of the war—the beginning of the end. The Russians point out, however, that in fact the entire Western front was a sideshow. Three quarters of all German forces were engaged on the Eastern front fighting Russian troops, and Germany suffered 70 percent of its casualties there. The Eastern front involved more land combat than all other theaters of World War II put together.
Such divergent national perspectives always existed. But today, thanks to the information revolution, they are amplified, echoed, and disseminated. Where once there were only the narratives laid out by The New York Times, Time, Newsweek, the BBC, and CNN, there are now dozens of indigenous networks and channels—from Al Jazeera to New Delhi's NDTV to Latin America's Telesur. The result is that the "rest" are now dissecting the assumptions and narratives of the West and providing alternative views. A young Chinese diplomat told me in 2006, "When you tell us that we support a dictatorship in Sudan to have access to its oil, what I want to say is, 'And how is that different from your support of a medieval monarchy in Saudi Arabia?' We see the hypocrisy, we just don't say anything—yet."
The fact that newly rising nations are more strongly asserting their ideas and interests is inevitable in a post-American world. This raises a conundrum—how to get a world of many actors to work together. The traditional mechanisms of international cooperation are fraying. The U.N. Security Council has as its permanent members the victors of a war that ended more than 60 years ago. The G8 does not include China, India or Brazil—the three fastest-growing large economies in the world—and yet claims to represent the movers and shakers of the world economy. By tradition, the IMF is always headed by a European and the World Bank by an American. This "tradition," like the segregated customs of an old country club, might be charming to an insider. But to the majority who live outside the West, it seems bigoted. Our challenge is this: Whether the problem is a trade dispute or a human rights tragedy like Darfur or climate change, the only solutions that will work are those involving many nations. But arriving at solutions when more countries and more non-governmental players are feeling empowered will be harder than ever.
IV. The Next American Century
Many look at the vitality of this emerging world and conclude that the United States has had its day. "Globalization is striking back," Gabor Steingart, an editor at Germany's leading news magazine, Der Spiegel, writes in a best-selling book. As others prosper, he argues, the United States has lost key industries, its people have stopped saving money, and its government has become increasingly indebted to Asian central banks. The current financial crisis has only given greater force to such fears.
But take a step back. Over the last 20 years, globalization has been gaining depth and breadth. America has benefited massively from these trends. It has enjoyed unusually robust growth, low unemployment and inflation, and received hundreds of billions of dollars in investment. These are not signs of economic collapse. Its companies have entered new countries and industries with great success, using global supply chains and technology to stay in the vanguard of efficiency. U.S. exports and manufacturing have actually held their ground and services have boomed.
The United States is currently ranked as the globe's most competitive economy by the World Economic Forum. It remains dominant in many industries of the future like nanotechnology, biotechnology, and dozens of smaller high-tech fields. Its universities are the finest in the world, making up 8 of the top ten and 37 of the top fifty, according to a prominent ranking produced by Shanghai Jiao Tong University. A few years ago the National Science Foundation put out a scary and much-discussed statistic. In 2004, the group said, 950,000 engineers graduated from China and India, while only 70,000 graduated from the United States. But those numbers are wildly off the mark. If you exclude the car mechanics and repairmen—who are all counted as engineers in Chinese and Indian statistics—the numbers look quite different. Per capita, it turns out, the United States trains more engineers than either of the Asian giants.
But America's hidden secret is that most of these engineers are immigrants. Foreign students and immigrants account for almost 50 percent of all science researchers in the country. In 2006 they received 40 percent of all PhDs. By 2010, 75 percent of all science PhDs in this country will be awarded to foreign students. When these graduates settle in the country, they create economic opportunity. Half of all Silicon Valley start-ups have one founder who is an immigrant or first generation American. The potential for a new burst of American productivity depends not on our education system or R&D spending, but on our immigration policies. If these people are allowed and encouraged to stay, then innovation will happen here. If they leave, they'll take it with them.
More broadly, this is America's great—and potentially insurmountable—strength. It remains the most open, flexible society in the world, able to absorb other people, cultures, ideas, goods, and services. The country thrives on the hunger and energy of poor immigrants. Faced with the new technologies of foreign companies, or growing markets overseas, it adapts and adjusts. When you compare this dynamism with the closed and hierarchical nations that were once superpowers, you sense that the United States is different and may not fall into the trap of becoming rich, and fat, and lazy.
American society can adapt to this new world. But can the American government? Washington has gotten used to a world in which all roads led to its doorstep. America has rarely had to worry about benchmarking to the rest of the world—it was always so far ahead. But the natives have gotten good at capitalism and the gap is narrowing. Look at the rise of London. It's now the world's leading financial center—less because of things that the United States did badly than those London did well, like improving regulation and becoming friendlier to foreign capital. Or take the U.S. health care system, which has become a huge liability for American companies. U.S. carmakers now employ more people in Ontario, Canada, than Michigan because in Canada their health care costs are lower. Twenty years ago, the United States had the lowest corporate taxes in the world. Today they are the second-highest. It's not that ours went up. Those of others went down.
American parochialism is particularly evident in foreign policy. Economically, as other countries grow, for the most part the pie expands and everyone wins. But geopolitics is a struggle for influence: as other nations become more active internationally, they will seek greater freedom of action. This necessarily means that America's unimpeded influence will decline. But if the world that's being created has more power centers, nearly all are invested in order, stability and progress. Rather than narrowly obsessing about our own short-term interests and interest groups, our chief priority should be to bring these rising forces into the global system, to integrate them so that they in turn broaden and deepen global economic, political, and cultural ties. If China, India, Russia, Brazil all feel that they have a stake in the existing global order, there will be less danger of war, depression, panics, and breakdowns. There will be lots of problems, crisis, and tensions, but they will occur against a backdrop of systemic stability. This benefits them but also us. It's the ultimate win-win.
To bring others into this world, the United States needs to make its own commitment to the system clear. So far, America has been able to have it both ways. It is the global rule-maker but doesn't always play by the rules. And forget about standards created by others. Only three countries in the world don't use the metric system—Liberia, Myanmar, and the United States. For America to continue to lead the world, we will have to first join it.
Americans—particularly the American government—have not really understood the rise of the rest. This is one of the most thrilling stories in history. Billions of people are escaping from abject poverty. The world will be enriched and ennobled as they become consumers, producers, inventors, thinkers, dreamers, and doers. This is all happening because of American ideas and actions. For 60 years, the United States has pushed countries to open their markets, free up their politics, and embrace trade and technology. American diplomats, businessmen, and intellectuals have urged people in distant lands to be unafraid of change, to join the advanced world, to learn the secrets of our success. Yet just as they are beginning to do so, we are losing faith in such ideas. We have become suspicious of trade, openness, immigration, and investment because now it's not Americans going abroad but foreigners coming to America. Just as the world is opening up, we are closing down.
Generations from now, when historians write about these times, they might note that by the turn of the 21st century, the United States had succeeded in its great, historical mission—globalizing the world. We don't want them to write that along the way, we forgot to globalize ourselves.
Adapted from The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria. © 2008 by Fareed Zakaria. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
May 1, 2005 – NEW YORK TIMES
THE WORLD IS FLAT
A Brief History
of the Twenty-First Century.
By Thomas L. Friedman.
488 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $27.50.
Written By – Fareed Zakaria
OVER the past few years, the United States has been obsessed with the Middle East. The administration, the news media and the American people have all been focused almost exclusively on the region, and it has seemed that dealing with its problems would define the early decades of the 21st century. ''The war on terror is a struggle that will last for generations,'' Donald Rumsfeld is reported to have said to his associates after 9/11.
But could it be that we're focused on the wrong problem? The challenge of Islamic terrorism is real enough, but could it prove to be less durable than it once appeared? There are some signs to suggest this. The combined power of most governments of the world is proving to be a match for any terror group. In addition, several of the governments in the Middle East are inching toward modernizing and opening up their societies. This will be a long process but it is already draining some of the rage that undergirded Islamic extremism.
This doesn't mean that the Middle East will disappear off the map. Far from it. Terrorism remains a threat, and we will all continue to be fascinated by upheavals in Lebanon, events in Iran and reforms in Egypt. But ultimately these trends are unlikely to shape the world's future. The countries of the Middle East have been losers in the age of globalization, out of step in an age of free markets, free trade and democratic politics. The world's future -- the big picture -- is more likely to be shaped by the winners of this era. And if the United States thought it was difficult to deal with the losers, the winners present an even thornier set of challenges. This is the implication of the New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman's excellent new book, ''The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century.''
The metaphor of a flat world, used by Friedman to describe the next phase of globalization, is ingenious. It came to him after hearing an Indian software executive explain how the world's economic playing field was being leveled. For a variety of reasons, what economists call ''barriers to entry'' are being destroyed; today an individual or company anywhere can collaborate or compete globally. Bill Gates explains the meaning of this transformation best. Thirty years ago, he tells Friedman, if you had to choose between being born a genius in Mumbai or Shanghai and an average person in Poughkeepsie, you would have chosen Poughkeepsie because your chances of living a prosperous and fulfilled life were much greater there. ''Now,'' Gates says, ''I would rather be a genius born in China than an average guy born in Poughkeepsie.''
The book is done in Friedman's trademark style. You travel with him, meet his wife and kids, learn about his friends and sit in on his interviews. Some find this irritating. I think it works in making complicated ideas accessible. Another Indian entrepreneur, Jerry Rao, explained to Friedman why his accounting firm in Bangalore was able to prepare tax returns for Americans. (In 2005, an estimated 400,000 American I.R.S. returns were prepared in India.) ''Any activity where we can digitize and decompose the value chain, and move the work around, will get moved around. Some people will say, 'Yes, but you can't serve me a steak.' True, but I can take the reservation for your table sitting anywhere in the world,'' Rao says. He ended the interview by describing his next plan, which is to link up with an Israeli company that can transmit CAT scans via the Internet so that Americans can get a second opinion from an Indian or Israeli doctor, quickly and cheaply.
What created the flat world? Friedman stresses technological forces. Paradoxically, the dot-com bubble played a crucial role. Telecommunications companies like Global Crossing had hundreds of millions of dollars of cash -- given to them by gullible investors -- and they used it to pursue incredibly ambitious plans to ''wire the world,'' laying fiber-optic cable across the ocean floors, connecting Bangalore, Bangkok and Beijing to the advanced industrial countries. This excess supply of connectivity meant that the costs of phone calls, Internet connections and data transmission declined dramatically -- so dramatically that many of the companies that laid these cables went bankrupt. But the deed was done, the world was wired. Today it costs about as much to connect to Guangdong as it does New Jersey.
The next blow in this one-two punch was the dot-com bust. The stock market crash made companies everywhere cut spending. That meant they needed to look for ways to do what they were doing for less money. The solution: outsourcing. General Electric had led the way a decade earlier and by the late 1990's many large American companies were recognizing that Indian engineers could handle most technical jobs they needed done, at a tenth the cost. The preparations for Y2K, the millennium bug, gave a huge impetus to this shift since most Western companies needed armies of cheap software workers to recode their computers. Welcome to Bangalore.
A good bit of the book is taken up with a discussion of these technological forces and the way in which business has reacted and adapted to them. Friedman explains the importance of the development of ''work flow platforms,'' software that made it possible for all kinds of computer applications to connect and work together, which is what allowed seamless cooperation by people working anywhere. ''It is the creation of this platform, with these unique attributes, that is the truly important sustainable breakthrough that has made what you call the flattening of the world possible,'' Microsoft's chief technology officer, Craig J. Mundie, told Friedman.
Friedman has a flair for business reporting and finds amusing stories about Wal-Mart, UPS, Dell and JetBlue, among others, that relate to his basic theme. Did you know that when you order a burger at the drive-through McDonald's on Interstate 55 near Cape Girardeau, Mo., the person taking your order is at a call center 900 miles away in Colorado Springs? (He or she then zaps it back to that McDonald's and the order is ready a few minutes later as you drive around to the pickup window.) Or that when you call JetBlue for a reservation, you're talking to a housewife in Utah, who does the job part time? Or that when you ship your Toshiba laptop for repairs via UPS, it's actually UPS's guys in the ''funny brown shorts'' who do the fixing?
China and India loom large in Friedman's story because they are the two big countries benefiting most from the flat world. To take just one example, Wal-Mart alone last year imported $18 billion worth of goods from its 5,000 Chinese suppliers. (Friedman doesn't do the math, but this would mean that of Wal-Mart's 6,000 suppliers, 80 percent are in one country -- China.) The Indian case is less staggering and still mostly in services, though the trend is dramatically upward. But Friedman understands that China and India represent not just threats to the developed world, but also great opportunities. After all, the changes he is describing have the net effect of adding hundreds of millions of people -- consumers -- to the world economy. That is an unparalleled opportunity for every company and individual in the world.
Friedman quotes a Morgan Stanley study estimating that since the mid-1990's cheap imports from China have saved American consumers over $600 billion and probably saved American companies even more than that since they use Chinese-sourced parts in their production. And this is not all about cheap labor. Between 1995 and 2002, China's private sector has increased productivity at 17 percent annually -- a truly breathtaking pace.
Friedman describes his honest reaction to this new world while he's at one of India's great outsourcing companies, Infosys. He was standing, he says, ''at the gate observing this river of educated young people flowing in and out. . . . They all looked as if they had scored 1600 on their SAT's. . . . My mind just kept telling me, 'Ricardo is right, Ricardo is right.' . . . These Indian techies were doing what was their comparative advantage and then turning around and using their income to buy all the products from America that are our comparative advantage. . . . Both our countries would benefit. . . . But my eye kept . . . telling me something else: 'Oh, my God, there are just so many of them, and they all look so serious, so eager for work. And they just keep coming, wave after wave. How in the world can it possibly be good for my daughters and millions of other young Americans that these Indians can do the same jobs as they can for a fraction of the wages?' ''
He ends up, wisely, understanding that there's no way to stop the wave. You cannot switch off these forces except at great cost to your own economic well-being. Over the last century, those countries that tried to preserve their systems, jobs, culture or traditions by keeping the rest of the world out all stagnated. Those that opened themselves up to the world prospered. But that doesn't mean you can't do anything to prepare for this new competition and new world. Friedman spends a good chunk of the book outlining ways that America and Americans can place themselves in a position to do better.
People in advanced countries have to find ways to move up the value chain, to have special skills that create superior products for which they can charge extra. The UPS story is a classic example of this. Delivering goods doesn't have high margins, but repairing computers (and in effect managing a supply chain) does. In one of Friedman's classic anecdote-as-explanation shticks, he recounts that one of his best friends is an illustrator. The friend saw his business beginning to dry up as computers made routine illustrations easy to do, and he moved on to something new. He became an illustration consultant, helping clients conceive of what they want rather than simply executing a drawing. Friedman explains this in Friedman metaphors: the friend's work began as a chocolate sauce, was turned into a vanilla commodity, through upgraded skills became a special chocolate sauce again, and then had a cherry put on top. All clear?
Of course it won't be as easy as that, as Friedman knows. He points to the dramatic erosion of America's science and technology base, which has been masked in recent decades by another aspect of globalization. America now imports foreigners to do the scientific work that its citizens no longer want to do or even know how to do. Nearly one in five scientists and engineers in the United States is an immigrant, and 51 percent of doctorates in engineering go to foreigners. America's soaring health care costs are increasingly a burden in a global race, particularly since American industry is especially disadvantaged on this issue. An American carmaker pays about $6,000 per worker for health care. If it moves its factory up to Canada, where the government runs and pays for medical coverage, the company pays only $800. Most of Friedman's solutions to these kinds of problems are intelligent, neoliberal ways of using government in a market-friendly way to further the country's ability to compete in a flat world.
There are difficulties with the book. Once Friedman gets through explicating his main point, he throws in too many extras -- perhaps trying to make that chocolate sundae -- making the book seem slightly padded. The process of flattening that he is describing is in its infancy. India is still a poor third-world country, but if you read this book you would assume it is on the verge of becoming a global superstar. (Though as an Indian-American, I read Friedman and whisper the old Jewish saying, ''From your lips to God's ears.'') And while this book is not as powerful as Friedman's earlier ones -- it is, as the publisher notes, an ''update'' of ''The Lexus and the Olive Tree'' -- its fundamental insight is true and deeply important.
In explaining this insight and this new world, Friedman can sometimes sound like a technological determinist. And while he does acknowledge political factors, they get little space in the book, which gives it a lopsided feel. I would argue that one of the primary forces driving the flat world is actually the shifting attitudes and policies of governments around the world. From Brazil to South Africa to India, governments are becoming more market-friendly, accepting that the best way to cure poverty is to aim for high-growth policies. This change, more than any other, has unleashed the energy of the private sector. After all, India had hundreds of thousands of trained engineers in the 1970's, but they didn't produce growth. In the United States and Europe, deregulation policies spurred the competition that led to radical innovation. There is a chicken-and-egg problem, to be sure. Did government policies create the technological boom or vice versa? At least one can say that each furthered the other.
The largest political factor is, of course, the structure of global politics. The flat economic world has been created by an extremely unflat political world. The United States dominates the globe like no country since ancient Rome. It has been at the forefront, pushing for open markets, open trade and open politics. But the consequence of these policies will be to create a more nearly equal world, economically and politically. If China grows economically, at some point it will also gain political ambitions. If Brazil continues to surge, it will want to have a larger voice on the international stage. If India gains economic muscle, history suggests that it will also want the security of a stronger military. Friedman tells us that the economic relations between states will be a powerful deterrent to war, which is true if nations act sensibly. But as we have seen over the last three years, pride, honor and rage play a large part in global politics.
The ultimate challenge for America -- and for Americans -- is whether we are prepared for this flat world, economic and political. While hierarchies are being eroded and playing fields leveled as other countries and people rise in importance and ambition, are we conducting ourselves in a way that will succeed in this new atmosphere? Or will it turn out that, having globalized the world, the United States had forgotten to globalize itself?
Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International and author of ''The Future of Freedom,'' is the host of a new current affairs program on public television, Foreign Exchange.
Globalist – November 25, 2006 - By ROGER COHEN
Globalization’s Reality: The Wheel That Turns
HO CHI MINH CITY You wander into a Disney store in the United States or an IKEA outlet in Europe and, seeing stuffed furry animals for kids, you don't immediately imagine close to 2,000 young Vietnamese women in light blue uniforms hand-stitching an eye to Kermit the Frog, attaching a leg to Winnie the Pooh, or a head to a baby lion.
Nor, of course, do you necessarily consider the fact that the price of the toy - perhaps $12 - represents about 20 percent of the monthly wage of an 18-year-old girl from the Mekong Delta who grew up in a rice paddy, made her way to this booming city, and now works a six-day week hoping she won't also dream of Mickey Mouse once she's done stitching on those outsized ears.
Nor, with the kids saying they want this and that, do you have time to imagine these young women sleeping three to a room, spending their Sundays off watching TV, getting water from a well in the poorer quarters, dreaming that some guy from the furniture company opposite - only men are employed there - might take an interest and so offset repetition with romance.
You don't see these crates full of multicolored giraffes, turtles and frogs, IKEA labels attached, awaiting shipment from Vietnam, or imagine tables arrayed in lines across the vast factory floor of the Danu Vina company, where these young women, laboring beneath ceiling fans, are bent over their work for 48 hours a week, excluding overtime.
But the reality of the global economy is precisely this. The line that stretches from Wal-Mart or IKEA or Nike to a restless girl whose father labors and has always labored in a field of rice or sugar cane may seem remote, but the Asian economies exploding into the world market have brought them together. A young woman who would once have stayed in her village now sews Disney toys like the appropriately named Stitch.
Whether that is seen as exploitation or opportunity depends on where you sit, how you look at the world, and what you make of globalization. I'm on the opportunity side of that debate, but the exploitation school is vigorous.
In European countries like France and Italy, where the "precariousness" of jobs has become a persistent complaint, and a six-day, 48-hour week sounds like an outrage, the migration of these young women from village to factory jobs is essentially threatening. They are seen as abetting a "race to the bottom" in the labor market that, for example, makes the 35-hour French workweek look untenable.
In several American states, not least those with surviving textile industries like North Carolina, Vietnam's booming export-led growth, second only to China's at 8.4 percent last year, can also look menacing.
Although Vietnam's admission to the World Trade Organization (Links to an external site.) has now been approved, a bill to grant "permanent normal trading relations" to the country failed to pass in the U.S. House of Representatives (Links to an external site.) this month.
That's a temporary setback for Vietnam, but in the image of the thousands of cellphone-clutching young people on motorbikes threading through its city streets daily (this place has gone from a bicycle to a motorbike economy in a decade), the country looks to have a sinuous momentum.
Vrida Oktavianti, the Indonesian sales chief of the Korean-owned Danu Vina company that ships those millions of stuffed animals a year to Disney and IKEA, has pondered the exploitation-or-opportunity conundrum. Here's her answer:
"We see things from a different angle," she said. "These women were working in the fields and now they're in a building. That's good enough, that's O.K. for us. So, there's no air- conditioning, but there are fans. They see an improvement where you may see something that is below standard."
She continued: "The global economy is a wheel. South Korea was once good for making these toys. Now they make cars. Perhaps in the future the toy business will move to another country, because Vietnam will be developed, and developed countries don't manufacture toys."
From her point on the wheel, Nguyen Hien, a 19-year-old factory worker, sees a mixed picture. She misses her family, but village life was boring and there were no jobs. She's tired of the furry animals - "We know them too well" - but she's happy to be in the city. She's heard of Mickey Mouse, but not Disney; she's heard of "cowboys" but not "Hollywood." She's inching into the world.
"I'll stay here until some lover finds me," she said, poking her chopsticks into a pale green plastic bowl of fish and rice in the company canteen.
After lunch, many workers stretch out under the table for a quick nap. It's hot in southern Vietnam; the siesta resists the pressures of globalization.
Can those pressures be cruel? Yes. International capital has abruptly found hundreds of millions of new potential workers at its disposal with the emergence of China, India, Russia, Vietnam and the like into the global economy.
Is globalization therefore to be decried? No, because it has delivered the chance of a better life to a wider swath of humanity than at any other single time in history.
Earlier this year, Danu Vina experienced its first strike. Prompted by rumors the government would raise the minimum wage, it lasted five days.
The company had to raise wages about 40 percent to a starting level of $60 a month, said Choi Moo Rim, the director.
"Our margins have been cut," said Andy Kim, the business manager. But the company plans to raise prices on new products, and the Vietnamese minimum wage remains more than a third lower than in China.
Wages will rise in Vietnam over time, as they have in China. Nguyen, the factory worker, will have more in her pocket. She may meet the right furniture worker; they'll stay in the city, make their way.
And so the wheel turns. Wars on terror notwithstanding, we live in a time of hope.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (Links to an external site.)
One Safety Net Is Disappearing. What Will Follow?
By DAVID LEONHARDT
Published: April 4, 2007
Over the years, American companies have built a pretty extensive social safety net for their workers. The clearest examples of it are pensions and health insurance, which became popular during the wage freeze of World War II, when employers were looking for creative ways to give raises. Today, the United States is the only major country in the world where the private sector plays such a big role in caring for the old and the sick.
But the corporate version of the welfare state is not just about retirement and health care. Another, much less obvious, piece of it is the steadily increasing pay that most workers receive over the course of their careers. All else equal, a typical worker in his early 60s makes about 50 percent more than a worker in his early 30s.
This arrangement produces some enormous benefits for society. It allows Americans to enjoy ever-rising living standards over their lives and helps them pay some big expenses, like their children’s college tuition and their parents’ elder care, that start to hit in middle age.
In strictly economic terms, however, paying people based on their age is a bit skewed. Sixty-year-olds are indeed more productive than 30-year-olds, studies have shown, but not 50 percent more productive. Experience isn’t quite as valuable as we might like to believe. In effect, most companies are underpaying their younger workers and overpaying their older ones.
This somewhat uncomfortable fact was a big part of the extraordinary layoff announcement (Links to an external site.) from Circuit City Stores (Links to an external site.) last week. On Wednesday, the company dismissed 3,400 people, or about 8 percent of its work force, not because they were doing a bad job and not because the company was eliminating their positions. Instead, executives said the workers were being paid too much and that the company would replace them with new employees who would earn less. It was the second such layoff at Circuit City in the last five years, and it offered an unusually clear window on the ruthlessness of corporate efficiency.
Whatever you think of the urge behind that efficiency — whether you see it as the wellspring of American competitiveness or the source of middle-class insecurity — there’s no question that it is a cause of the dismantling of the private-sector safety net that has served the country well over the last half century. What, then, is going to replace that safety net?
The laid-off Circuit City employees worked in the company’s stores and warehouses, selling electronics, unloading boxes and the like. They generally earned $10 to $20 an hour, making them typical of the broad middle of the American work force. Nationwide, the median hourly wage (Links to an external site.) of all workers is about $15.
“We just bought our first house about two or three months ago, and I’m afraid I’m going to lose it,” Alan Hartley, a car-stereo installer in the Charlotte, N.C., area told the local NBC affiliate after he’d been let go. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I’m hurt mainly because I love this company. I planned on retiring from it. I feel I’ve taken very good care of them, and I can’t believe they did this.”
Like a lot of companies, Circuit City sets “pay ranges” for its various jobs. Once associates reach the top of the range, they are not supposed to get further raises — beyond the basic cost-of-living increases that also push up the pay range — unless they are promoted.
But Circuit City’s store managers found it hard to stick to the policy. When they were divvying up the yearly pool of raise money, they would often increase the pay of all workers who had done a good job, even those at the range’s ceiling, said Bill Cimino, Circuit City’s chief spokesman. It just seemed like the decent thing to do.
“It’s hard to say no,” Mr. Cimino told me. “It’s only 3 or 4 percent.”
Eventually, though, the company’s executives decided they couldn’t afford decency for decency’s sake. In recent months, there has been a price war over flat-panel (Links to an external site.) televisions that’s an excellent case study of the benefits and drawbacks of globalization. The price cuts have made the televisions, which are manufactured in Asia and Mexico, affordable to many more families, but have also squeezed Circuit City’s margins.
At the same time, the company has to reckon with cut-throat competition from Wal-Mart (Links to an external site.) and Best Buy (Links to an external site.). Wal-Mart, in fact, has also been taking steps that seem aimed at pushing out more experienced workers, like setting wage caps for certain jobs and requiring people to work nights and weekends. In 2005, a top executive wrote Wal-Mart’s board a memo, which McKinsey & Company helped put together, noting that “the cost of an associate with 7 years of tenure is almost 55 percent more than the cost of an associate with 1 year of tenure, yet there is no difference in his or her productivity.”
There is a real question about whether these chains will hurt themselves in the long run by damaging employee morale, customer service and, ultimately, productivity. (Circuit City is forcing fired workers to wait 10 weeks to reapply for their jobs, I assume because the company executives were afraid that workers whose pay had been cut wouldn’t make effective sales associates.)
But there’s no question that corporate America is moving in the same direction as Circuit City. Companies are wringing out what they see as inefficiencies, like traditional pensions and health insurance coverage (Links to an external site.), and tying workers’ pay more closely (Links to an external site.) to their performance.
It’s probably not possible to halt these changes. It may not even be desirable. The flexibility of the American labor force seems to be one reason that recessions have become less frequent and unemployment is less of a problem here than in Europe, notes Jason Furman (Links to an external site.), a leading Democratic economist. In this country, fast-growing companies can hire new workers without worrying that they are making a 30-year commitment.
But it would also be foolish to pretend nothing is changing. The corporate safety net of the 20th century is going away, and a fundamentally different private sector will require a fundamentally different public sector.
If companies aren’t going to provide health insurance, the government will need to. It can do so directly, through a single-payer system similar to those in other countries, or indirectly, by pooling together the uninsured and helping them buy coverage, as Massachusetts is now planning. If companies aren’t going to provide pensions, the government will have to provide better incentives to save, helping people overcome their natural instinct to choose a flat-panel TV today over an adequate retirement tomorrow. And if companies aren’t automatically going to give workers raises over the course of their lives, the country will probably need a new strategy for giving older workers new skills, something considerably more ambitious than the current, meager retraining programs.
This is the real message of the Circuit City layoff, and it’s likely to be the great economic debate of the coming decade.
November 1, 2013,
I met Nirmal several years ago in New York. I had become increasingly interested in the lives of undocumented laborers in the city, and therefore had started talking with taxi drivers, kebab sellers, and restaurant workers. I was looking for answers to two questions, the first of which was what might happen if illegal immigrants from South Asia should ever want to retire in the United States?
This is a relatively new issue, as the vast majority of South Asian immigrants to the States arrived after 1970. My parents, educated professionals who came to New York in 1979, are South Asian-Americans who can leverage their hyphens into a comfortable retirement: escaping to India for the cold winter months and spending summer in the United States with their children and grandchildren. Precisely because of their class and professional background, immigrants like my parents can afford to look forward to retiring.
But what of other, less celebrated, but equally crucial South Asian immigrants: those who come to the United States to man our 7-11s and wash our plates? Their lives are spent doing the jobs American citizens refuse to do, but they have no savings, no retirement plan, no assurance that they’ll even be able to eat the day they stop working. What happens as they age in this lonely and brutal existence?
Secondly, I wondered what continued to pull so many undocumented South Asians to the United States, despite the fact that their lives in places like New York were seemingly miserable: backbreaking work, 14-hour workdays, difficult living situations. Why was the U.S. still called the sunehra desh – the golden country – by so many of the people to whom I spoke?
Nirmal was one of the friends that I made while exploring these ideas. We met while he was the head chef at a mediocre Indian restaurant in Queens. Both of us spoke broken Hindi, my native tongue being Bengali and his being Nepali, but we managed to communicate.
Over time, Nirmal told me his story. He was from a lower middle-class family in Kathmandu, married off as soon as he was 20. But a year or so into his marriage, things began to look bleak. He could not find employment, and there was a baby on the way. And then, a miracle: the tourist visa to the United States for which he had applied months earlier came through. A plane ticket bought. A journey taken. A life ended. A life begun. Fourteen years passed.
Nirmal’s daughter, whom he has never met, is now a teenager. With the money that he faithfully sends to his wife every week via Western Union, she has been able to purchase a flat in a posh part of town. She sends their daughter to a relatively expensive school, where the girl is learning to speak English. Nirmal listed the luxuries his family has been able to afford on his meager salary as if he were reading a list of groceries. That’s when I realized that these things are not tangible to Nirmal because he has never seen them. What, I asked him, made him take such a substantial percentage of his paycheck each week and send it to two women he doesn’t even know very well?
“What else am I here for?” was his response. Nirmal lives in a hovel in Queens, jammed into a two-bedroom apartment with three other men. His hours are so long that by midnight his feet are sore, his back is killing him. All this for about $500 a week, a small part of which he keeps for his daily expenses. But what is the option?
“There is nothing for me back in Nepal,” he said. “There are no job opportunities there. Better to suffer here and let my child live in peace. Maybe because of me, she will have a better life.”
These motivations are not so different from those of my own parents, who came to America following prestigious job opportunities and with the desire to send their children to the best universities. But the similarities end there. Among other privileges, my parents can hop on flights and cross borders at will; a luxury I inherited even more irrevocably by being born in America. Nirmal cannot leave the boundaries of the United States if he ever wants to go to Nepal.
Both Nirmal and I were highly aware of this divide as we spoke, and we were careful never to mention it, until the day I told him that I was thinking of going to Nepal. I brought it up gingerly, wondering how he might react. He asked me only this: “Why?”
How could I tell him that meeting him had left me with even more questions than I had before? I once heard Nirmal talking to his wife on the phone. The way he reassured her that everything was fine, the way he evaded questions about himself – it made me wonder, why was Nirmal so hesitant to let his family know about his life here? After all, if he told them the truth, then the answer to the retirement question would be rather simple: Nirmal would work in the United States as long as his body allowed him to, and then he would deport himself back to Nepal to retire in a life of semi-luxury.
But this was not an option. The day I mentioned this plan to Nirmal, he laughed at me; a deep, sarcastic laugh that made me feel the depth of my own naïveté. He did not explain himself, but I understood that day that going home would be considered a failure on his part.
This was when I started thinking about a trip to Nepal. If Nirmal was lying to his family about how wonderful his life was, how many like him were doing the same? How many families in Nepal still believe that if they are able to send their sons to America, all their problems will be solved? I also wanted to know what Nirmal’s family thought might happen when he was too old to work anymore. To answer these questions, I knew I had to go and meet them myself.
I told Nirmal none of this. I said that I was going for some work, and would love to meet up with his family while I was there. Before I left, Nirmal handed me a new iPad. It must have cost him everything he had.
“Please,” he asked, “give this to my daughter. She has a computer but the picture quality is so bad, I’m never able to properly Skype with her. Maybe with this, I’ll be able to see her face.”
Suddenly, my trip felt wrong. I felt like handing him back the iPad, along with my tickets and my passport.
“You should be the one going to see them,” I wanted to say. Instead I slid the iPad into my bag.
Nirmal’s entire extended family came to greet me in Kathmandu and his wife invited me to her house for dinner. They hugged me and wept, saying they couldn’t believe that a friend of Nirmal’s was sitting in their living room. I realized that this might as well have been Nirmal’s “welcome home” party. It felt perverse that for them, it was my arrival that was tantamount to his homecoming. I found that the questions I had been examining had led me to yet another: what did it mean for me as an American to be the go-between for Nirmal and his family? It felt senseless that by sheer accident of birth, I was able to eat his wife’s chicken curry, and I was able to hug his daughter.
I gave her the iPad and explained its use. Exceedingly shy, she took it and hid behind her mother.
“What is she going to do with this?” Nirmal’s wife asked while laughing out loud. “She’s perfectly capable of Skyping with her father on the computer. She just doesn’t ever want to speak to a strange man she doesn’t know!”
Stunned, I realized that of course Nirmal had been wrong about the computer. Of course he had been spared being told that his daughter didn’t want to speak to him.
But those weren’t the only lies being tossed about. Rapidly, I was filling in pieces of the puzzle. When I asked them about Nirmal’s retirement, his wife looked at me as though I were an idiot.
“Hasn’t Nirmal told you about the court case?”
I looked at her blankly.
“You see, Nirmal being in America has been wonderful for us. But how long can a family remain apart? This is why Nirmal has been fighting the court case. See, in America, they don’t put such an emphasis on family. He has been explaining to them that in Nepal, the family unit is very strong, and he needs his family with him. Any day now, he will convince them, and we will go to America to be with him. We will settle our daughter down there, and we will come back and live in Nepal and visit her often in America.”
I sat in silence for a moment, at last comprehending why Nirmal had never explained to his wife that his retirement would inevitably mean his own deportation, and had instead been fanning the flames of this hideous lie. Who could bear to shatter such a mammoth and intricate deception? Who could bear to rob a woman of this kind faith? And who could bear to live in a world in which the simple truth is, “I was poor then, and I’m still poor now?”
I finally understood Nirmal’s deep-throated laughter the day I had asked him about the end of his own career. The sound had borne the weight of this double-edged sword: the knowledge that he carried versus the myth he perpetuated. I understood too that Nirmal would never leave the United States as long as he can prolong this fantasy, because his final homecoming will, in the end, be marked not by a joyous reunion, but rather by the bitter disappointment of a life sacrificed.
Maybe most importantly, I understood that I too would have to tell Nirmal my own lies about how my trip to his hometown had gone. But perhaps sometimes it is the glossy coating of fiction that keeps the walls of our various realities from crumbling.
Piyali Bhattacharya is a freelance journalist currently based in New Delhi. She is working on her first novel.
NEW YORK TIMES - April 22, 2007 – By JASON DePARLE (Links to an external site.)
A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves
On June 25, 1980 (a date he would remember), a good-natured Filipino pool-maintenance man gathered his wife and five children for an upsetting ride to the Manila airport. At 36, Emmet Comodas had lived a hard life without growing hardened, which was a mixed blessinggiven the indignities of his poverty. Orphaned at 8, raised on the Manila streets where he hawked cigarettes, he had hustled a job at a government sports complex and held it for nearly two decades. On the spectrum of Filipino poverty, that alone marked him as a man of modest fortune. But a monthly salary of $50 did not keep his family fed.
Home was a one-room, scrap-wood shanty in a warren of alleys and stinking canals, hidden by the whitewashed walls of an Imelda Marcos beautification campaign. He had borrowed money at usurious rates to start a tiny store, which a thief had plundered. His greatest fears centered on his 11-year-old daughter, Rowena, who had a congenital heart defect that turned her lips blue and fingernails black and who needed care he could not afford. After years of worrying over her frail physique, Emmet dropped to his moldering floor and asked God for a decision: take her or let him have her.
God answered in a mysterious way. Not long after, Emmet’s boss offered him a pool-cleaning job in Saudi Arabia. Emmet would make 10 times as much as he made in Manila. He would also live 4,500 miles from his family in an Islamic autocracy where stories of abused laborers were rife. He accepted on the spot. His wife, Tita, was afraid of the slum where she soon would be raising children alone, and she knew that overseas workers often had affairs. She also knew their kids ate better because of the money the workers sent home. She spent her last few pesos for admission to an airport lounge where she could wave at the vanishing jet, then went home to cry and wait.
Two years later, on Aug. 2, 1982 (another date he would remember), Emmet walked off the returning flight with chocolate for the kids, earrings for Tita and a bag of duty-free cigarettes, his loneliness abroad having made him a chain smoker. His 2-year-old son, Boyet, considered him a stranger and cried at his touch, though as Emmet later said, “I was too happy to be sad.” He gave himself a party, replaced the shanty’s rotted walls and put on a new roof. Then after three months at home, he left for Saudi Arabia again. And again. And again and again: by the time Emmet ended the cycle and came home for good, he had been gone for nearly two decades. Boyet was grown.
Deprived of their father while sustained by his wages, the Comodas children spent their early lives studying Emmet’s example. Now they have copied it. All five of them, including Rowena, grew up to become overseas workers. Four are still working abroad. And the middle child, Rosalie — a nurse in Abu Dhabi — faces a parallel to her father’s life that she finds all too exact. She has an 18-month-old back in the Philippines (Links to an external site.) who views her as a stranger and resists her touch. What started as Emmet’s act of desperation has become his children’s way of life: leaving in order to live.
About 200 million migrants from different countries are scattered across the globe, supporting a population back home that is as big if not bigger. Were these half-billion or so people to constitute a state — migration nation — it would rank as the world’s third-largest. While some migrants go abroad with Ph.D.’s, most travel as Emmet did, with modest skills but fearsome motivation. The risks migrants face are widely known, including the risk of death, but the amounts they secure for their families have just recently come into view. Migrants worldwide sent home an estimated $300 billion last year — nearly three times the world’s foreign-aid budgets combined. These sums — “remittances” — bring Morocco more money than tourism does. They bring Sri Lanka more money than tea does.
The numbers, which have doubled in the past five years, have riveted the attention of development experts who once paid them little mind. One study after another has examined how private money, in the form of remittances, might serve the public good. A growing number of economists see migrants, and the money they send home, as a part of the solution to global poverty.
Yet competing with the literature of gain is a parallel literature of loss. About half the world’s migrants are women, many of whom care for children abroad while leaving their own children home. “Your loved ones across that ocean . . . ,” Nadine Sarreal, a Filipina poet in Singapore, warns:
Will sit at breakfast and try not to gaze
Where you would sit at the table.
Meals now divided by five
Instead of six, don’t feed an emptiness.
Earlier waves of globalization, the movement of money and goods, were shaped by mediating institutions and protocols. The International Monetary Fund (Links to an external site.) regulates finance. The World Trade Organization (Links to an external site.) regularizes trade. The movement of people — the most intimate form of globalization — is the one with the fewest rules. There is no “World Migration Organization” to monitor the migrants’ fate. A Kurd gaining asylum in Sweden can have his children taught school in their mother tongue, while a Filipino bringing a Bible into Riyadh risks being expelled.
The growth in migration has roiled the West, but demographic logic suggests it will only continue. Aging industrial economies need workers. People in poor countries need jobs. Transportation and communication have made moving easier. And the potential economic gains are at record highs. A Central American laborer who moves to the United States can expect to multiply his earnings about six times after adjusting for the higher cost of living. That is a pay raise about twice as large as the one that propelled the last great wave of immigration (Links to an external site.)a century ago.
With about one Filipino worker in seven abroad at any given time, migration is to the Philippines what cars once were to Detroit: its civil religion. A million Overseas Filipino Workers — O.F.W.’s — left last year, enough to fill six 747s a day. Nearly half the country’s 10-to-12-year-olds say they have thought about whether to go. Television novellas plumb the migrants’ loneliness. Politicians court their votes. Real estate salesmen bury them in condominium brochures. Drive by the Central Bank during the holiday season, and you will find a high-rise graph of the year’s remittances strung up in Christmas lights.
Across the archipelago, stories of rags to riches compete with stories of rags to rags. New malls define the landscape; so do left-behind kids. Gain and loss are so thoroughly joined that the logo of the migrant welfare agency shows the sun doing battle with the rain. Local idiom stresses the uncertainty of the migrant’s lot. An O.F.W. does not say he is off to make his fortune. He says, “I am going to try my luck.”
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A kilometer of crimson stretched across the Manila airport, awaiting a planeload of returning workers and the president who would greet them. The V.I.P. lounge hummed with marketing schemes aimed at migrants and their families. Globe Telecom had got its name on the security guards’ vests. A Microsoft (Links to an external site.) rep had flown in from the States with a prototype of an Internet phone. An executive from Philam Insurance noted that overseas workers buy one of every five new policies. Sirens disrupted the finger food, and a motorcade delivered the diminutive head of state, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (Links to an external site.), who once a year offers rice cakes and red carpet to those she calls “modern heroes.”
Bleary from the eight-hour flight, a few hundred workers from Abu Dhabi swapped puzzled looks for presidential handshakes on their way to baggage claim. Roderick de Guzman, a young car porter, took home the day’s grand prize, a “livelihood package” that included ajeepney, life insurance, $1,000 and a karaoke machine. Too dazed to smile, he held an oversize sweepstakes check while the prize’s sponsors and the president beamed at his side and a squad of news photographers fired away. When it comes to O.F.W.’s, politics and business speak with one voice. Message: We Care.
On the way to the photo op, I squeezed into an elevator beside Arroyo. A president and daughter of a president, she is a seasoned pol who attended Georgetown University (Links to an external site.) (Bill Clinton (Links to an external site.) was a classmate) and has a Ph.D. in economics. I asked why she called migrant workers “heroes” and gathered from her impatient look that it was all she could do to keep from saying “du-uh.”
“They send home more than a billion dollars a month,” she said.
“O.F.W.’s get V.I.P. Treatment, Treats,” reported the next day’s Philippine Daily Inquirer, which runs nearly 600 O.F.W. articles a year. Half have the fevered tone of a gold-rush ad. Half sound like human rights complaints.
“Deployment of O.F.W.’s Hits 1-M Mark.”
“Remittances Seen to Set New Record.”
“Happy Days Here Again for Real Estate Sector.”
“5 Dead O.F.W.’s in Saudi.”
“O.F.W. 18th Pinay Rape Victim in Kuwait.”
“We Slept With Dog, Ate Leftovers for $200/month.”
Nearly 10 percent of the country’s 89 million people live abroad. About 3.6 million are O.F.W.’s — contract workers. Another 3.2 million have migrated permanently, largely to the United States — and 1.3 million more are thought to be overseas illegally. (American visas, which are probably the hardest to get, are also the most coveted, both for the prosperity they promise and because the Philippines, a former colony, retains an unrequited fascination with the U.S.) There are a million O.F.W.’s in Saudi Arabia alone, followed by Japan, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates and Taiwan. Yet with workers in at least 170 countries, the O.F.W.’s are literally everywhere, including the high seas. About a quarter of the world’s seafarers come from the Philippines. The Greek word for maid is Filipineza. The “modern heroes” send home $15 billion a year, a seventh of the country’s gross domestic product. Addressing a Manila audience, Rick Warren, the evangelist, called Filipino guest workers the Josephs of their day — toiling in the homes of modern Pharaohs to liberate their people.
For the sheer visuals of the O.F.W. boom, consider Pulong Anahao, a village two hours south of Manila that has been sending Filipinezas to Italy for 30 years. Cement block is the regional style, but these streets boast — the only verb that will do — faux Italianate villas. For the social complexity, turn on “Dahil sa Iyong Paglisan” (“Because You Left”), a Tagalog telenovela. Each show explores a familiar type. “Dodgie,” a driver in Dubai, is livid at his wife’s profligacy. “Dennis” gets fleeced by crooked recruiters on his way to Singapore. “Carlos,” with a wife in Riyadh, is a hapless househusband; he cannot cook or wash, and his son is left out in the rain.
Manila Hospital was aflutter one morning with the taping of the episode about “Wally.” A seafarer home from Greece, he demanded to know where his money had gone, only to discover that his pregnant wife had spent it on antiviral medication. His port-of-call promiscuity had given her H.I.V. (Links to an external site.)
“Qui-et!” the director bellowed, with Wally about to learn of his own infection. It took the actor five takes to summon a sufficiently chilling mix of fear and remorse. A giggly nursing student, fresh from a cameo, paused to chat. She was getting a degree to — what else? — “go abroad and try my luck.”
While the Philippines has exported labor for at least 100 years, the modern system took shape three decades ago under Ferdinand Marcos. Clinging to power through martial law, he faced soaring unemployment, a Communist insurgency and growing urban unrest. Exporting idle Filipinos promised a safety valve and a source of foreign exchange. With a 1974 decree (“to facilitate and regulate the movement of workers in conformity with the national interest”), Marcos sent technocrats circling the globe in search of labor contracts. Annual deployments rose more than tenfold in a decade, to 360,000.
The “People Power” revolution of 1986 replaced him with Corazon Aquino, who as the widow of his slain rival was a figure as un-Marcosian as they come. But the surge in labor migration continued. By the end of her six-year term, annual deployments had nearly doubled. There is no anti-migration camp in Filipino politics. The labor secretary, Arturo Brion, greeted me by saying that he, too, had been an O.F.W., having worked as a lawyer for seven years in Canada. When I asked how a nationalist candidate might fare with a vow to keep workers home, he looked confused. “Nobody would vote for him,” he said.
The political issue is not migration but migrant safety. The formative moment in O.F.W. history, its Alamo, was the 1995 hanging of Flor Contemplacion, a Filipina maid in Singapore. Though she confessed to killing another Filipina maid and a Singaporean child, she did so in an uncertain mental state with weak legal representation; an 11th-hour witness fingered someone else. President Fidel Ramos’s calls for mercy failed, and the martyred maid’s coffin received a hero’s welcome at home. Congressional elections followed, and the new Legislature passed what is variously called Republic Act 8042 and “the migrant workers’ Magna Carta.” It pushed the government’s responsibilities beyond migrant deployment to migrant protection.
Woe now to the Filipino pol who appears not to have migrant welfare in mind. After a Filipino truck driver was kidnapped in Iraq in 2004, Arroyo not only banned all contract work there but also withdrew from the American-led military coalition. Even state visits have the tenor of bail runs. The president triumphed in Saudi Arabia last spring when King Adbullah freed more than 400 workers who had been jailed for petty crimes. But the war in Lebanon last summer threw the Arroyo government into a crisis by displacing thousands of Filipina maids. They returned home with harrowing tales of prewar abuse, including beatings and rape, endured in pursuit of salaries that averaged $200 a month. Embarrassed (and seemingly surprised), the government proposed a “Supermaid” program, a short-term training regimen that would lift the maids’ skills and demand a doubling of their wage. Those not cringing at the name fretted that a pay raise would leave the maids displaced by Bangladeshis.
While every country’s migrants face risks, what makes the Philippines unique is a bureaucracy pledged to reduce them. There is no precise analog for the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration — O.W.W.A. — or its savvy director, Marianito Roque, who is one part international rescue worker and one part domestic fixer. A bureaucratic survivor who rose through the ranks, Roque understands the imperative of making the president look good. Christmas offered plenty of opportunity. With legions of workers coming home, Roque staged thank-you fiestas nationwide.
I pictured them as sedate affairs until I arrived at a mall in Cebu City. Five thousand people pressed against police barricades, aiming cellphone cameras at a fluttering pop star who urged them to buy her music and clothes. O.W.W.A. has its own chorale, which offered the workers “Lady Marmalade” — “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?” — an odd choice in a country saturated with fears of overseas adultery. Roque raffled off a mountain of rice cookers and electric fans, and the crowd responded with game-show shrieks. He caught an early-morning flight the next day and stormed through two more fiestas.
When the last rice cooker had been claimed and the last voulez-vous belted out, I spotted a man grinning mischievously, as if he were in on his own private joke. An attractive woman hung on his arm with what I mistook as reunion bliss. The bliss, she happily explained, was in the pay. The man, Pepito Montero, boasted that he earned $8,000 a month on a Saudi oil rig, and a flicker of doubt must have crossed my face. His smile broadened at the chance to produce his retort — a mass of $100 bills the size of a tennis ball.
Emmet Comodas migrated to Manila before he migrated abroad. His parents, tenant farmers in the province of Leyte, died before he finished grade school, and he was handed off to an aunt in the capital, 600 miles away. She lived in a muddy squatters’ camp called Leveriza. The alleys were ruled by drunks and gangs, but Emmet wore his geniality as a shield and was quick to make friends. Drawn to commerce more than to school, which he left at 16, Emmet spent much of his youth dodging traffic to sell newspapers and cigarettes. When he grew weary of his aunt’s strictures, he slept on a city bridge.
Among his favorite vending sites was a nearby stadium, Rizal Memorial, though without a sales license he had to sneak in early and hide before events. The canteen manager, admiring his pluck, hired him as a cook. With a bounce in his step from his first real job, Emmet was walking home to Leveriza one day when he spotted a woman, beautiful but frail, in an alley ironing clothes. He was afraid to say hello.
Teresita Portagana came from a higher echelon of the Filipino poor. Her father was a farmhand in nearby Cavite province who managed to buy a few acres of coffee trees. Tita was raised on the farm, the oldest of 11 kids in a close-knit family who shared a single thatched hut. She left school after sixth grade to help her mother manage the growing clan, and when she turned 16 her father sent her to work in a Manila glove factory. She would live with an aunt and send home most of her pay.
Her excitement at the prospect of city living vanished when she saw her aunt’s neighborhood. Leveriza was not just crowded and dangerous; it stank. Stagnant estuaries, which doubled as sewage pits, were filled with discarded bundles of waste dubbed “flying saucers.” When her father learned that Tita was drawing looks from Leveriza boys, he hurried to Manila and moved her out. “One relative in Leveriza is enough,” he said. By then Emmet was pressing his case. Tita considered him plain-looking and “poor as a rat,” but his persistence carried the day. They married on the farm and moved back to Leveriza, where Emmet would be close to work. He was 23, and she had just turned 21.
Similar slums were spreading across the developing world, greeting provincial migrants with welcome mats of squalor. How people survived, and at what cost, was a mystery and a concern. As Tita and Emmet were settling in, F. Landa Jocano, an anthropologist trained at theUniversity of Chicago (Links to an external site.), moved nearby in search of answers, which eventually formed a noted book, “Slum as a Way of Life.” The setting of his Leveriza-like camp was predictably grim — “wet and muddy,” with a “nauseating smell” and “cardboard hovels” holding six to nine people to the room. But what really stood out were the social conflicts. Despite the Filipinos’ reputation for prizing social accord, husbands beat wives, gangs murdered gangs and tsismis — gossip — was a constant preoccupation. “Envy, jealousy, hatred and other forms of ridicule” coursed through the alleys, and it took a special deftness to thrive. Tita, lacking it, withdrew into herself. “I was talkless,” she said.
Tita and Emmet had three children in four years, and two more later. Their second child. Rowena, was born seven weeks early with a heart defect that went undiagnosed for years. All they knew was that she was constantly sick. The family lived in rented shanties until Emmet won $90 on a horse race and bought a shanty of his own. It was so bug-infested that he burned the walls and rebuilt with secondhand wood. He moved to a pool-cleaning job at the stadium and sold cigarettes on the side.
Still, the holes in the roof meant the children got wet on rainy nights. When she lacked money for vegetables or fish, Tita served the children rice, and when she lacked enough rice for three meals, she served two. A Sikh they called the “boom-bay” lent money at the standard interest rate, 20 percent per month. Emmet borrowed about $130 to open a tiny grocery store, which he planned to run as a sideline with Tita’s help. The thief who robbed it during Holy Week seemed to know that they were busy with a marathon reading of the “Pasyon,” a 24-hour life of Christ. A few months later, Tita became pregnant with their fifth child.
By then the Marcos labor decree was five years old, and the machinery was humming. Saudi Arabia was modernizing overnight. It needed roads, schools, apartments, hospitals and laborers to build them. Filipinos worked hard, spoke English and took orders. Tita and Emmet had seen the workers coming home with the Look — leather jackets, Ray-Bans and enough gold around their necks to turn their skin yellow with a case of Saudi “hepa.” But most of the jobs were controlled by recruiting agencies, which charged placement fees of a month’s salary or more. Only the privileged among the poor could leave.
In the spring of 1980, Tita’s brother Fortz took a loan from his father to try his luck in Riyadh. He had just landed when Emmet’s boss asked if he wanted to do the same pool-cleaning work in Dhahran. “Yes, yes, yes,” Emmet said. The firm that managed the stadium had a contract there, so there were no recruiters’ fees. Tita’s brother Fering came the following year, and soon after, her brother Servando. Of the 11 siblings in her generation, nine either became overseas workers or married one.
“First timers” have it rough. Emmet shared a comfortable company apartment and a cook with three other Filipinos, but the loneliness was worse than anything he had known. Outside of work, there was nothing to do. Alcohol and churches were banned. Looking the wrong way at a Saudi woman was an invitation to arrest. (That is one theory behind the Ray-Bans.) Emmet paced Dhahran malls and stared at Dhahran skies, fantasizing that the planes overhead had come to take him home.
Tita’s loneliness was costly, too, but she had Emmet’s earnings. With a monthly salary of $500, he made as much in two years in Dhahran as he did in two decades in Manila, and he sent two-thirds of it home. Tita bought better food, and she bought Rowena medicine. She bought each child a second school uniform, so she would not have to wash every night. She bought an electric fan and a television — her habit of watching through a neighbor’s window was a source of alleyway discord. Emmet, who talked to the family on cassette tapes, surprised Tita by sending one with a $100 bill inside.
When Emmet got home in 1982, he gave himself a party, patched the walls and replaced the leaky roof. Then he signed another two-year contract. After his second tour, he replaced the wooden walls with cement block and added an upstairs. After his third contract, he paid the government $2,000 and got title to the land. Though neither Tita nor Emmet finished high school, all five children started college; four got degrees. Emmet, overseas paying the bills, missed every graduation. It takes a lot to move him to anger, but even now he gets furious when someone says that overseas workers leave their children to grow up without love. “You cannot look at each other and say it’s love if your stomach is empty,” he said. “I sacrificed!”
I first met Tita and the kids in 1987, as Emmet was finishing his third contract. I had a fellowship from the Henry Luce Foundation to study urban poverty; a Leveriza nun, Sister Christine Tan, introduced us, and Tita agreed to let me move in. With Cory Aquino finishing her first year, the country was in transition, and Tita was, too. She was no longer quite so talkless. I awoke in the mornings to the blare of Tagalog news radio and once found her studying an English newspaper with a dual-language dictionary. “What’s imperialism?” she asked. When Congress wanted a witness for a hearing on urban poverty, Sister Christine had Tita testify. Tita told me she had been asking God, “Why are so many Filipinos poor?” When I asked if God had answered, she laughed. “Not yet,” she said.
Much of the credit belonged to Sister Christine, who had organized a network of prayer groups and cooperative stores and groomed Tita as a lieutenant. Tita bought and distributed 2,000 eggs a week for the group’s co-op stores, placing them under a fluorescent light at night to keep the rats away. The unpaid work, undertaken in the spirit of community service, brought Tita new confidence. But so perhaps did the modest comforts made possible by Emmet’s wages. By now she had a toilet.
Her oldest two children spent less time mulling the meaning of life — Rowena, still poised between sickness and health, was addicted to celebrity gossip — and her two youngest were little boys. But Rosalie, the middle child, was on a quest. At 16, she was ambitious, sometimes brooding, beautiful and devout; while her sister squealed about movie stars, Rosalie wrote Tagalog plays about class conflict. One depicted Imelda Marcos conniving to raze Leveriza and put up a discothÃ¨que.
Emmet returned a few months into my off-and-on stay. He had missed half the life of his 11-year-old, Roldan, and nearly the whole life of the 7-year-old, Boyet. He wanted to stay. With jobs scarce, frustration rose all around. Emmet scolded Tita for running up the light bill with her stewardship of the eggs. Tita got angry when she heard Emmet urge their oldest child, Rolando, to join the U.S. Navy, and furious when she caught him encouraging Rosalie to go abroad. Emmet wanted her to be an O.F.W.; Tita wanted her to be a nun. Though Emmet found a temporary job, he was back in Riyadh within a year.
One day he opened the door to find his son Rolando on the steps. He had quit tech school to try his luck as a driver for a Saudi family. His luck proved mediocre. The salary was low, his hours were long and his secret courtship of a Filipina maid could have landed him in jail. He quit after his second contract. By then, Rosalie had finished nursing school in Manila, a milestone for the family. She had set her sights on a job in the United States, but narrowly failed the licensing exam. Four years after graduation, she still earned $100 a month. Saudi hospitals paid nearly four times as much. After borrowing the recruiters’ fee from an aunt, Rosalie was Jeddah bound.
No one fully understood that a baton was being passed. With the kids grown, Tita soon rented out the house in Leveriza and started building another on her share of the family farm. At 55, Emmet had given his prime years, nearly 20 of them, to a succession of Arabian pools. Rosalie, renewing her contract, insisted he go home. The responsibility of supporting the family was hers.
As an Islamic state that bans socializing between unmarried women and men, Saudi Arabia held out few hopes for marriage or kids. Rosalie approached her 30th birthday resigned to a dutiful life alone. She celebrated at a Jeddah restaurant with Filipino friends; one of them, knowing they had a private room, disregarded the gender rules by bringing along her nephew, a construction engineer. The nephew, Christopher Villanueva, took Rosalie for an after-dinner walk, trailing her by a few paces in case the religious police happened by. “I was trembling!” Rosalie said. With both of them living in guarded single-sex dorms, their 18-month courtship occurred largely by cellphone. When they flew home in 2002 to marry, they had never been alone.
In the Philippines the following year to deliver her first baby, Rosalie saw an ad seeking nurses in Abu Dhabi. At $1,100 a month, the job paid twice what she made in Jeddah, and Abu Dhabi had no religious police. She aced the test and caught another plane to the Middle East, this time as a mother. Christine — “Tin-Tin” — was 7 months old when Rosalie tore herself away. The baby stayed on the farm and soon called her Aunt Rowena “Mama.” When a second daughter, Precious Lara, followed, she considered Rowena her mama, too. The girls cried when Rosalie held them on visits, filling her with worry and regret.
Overseas prosperity is a gift and an obligation. “Everyone needs help, and you cannot say no,” said Rosalie, who seems not to mind. She paid to complete her parents’ new house and sends them $400 a month. She sent money for her cousins’ school supplies and helped her uncle buy a cow. She lent hundreds of dollars to godparents, knowing she would never be repaid. Migration operates like compound interest, building upon itself. Capitalizing on permissive visa laws, Rosalie has now brought a cousin and three siblings to Abu Dhabi. Rowena will soon start a secretarial job, and Roldan and Boyet are working with computers. Rosalie has also gotten Tin-Tin back, though not without some continuing distress: the girl, now 4, still treats Rowena like her real mom.
Already the family benefactor, Rosalie recently got a big promotion. As a charge nurse at the Al Rahba Hospital, she now earns $2,000 a month — 20 times what she earned a decade ago when she left the Philippines. Plus she has free health care and housing. Nonetheless, she is determined to stamp one more visa on the passport page. After a decade of trying, she has passed the American nursing exam and will soon retake the English test, which she narrowly failed. “The U.S. is the ultimate,” she said. “If you make it to the U.S., there is no place else to go.”
Once upon a time — say five years ago — remittances were considered small potatoes, and possibly rotten ones. Experts saw them as minor amounts, “wasted” on consumption, and to the extent they came from professionals, as reminders of brain drain. That began to change early this decade, when research by the Inter-American Development Bank (commissioned by a remittance enthusiast named Don Terry) showed the amounts in Latin America were three or four times higher than supposed. That work got people talking, but interest surged in 2003 when Dilip Ratha of the World Bank (Links to an external site.) showed the eye-popping sums extended across the globe. Migration has been a prominent development topic ever since. Of the $300 billion that migrants sent home last year, about two-thirds came through formal channels like banks, while the rest is thought to have traveled informally, in pockets or cassette tapes. By contrast, the world spent $104 billion on foreign aid. While the doubling of formal remittances in the past five years partly reflects improved counting, Dilip Ratha argues that most of the gain is real. There are more migrants; their earnings are growing; and plunging transaction fees encourage them to send more money home.
The Philippines, which received $15 billion in formal remittances in 2006, ranked fourth among developing countries behind India ($25 billion), China ($24 billion) and Mexico ($24 billion) — all of which are much larger. In no other sizable country do remittances loom as large as a share of the economy. Remittances make up 3 percent of the G.D.P. in Mexico but 14 percent in the Philippines. In 22 countries, remittances exceed a tenth of the G.D.P., including Moldova (32 percent), Haiti (23 percent) and Lebanon (22 percent).
Despite fears that the money goes to waste, a growing literature shows positive effects. Remittances cut the poverty rate by 11 percent in Uganda and 6 percent in Bangladesh, according to studies cited by the World Bank, and raised education levels in El Salvador and the Philippines. Being private, the money is less susceptible to corruption than foreign aid; it is also better aimed at the needy and “countercyclical” — it rises in response to slumps and natural disasters. By increasing reserves of foreign exchange, remittances reduce government borrowing costs, saving the Philippines about half a billion dollars in interest each year. While 80 percent of the money sent to Latin America is spent on consumption, that leaves nearly $12 billion for investment. And consumption among the poor is hardly a bad thing.
The downside is the risk of dependency, among individuals waiting for a check or for rulers (like Marcos) who use the money to avoid economic reforms. The cash could have a stultifying effect, like the “curse” of too much oil. No country has escaped poverty with remittances alone. “Remittances can’t solve structural problems,” said Kathleen Newland of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington research group. “Remittances can’t compensate for corrupt governments, nepotism, incompetence or communal conflict. People have finally figured out that remittances are important, but they haven’t figured out what to do about it.”
Drawing boards are filled with schemes to leverage the money for development, in ways large and small. A small Manila nonprofit group, the Economic Resource Center for Overseas Filipinos, has a plan to get overseas workers to buy cows; a dairy farm in the Philippines would raise them, splitting the profits and creating jobs. More grandly, commercial banks in Turkey and Brazil have used the expected flow of future remittances as a form of collateral to issue billions in corporate bonds. This lowers the banks’ borrowing costs and increases the amounts they can lend, making it easier, in theory at least, for businesses to borrow and expand.
A goal atop everyone’s list is getting more families “banked.” Opening an account (as opposed to just wiring money) lets migrants establish credit histories for future mortgages or business loans. The deposits expand capital pools. And bank accounts boost savings rates. Some banks turn migrant deposits into tiny loans to village entrepreneurs, linking remittances to the popular realm of microfinance.
Migrants contribute to development in ways that go beyond remittances. Many countries tap their diasporas for philanthropy. Affluent migrants make investments back home. And the increasingly circular nature of migration means that some migrants return with knowledge and connections. This is a countertrend to brain drain — “brain gain” — with Taiwan the most obvious case. The Hsinchu Science-Based Industrial Park, a government-subsidized Silicon Valley, has lured home thousands of skilled Taiwanese with research and investment opportunities. The key is having something to lure them to; brain gain has not come to, say, Malawi.
Casting migration as the answer to global poverty has some people alarmed. It risks obscuring the personal price that migrants and their families pay. It could be used to gloss over, or even justify, the exploitation of workers. And it could offer rich countries an excuse for cutting foreign aid and other development efforts. “This is a new version of trickledown theory,” warned Stephen Castles of Oxford University (Links to an external site.) at a recent conference in Mexico City. “It wants to make the poor pay for development.” Rodolfo GarcÃa Zamora, a professor at the Autonomous University of Zacatecas in Mexico, warned the conference against remittance “fetishization.” Even in the remittance-happy Philippines, national law states that the government does not see migration as a development strategy — though it obviously does.
Certainly, soaring remittance tallies cannot measure social costs, to migrants or to those left behind. (So many Africans die at sea each year trying to reach European soil that the Straits of Gibraltar have been dubbed “the largest mass grave in Europe.”) I was with Emmet and his brother-in-law one day when they broke into a nostalgic version of “It’s So Painful, Big Brother Eddie,” a Tagalog classic from the 1980s that immortalizes every migrant’s fear:
My child wrote to me
I was shocked and I instantly cried.
“Father come home, make it fast
Mother has another man
She’s cheating on you, father. . . .”
But what’s painful, I’m wondering
Why our two children are now three?
Among the biggest worries, in the Philippines and beyond, are the “left behind” kids, who are alternately portrayed as dangerous hoodlums and consumerist brats. Some people fear that their gadgets and clothes, sent from guilty parents abroad, corrupt village values. A U.N. (Links to an external site.)envoy, examining Filipino migration, had a different concern: “Reportedly children of O.F.W.’s are more likely to become involved in delinquency or early marriage.” (Note “reportedly.”) One episode of “Because You Left,” the television show, depicts an adolescent boy whose father is abroad, leaving no one to help him with his first crush. He bonds with the school bully, steals from his mother and tries to rob someone. In addition to the “left behind,” researchers speak of a more disadvantaged class — the “left out.” Lacking the money or connections to go abroad, they are marooned on the wrong shore of what is, among the poor themselves, a growing divide.
Fear about the children is inevitable (and laudable), but the modest social science that exists offers some reassurance. At least three studies have examined “left behind” families in the Philippines. All found the children of migrants doing as well as, or better than, children whose parents stayed home. The most recent, from the Scalabrini Migration Center in Manila, involved a national survey of 10-to-12-year-olds. The migrants’ kids did better in school, had better physical health, experienced less anxiety and were more likely to attend church. “For now, the children are fine,” it concluded. Joseph Chamie, editor of The International Migration Review, an academic journal, calls the finding typical. “There’s not much scientific evidence that children have developmental difficulties when a parent migrates,” he said.
One theory is that remittances compensate for the missing parent’s care. The study found migrants’ kids taller and heavier than their counterparts, suggesting higher caloric intake, and much more likely to attend private school. The extended family can also act as a compensating force. And so can modern technology in an age of cellphones and Webcams. There is no doubt that migration has costs. “We don’t have a focus group without people crying,” said the Scalabrini researcher, Maruja Asis. The point is that not migrating has costs, too — the cost of wrenching poverty.
The Philippines, more than most places, claims to be skilled in managing these costs. As the rare bureaucracy devoted to migrant care, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration draws admirers from across the globe. Any agency pledged to tame a force as brutal as labor migration is bound to have its failures. O.W.W.A. has 300 employees to watch over 3.6 million workers. The general Filipino view is that the agency does a serviceable job during crises abroad (it evacuated 30,000 workers from Kuwait during the first gulf war), while playing politics at home — investing funds in cronies’ businesses and helping politicians get out the vote.
But there is an especially sordid chapter of migrant history that this forgiving account omits, the shipment of bar girls to Japan. Spotting a growth market a decade ago, Philippine recruiters marched armies of young Filipinas through short courses in song and dance, then sent them off to Japanese clubs, with the Philippine government certifying them as “overseas performing artists.” Club owners typically grabbed their passports and told them to do what it took to keep customers drinking; what it took was a mix of tableside affection, off-duty dating and outright prostitution. As both governments lent a hand, Filipinas in skimpy clothes became an export commodity. Their numbers rose from 17,000 in 1996 to more than 70,000 in 2004, as remittances from Japan hit more than $350 million.
Sex work is often a byproduct of extreme poverty. “A man is on top of me,” writes Corazon Amaya-CaÃ±ete, a Filipina poet in Hong Kong, in the voice of a woman who distracts herself by resurrecting a childhood habit of counting sheep.
In exchange for this is money for Mother’s
Building the house and
Buying food for my six siblings
Clothes, shoes, books and tuition for school . . .
Seventy-seven white sheep!
Seventy-seven white sheep!
The Tagalog wordplay emphasizes the cruelty of her fate: she starts life as a girl counting tupa and awakens to find herself a puta. “Oh! I am prostitute!” she screams. (The poem, “Seventy-Seven White Sheep,” was published in a Webzine of Filipino diaspora writings, Our Own Voice.)
It was not the Philippines but Japan that finally cleaned things up. It acted only after the U.S. State Department (Links to an external site.) placed it on a 2004 watch list of countries lax toward human trafficking. The embarrassed Japanese now demand two years of performing experience for an entertainer’s visa, which has cut the flow of Filipina bodies by about 95 percent. Remarkably, it did so over the objection of the Philippine government, which sent a protest delegation to Tokyo.
Or perhaps it is less remarkable than it seems. A handful of advocates condemned the flesh trade, but most Filipinos see it as a consensual, if regrettable, economic exchange, and inevitable in a country where nearly half the population lives on less than $2 a day. Gina gawako dahil para sa familya ko goes the Tagalog saying. “I do this for the sake of my family.”
I asked Nito Roque, the country’s chief migrant protector, how to square the sex trade with the government’s pledge (in Act 8042) to protect workers’ “dignity and fundamental human rights.” His answer says something about the limits of migrant protection, in the Philippines and beyond. “The contract does not say anything about prostitution — that is a private matter between the employer and the employee,” he said. “Nobody forces anybody to go abroad. It’s the applicant who comes forward and applies for the job.
“Do they know what they’re getting into? I think so.”
About 30 miles south of Manila, just outside the town of Silang, a dirt road ends at a residential compound carved from a small coffee farm. For decades it held nothing but the thatched hut where Tita and her 10 siblings were raised. Now a dozen cement blockhouses are clustered in a U, some little more than shells and others, like Tita and Emmet’s pink cottage, boasting faux marble tile and lace curtains. One look at each home yields a fair guess of how long the owner worked abroad. Nine families in the compound sent workers overseas, and collectively those workers stayed for 131 years (and counting). A walk across the compound cuts through a century of rewards and regrets.
Tita’s brother Fering is thankful that he returned from Saudi Arabia in time to see his children’s first days of school. Another brother, Fortz, is one of two men in the family (by some counts, three) whose extramarital affairs overseas produced kids. He left for Saudi Arabia with a daughter named Sheryl and returned with another named Sheralyn. Conscripted as a stand-in mom, Tita raised the girl for 10 years — resentfully at first, because of the cost — and wept when her real mother took her away. “She is like having another child,” she said.
Tita’s sister Peachy learned that her husband had a girlfriend — and a son — when she received a package meant for them. The first time I asked her whether the time apart had strained their marriage, she politely lied. “No — we’re loving each other for ever and ever!” she said. The following day she sought me out with a more candid account. Peachy is a large, cheerful woman, who seems as if nothing could daunt her. “I almost died,” she said. “I couldn’t lose my husband to someone else. That was the saddest moment of my life.”
Peachy’s sister Patricia thought all was well until a stranger called two years ago and said her husband was having an affair with his wife. “Your husband and his mistress,” the man wrote on the photograph that followed. When Patricia called her husband in Saudi Arabia, he denied all and then stopped taking her calls. He sends little money, and she suspects he has a new child. Their son Jonvic, a dimpled 9-year-old, renders judgments of his father with innocent cheer. “What he did to us was worse than if he died, because he violated the Ten Commandments of God,” he said.
It was not infidelity that moved another relative to tears but fidelity at any cost. We were breezing through the family photo album when she pointed at a picture from Saudi Arabia that showed her husband at an evangelical church. Church? That is a ticket to deportation or worse. Alarmed that her slip might place him in greater dangers, she started to sob. “I can’t stop him — that’s where he found his happiness,” she said. When I reached him, he encouraged me to mention his preaching, saying it was his way of thanking God for the chance to work abroad. “I promised the Lord I’ll share the Gospel under any circumstance,” he said.
The nine families of overseas workers raised 35 kids, some of whom scarcely saw their fathers. Their combined stories could fill a whole season of “Because You Left.” One became pregnant at 17 and is now a single mother. Another became addicted to video games and dropped out of school. Yet another started drinking after his father disappeared. One of Tita’s sisters sold a house and a cow to place her son in a Taiwan factory. The son squandered his parents’ life savings within a few months, and his drinking and gambling got him expelled from the country.
By any measure, the price was high, yet there it stands — a semicircle of blockhouses where there once was a mere thatched hut. Bookshelves sag with encyclopedia sets. More diplomas appear each year on freshly plastered walls. There are bunk beds and Bugs Bunny sheets, cellphones, stereos and big televisions. Having nearly lost her marriage to labor migration, Peachy is scarcely heedless of its social costs. “A good provider is someone who leaves,” she said, without ambivalence.
One irritant of life in the compound has been the shared well, which dries up and causes contentious waits. Three of the families have drilled wells of their own, with electric pumps. One belongs to Peachy, a gift from her daughter, Ariane, who used her father’s overseas earnings to get a degree in hotel management and earns $1,000 a month as a maid on a cruise ship.
Another tank belongs to Tita and Emmet, whose cottage is the compound’s jewel. It has a patio, a beamed ceiling, a tiled sala floor, two kitchens and two toilets that flush. It was built by Rosalie and is a monument to the tenacious child who wrote plays about the rich exploiting the poor and willed her way into the nascent middle class. Although she is thousands of miles away in Abu Dhabi, she hovers over the compound; no household there is heedless of her example or generosity.
The house is nicer than any that Tita and Emmet have known but quieter too, with four of the couple’s five children a continent away. “I am sad,” Tita said, “because they’re in a far place.” She is often weak with ulcers, and Emmet’s hearing has started to fade. They had a chance to sell the fixed-up house in Leveriza for a princely sum, $16,000, but unwilling to part with the place where their children were raised, they rent it to relatives. Restless without work, Emmet is especially susceptible to nostalgia for the bad old days. “I was happier then because I was with my children,” he said.
Going abroad is difficult, but so is coming home. Since Emmet returned for good, the kids have noticed less tenderness between their parents and more quarreling. They each grew accustomed to being the boss. One reason Rosalie left her second daughter, Precious Lara, in the Philippines is that she thinks her parents need a child to love. Tita and Emmet sleep beneath a malaria net with the 18-month-old beside them, and Rosalie often calls home two or three times a day. She and her husband have an infant son, Dominique Edward, in Abu Dhabi, whom her parents have never seen. Armed with her first cellphone at 60, Tita has sent so many text messages that she has worn the numbers off the keys. Yawning one night, she laughed and said of herself, “Low batt!”
Off the sala is a guest bedroom with a large framed photograph of Rosalie, taken on her wedding day. The woman in that picture shows no trace of a birthright of poverty. She turns to the camera wearing an enormous gown and a confident face. Two generations of labor migration have given her more education, more money and more power and prestige than her mother could have dreamed of on her own wedding day. Precious Lara rarely plays in that room and hardly knows the face, much less the sacrifices her mother has made for the blessings of a migrant’s wage.
Jason DeParle, a senior writer for The Times, last wrote for the magazine about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
HOT OFF THE PRESS - NOV 3 2013
if you want to read more about the advantages and the tremendous disadvantages of the new, global economy you will be working in, it doesn't get much better thant this article called THE GOLDEN AGE OF NEWS.
The author describes how the job of foreign correspondent (=international journalist) has completely changed over the last 40 years. The, if you read the reader's comments you will find other readers, especially artists and photographers, who talk about how their jobs have completely changed over those same years.
ALL of these changes are in the same direction: less job security, less money, fewer benefits, more personal risk, less long term stability, more competition, lots of free content to compete with. Food for thought as you pay substantial sums to prepare for a career that -you hope and expect - will pay you a living wage. BTW - my goal is not to scare you but to
|Due By (Pacific Time)||11/06/2015 03:00 pm|
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