24
Jan
09

Liberation Theology and Globalization (Part 2)

Continued from here or return to Table of Contents

THE ECONOMICS OF OPPRESSION

It may be, on one hand, quite right to point out that the general populations of these dominant cultures have neither made the decisions to dominate nor benefited directly in the economic spoils of domination. Actions empowered by monarchs and popes have been replaced by those instituted by presidents, prime ministers and corporate moguls. It may even be true that the portion of the U.S. or European populations that has profited the most is the elite – those with significant holdings of stocks, bonds and privilege.[1] While these things may be true, for the general population to claim no enrichment or complicity is to turn a blind eye to the obvious truths of economy and quality of life.

picture1Sampling income figures for four “First World” countries and four considered “developing” reveals the relative earnings of all eight nations, with the highest equaling 100% for each year. The advantages accruing to the members of dominant cultures are readily apparent in terms of purchasing power which also translates to quality of life, availability of healthcare, and other aspects of relative wealth.[2] While the country with the highest income shifted from the U.S. to Japan in 1990, the disparity in the net value of income of the poorer nations continued to widen, with the exception of China which has improved very slightly.[3] This vast difference in purchasing power, of course, relates directly to differences in appetite for, and consumption of, resources. Inequalities in consumption are stark. Globally in 1998, the 20% of the world’s people in the highest-income countries account for 86% of total private consumption expenditures – the poorest 20% a minuscule 1.3%.[4]  

Discussion about consumption of resources requires additional reflection, picture2however. At the very least one has to ask the question, “Where are these resources found?” The general pattern is that the higher the population density and the smaller the landmass, the more likely that there is a paucity of raw materials. [5] These raw materials, therefore, are found primarily in areas outside of Europe and Japan, since they qualify on both counts. The World Wildlife Fund developed a scale, called the Ecological Footprint, on which the U.S consumes at a rate that takes 9.70 hectares per capita, much of Europe and Japan in the 4.00 to 7.00 range, Mexico 2.54 and India 0.77.[6]

This manner of rating, however, does not take into account population density and available domestic land mass. Intended to be used in conjunction with the WWF indicator, I developed another indicator, the Need for Foreign Resources (NFR)[7], which can then be compared to the WWF’s Ecological Footprint to develop a Greed indicator. The Greed indicator serves to measure the extent that any country over-consumes or under-consumes, when need based on population density and domestic land mass is taken into account.[8] Basically, the higher a country scores on the positive scale the more it unnecessarily eats up the resources of other nations, while higher on the negative scale indicates that that nation’s essential resources are used by dominant nations as opposed to it’s own population. In short, it helps define the “users” and the “losers”, while indicating the level to which they fall into either category. While this manner of rating somewhat mitigates the consumption of resources by small, highly populated countries – most of Europe and Japan – it further serves to indict the U.S. for gratuitous and oppressive use of world resources.

picture31The U.S. has the highest Greed indicator of all countries. The U.S., unlike Europe and Japan, has adequate land mass to support its population and, therefore, extends its economic hegemony almost totally out of desire for profits and advantage. The only way excessive consumption can be maintained long-term is through a process that makes it affordable – it requires inequitable transactions, or those in which more resources are gained for less than they are worth. The general U.S. population, despite not being necessarily the initiators of globalization, have benefited inordinately from the process of acquiring “more for less” at the expense of much of the world’s poor. Consumerism, the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically beneficial[9], is perhaps most alive and well in the U.S., and is a key factor in economic oppression. The extent to which consumerism is a cause or symptom is insignificant since the time is long past in which that debate should have been engaged. The basic fact is that consumerism is now a dominant aspect of U.S. culture and guides the political and economic relationships of the government, business and personal sectors.

This is not to say that the “First World” in general, or the U.S. in particular, have exercised economic hegemony without the collusion of “2/3 World” leaders. Governments and regimes have been supported, however, that would allow usurpation, many times with their own profits as the motivation. Since most of the “2/3 World” was colonized by Western powers, the governmental practices replacing those of the colonizers simply aped the same behavior. Colonial governance had been stuck in a time warp and remained largely on a feudal model, even while the home political structures were undergoing massive changes. In this way, the forms of leadership normally found in the “2/3 World”, often criticized as corrupt and self-serving, reflect the conditions indigenous populations experienced under colonial or imperialist rule.

What are the conditions that the members of the “2/3 World” face? It isn’t just the economic hegemony of the ‘First World’, as widespread as that may be. Among other forms of oppression are marginalization, genocide, invisibility, political domination and tyranny, demonization, to name but a few. In reality, are these unrelated? Is it that the undeveloped economic potential of the “2/3 World” is the primary problem causing impoverishment and oppression, that impoverishment is most popular tool of political domination, or that economic advantage is the most common motivator that leads to subjugation? The first, development, has been the focus of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, both having substantial leadership from the “First World” powers. The results, however, have been further impoverishment of indigenous populations, increased indebtedness of “2/3 World” nations, and enrichment for the dominant economic powers. Development ignored the need for redistribution of wealth and land reform, thereby further concentrating wealth in the hands of the rich.[10]  Impoverishment results from powers seeking both political/ideological control and economic gain, leaving little doubt that the impoverished populations are simply pawns in the minds of the powerful. 

Success in neutralizing economic power would require a global physical insurrection, either strategically coordinated or serendipitously cascaded across the world against more powerful and militarily sophisticated authorities, or a global revolution of thought that could change the praxis of the dominant culture(s) in very significant ways. In an age of globalization, accomplishing the latter would seem plausible but, when considering that the enemy is the privilege still experienced by the people that make up the dominant cultures, how do you get people to give up their claim to material and political supremacy? Is it necessary that a global liberation theology create allies in the dominant populations in sufficient numbers that their cultures’ appetites for advantage can be assuaged?

 


[1] Figures extrapolated from Census Bureau tables show that the average U.S. family income, when adjusted for inflation, has dropped by 8.8% from 2000 to 2004; people in the U.S. living in poverty have increased 40% during the same period; that the only consistent increase in earned income in the U.S. has accrued to the top 15% of the population. It is very likely that the most common individual investors benefiting from globalization come from the same portion of the population that has experienced growth in income. Data available at U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder website, <http://factfinder.census.gov/home/saff/ main.html?_lang=en>, accessed 11/15/2005.

[2] The four poorer nations were chosen for their economic or political relationships with the U.S., all which have been described by the U.S. government as benefiting the poorer nations.

[3] Each of the countries was then adjusted for the inflation experienced within it own bounds and fluctuations in exchange rate, and charted as percentages of the highest incomes. The ratios, then, represent purchasing power in comparison to the countries with the highest income. This recalculation was necessary because most income studies fail to take into account internal inflation, currency devaluation and exchange rates as functions of purchasing power in the world economy, a stand that is arguably incorrect. Each set of figures was taken from charts on Globalis – Interactive World Map, a collaboration between the Norwegian UN Association, UNEP/GRID-Arendal, UNU/Global Virtual University, the University College of Hedmark and the INTIS schools. The project is supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation. <http://globalis.gvu.unu.edu/&gt;, accessed 12/03/2005.

[4] United Nations Development Program, “The State of Human Development”, United National Development Report 1998, p.37.

[5] Ignores the fact that labor – cheap labor – is essentially as resource as well.

[6] The World Wildlife Fund developed a method of estimating excess resource utilization based on the overall land mass required to support the consumption of any specific country, using a calculated base of 1.8 hectares per capita as the average amount of land available. World Wildlife Fund, Living Planet Report 2002, WWF website, http://assets.panda.org/downloads/lpr2002.pdf, accessed 12/05/2005.

[7] Taking into account domestic land mass and population, I developed the following formula where n=needed land mass to support domestic population (population x 1.8 hectares) and a = available domestic landmass: NFR= ((n-a)/a)+1)*1.8. The portion (n-a)/a) provides a ratio between -1 (more land than needed) and +1 (less land than needed). Adding 1 provides a positive decimal fraction and multiplying by 1.8 restores the ratio to the same criteria as the Ecological Footprint based on 1.8 hectares per capita. A limitation of this indicator is found when observing countries that have more than twice as much land as their populations need, e.g. Canada or Australia. These countries, however, also have a relatively small impact on world resources in the first place. It, of course, also fails to identify the segments of a nation’s population that may be responsible for over- or under- consumption, as does the WWF indicator.

[8] In developing the Greed indicator, I simply subtracted the NFR from the Ecological Footprint. A positive number indicates over consumption, and a negative number shows under consumption. Being based on the NPR, the Greed indicator mitigates the Ecological Footprint by taking into account a nation’s a priori dependence on foreign resources by virtue of having less land than needed to support its population. This in no way legitimates the way in which that nation chooses to acquire said resources.

To be continued here or return to Table of Contents.

[9] The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

[10] de Soto, Hernando, The Mystery of Capital, New York: Basic Books, 2000. p. 47ff.

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... or, preaching from both ends

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That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

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