Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Glowing Golden Arches

Yesterday evening, I attended a dinner honoring Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai at the Mayflower hotel. I watched as a former enemy of American ideals was sponsored by Gap, Citibank and other major American companies. In fact, most of the tables were bought by companies for their top execs to go smooze and see a little piece of history. Senator John McCain was also there, and he introduced the Prime Minister of the country that once held him and tortured him as a prisoner of war.

Earlier that day, President Bush and the Prime Minister were at the White House. Bush praised the leader for his steps toward religious freedom and cooperation in trying to find the remains of U.S. troops who died in the Vietnam War. Additionally, Vietnam wants to get into the WTO (not happening as I understand it) and also more fully committed to joint counterterrorism efforts with the U.S. and better upholding human rights. Bush also pledged to visit Vietnam next year (something Clinton did in November of 2000).

With ten years of "normalized diplomatic relations" with Vietnam under our belts, I am curious how much of the Cold War was necessary. Though I may be out of my element here, it seems in communist countries, "Western values" have been best fought for with the Golden Arches (Thomas Friedman) and Levi jeans. These changes may also speak to a more technologically connected world where the Internet and television broadcast ideas and beautiful visions of capitalism.

Perhaps more than changin' times, what we have seen in Cuba, China, Vietnam, Russia and other eastern European countries is more about the nature of people to really want what other people have. For whatever reason, it is really hard not to covet your neighbor's stuff. Even authoritarian dictators have problems keeping ambition below their perception of the greater good of the motherland. In one sense that's sad because it means we are all really selfish. But in another sense, it means we like the freedom to be or not to be self-serving. If we want to give all our alms to the poor or spend them on a big ass bass boat then that's the right every person should have. Welcome to the wild, wild Western thinking, Vietnam. I hope it works for you.


Anonymous cjt said...

Vietnam is a global corporations dream come true. Nike Inc. moved everything there not long ago because of the lack of labors laws and rights of workers. This was after the women workers in Malaysia were severly beaten by the police while striking against Nike for just rudimentary decent working conditions and hours. These are sweat shop owners defined.

I wouldn't even use Nike toilet paper if they made it.

2:37 PM  
Blogger cuff said...

Thomas Friedman is an idiot. He takes obvious facts and puts a "globalization" spin on them to make them seem new (news flash: globalization is about as old as mercantilism). The funny thing is that the title of his book ironically demonstrates how wrong-headed his thinking is. Someone ought to chain him in a Nike sweatshop for a few years to see how he likes his new flat world.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Asshole said...

V -
Come on, now, you know better than that. The real reason that Americans always hated communism was not its suppression of economic or political rights, but its atheism. Americans hate atheists more than anything else - more than socialists, gays, or blacks (it's true - I've got polls). In any case, the right to political dissent is more important to most people than the right to buy a Big Mac. Milton Friedman would argue that they are inextricably linked, but just taking them each separately, I assert that political freedom is more valuable. This time without any polls.

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Asshole said...

cjt and mass - find Paul Krugman's article "in prase of cheap labor". Read it.

8:26 AM  
Anonymous cjt said...

Typical globalists pap. In praise of beating women bloody is the problem with these types in reality.

10:16 AM  
Blogger V said...

asshole: I've missed these chats.

I think why "we" hated communism from a political perspective has more to do with capitalism, however I think you are right about the "godlessness" of communism being a real driver among your average folk (versus government leaders making decisions).

I think it is too hard to separate the right to buy from political freedom in the average persons mind and so I agree with Milton not the asshole.

10:27 AM  
Anonymous Asshole said...

cjt -
This debate is SO freshman year of college. If you've read Krugman's article and still think that way, then I can't really help you. He summarizes the argument well. You're sloganizing when you accuse the "globalization" movement(which is a really meaningless word, especially in this case,when more specifically we're talking about international capital mobility) of "praising the beating of women". You reduce a complex political, economic, and moral issue to a simple moral one, and therefore cut off all legitimate debate. Let me know when you become an upperclassman and we can talk about it.

V - I guess you're differentiating "we", the political and intellectual elites, from the American people. If that's the case, then you're still wrong. "We" hated communism because its stated purpose was to incite worldwide (i.e., including the US) revolution dominated by the USSR, which held nuclear weapons. That is, it was a simple power struggle between two great powers. Ideaology had little to do with that. But the main selling point to the American public was the atheism part.

To be clear, I wasn't arguing with Milton Friedman's point (elaborated upon in 'Capitalism and Freedom'), which is that political and economic freedoms sustain each other,and are therefore usually found together, not that in theory they can't be valued separately.

1:23 AM  
Anonymous cjt said...


Get away from your desk and moldy academia and go to work in the real world. Meet people from across the globe and listen to how the combination of tyranny and neo-capitalism combine so well now to result in actions like Nike and Malaysia that you brush off so easily. Reading articles and opinions is not really comparable to the decades of adult life I have spent working with S.Americans and others. Anything I may say does not come from any "freshman year". Your world view is based obviously on what you read, not ever seen or experienced. Come back when you have discovered a world beyond the written words of others and clasroom debates.

12:13 PM  
Anonymous Asshole said...

cjt -
Greetings from India, where I am right now. Funny, I was just reading in the local newspaper about the results of a recent poll showing that India has a more favorable opinion of the United States than any other country in the world. In any case I'm sure I'll have plenty of time to discuss matters with South Americans when I'm there for three weeks in August. But I know many South Americans both from college (my school had a particularly large Brazilian contingent) and from the time that I spent living in Italy, where I knew some Colombians. But really, I just can't wait to get back my desk and moldy academia this fall.

9:26 PM  
Anonymous cjt said...

I'm sure you're aware then that Microsoft just helped China ban the words "democracy"
and "freedom" and phrases similar from internet usage. Just one example of many.


5:36 AM  
Anonymous Asshole said...

The Bill Gates Foundation also spends millions on philanthropy each year. Do you think Microsoft wants to eliminate democracy and freedom? I hope you'll see that the impetus is the Chinese government, not Microsoft. In fact, many of the sins that some charge multi-national corporations with, governments are even more guilty of. Environmental destruction is chief among them.

I think you haven't carefully analyzed the counter-factual of foreign direct investment (I'm assuming this is what you're criticizing, rather than industrialization, free trade, etc.). What would happen if multinational corporations did not invest in developing countries? It is likely that in these countries, there would be fewer jobs, lower wages, and perhaps even more pollution and mistreatment of employees. Studies that have compared foreign-owned companies to local-owned companies have found that MNCs scored no worse, and sometimes better, than their local counterparts in treatment of the environment and their employees.

Of course it is the case that the conditions in these factories is deplorable. I'm certainly glad that I don't have to work in them. I don't need to recite for you the long list of malfeasance on the behalf of MNCs. But I think our sense of guilt shouldn't get in the way of what to many of the poorest people in the world represents an opportunity.

It's easy to let this outlook slip into a Panglossian view of international investment. I do think that it is important for Western consumers to encourage MNCs to engage in good corporate international citizenship, and boycott products when their behavior is found unjust. But also realize that we cannot impose first world labor and environmental regulations and expect third world workers to maintain their jobs.

8:20 AM  
Anonymous Kennith Fairey said...

I read an interesting article on it I would like to share with you...

1:21 PM  

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