After reading this set of readings and watching the documentary, I am left pondering the degree to which the topics of these assignments are relevant in today’s America and today’s world. Although each of the assigned readings is dedicated to its own unique topic—social movement/ change, distributive justice, the financial crisis, etc.—I am attempting to find a common thread that links them all together in a uniform fashion. To me this singular topic is distrust and dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs, with globalization, politicians, and supranational institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank. As a global management major, I am inclined to support globalization and its continued development, so I certainly hope that it is not eradicated in fear that my degree might become undervalued or even irrelevant. The root cause of this all in anger, and this is particularly relevant in this year’s election cycle with the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Although radically different in policy proposals, they both stand for a frustration, an anger, a feeling of abandonment from the political establishment. It is the “outsider” status of these two candidates that is driving their success. Both the followings of Trump and Sanders could justly be classified as a social movement, or as the self-proclaimed socialist calls it, “a political revolution.” Yet, there is a fundamental difference between merely protesting what you view as an issue and actually proposing a legitimate solution to fix it.
To me, this is where the efforts of Juliette Beck and her fellow far-left protestors fall significantly short. What good does it do to violently (I will acknowledge not all of the protestors were violent, yet some certainly were) protest and oppose the World Bank and IMF meetings? The assertion that these two institutions are highly corrupt and serve no useful purpose is quite opinionated and not entirely correct. I am currently taking international economics, and these institutions most certainly have played and continue to play useful functions in the global economy. As “After Seattle” mentions, the World Bank was formed out of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which was largely instrumental in promoting free trade and reducing protectionist policies across the globe. This, in turn, was hugely beneficial in promoting the growth of the world economy, increasing the size of the market, increasing investment, employment, greater competition, technological progress, the list goes on. I will attest that in some instances the World Bank and IMF do undermine the sovereignty of some nations, particularly less developed countries. I am not an overwhelmingly large supporter of these supranational institutions, yet I understand the need for their existence in the modern global economy and see no benefit in exhausting so much energy to initiate organized protests against them. Rarely, are Americans negatively affected, so I am not sure what they are so worked up about. I support the right to protest—it is a fundamental right provided to us in the first amendment—yet protesters ought to be rightly educated on the issues they are protesting.
Now, I would like to focus on a quote from “Changing the World in the Network Society” which reads, “…since the fundamental challenge from these movements concerns the denial of legitimacy of the political class, and the denunciation of their subservience to the financial elites…” As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, I believe this is the frustration to which both Trump and Sanders are appealing. They are not beholden to any super PAC, special interest group, and Trump is largely self-funding his own campaign. But, this quote also raises another point—the politicians who are responsible for making more egalitarian and fair laws are those who often benefit from the current state of affairs, so this provides little incentive for change. Take for example, the Panama Papers, which the media has demonized as instances of fraudulent financial activity and money laundering meant to evade taxes and hide large sums of wealth (while there certainly are cases of shady offshore financial activity, tax havens and offshore investing do nevertheless provide a number of considerable benefits and are not inherently unethical or immoral). Why would politicians change laws regarding offshore investing and disclosure of shell company ownership when they are the ones hiding their money in these places? Examples are many including the Prime Minster of Iceland, friends of Putin, high ranking Chinese government officials, the father of David Cameron, etc. The entanglement of the business and politics elites does often lead to conflicts of interest and an organized network that promoted a social movement to ameliorate this issue is something I certainly support. Even George Clooney, who just held a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in which tickets costs over 300k a couple, admits that there is “an obscene amount of money in politics.” We need a breathe of fresh air.
In considering the current state of affairs of the world in which we leave, there are many aspects of today’s world with which I am satisfied, and others, which are more disappointing. For one, I am thrilled to live in America, a country founded on the promotion of individual liberty and democracy. In no other country on earth can one—through dedication, hard work, and personal achievement—rise up and accomplish the essence of “the American Dream.” Furthermore, I am pleased to live in a capitalist society that promotes private ownership of property, free markets, and competition. The “After Seattle” article mentions anarchy and the substitute for this is often socialism. Anarchy carries such a negative connotation, but in reality it simply refers to the absence of government. In theory, an anarchist society could exist, but I do not believe we will ever come to see such a society in our livelihood. Moreover, socialism has simply failed nearly everywhere it has been implemented and often times leads to communistic, authoritarian, police-state regimes. Although some countries such as France and those in Scandanavia might employ socialist policies, residents of these countries feel a bond and a sense of unity with, for example, 12 million other Danish people who are just like them. Such policies would not be effective in a very heterogeneous society such as America. It is hard for many to identify with minorities, immigrants, and other parties who are not like them and feel a sense of responsibility for taking care of them in the way that a Swede might for his fellow Swedes. I know to some this may sound overly harsh, but even Walzer would agree that all social goods are not equal and, thus, all distributions are not equal.
It sounds nice to say that everything should be distributed equally, but this is just not the way that the world works. Individuals are inherently different, have different levels on intelligence, skill sets, work ethics, and I believe distributions ought to take these factors in account. There is somewhat of a prevailing consensus among millennials of this generation that it is popular to be liberal, to support Bernie Sanders, and to protest any sort of system from which they are not benefited. Rather, one should work hard to achieve mobility and become the benefactors of the current state of affairs as opposed to sitting back, complaining and developing this overwhelming sense of entitlement.