Thursday, April 21, 2005

Google, Walmart and Swadeshi

When Wired draws ominous parallels between Google and Wal Mart, it is like saying "absolute power corrupts absolutely". But the case against Wal Mart and now Google could be a lot more nuanced than that.

In a time when Wal Mart bashing is getting to be as politically correct as Microsoft bashing, some intelligent counterpoint provides much food for thought.

"Walmart is an example of how ruthless capitalism has always worked. US consumers have proven time and again that want cheap goods more than keeping their neighbors employed."

The same reasoning explains the dragnet charm of America to illegal migrants who will not stop even at sewing themselves into car seats to get across the border.

"The great danger of Wal Mart's success is that the low-price mantra will infect every segment of our commerce and society to the detriment of quality, service, and even our own humanity."

This echoes Gandhi on his Swadeshi movement of which he said:

" What I object to is the craze for machinery, not machinery as such. The craze is for what they call labour-saving machinery. Men go on 'saving labour' till thousands are without work and thrown on the streets to die of starvation.

I want to save time and labour, not for a fraction of mankind, but for all. I want the concentration of wealth, not in the hands of a few, but in the hands of all. Today machinery helps a few to ride on the backs of millions. The impetus behind it is not philanthropy to save labour, but greed.

The aim of 'swadeshi' as such, is a call to the consumer to be aware of the violence he is causing by supporting those industries that result in poverty, harm to workers and to humans and other creatures.

He could have easily been talking of the evil consumers perpertrate on themselves in shopping Wal Mart !

"The standard of living for Americans will decline relative to most other countries. The process of globalization affects a leveling of the standard of living in all countries. Neither governments nor personal outrage will be able to long divert the course of this accelerating process. Wal-Mart is just a visible participant in the change.

Rich countries with high production costs will be forced by economic pressure to accept lower wages in some sectors of the economy. Poorer countries with lower production costs will improve their circumstance. Those of us who wish to oppose this process will be economically disadvantaged if not exhausted. The rest of us will have to work a little harder at accepting change and making the process as painless as possible."

Brilliant argument grounded in the laws of conservation of mass and energy.


bleu said...

methinks same as Gandhi. but not idealistically.

Like on one hand is resources and other is need.

If efficiency can be driven high, i.e. with little labor we can work up the huge resources to satisfy all needs, then vast labor goes without the purchasing power to match that need. When need for labor is small but availability is large, it negatively impacts labor compensation, and labor laws.

I think this is simple facts from college level macro ecnomics. The only thing going for capitalists is innovation. need for newer expertise. but sadly enough it is not guaranteed. It depends on the creativity of the humanity to create newer jobs. creativity for job creation? or creativity for identifying human needs and betterment of life? these demands on creativity need not go hand in hand. the second might be achieved by machinization to improve speed and quality. but they may go hand in hand. computers and software industry is an example.

We cannot guarantee that newer jobs will be created. The world to watch our steps carefully before we push many people out of jobs.

buckwaasur said...

i'm a li'l unimpressed by all this idealistic talk of the gandhi kinds...people keep complaining about new technology destroying existing lifestyles...when machines were introduced in farms, people complained about farmers losing jobs...same thing when manufacturing jobs went overseas...

yet capitalism consistently continues to create new realms for employment...i think capitalism looks brutal in the short term, but is the only viable stategy we have (as of now) for long term benefits (for example, the same intensity earthquake causes death of several thousands in turkey or iran(?), but only 6 or 7 in california)...

plus capitalism is a dynamic model that takes greed into like any other evolutionarily robust model, it looks brutal from a human standpoint...i think we gotta learn to accept that...can't just whine and let fuzzy thinking take over...coz fuzzy thinking doesn't account for the stalins and the nehrus...:-))

compassionate capitalist said...

In 1968, MLK called for a Poor People's Campaign of all races. He said, "you cannot legislate goodness, nor pass a law to
force someone to respect you. The only way to social justice in a capitalist society is through economic parity."

I see no point in either glorifying or vilifying machines. After all they are only tools - their user is the one that weilds power.

While Google does not alarm me, Walmart certainly does.

The difference is the desire for domination at all costs.

Without cheap Chinese labor there would be no Walmart, and without Walmart no China!

Witness the difference between Costco and Walmart to see that good business does not have to be on the backs of the poor and the helpless.

The world of business is self-correcting. But, while the business world fills the pockets of the Repubs and the stupid cattle (followers of the Good Shepherd) fills their vote-banks, the self-correction will be slow to come and that much more painful when it does.

We Americans are victims of our own success - our labor laws, workplace safety laws and environmental regulation are precisely what makes doing business in the US more expensive and cheeeaaaaaap in China.

We need to export those ideas!!

SeaSwallowMe said...

i like what one of the readers (in that article that HC hyperlinked) had to say about capitalism - he/she quoted someone from the cato institute as saying it was "creative destruction" - like buck says, hard in the short term but good for society as a whole.

i'm largely unimpressed with gandhian socialism too. " ... concentration of wealth, not in the hands of a few, but in the hands of all ..". that's worse that utopian, in my opinion. think of all the failed socialist experiments the world has seen in the last century. esp. the one closest to us.

there was a telling statistic (i don't remember the details unfortunately & i'm too lazy to google for it) about how the "Golden Quadrilateral" project has resulted in many many more miles of roads laid in just a few years compared to the sum total of road infratructure improvements in all the previous decades put together. i'd be hard-pressed to accept that this would've been possible even if India hadn't gone the way of market-economics. managed-economy didn't get us anywhere - all it did was to make our previous generations believe in "karma". and scrounge for sugar rations (from what my parents have told me). how pathetic was that, in a resource-rich country like India.

"capitalism with a conscience" is BS. almost like our friend Dubya's motto about being a "compassionate conservative".

[ok, who's next on the soap-box] :-P