Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Ironies of Progress

The advances of the world capitalist system and relatively stable international relations have enabled the progress of different countries around the world, especially in Europe and North America. Today, with the advent of rapid technological output and scientific research, households are slowly transformed into wireless and interconnected hubs of electronics and appliances, ranging from Bluetooth-activated microwaves to High-Definition fifty-inch Plasma televisions. From the use of room-sized computer mainframes generations ago, people are now akin to acquiring the latest palm-size personal digital assistants and camera-ready mobile phones. In a macroeconomic scale, on the other hand, the economies of the European Union, the United States and other developed countries have continued to boom despite the cyclical recessions in the business cycle of the capitalist system. However, this forward march of developed countries and some newly-industrialized countries in Asia is obscured by the continued disparity of wealth and economic development in Third World countries, most of which serve as the export-processing zones and sources of raw materials for multinational corporations based in the developed world. This paper seeks to discuss the irony of progress at the expense of underdeveloped and developing countries in the context of China.

China has been touted as the next rival of the United States as an economic superpower, especially at a time when the Chinese economy has been registering double-digit growth rates, even to the extent of “heating-up.” As a result of Deng Xiaoping’s socialism with Chinese characteristics, China has opened its doors to market reforms and allowed the influx of foreign investors to set-up factories and commercial centers inside the once heartland of fierce anti-capitalist ferment. By opening up its economy, China has soon provided the world with cheaply-made quality goods of all kinds, from sports shoes and children’s toys, to mobile phones and Ipods. This has proven beneficial for the world over, especially for multinational corporations as they were able to keep their products competitively priced in the world market. However, this has come at the cost of the Chinese worker, supposedly China’s most valuable resource under a socialist system. According to Raymond Lotta, an American political economist whose expertise is on China, the economic growth of China has been due to the transformation of the entire Chinese economy and its productive labor into one massive-scale sweatshop, in which Chinese laborers are utterly underpaid despite the hefty workload in the factories, especially those involved in exports. The competitive advantage of cheap labor has been exploitatively utilized to serve the ends not of the Chinese people but the narrow interests of foreign capitalists with the Chinese government serving as a conduit.

If such a system is continued, however, it would definitely ensure that the world would continue its enjoyment of cheap consumer goods of all kinds, including hi-fi speakers, laptops, among many other things. This is one of the ultimate ironies of progress in the world today –while most of the world enjoys the goods produced and sold in hypermarkets and retail stores, a Chinese woman works, with low wages and little benefits, for more than eight hours day in a textile factory in Shenzen or Guandong just to produce the svelte Gap jeans that has been selling like hotcakes in a Macy’s or Sears department store. While progress, including all its fruits, must be welcomed, it must never be at the expense of other people, especially workers in the Third World.

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