Talkin' trash to the garbage around me.

14 May, 2007

Where are the people?

Like many of my colleagues in the sociology department, I spent a good portion of graduate school quite smitten with Marx. Where many of my friends were drawn to the structuralism of Das Kapital ("When Marx became a Marxist," sneered the more snobby of the structuralists, completely eliding the question of whether Marx was ever a Marxist), I, on the other hand, was drawn to the humanism of his earlier works, being pretty fascinated by his answer to the question, "Why does work suck?" The quotidian is, after all, where structure is generated and replicated. Political economy is only as important as its effects the lives of real people, right? I thought so. So did one of my professors, whose standard complaint at certain job talks was, "Where are the people?"

I found myself thinking that when reading about the bureaucratic infighting surrounding economic development in Iraq:
Paul Brinkley, a deputy undersecretary of defense, has been called a Stalinist by U.S. diplomats in Iraq. One has accused him of helping insurgents build better bombs. The State Department has even taken the unusual step of enlisting the CIA to dispute the validity of Brinkley's work.

His transgression? To begin reopening dozens of government-owned factories in Iraq.

Brinkley and his colleagues at the Pentagon believe that rehabilitating shuttered, state-run enterprises could reduce violence by employing tens of thousands of Iraqis. Officials at State counter that the initiative is antithetical to free-market reforms the United States should promote in Iraq.

The fate of literally millions of people is obfuscated in a paragraph that pits the military objective of fighting a counterinsurgency against the political and ideological objective of building a "free market" economy (forgetting, for a moment, that a state-run economy financed by foreigners doesn't look substantially different than a privatized economy owned by foreigners). The construction of that third paragraph makes people accessories to larger political ends, "Basically, cannon fodder," as Eugene McDaniels would have it. In other words, a goal of providing a better life for Iraqis is incidental to whatever bureaucratic objectives are prioritized (although some will argue that that goal is assumed, the actual objective for both plans is "stability," another lovely reification).

You realize, of course, that the vision of economic development held by those working in Iraq is fucked up six ways to Sunday, right?
Brinkley, who was interviewed in Washington, said he expects several factories to reopen this summer. By year's end, he envisions Wal-Mart stores selling made-in-Baghdad leather jackets and other U.S. retailers stocking Iraqi loafers, hand-stitched carpets and pinstripe suits.

That's right, Iraq. Your economic future in the world trade system can be as bright as Bangladesh's, thanks to your comparative advantage of a supply of low-wage labor! My god.

And while it's nice to see someone who doesn't think all nationalization plans are a bad thing (why hello there, inner socialist!), you can really see where their priorities are in this statement:
Brinkley, a balding 40-year-old who speaks in rapid-fire sentences, had joined the Defense Department as a political appointee in 2005 after serving as an executive at JDS Uniphase Corp. At the Silicon Valley manufacturer of fiber-optic equipment, he had helped the company acquire a factory in China that had been run by the government. The experience, Brinkley said, convinced him that "state-owned enterprises can provide jobs, and turn a profit and lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. [emphasis added]"

So, in order of importance: an abstract number of positions created in which to hire someone, profit, and the "well being" of the people.

I'm going to make the wild guess that a workers' rights movement would be relentlessly crushed under either model of development.

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