Archive for May, 2009


May 28 2009

Globalization according to Stiglitz

by at 10:28 am

The Washington Consensus “one size fits all” mentality was a cookie cutter strategy (or a reform package) adopted by Washington to deal with the economic problems of developing countries. These problems were mainly managed by institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and the U.S. Treasury Department. Continue Reading »

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May 28 2009

Agglomeration and Emergent Architectures

by at 10:15 am

The economies of agglomeration give value to certain kinds of relationships in the networks that cumulatively constitute “economic development.”  If economic development is a multi-striated network in which financial, cultural, institutional, nodes are connected to each other through subtle ways in which efficiency, access and ease are maximized, then I might suggest that the path toward greater development mirrors similar paths that we use to maximize other, less complicated things.

The area between Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights is one of the more popular areas to experience the District’s nightlife.  There are a number of factors that facilitate the existence of these boisterous neighborhoods: geographic centrality, access via major transportation hubs, historical precedents, and a number of economic incentives for businesses to work together to create the party-time atmosphere.  And these are but to name a very few of the many interactions that create a ‘hot spot.’  They represent economies of agglomeration – businesses benefit from the commercial activity overflowing from their neighbors, the city government centralizes police efforts and late-night party-oriented rambunctiousness, and the customers benefit from greater taxi presence when they want to retire.  The network is striated, yet each layer finds itself interwoven with its neighbors in ways that foster the perpetual health of the region.

Similarly, these emergent interdependencies can be found on much larger scales when considering questions of urban development.  Does the 495 Beltway around the District create a boundary that demarcates a region of development in a similar way that Robert Moses separated Jones Beach from Manhattan’s rabble?  Did the disuse of the Hudson River as an trade route doom the industrial towns of northern New York state to decline?  And on even larger scales, these same connections exist: Does a corrupt government provide financial institutions less incentive to lend?

But international development wants not only to understand the ways these economies of agglomeration work, but to be able to influence them, create environments for stability and growth.  Professor Garcia’s prompt suggested that the global network might be seen from a number of different vantage points: that of states as nodes, financial institutions as nodes, and NGO’s as nodes.  Instead, I prefer to see each of these vantage points as a way of looking at one particular striation of the Global Network.  International development, unfortunately, cannot afford to look at each of these striations independently, but instead must see their interdependencies.  The existence of the District’s nightlife is dependent on a number of networks working together, creating economies of agglomeration, efficiency and maximizing the ease of growth.  Provoking growth in an impoverished community will similarly depend on the creation of efficiencies between various networks, building the connections between the nodes of each striation vertically as well as horizontally.

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May 28 2009

Nexus and Small World Theory

by at 10:13 am

The “lightbulb moment,” in which one’s eyes widen, breath is drawn in, and a rude interruption of ones conversant inevitably follows, represents the act of having an “idea.”  The experience of it is a surprise, as if the idea could not have happened if it was expected.  Ideas are rarely something ordered a la carte, wholesale or for take out.  Insomuch as we have little control over ideas, it is exceptional how much ideas reflect our own experiences, learning and attitudes.  The pervasive way in which we inhabit others’ ideas, however, is even more profound.

I confess, my ideas are rarely my own.  Even those fleeting brain spasms that I might believe novel or original are inevitable outcomes from the accumulation of experience—an imposition by my parents’ values, for example, or a knee-jerk effort to fit into a social group.  To say that ideas are socially constructed is to state an obvious fact, as if the hermetically sealed brain could find the stimulation amidst its environment to make something of nothing.  Fat chance.

Recently, I watched a documentary about the Mass Games, an institutionalized instantiation of the North Korean cult of personality.  My interest in this subject was inspired by a certain close somebody, the font of many of my ideas these days.  The strong ties I have with this somebody were built through our proximity in graduate school, shared interests, network of friends, and other, less definable things.  Yet, my interest in the ghastly lives of the North Korean people is not ‘because’ of my close tie here in the District, but rather because of the many other connections beyond that person: to Asia, to cultural identity, to a particular group of people.  Lacking personal connections to the Mass Games is not an obstacle in the way of thinking about them, considering them in relation to my other, more derivative ideas of personal fulfillment, political leadership, art, and spectacle.

The degrees of separation between me and the Mass Games are many, but ideas form the bridges that bring me close to the Mass Games.  While abrupt, let me consider this in relation to international development: it was a lack of ideas that doomed the Washington Consensus to groupthink.  Their lack of ideas stemmed from their homogeneity, the lack of ideas became malignant when combined with the power to impose their values of the structures that controlled the lives of the countless millions in the developing world.  It would follow, then, that local expertise needs to infiltrate the 19th St. institutions in DC, but it also suggests that the expertise must be varied.  A Bangladeshi economist educated in the London School of Economics might not provoke the new ideas required to bridge the gaps between the traditional international development strategies and those that are game changing.  Perhaps, I submit, the local expertise needs to be a bit more conventionally local, the better to inspire more the unconventional in the minds of the insular.

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May 28 2009

Globalization and Its Discontents

by at 10:09 am

Stiglitz’s criticism of the IMF seems focused on how developed nation’s values, motivations, and desired outcomes are imposed on the plights of developing countries in efforts to realize a mythical “developed” status.  He accuses the IMF being arbitrary in the way it applies its loan requirements, ignorant of the plight of the impoverished that live beyond the bounds of the region’s primate city, and worst of all, beholden to the interests of the developed world rather than acting as an advocate for the well-being of the world’s poor.  It’s a bleak look at the institutional apparatus that provides the developed world’s most salient efforts at managing a global economic environment.  He focuses his recommendations on: definition, determination and direction.

Stiglitz identifies problems at the very beginning of the development process, particularly in the way that problems are defined and modeled.  For example, he writes about how current development issues in South America were treated similarly to the development issues confronting the Soviet states following the dissolution of the USSR.  Instead, he’d prefer to see problems defined locally, according to culturally pertinent desires and local experience.  He’d also like to see more self-determination and self-direction in the way issues are resolved that would account for unpredictable regional and global issues as well as the needs of the country in question.

To me, it seems like more than an indictment of the IMF or of problems with the globe’s governing institutions, Stiglitz is criticizing the way that the developed countries project their own values and goals on the economic well-being of the developing world.  The social networks and decision making processes endemic to the governing institutions are crowded with the interests of the developed: the pharmaceuticals, the banks, the agricultural networks.  The very institutions are simply a method of conveying and imposing the values and proscriptions of the developed world into the lives of the impoverished.

Economic measurements might describe a great deal about the health of a developing country’s market, and might assist in identifying the most appropriate actions to rectify current and future problems.  Those very measurements are, however, tools used to hide the embedded values and motivations the developed world uses to justify is own philanthropy.

Questions for the future: what about the Gates Foundation, and how does their model of research and implementation differ from the IMF, World bank, or WTO’s?  Can we describe the relationships between the players that make up the 19th St.’s power base as part of and influencing a social network?  If so, can we describe the developing nations as part of and influencing a social network, or are they completely disenfranchised of agency within this current paradigm?

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May 28 2009

Less Plastic a Day Keeps the Global Doom Away

by at 7:25 am

The issue that I would like to promote is having the people that I interact with use less non-reusable plastic, because it is an important environmental step that people can choose to take in their daily lives.  The key actors in determining the outcome are the people I know and me.  The structure of our relationships differs depending on if they are a friend, family member, co-worker or acquaintance, and I would fine tune what I said depending on the relationship I had with the particular person.  In general, I would tell them a few negative facts about plastic and its effects on the environment, how much we use one-use plastic in our daily lives that they might not even realize, and some steps they can take to minimize that use.
First, I would talk about why it is good to use less plastic.  One issue is that plastic does not disappear, like paper might, and will be taking up space on our Earth for the foreseeable future.  Another is that plastic is bad for the environment.   For example, there is a mass of swirling plastic in the Pacific Ocean that about the size of Texas.  A third reason to use less plastic is that it is bad for animals, especially wild animals.  For example, sea birds can die from eating too much plastic, which they think is food, animals can get caught in plastic waste and drown, and birds and animals can get their heads stuck in six-pack soda can plastic holders.  Plastic also may have negative effects on our own health, such as plastic containers leaching chemicals into food or drink.
Second, I would talk about how much all of us use one-time-use plastic in our daily lives, often without realizing it.  For example, tape is plastic, as are band-aids.  There are, of course, plastic shopping backs, plastic wrappers on food, utensils, and many other purchases, and straws.  Even drinking milk or juice or eating yogurt is using non-reusable plastic containers.
Third, I would list some steps that people can take to use less plastic.  People can do something as simple as asking to waiter at a restaurant not to put a straw in their drink, when ordering.  There are also many reusable grocery and other kinds of shopping bags for sale at stores from Trader Joe’s to Kohl’s, and using those instead of plastic shopping bags is a great step.  Packing a lunch so that one does not have to purchase a lunch in a plastic container and using a reusable lunch container, along with Tupperware instead of plastic baggies, can also help.  One friend of mine even goes so far as to request no tape on her paper-wrapped Au Bon Pain lunch sandwiches.
In conclusion, I would use information sharing to try to influence those with whom I interact to use less plastic in their daily lives.  The things I would say would depend on the structure of our relationship, but I would generally talk about the negative effects of plastic, how much we use it in our daily lives, and easy ways to use less plastic.  Hopefully this would influence those people to think more about their use of plastic and its effects, and to make changes to their daily lives.

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May 27 2009

The Global Context

by at 11:54 pm

In mapping out the global network under the lens of development, my first instinct is to visualize it in terms of the diffusion-limited aggregation process that Buchanan cites. Continue Reading »

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May 26 2009

Nodes and the Global Network

by at 5:04 pm

I would describe the global network as complicated, with states, financial institutions, and NGOs as nodes in their own smaller networks.  These networks would be the same in overall concept but different in their individuality.  One impact of these architectures is a varied global network, comprised of vastly different nodes in smaller networks, which are all linked in some way to form a diverse but interconnected whole.
State, financial institution, and NGO networks would be likely to each be similar to some other networks in their same category (i.e. other state, financial institution, and NGO networks).  Each of these networks would also be unique, and some networks in the same category might be very different.  For example, the network of the United States government would be very different from that of the North Korean government.  The US government would have many more strong ties to others, whereas North Korea would be more isolated, with mainly or only weak links, especially after its recent nuclear and missile tests.  Overall, though, most nodes would probably be similar to many other nodes in their same category (i.e. similar kinds of states and NGOs).  The structure of these different types of states, financial institutions, and NGOs, would determine the architecture of their networks.  For example, organizations that are more open to the public would be more likely to have many strong ties.
State, financial institution, and NGO networks might also be more likely to have links to other networks in their same category (i.e. states having diplomatic relations with other states and NGOs networking with other NGOs).  However, their nature also makes them likely to have certain links to networks in other categories.  For example, international financial institutions are funded by and answerable to various governments, meaning the links between them would be strong.  Some NGOs pursue relationships with states in order to get funding.  One NGO that I interned in, Vital Voices Global Partnership, was initially part of the US Department of State, and spun off to become an NGO.  Clearly, it had strong ties to State, given that some of its employees had worked there and some State employees had worked on or with its predecessor version.  International financial institutions might also work with NGOs as contractors on various development processes.
All of these networks would be linked together in some form within the global network, whether weak or strong, closely liked or linked through many other networks.  They are therefore interdependent in some way, and thus vulnerable to other parts of the worldwide network.  In other words, something happens in a piece of the global network, this can cause major effects in the rest of the network.  This could include a decision by a state to go to war, a decision by a financial institution to change policies, or a decision by an NGO to promote an issue or attack a state or financial institution.
Therefore each of these nodes would be unique, but would be likely to be similar to some other nodes in its same category.  They would all be interconnected in some way among others in their category and with networks in other categories.  These interconnections could be far removed and very weak, or the organizations could be intimately linked.  Actions by one node in the network would affect the other nodes in some way.

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May 26 2009

nails and networks

by at 4:46 pm

As I was stacking boxes and stocking shelves yesterday morning, I thought about the webs of production and distribution that all the brightly packaged products had to follow to reach the store where I work. In order for me to sell, say a box of nails to a customer, that had to travel a long way first. Working backwards, I noted the cases into which the nails had been packed for shipping, on a tractor-trailer that had woven its way into the city from our warehouse in Virginia.

Continue Reading »

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May 26 2009

Fair and Balanced, the Global Network Is Not.

by at 4:42 pm

Someone once said to me, “There are only three kinds of ‘fairs’ in the world:  the County fair, the State fair and the World’s Fair.” 

As a person who has always things to be “fair,” this statement bothered me then as much as it does now.  Yet, the older I get the more I realize the sad reality of the anomaly between the way things appear or should be and the way things are in actuality.  For example, I felt betrayed when John Edwards – a politician I knew, worked for and admired for years – was uncovered as having an affair and allegedly misusing funds.  It just did not seem fair; he had billed himself as one person but all the while lived a life like those he claimed to challenge.  Such political anomalies, among others in life, come to mind in reading about the global network thus far. I am particularly fixated on the disconnect between what I want the structure to look like (a functioning distributed, interdependent system with fair checks and balances) and how it actually exists (a hierarchical decentralized network with power distributed in a way that leads to negative externalities).  Not unlike my disappointment with power-drunk politicians, I find myself disheartened by some of the anecdotes we have read thus far in class.   Pessimistic as it may sound, I would characterize the global network as dominated by the financial institutions – but in a system that should have cooperation with checks and balances to keep the power of one node from getting to strong. 

Mark Buchanan describes a “hierarchical network” as one in which there are “a few elements … [with] especially important roles in trying the network together.”[i]  I would argue that the “financial institutions” node has amassed an artificial amount of power and an inflated role within the global structure – making itself the “especially important” node in relation to states and NGO’s.  In doing so, the ability of the other nodes becomes limited in regard to keeping the financial sector and its special interests in check.  For example, in “The Overselling of Globalization,” Joseph Stiglitz points out that “countries have been told to cede the most important economic decisions, those concerning monetary policy to independent central banks.”[ii] Such a move undermines the role of states as a node in the system for the interests of the financial side.  Yet, conventional wisdom dictates that if nations want to develop, they must remain connected to the global network.  And, there, it is the financial institutions that run the show – not the states themselves.

Ideally, the financial system would exist in a more fair and balanced network with NGO’s and the state to work toward a global structure.  Instead, as Stiglitz suggested, the threat of cutting the critical link between nations and financial institutions ties nations to the demands of those entities.  While I would hope NGOs and “do-good-er” organizations could exist external of those financial institutions, it seems the reality is that certain money-oriented entities hold a crippling degree of power.  Money as controlled by the financial institutions (both in terms of direct assistance and money for aid organizations to function) has been solidified as the ladder to development – a dangerous connection that is difficult to undo.  It is the creation of such critical links and power dynamics between the nodes as dictated by the financial sector that is so worrisome to me. 

The impact of a structure in which one node becomes super-powerful is the advent of a hyper-connectedness.  Buchanan uses the Internet as an example countering the idea that a hierarchical decentralized network is vulnerable to attack,[iii] but I think that the recent financial meltdown shows that may be just the case.  Because the global network had grown so deeply intertwined and depended upon the financial sector node, damage to this “hub” did just what the structure would suggest:  harmed all other nodes in a devastating way.  Stiglitz touches on this in saying that “there is … a need for global collective action to overcome financial crises.”[iv]

While the concept of a “fair” international network may be idealistic, I do not think we should stop striving for a more balanced global system.  The ebb and flow of nodes may be a natural occurrence, but allowing one (the financial sector) to become too influential can be dangerous and, in many ways, irreversible.

[i] Buchanan, Mark.  Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks.  W.W. Norton & Co.:          New York (2002).  P 80. 

[ii] Stiglitz, Joseph.  The Overselling of Globalization.  P 232

[iii] Buchanan, Mark.  P 80.

[iv] Stiglitz, Joseph.  p 233. 

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May 26 2009

What prevent real globalization…

by at 4:17 pm

Globalization is an inevitable change and the concept itself is ideal; letting resources move from where there are surpluses to where there are deficiencies. However, there are only a few participants who benefit from globalization because the boon has not fairly distributed YET. The poor become poorer and the rich and their early alliances become richer. I think the biggest problem of the globalization is that the power is highly centralized to the top and the way to imitate the success is closed. Although western world grew quickly by using various protectionism policies, they had kicked away the ladder to climb up the same trail for other players.

Today’s international trade agreement requires fair rules and standardized systems to every participant. It sounds reasonable. Unfortunately, however, trade agreement cannot be made fairly enough in the world of power imbalance. For example, when the U.S-Korea FTA negotiation was proceeding, Korea had to admit resuming U.S. beef importation although the worry of mad cow disease had not dissolved. I often eat beef in the U.S.A. However the beef that Korea accepts from the U.S.A. is different from what normal U.S. domestic people eat. It is told that mad cow disease was mostly found in over 30 month cows. To minimize the risk, USDA allows that less 20 month cows to be sold in domestic market. However Korean government admitted the importation of older than 20 month cows as well to conclude FTA treaty. We certainly understand that there cannot be only benefits from FTA and there must be gives and takes. However beef importation provoked Korean people since it is directly related to life matter. There are few countries in the globe which import older than 20 month cows from other countries. Then why did my country make such a tough decision? Because Korea is economically and politically dependent on U.S.A and we do not have enough power to neglect the demand of the U.S.A. It is just a simple example of the power imbalance in negotiations.

In the networked world, there are some nodes that connect different parts of the community such as international organizations, NGOs, and academic schools/institutions. However, I cannot find no nodes link the world evenly. Because it seems to me that everything is related to the power matter; who owns the power and the nodes are subordinated to the established hierarchy. More specifically, international organizations can easily be affected by who pay for management. NGOs’ activities are remained just in several certain areas such as environment, anti-war/terrorism, and poverty reduction. They hardly affect to the real political decisions. Academic schools and institutions are also becoming political organizations these days.

There is another big obstacle in making perfect globalization. Although technology reduced physical distances among nations/cultures, people’s perspective of a nation has not much changed. The identity of a people defined more distinctively in the globalized world and they follow interests of their own. It is hard to make a collective action despite of the splendid speed of communication.

I am not a pessimist, though. I would like to find answers that I have not thought over to make it a better place through this course.

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