Friday, December 24, 2010

Humanity for Sale: The Failure of an Economic Mindset in the Developing World

The following is an essay I wrote for my Global Health and International Society class, in which I word an argument that I've wanted to write about for a while.
Basic economics tells of supply and demand.  With supply and demand comes the concept of scarcity and surplus. When any good is less available than it is wanted, it is scarce. Its value invariably increases. The opposite is also true: when there is too much of a good, its value plummets. Economics offers a cogent lens through which the world can be viewed, but its systematic manifestations often fail to account for the inequalities they create. Increasingly, the earth faces a so-called “surplus” of bodies, in the face of a high rate of population growth. This “surplus” consists of marginalized populations who lack access to basic health needs.  However, the presence of a large population is not the root of the problem: it is their maldistribution, with higher populations existing disproportionately in the global south, and the present global economic system that stacks the cards against them. The global marketplace is rife with mechanisms that drive inequality – creating a world wherein a lucky minority has too much, and a vast majority has too little. These mechanisms are sustained by policies embedded in our current economic system that systematically deny rights from the poor and submit them to disproportionate risk. The following paper will explore the mechanisms by which the value of human life is diminished by structurally violent policies, resulting in negative health outcomes on a global scale in the face of uncharted population growth.
The rapid urbanization of recent decades has resulted in an increase in structural inequality and resulting negative health outcomes. With the expansion of urbanism in the developing world has come the expansion of slums, as a corresponding growth in urban planning has not accompanied population booms (Davis 7). The negative health effects of this rise in population have been compounded by Western interventions aimed at including the developing world in the global market, especially the 1980’s structural adjustment programs implemented by IMF and the World Bank. These programs succeeded only in structuring risk. Contingent upon liberalization of trade, privatization and deregulation, these programs were based on the assumption that inclusion in the world market would allow for growth of the developing economy. In actuality, most developing economies’ manufacture of raw materials does not give them a competitive edge in the global economy. Loans given as part of these programs were eventually paid for with funds accorded by slashing social programs in a time when they were needed most for burgeoning urban populations. The removal of social programs results in a much higher health risk to already vulnerable slum populations. Structural adjustment programs were founded on principles that valued economic growth more than it valued individual experience within the developing world—principles that blindly assumed that economic growth would present a rising tide to lift all boats. In reality, these programs widened the gap between the developed and developing world, creating parallel gaps in health and experience between the rich and poor within developing world urban centers. Other economics-based policies, including the “IMF-enforced policies of agricultural de-regulation” as cited by Mike Davis, displaced rural farmers, giving them no choice but to travel to cities in search of work (10). Just as population began to rise, the need for labor began to decline in most industrial cities—leading to a surplus of labor that eventually settled along the edges of cities. Inherent within all of these changes is an implicit devaluing of the human life of the “excess” population: the manner in which slums are overcrowded and unaided represents an oversight of both the international and national governance. This is exemplified by the fact that reforms in favor of development tend to value the country’s economic stance in the global market over the health of the majority of its citizens. These errors in prioritization—the importance placed on the country’s position on the international scale over its health on a national scale–lead to dire health outcomes for the world’s poor, in the form of increased risk and lack of access to social services.
Attempts at population control in the name of “development” have also reflected implicit devaluing of human life. In the 1970’s, the Indian government, under the leadership of Indira Gandhi, implemented a slew of policies in the Emergency period that undermined the rights of India’s poorest and most marginalized citizens. In favor of “beautification,” slums were broken up and displaced peoples were moved to the outskirts of the city (Tarlo 245), their placement by the government mirroring their placement in society. The Family Planning scheme emphasized more the value of sterilization than it did forethought; what really came of this policy was the creation of a “pyramid of pressure” for sterilization (Tarlo 248). If a government official reached his sterilization quota, he would receive a reward, while failure to meet the quota would result in a punishment. These quotas would be fulfilled by two methods.  An official could force his subordinates to be sterilized through coercion or threat in a top-down manner. Conversely, to avoid submitting to sterilization, the official’s subordinate could fulfill the sterilization quota by exerting pressure on his subordinates to be sterilized. In this manner, pressure for sterilization increased down the “food chain” of social strata, leaving the most marginalized people of the society with no choice but to submit to it. The so-called incentives for sterilization offered by the government exhibited a gross devaluation of the livelihood of those facing sterilization; tins of ghee, electric clocks and radios, and a small sum of money were considered a fair exchange for the right to bear life (Tarlo 250). This gave rise to underground markets where certificates of sterilization were eerily similar to currency. Later, when the Delhi Development Authority had exhausted the number of sterilizations it could obtain from its own staff, it made sterilization or presentation of a sterilization certificate a requirement for settlement in DDA housing for those that were displaced by urban development schemes also implemented by the DDA. The pressure of sterilization closed in on all sides around Indian slum-dwellers as part of an exploitative system that created a motive for the poor to exploit the poorer. In the name of development, the rights of the poor in this society were eroded by a system that directly targeted and grossly undervalued their right to fertility.
            The global market puts the poor at risk by subtly tipping the scales against them and by explicitly allowing their exploitation. In many cases, the poor pay dearly for their attempts to earn a living, giving up their health in the face of poor regulation of business and market practices.  As Scheper-Hughes writes, “The problem is that markets are by nature indiscriminate and inclined to reduce everything—even human beings, their labor, and their reproductive capacity—to the status of commodities” (193). The recent illegal trafficking of human organs shows how an economic system can manufacture risk exclusively to the poor by allowing the impoverished to give up their lifelong health for a quick sum of money, while a wealthy person would likely never even consider such an action. This speaks to the desperation that is arranged by the inequality of this system, and the lack of regulation within the global marketplace.
A globalized marketplace allows also for direct exploitation in the name of efficiency and expediency. Because of the lower costs and regulations, corporations increasingly outsource labor to developing nations. In many cases, this has resulted in a relaxation of both safety standards and accountability in industrial settings. Notably, the Bhopal disaster is an example of a Western company outsourcing its risk. In the early hours of December 3, 1984, a toxic gas leak coming from the Union Carbide pesticide plant covered the industrial city of Bhopal, killing thousands of workers and civilians and leaving many others with lifelong health problems (Fortun 194). Compensatory efforts did not begin to cover the costs of the lasting health effects on the population. The poor of Bhopal lacked the political might that Union Carbide’s legal team had; they had no recourse. In the developing world, failures of regulation coupled with economic exploitation can result in irreversible negative health outcomes for underprivileged populations.
 The above examples represent a mere fraction of the ways in which the global economy gives rise to increasing inequalities between the haves and the have-nots. A measured examination of all exploitation and risk that the current economic system affords is far beyond the scope of this essay; indeed, it is likely impossible.  The difficulty in measurement lies in the fact that the subtle devaluation of the poor underlies the system over which all commerce is built; the economic system is structured on inequality. However, where economic models allow a restoration of balance, there is no such balance in the real world. Use of a solely economic mindset when considering global inequality is a mistake, as a misplaced belief in economic development and growth as a panacea undoubtedly oversimplifies the problem. This oversimplification undervalues humanity, causing a marked decline in quality of life, as the disenfranchised fight to stay afloat, paying the debts with their liberties and their health. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

words i feel were created for my use

lovelorn, adj. unhappy because of unrequited love.

wanderlust, noun. a strong desire to travel.

quixotic, adj. exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical.

whimsy, noun. playfully quaint or fanciful behavior or humor.

ennui, noun. a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.

swell, verb. 1) become larger or rounder in size, typically as a result of an accumulation of fluid. 2) become or make greater in intensity, number, amount or volume. 3) be intensely affected or filled with a particular emotion.

swell, noun. 2) a slow regular movement of the sea in rolling waves that do not break. 3)a mechanism for producing a crescendo or diminuendo in an organ or harmonium. 4) informal, dated: a person of wealth or high social position, typically one perceived as a fashionable or stylish.

swell, adjective: informal, dated: excellent, very good

ameliorate, verb. make better

nightfall, noun. the darker stage of twilight.

disposition, noun. 1) a person's inherent qualities of mind and character. 2) the way in which something is placed or arranged, esp. in relation to other things. the action of arranging or ordering people or things in a particular way. 3) the action of distributing or transferring property or money to someone, in particular or by bequest. 4) the power to deal with something as one pleases

replenish, verb. fill something up again.

candor, noun. the quality of being open and honest in expression.

behest, noun. a person's orders or command.

crimson, noun. of a rich deep red color inclining to purple.

sorrow, noun. a feeling of deep distress caused by loss, disappointment or other misfortune suffered by oneself or others. an event or circumstance that causes such a feeling. the outward expression of grief; lamentation.

dream, noun. a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person's mind during sleep. a state of mind in which someone is or seems to be unaware of their immediate surroundings. a cherished aspiration, ambition or ideal. an unrealistic or self-deluding fantasy. a person or thing perceived as wonderful or perfect.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Music Imitating Life or Life Imitating Music

Music is kind of like another way of measuring reality. Just as I can measure my life over time, or by classes taken or places I've lived, I can measure my life by what music I was learning and listening to and singing.

To give a brief history, years zero through six were oldies for the most part: Joan Baez and Simon and Garfunkel and songs my mother sang to me when she woke me up, Sound of Music,  and Disney music. Songs from old Hindi movies and snippets of Wham's Last Christmas, and "Kissed by a rose!" and Fleetwood Mac as my first few years of life took place between India and Britain and Illinois and Madison. Music was so ubiquitous in my household and to me, it was normal and natural to break out into song.

In Springfield, IL, my mother had to implement a "no singing at the dining table" rule because my sister and I always singing pieces of songs as our hot food became cold. Throughout elementary school, I sang to myself during worktimes and recess, and sometimes got yelled at by my peers, while my teachers didn't always have the heart to shut me up. (But they had plenty of opportunities to, nonetheless, because I was really talkative.)

My actual point
I won't bore you with 15 more years of history, it suffices to say that I've always felt that we have a natural connection with music and it seems with every year that goes by, it grows stronger.
To me, music seems irreducible. That's not to say that you can't lift a melody and still do it justice-- but it means something different. It means something different with an addition or a subtraction from it, and thus, to me, anyone's cover of a different song is entirely different from the original. And to me, each element is of equal importance in a song-- lyrics or lack thereof, rhythms, melodies -- vocal or instrumental are all on the same plane. You may like a song for only one of them, sure. But each is important to the entire song.

And I think that beyond all of these things that may be compositional arguments, music runs through our veins and in our brains. Sometimes, I'll be going through a rough patch in my day or in my life, and a perfectly applicable song will run through my mind. Sometimes Come on Eileen will pump through my head while I'm taking a test, or Crown of Love will come and sing to my broken heart.

Something I've been wondering about for a long time now (I think I may have asked it in a previous blog entry) is whether the songs that get stuck in our heads are in the right key. Think about it. It's bouncing around in there uncontrollably and at times you just want to say "Get out of my head, you!" But it occurred to me that it was stuck in my head, and maybe I couldn't sing the words or anything, but it was still running like a recording. So I started to wonder if the songs that get stuck in our heads are in the right key. My theory is that even though we might not be able to reproduce the elements of the song, but we remember it right, as if it's a record playing in your head. I've tried to test it by waiting til a song gets stuck in my head and singing it as close to the key as I can. Then I check it with the actual song. And it worked! And it makes me think that music hits us close to the soul more than we can express.

Today I found out that researchers at Tufts University have found that the minor third in music (the traditional sad interval in western music, everpresent in my band's new song, Becoming Real and in pretty much every traditionally minor sad song) is used in Western speech to convey sadness the same way it does in music. This brings up questions about music's effect on life, or life's effect on music-- a more far-fetched-sounding argument. The lead author, Megan Curtis, says she's interested in studying Hindi speakers use of intervals in expression of sad speech to see whether those intervals are different, suggesting it's culturally learned. Else, if Indians do speak in minor third, maybe the minor third is universal. (I'm not sure that she'll find a pentatonic sad tone in Indians.)
They've looked at macaque monkeys that emit higher octave-like tones when they're jubilant, and descending tones when they're sad. Curtis says (on To the Best of Our Knowledge) that the study suggests that speech and music have a common ancestor... maybe singing came first?

It's weird that once a song is sung or released to the universe, you don't own it anymore. It has a life of its own-- it's free to get stuck in some stranger's head. And yeah, that's life, and everything you do always affects someone else somehow, but for some reason, people are realistic with music! The music someone chooses to listen to, alone, when no one's around or when people don't know what you're listening to, is like a direct path to their soul. It's feelings that you can't help but wear on your sleeve. Do you notice that when you meet someone you really like who shares a musical interest with you, you automatically listen to that music more? Or, when you sing a song to yourself and someone joins in, you like that person so much more? I know these are really silly things to point out, maybe I'm overexcited... but I think it's kind of crazy that we have this relationship with music. It's not just the music that has an effect on us, we have an effect on the music, I argue, and music is a very effective means of touching and connecting with one another.

(A link to the Curtis study:

Monday, December 06, 2010

new additions to music library

- janelle monae, The ArchAndroid very catchy, album flows one song into another, danceable and singable win-win-win

- local natives, self-titled

- of montreal, false priest

- cee lo green, the lady killer

-garfunkel & oates... note: hilarious

-putamayo a new groove

soooo excited!!

Sunday, December 05, 2010


for this week:
  • complete homework/projects in timely manner, read for class.
  • finish planting for monday. finish planting for friday. TRANSPLANT
  • come up with new and creative ways to eat new favorite staple (hummus).
  • listen to broken bells, local natives while walking to class. make new exciting playlist for listening on wednesday
  • try to change default thought processes away from tangible life things to bigger ideas. interact with what is learned about in school.  stop thinking about material things so much. 
  • get pumped for an excellent show next sunday, and this means-- practicing lyrics that i don't know well so i don't forget them on stage and not spontaneously gaining 10 pounds making dress unwearable
  • do stuff for hindi class, don't forget to do so
  • do a really great radio show! 
  • choose a child 

  • once school is over:
    -keep up with lab work over break
    -go on at least one fun day trip; don't forget to enjoy time with friends!
    -forget all about the pain of ochem
    -BUY genetics textbook and get deals on other texts
    -cook things with peppermint in them
    -read like 10 books-- create new traditions with self

    Saturday, December 04, 2010


    7 blunders of the world according to mahatma gandhi

    1. wealth without work
    2. pleasure without conscience
    3. knowledge without character
    4. commerce without morality
    5. science without humanity
    6. worship without sacrifice
    7. politics without principle