There was a time in America when riding a motorcycle meant you generally lived on the fringe of decent, legal society. For the most part, those days are gone. Today, motorcycling is mostly a yuppie activity, embraced by guys like professional golfer Davis Love III, whose chief sponsor is Ralph Loren's Polo.
Not so, however, Down Under. In Australia, outlaw biker culture is thriving. A 2006 report by the Australian Crime Commission estimated that there are 35 outlaw motorcycle gangs currently in Australia, with 3,500 members, or "bikies" as the Aussies call them. And their numbers are growing. Ten gangs opened 26 new chapters last year.
In March, one gang known as the Commancheros fired shots into a club called Mr. Goodbar in a hip suburb of Sydney. Their target was the president of a rival club. Last month, the clubhouse of another Sydney gang known as the Nomads was firebombed in a suspected attack by the Commancheros.
Why should FP readers care? Because, interestingly, Australian police blame globalization and immigration for the rise in biker gang violence. According to Reuters, Australian police superintendent Scott Whyte said that:
Australia's multi-cultural population meant the traditional Anglo-Saxon make-up of biker gangs was changing and different ethnic groups were starting to take over and bring a more violent attitude to the gangs."
Australian police are vowing to crackdown on bikies in showdowns reminiscent of 1960s California. Where is Hunter Thompson when we need him?
(Hat tip: Erin Baker)
On Monday, presentation-sharing website SlideShare.net announced the winners of its World's Best Presentation Contest. The 1st-place winner is Shift Happens, a startling slideshow about how economic globalization, demographics, and rapid technological changes are shifting the status quo of our world. If the change excites you in the way it enthuses Thomas Friedman, you'll probably enjoy this presentation. If you're worried about offshoring and the rise of India and China, it will scare you further. (After all, "shift happens" isn't nearly as exciting if the shift happens to you.) Some interesting tidbits from the presentation:
I encourage you to view this winning presentation, but please keep in mind my disclaimer: I haven't personally verified the accuracy of every fact in this presentation, so feel welcome to doubt it. The creator of the presentation's content, Karl Fisch, does link to his sources on his blog, though.
Editor's note: This post originally credited Fisch as the "creator of the presentation." It was actually authored by Fisch and then spruced up by Jeff Brenman and submitted to the contest, with Fisch's permission.
[T]he global economy is like an enormous machine crammed with six billion interlocking cogs and wheels - one for every person inside. Unfreeze the action, and the cogs and wheels whirl away as the world's workers spring back into action... . Not everyone's wheel is the same size, but everyone's wheel matters."
Yet Harvard Business School professor Pankaj Ghemawat argued exactly the opposite in the March/April 2007 issue of FP. Not only is the world not particularly connected, Ghemawat said, but this small level of integration could easily be reversed if national governments will it. In addition to pointing out that 90 percent of all phone calls, Web traffic, and investment is local, Ghemawat also presented data demonstrating that:
the levels of internationalization associated with cross-border migration, telephone calls, management research and education, private charitable giving, patenting, stock investment, and trade, as a fraction of gross domestic product (GDP), all stand much closer to 10 percent than 100 percent."
Ghemawat was challenging Thomas Friedman's enormously influential argument that The World is Flat by trying to show empirically that globalization still has a long way to go. Friedman responds in the latest issue of FP:
Obviously, the world is not yet flat. But ... the "flattening" technologies and processes of globalization now under way are the most important developments not just in economics but also in government, politics, war, finance, journalism, innovation, and society in general. Flattening technologies are empowering individuals, in previously unheard of ways, to reach farther, faster, deeper, and cheaper than ever before ...
You need only look at the front pages of the paper every day to see it. And anyone who thinks that some protectionist measures are going to put YouTube back in the bottle—not to mention the Web, bloggers, global cell-phone networks, work-flow software, and the logic of outsourcing—is blind to the dramatic changes that have already taken hold. This is not about a snapshot, a "10 percent presumption" of integration at a moment in time. This is about trend lines and a scale of change brought on by these new technologies ...
So who's right? Email Passport with your thoughts.
Despite efforts to stem the global trade in narcotics—indeed, often because of them—new trade routes are emerging around the world, posing challenges to authorities and local populations alike. In this week's List, FP takes a look at the newest battlegrounds in the global war on drugs.
They include new transit points for cocaine bound for the United States and Europe, such as Venezuela and West Africa, new production locales for methamphetamines in Mexico, and a familiar foe that's using the heroin trade to regain a foothold in Afghanistan. All these new fronts are leaving a trail of addiction and violence in their wake. And all exemplify one of the most frustrating dilemmas of international counter-drug efforts: Just as one area seems safe from the cartels, another battle is always around the corner. Check it out.
The baseball world was abuzz last night in anticipation of the confrontation between Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka and Seattle outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. Major League Baseball's newest Japanese star was finally going to face its most established one. More than a hundred Japanese media were in attendance, and the game was broadcast live in Japan. Behind home plate, savvy businesses had bought ads in Japanese.
And the winner? Venezuela-born Felix Hernandez. Seattle's 21-year-old pitcher throttled my beloved Red Sox, striking out six and giving up one measly hit. Matsuzaka—dubbed "Dice-K" by the Boston press and fans—had a solid outing (and he did strike out Ichiro), but he was no match for Hernandez, whose fastball several times touched 100 mph. Globalization, Boston learned to its chagrin, is full of surprises.
Today's Tuesday Map is mesmerizing, but I'm still not sure if it's useful or meaningful. It's twittervision, a Google Maps mashup of Twitter posts, in real time. So what's Twitter, then? It's the latest bizarre Internet craze, a "Web 2.0" site (or MoSoSo application) that allows you to post short blurbs—called "tweets" by those in the know—from your phone or computer updating your friends (and/or everyone else) on the latest thought in your head or minutiae in your life.
Twittervision adds the geographic dimension, and the result is much more interesting: a moving map that never stops telling what people are doing RIGHT NOW, around the world. The about page on twittervision boasts: "Samuel Morse, meet Carl Jung," but I prefer to think of it as the pulse of the global digerati. Click on the map below to check it out for yourself.
You might call Amir Alexander Hasson, who's featured in the current issue of FP, an ambitious man. He wants to outfit the two billion people living in rural areas of the developing world with an email address, a phone number, and Web access. To accomplish this monumental task, he founded United Villages, a non-profit organization that is pioneering mobile Wi-Fi stations that can be driven from village to village in developing countries, bringing the bounty of the world wide web with them. They're already up and running in India, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Paraguay.
You might also expect Hasson to be the first one to cite the dramatic changes that the Internet brings to lives of the poor people who are now wired thanks to his efforts. But in a nice little BBC write-up of Hasson's work today, Hasson (perhaps unwittingly) points out one of the big contradictions of the "bring the Net and the revolution will follow" thesis:
There's only 0.003% percent of the web that rural India cares about," [Hasson] told BBC News.
"They want to know the cricket scores, they want to see the new Aishwarya Rai photos, and they want to hear a sample of the latest Bollywood tunes."
In other words, rural Indians have the world at their fingertips, and they're not taking advantage of it. It's exactly the point that Pankaj Ghemawat addresses in "The World Isn't Flat." The world is only a fraction as integrated as we like to think, and Web traffic, economic investment, and phone calls are still far more likely to be local than not. The conventional wisdom says that where the Internet goes, development follows, but what if people just want to get cricket scores?
Tomorrow, March 17th, is St. Patrick's Day. To commemorate, many in the United States—both those of Irish descent those merely Irish for the day—will gather in that quintessential neighborhood watering hole, the Irish pub. But, in one of the great ironies of globalization, it turns out that the outpost of traditional Irish culture on the corner is actually a finely-tuned corporate creation. In 1991, the Dublin-based Irish Pub Company (IPCo) hit on a profitable model for fabricating and selling "authentic Irishness." Slate's Austin Kelly made the revelation last year:
In the last 15 years, Dublin-based IPCo and its competitors have fabricated and installed more than 1,800 watering holes in more than 50 countries. Guinness threw its weight (and that of its global parent Diageo) behind the movement, and an industry was built around the reproduction of "Irishness" on every continent.
Yes, that's right. Ireland exports pubs the way the United States does T.G.I. Friday's.
IPCo provides its customers with five choices of theme: Country Cottage, Gaelic, Brewery, Traditional, and Victorian Dublin. Evidently, the Irish themselves have not traditionally been wont to spend their time quaffing brews with antique farm implements lying around or pictures of James Joyce staring down from the walls. Those touches of "authenticity" were devised to make the Guinness go down more naturally in Minneapolis, Shanghai or Dubai.
Of course, in this wired-together world, it was only a matter of time until the craze for Irish pubs worked its way back to Eire herself. After proselytizing for the pub abroad, IPCo has been able to turn its sights back to the home market, and now sells its version of traditional Irishness to the Irish themselves:
IPCo has built 40 ersatz pubs on the Emerald Isle, opening them beside the long-standing establishments on which they were based.
In a rare discussion with western observers, Libyan premier Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi has both denounced and accepted global capitalism. Speaking at a seminar marking the thirtieth birthday of his Jamahiriyah (roughly translated: "state of the masses") political system, Gaddafi had scathing words for the west that shunned him for decades.
The prevailing powers today are in the hands of those who have economic and military power which puts fears in others. They can make you starve. They can close the doors for your exports of raw materials such as coffee and oil."
In spite of such venom, the man who has ruled Libya for nearly forty years promises to lead his country into the world economy. "Libya is a part of this changing world which is dominated by globalization," he mused. "We can criticize them [the IMF and World Bank], but we cannot be outside these institutions." Could his change of heart be the influence of his son?
The International Herald Tribune sent its reporters to seven different cities to find out where the garbage goes. My favorite recycling story? Reporter Andréa R. Vaucher found that Los Angeles' trash sometimes ends up as carpets in Alabama and T-shirts in China.
And Meg Bortin raises a good question: "[W]hat will happen when Asian manufacturing powerhouses like India and China begin to produce even a fraction of the trash produced in the West[?]"
An interesting report was released this week by the Technological Institute of Mexico and the Washington Office on Latin America, a lobbying organization. It attempts to debunk the much publicized theory that street gangs such as MS-13 are proliferating around the globe. "[O]nly a small minority of gang members ... possess transnational ties," the report concludes. "This idea that gangs are like an infection spreading from country to country through a process where the leaders send out missionaries to colonize new areas is fundamentally untrue," one of the study’s authors told the Washington Post.
On the technicalities, that's true. But in the larger sense, it's not. Gangs may not be going global in order to secure new turf, but that doesn't mean that none of them are transnational in nature. Andrew Papachristos, a bright young researcher at the University of Chicago, pointed this out nearly two years ago in FOREIGN POLICY:
[V]ery little evidence suggests that gang proliferation is associated with calculated entrepreneurial ambitions. A more plausible explanation is that when people move, they take their culture with them. [...]
In a recent survey of more than 1,000 gang members, the National Gang Crime Research Center found that about 50 percent of gang members believed that their gang had international connections. Analysis conducted by this author suggests the rate is considerably higher for Hispanic (66 percent) and Asian (58 percent) gang members, who are more likely to be immigrants.
The movement of gang members overseas not only spreads gang culture but also helps to establish links between gang members in different countries. When Lito, a member of Hector's Latin Kings gang, ran into trouble with the law in Chicago, his family sent him to live with an aunt in Mexico. There, he quickly became a go-between for gang members in the United States looking to avoid detection and for Mexican immigrants searching for jobs in the United States. The Latin Kings, in fact, turned these connections into a lucrative business by manufacturing fake ID cards. A 1999 investigation of several Latin Kings recovered 31,000 fraudulent IDs and travel documents.
Yesterday, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, FP's parent organization, launched its new vision for a global think tank centered in Washington, but with local offices in Moscow, Beijing, Beirut, and (soon) Brussels. The difference between a think tank that deals with international issues—those are a dime a dozen in this town—and a think tank that is itself international may sound like a fine distinction at first. But being based locally and working in the language is key to understanding other countries as they see themselves. With a dangerous political situation and the world's view of United States foreign policy lower than ever, it's vital that high-quality dialogue flow between places like Beijing and Washington. Carnegie's new global vision will help that tremendously.
But there are broader changes afoot that cross other boundaries. Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, spoke about how technology is transforming the world (and simultaneously being transformed by it) in yesterday's riveting keynote address at Carnegie's launch event for the new vision.
One particularly intriguing question Schmidt asked was, What happens when the next billion Internet users go online? What are the implications for freedom of speech?
One billion is a lot of people. How will they communicate with each other?
Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland popped up to ask an interesting question: Are intellectual property rights a thing of the past in the Internet age? Schmidt responded by explaining how "intellectual property rights are fundamental to how we operate." Google Books, for instance, is raising all kinds of new and interesting questions about intellectual property.
To another questioner worried about how dictatorships or other forces could seize control of the Web, Schmidt was reassuring. Kind of:
I'm not as worried about it as you might be, because I understand how difficult it is to go in and impose your bias on a single node in the Internet .... You have to be able to shut down the borders .... Anyone who can do that on the Internet is quite dangerous .... The good news about the Internet is it's structured to make that extremely difficult .... Unless you're able to get control of all of the interconnection points, which is essentially impossible in most, at least, democratic countries, it's very very difficult to see how the kind of manipulation you're describing would occur."
Check out his response for yourself:
Globalization is all the rage on American movie screens this awards season. Blood Diamond, Babel, The Queen and The Last King of Scotland all tried to bring Hollywood's touch to the far-flung corners of the world and look at the different ways that cultures can interact and collide. Clint Eastwood examined a pivotal conflict for Americans through the eyes of their adversaries in Letters from Iwo Jima. And, of course, Borat showed Americans what their own society looks like from the perspective of a Kazakh. Sort of.
While the interest in the outside world is a healthy change of pace, as film critic Manohla Dargis points out in the New York Times this weekend, something is still lost when looking at a culture or country from the outside, rather than through its own eyes. Fortunately, the rest of the world is getting better at depicting itself on the silver screen. Europe has always had its own movie industry, and India's Bollywood is legendary for its prolific production of interminable song-and-dance extravaganzas. But until recently, most other countries have had little in the way of truly popular domestic film industries. In this week's List, FP takes a look at countries whose movie businesses, each in their own unique way, are coming into their own. Check it out.
After weeks of haggling and speculation, Tata Steel has finally won its bid to become the fifth largest steelmaker in the world. For $12 billion, the Indian firm beat out a Brazilian rival to acquire Corus, the Anglo-Dutch steel company. Tata Steel's capacity will triple as a result of the deal, the latest in a string of major foreign acquisitions by the steelmaker over the last few years.
Tata's acquisition of Corus epitomizes the new, "aggressive" face of Indian business that's being championed by the Indian government. This Indian business confidence was also demonstrated last year when Mittal Steel finally acquired its rival, Arcelor, to create the world's largest steelmaker.
Superior execution and an obsession with quality are now hallmarks of virtually all of the world-class companies based in emerging markets. That has helped feed a mind-set in which emerging multinationals are no longer content with being viewed as leading Chinese, Korean, Mexican, or Taiwanese companies. They aspire to be global, and this aspiration is rapidly becoming a reality.
You can add "Indian" to that list.
On the Chinese calendar we are entering the Year of the Boar—which does not bode well for long conferences in general. But this year's Davos seemed flatter than usual, at least to most of the observers with whom I spoke. Perhaps it was the deliberate and publicized decision not to have as many movie stars. Perhaps it was the strong attendance from business leaders (900 CEOs, according to one senior forum executive with whom I spoke). Perhaps it was the fact that, at over three decades and with a finely-tuned formula designed to provide something for everyone, it is now very hard for the event to surprise. Or perhaps old hands just grow blasé at the familiar sight of Bill Gates, Tony Blair, and John McCain, or at former Iranian presidents debating with perennial American candidates like John Kerry (there's a debate certain to have no clear winner). Yes, of course, they're all here, think the inured. And no, I don't expect the politicians to tell the truth. And yes, I do expect CEOs to justify their amazingly high salaries and to blame performance problems on external factors.
Still, despite its rustic village setting, Davos is clearly not my great-grandmother's shtetl. Maybe Brangelina were not there, but Claudia Schiffer made a showing, as did the ubiquitous Bono. Most of the politicians present did not surprise, but 25 trade ministers grappling with how to save the Doha Round is no small affair. And the contrast between Brazil's Luiz Inácio da Silva ("Lula"), as he outlines a $250 billion spending plan, and Mexico's new president Felipe Calderón, who embodies the modern Latin American pro-business technocrat, offered a useful glimpse into the choices being weighed by the emerging nations of Latin America. Quirky exercises, like sessions in which a blind person led delegates around in a darkened room, were a fun diversion even if they opened the conference to the inevitable blind-leading-the-blind jokes. (more after the jump)
McDonald's is looking to tap into the growing appetites of consumers in rapidly developing China and India. The fast-food chain has 785 outlets in China and hopes to have 1,000 in place by the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In India, it serves up meals at 110 locations in Mumbai and New Delhi, with 25 more restaurants scheduled to open during the next year.
The challenge: customizing menus for local tastes. In India, beef is a no-no, so traditional burgers won't fly. Instead, McDonald's is counting on the success of vegetarian creations such as the McCurry Pan and others.
But locally-tailored menus bring another challenge: developing foods that can be distributed globally throughout the McDonald's chain. One local offering that has gone global has been the McArabia (guess which market it was created for). The flatbread sandwich with spicy chicken and garlic mayonnaise now pleases palates in Malaysia and South Africa.
Perhaps with local menus, we shouldn't fear the cultural homogenization that anti-globalization activists warn us about. On the other hand, China and India had better prepare for the obesity, heart disease and other health problems the West is already facing as a result of a culture of high-fat foods available at rock-bottom prices.
While the world's elite gather in Davos, the great unwashed masses have their own concurrent confab, the World Social Forum (WSF), wrapping up today in Nairobi. Dreamed up in 2001 as a lefty alternative to the capitalist plotting now going on in the Alps, the gathering's charter has a distinct Marxist tone.
The WSF drew more attention back when its participants would forcibly disrupt meetings of the WTO, World Bank, IMF, and other organizations deemed part of the vast neoliberal conspiracy. Now, the forum's participants seem mostly concerned with disrupting their own events. The highlight so far this year has been a march on Nairobi's vast slums to remind their residents that—well, evidently, that they should really hate President Bush.
More than 60,000 people have converged on Nairobi for the festivities; most represent NGOs, civil society groups, or churches. A sprinkling of Nobel laureates lend gravitas. The WSF has no agenda or formal schedule, so attendees are free to structure their time opposing the man in whatever way they see fit.
The star of the first day of Davos was a homely middle-aged woman from a declining region of the world. Not very stylishly dressed in a burgundy blazer, looking vaguely professorial, thoughtfully and without pretext staring off into the half-distance as she framed her thoughts, she nevertheless held 1,000 people in the Congress Center's main hall rapt as she spoke about globalization, her own experiences, the relationship between the developed and the developing world, and her sense of Europe's role.
Addressed by session chairman Klaus Schwab as "Frau Bundeskanzler", Angela Merkel is an unlikely focus for such a glamorous event—or rather she would be if not for the fact that she leads Europe's most important country, and that she is doing such a good job of it.
I overheard two American CEOs discussing her, hints of envy filtering into their assessment. "She was good," said one, "Substantive. Impressive but not flashy." "Yes," replied the other, "I especially liked the slow way she spoke, enunciating her German. It was easier for me to understand." "Ah," said the first, "You are a real globalist. But for us who were listening to the translation ... she was good. Though she did say, 'we're Europe, our role is changing, don't look at us for solutions." "Still," said the other, "at least I didn't cringe when she spoke. Full sentences. Complete ideas." (more after the jump)
So, globalization is harder than we thought, after all. I write this entry from Seat 6B on United flight 936 to Zurich. Unfortunately, at the moment the plane is stranded on the tarmac at Frankfurt. Apparently, a higher power decided to join this year's Davos festivities, manifested today by snow storms that shut down Zurich airport just as the glitterati of business and government were to have arrived en masse. While some arrived yesterday, major groups of big shots from around the world were left, if my flight is any indication, pleading with flight attendants for crackers to sustain multi-hour delays at European airports. For us, on this flight from Washington, the glitch did not hold us back from schmoozing. We're having a mini-Davos in the aisles, featuring the likes of the The New York Times's Tom Friedman, FOREIGN POLICY's own Moisés Naím, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, Andean Development Corporation head Enrique García, U.S. Representative Barney Frank (sitting next to a slumbering former Nigerian Finance Minister), former FDA boss Mark McClellan, former U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat, and a wide variety of other pundits and business leaders. Much of the schmoozing focused on the group's logistical plight, but thanks to Blackberry updates, there was considerable discussion of the Bush State of the Union and disbelief (apparently widely held among the several passengers discussing it) that he could hold so tightly to his views on Iraq in the face of such opposition and evidence that his approach is failing.
In short, the Davos crowd is always the Davos crowd whether in Davos or not. My next report will be from the Alps ... with some luck and intervention from those higher powers who are undoubtedly toying with us all to remind us that it is hubris to think that Davos is somehow the most powerful gathering on earth. There are, after all, Carlyle Group board meetings, CAA Agent meetings in Hollywood, and those intimate dinners between Bill and Hillary.
It's time for me to head for the airport. I arrive in Davos tomorrow morning, and will report once or twice a day through the following weekend. Hopefully, what you find here will be the hidden side of the meeting, the part that doesn't make it into the press, with a look at whatever implications may emerge in the areas most important to the readers of FOREIGN POLICY. Remember as you read that while Davos is a gathering of world leaders, it does not necessarily reflect the real world. There is a staggering divide between the perspectives of the Davoisie and the rest of us. Admirably, it is the Forum itself, working with Gallup International*, that has underscored this point with two studies. The first, released on Monday, January 22, is called "The Voice of the Leaders" and is an annual poll of Davos participants. The second study, released a week earlier, is called "The Voice of the People" and reflects the input of 53,000 people in 60 countries. As the Forum's managing director admits:
It is clear from this survey that the leaders who will be gathering in Davos view the world and its problems in a different way than the wider global population.”
Now, I understand why some of you may not think it would take a new study to arrive at that conclusion. But the contrasting views are interesting. For example, while about two-thirds of the leaders are optimistic about the economic prospects of the next generation, it is only a minority of the "people" who feel the same way (about 40 percent). Perhaps not surprisingly, only 8 percent of the leaders feel it is a priority to "restore trust and honesty in government, in business and in international institutions." That's down from 14 percent last year, as though matters were improving. Over a third of the people, meanwhile, view business leaders as dishonest, and a similar number said they had too much power and responsibility and that they were unethical. Forty-three percent of the people say that politicians are dishonest, and over half criticize them for being too responsive to people "more powerful than themselves." The study's authors also note, in a sort of wry juxtaposition, that while about six out of ten respondents among leaders seek "greater transparency and governance," people are not so interested, with only about a third citing it. On the other hand, the popular survey saw 30 percent of respondents seeking "more punishment of fraudulent behavior by officials" while, perhaps unsurprisingly, only 7 percent of the leaders agreed. So, perhaps the place to end this opening day is to note that while some of what it is interesting about Davos is the conclusions that are reached there, equally interesting is the degree to which those conclusions connect or diverge from the views of the rest of the world—all the rest of us who are unaccustomed to the rarified altitudes of global summitry.
*Editor's note: The initial version of this post incorrectly identified the Gallup Organization as a partner of the World Economic Forum. It was actually a different entity, a loosely-affiliated network of disparate market research houses called Gallup International, that conducted the poll in question. Passport regrets the error.
Over the course of the five-day Meeting, 2,400 participants from 90 countries will convene in Davos, including 24 heads of state or government, 85 cabinet ministers, along with religious leaders, media leaders and heads of non-governmental organizations. Around 50% of the participants are business leaders drawn principally from the Forum's members [....] The programme will follow four main themes that are high on the global agenda in 2007. These range from "Economics: New Drivers" and "Geopolitics: The Need for Fresh Mandates" to "Business: Leading in a Connected World", and "Technology and Society: Identity, Community and Networks".
Of course, the real meat of each Annual Meeting typically lies outside the official program, which sounds roughly the same every year given the obligation to cover hundreds of issues in a way that is offensive to none of over 80 organizations cited as sponsors or supporters of the event. Rather, the substance comes less from the big speeches than it does from the buzz in the corridors of the main Congress Hall and the scores of receptions that take place each night in the character-less hotels of Davos.
Inevitably, a considerable component of this year's side meetings will focus on the following issues: the situation in Iraq, the fate of a unipolar world when the one superpower seems to be bent on self-destruction, the absence of Bill Clinton and Angelina Jolie (two of last year's stars), the absence of a big contingent from China and what that may portend about the future of Davos, the presence of a large delegation from India, what to wear to the Malaysian-themed black-tie gala, what top speakers like Angela Merkel, Tony Blair, Mahmoud Abbas, Bill Gates, Lakshmi Mittal, and others might say or not say, and—above all—on the deals large and small that will be cut in silence. Davos is mostly about what is not on the official program, not covered in the papers. It's not a breeding ground for conspiracies per se, but rather a place where self-interests come to mate in their native habitat of low lighting and high cholesterol. As FP's anthroblogologist for this expedition, I'll try to get up close and recount some of their mating behaviors without scaring off any of the subjects.
That high-pitched whine you hear is the sound of corporate jets revving their engines in preparation for their annual trip to Zurich, where they will deposit their passengers into fleets of waiting Mercedes, BMWs and Audis to take them up into the Alps and to the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Or perhaps it is coming from the chorus of critics who, each year, offer their full-throated denunciations of the global conspiracies they envision are hatched over cocktails and canapés in lavish hotel lounges. Or, even more likely, it is coming from the regular participants in the Annual Meeting, who know that Davos is neither the hotbed of intrigue that critics fear, nor is it quite the lavish spectacle that everyone imagines. They keep coming back because Davos still attracts an array of world leaders and business titans unlike that of any other meeting on the planet. They will do business there, and renew old contacts and friendships. But they will also shiver on the frozen streets of Davos, slip on its unshoveled sidewalks, eat its mediocre food, and endure endless speeches containing very little that is new at all.
We get a hint about what the speeches do contain on a page on the Davos members-only website. It asserts that last year, participants in the annual meeting produced 7,000 tons of CO2 equivalents. The page, part of a Forum climate initiative seeking to make the entire event carbon neutral, goes on to suggest that most of these emissions are from air travel and energy use, but I will reserve judgment, reporting to you what I observe and hear over the next few days for FP’s second annual Davos Diary.
In this week's What We're Reading, FP's Christine Chen flagged a poignant narrative by Ishmael Beah about his life as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. The New York Times Magazine article was a gripping sneak preview of Beah's new book, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.
As it happens, Starbucks is planning to carry the book in its stores, a departure from its pleasant but bland choices in the past. What's behind this move? It all goes back to New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Allow me to explain. Before he became a favorite whipping boy for liberal bloggers, Brooks was best known for Bobos in Paradise, his brilliant and witty analysis of how former 60s bohemians took some of their cultural tastes and causes with them when the grew up and became the new bourgeois in America.
What does this have to do with Starbucks? For starters, the coffee shop phenomenon itself is one of the best examples of a counterculture trend going upscale. Starbucks succeeds as a chain in part because it has fostered an image of a kinder, gentler coffee company that is concerned about its workers and its global impact. So, the decision to publish Beah's memoirs is not really the "very courageous choice" that his publisher says it is. Starbucks should certainly be applauded, but let's remember that it's all part of the show.
A recent piece in the New York Times offers a fascinating look at rising investment in cotton growing in Africa. Dunavant, an American agricultural firm, has been pouring money into Uganda, Mozambique, and Zambia. They're helping small farmers improve their productivity, fronting cash and seeds to anyone willing to plant, and making long-term buying commitments. And they're making money doing it:
Part of the good news is that the Dunavants and the Cargills will be in Africa for a long time,” says John Baffes, an economist and cotton analyst at the World Bank. “Those guys are willing to invest a lot of money and to buy in good years and bad years.”
Of course, all is not rosy. African farmers have long been engaged in bitter competition with heavily-subsidized American cotton growers. Economists and NGOs alike find the U.S. subsidies obscene—they lower the world cotton price to the point that many African farmers can't compete, despite being able to grow the stuff far more cheaply than Americans. The dispute has led to WTO action from Brazil (which also has a large cotton sector) and is a prime cause of the breakdown in trade talks at Doha. The real news in the Times story is that the Doha talks may now get going again, as American agricultural firms move into African markets:
Though no one predicts a quick demise to American cotton subsidies, support of farmers with taxpayer dollars will have to be renewed by Congress before the Farm Bill expires this year. Mr. Laurin says he believes that it is “only a matter of time” before the subsidies disappear and that Dunavant’s entry into Africa is partly motivated by such possibilities. If the subsidies go, the price of African cotton, produced with lower costs for land and labor, will become more attractive — leaving Dunavant well-positioned to reap the benefits of working with loyal farmers like Mr. Okelo.
If Dunavant, Cargill, and others become more heavily involved in Africa, they'll become less dependent on the U.S. subsidies, and more concerned that African agriculture remain viable. Ironically, it could be Big Ag itself that finally solves the subsidy problem. And that's good news for Africans.
Last year, the 29-year-old Youse had a freezer full of excess breast milk from nursing her newborn daughter. She thought it would be a waste to pour it down the drain. And so she did a little research, and found that if every baby in the world were exclusively breastfed for the first two months of life, 1.3 million lives would be saved every year. She looked into donating her milk to an orphan clinic in Durban, South Africa, rounded up some donations from companies that helped her with the shipping and the processing, and now, nine months later, there are hundreds of women around the U.S. who want to donate, too. And it won't cost them a thing. Take a look at the interview here, and learn how you can help.
A side note: Youse has only ever left the U.S. once in her entire life, and it was for a two-week trip more than a decade ago. So, she's never been to Africa, and has never visited the orphans who've benefited from her hard work. As she said during the interview, "I've heard that there are 2-for-1 specials on airfares to Africa through February, but I'm not sure if I can make it." So if there's anyone out there who wants to help (Angelina, I'm talking to you!), give us a holler at email@example.com.
Six years ago, just a few months after FP transformed from a staid academic journal to a glossy magazine, we published a story called How Sushi Went Global. But long before raw fish became popular everywhere, there was a culinary trend from Japan that gathered steam all around the world: instant noodles. I'm sad to say that Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant ramen noodles and the chairman of Japan's Nissin Food Products Company (maker of Top Ramen and Cup O' Noodles) passed away last Friday at the age of 96.
According to the New York Times, Ando wanted to make food for the people -- something that was fast and easy to prepare, inexpensive, and would provide sustenance for the poor and hungry around the world.
Chicken was the prime ingredient in Nissin's global success. "By using chicken soup, instant ramen managed to circumvent religious taboos when it was introduced in different countries," Mr. Ando wrote [in his autobiography]. "Hindus may not eat beef and Muslims may not eat pork, but there is not a single culture, religion or country that forbids the eating of chicken."
Ramen noodles have given me comfort many a night, and not just when I was a poor college student. I'm proud to say that I've had them twice in the past week. Boil 'em up, throw in some vegetables, a few pieces of meat, perhaps an egg — and voila! — a perfect meal in just a few minutes. Thanks, Momofuku Ando! I'll remember you with every slurp.
American companies spend about $26 billion each year outsourcing IT services. For years, the lion's share, about 80 percent, of that spending has gone to India. But development is an fickle mistress. Even as she helps countries such as India raise their standards of living, she also spreads her ugly tentacles in the form of higher wages and increased overhead. That, combined with concerns over whether India's educational system can continue to churn out ever higher numbers of IT-savvy workers, has some U.S. firms looking elsewhere for cheap, skilled labor.
The outsourcing phenomenon is no longer limited to a handful of large Asian countries. The hot new destinations for outsourcing are countries such as Mexico, Brazil, and Russia. For instance, one large American firm, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, uses Epam Systems Inc., a New Jersey-based company, that employs an outsourced labor force of more than 2,000 people in Russia and Eastern Europe.
What's an Indian outsourcing firm to do when faced with globalization's double-edged sword? Some are following suit by outsourcing their outsourcing. Consider Hyderabad, India-based Satyam Computer Services Ltd. They just opened a 2,000 employee facility in Malaysia, where they can have access to a cheaper yet still skilled labor market. As India's share of U.S. IT outsourcing continues to decline (it's now down to 59 percent) watch for other Indian firms to follow suit.
Unlike other giant multinationals, Swedish home furnishings retailer IKEA has largely insulated itself from the criticisms of labor, environmental, and human rights watchdogs. In fact, the firm's environmental and labor record are at the core of its success. While shopping at evil Wal-Mart conjures up a guilty feeling that all those "rolled back" prices have come at the expense of peasants in China who work for 30 cents a day and no bathroom breaks, IKEA is supposed to be different. From its children's playroom to its happy blue buildings, IKEA is supposed to be, well, nice. But is it?
The folks over at Le Monde Diplomatique were rightly skeptical. Can you really sell millions of birch veneered bookshelves for 30 bucks a pop without exploiting a few third world workers? To find out, three LMD reporters visited IKEA's factories and suppliers in poor countries. The answer, sadly, appears to be no:
In practice Ikea merely sands off some of the rough edges of exploitation. Employees have access to filtered water, gloves and separate toilets. They sometimes have tea breaks. But tea is no help in making ends meet. As soon as social issues such as wages, union representation and overtime raise their head, the tune changes."
About a month ago, Mark Bittman wrote a piece for the New York Times about Jim Lahey, owner of New York's Sullivan Street Bakery, who shares how to make bakery-style bread at home with very little effort: no kneading, no fancy oven, just plenty of time. The idea was so appealing and the recipe was so simple that the story quickly rose to the top of the Times's most e-mailed articles list. Now Bittman reports that its popularity has transcended borders and inspired global feedback:
My results with Mr. Lahey’s method have been beyond satisfying. Happily, so have those of most readers. In the last few weeks Jim Lahey’s recipe has been translated into German, baked in Togo, discussed on more than 200 blogs and written about in other newspapers. It has changed the lives (their words, not mine) of veteran and novice bakers.
Now that's what I call good cookin'.
The film Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, opens in theaters across the U.S. tomorrow. I saw a sneak preview earlier this week, and without giving away my opinion of the plot, I can tell you that the political context is informative and fair, and will hopefully educate a general audience about some of the events that happened in Africa not that long ago. As for the controversy ... for the past couple months, the diamond industry has expressed fears that sales of the jewel may plummet this holiday season after viewers watch the movie. The World Diamond Council set up a Web site, diamondfacts.org, to educate customers about where their diamonds come from. Another group called Diamonds for Africa (unaffiliated with the movie) set up a parody site to provide another point of view. Check out the sites, do a little homework, and make up your own mind.
Earlier this week, FP sat down with director Ed Zwick to talk about why he chose to make this movie, and what he thinks of the political context. Also, be sure to check out FP's photo essay, A Trail of Diamonds, which follows the precious stone from the mines of West Africa through India to the showrooms of Paris and New York. And take a gander at this week's FP List, which examines other valuable commodities with ethically questionable origins.
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.