The Rise of the Precariat

Anonymous student post

Nowadays in the era of globalization companies are under more and more pressure to be as nimble and flexible as possible in order to be able to outmaneuver the competition. Thus in their struggle for relevance governments and employers are flexibilizing the labour markets. This takes form via short term contract based employment. It enables the employers to minimize cost and maximize gain by creating fierce competitive environment where current employees feel pressured to work their best for the prospect of future employment. Also it drives the wages down as companies are more and more looking into outsourcing their skilled labour and production. On top of all that the recent trend in employment, for the first time in history, employers demand that their employees hold higher education that , some 20 years ago, would be reasonably required for a given position. A barista at the local Starbucks probably should not require a graduate college degree in order to serve ones coffee.

As a result the working class, the proletariat, is rapidly shrinking away. And a new social class has emerged. The precariat arises, what was once a part of the now diminishing working class manifests itself as the working nomad. Without the welfare benefits of the working class there is no certainty about tomorrow and no clear established career path, the precariat has way to identify oneself within the current society.

The global economy are rapidly converging, the wages of the developed countries fall and equalize with those of the developing countries. As basic business economy would teach you perceived loss would never be forgotten. In order to ease the transition and prevent a potential upheaval the government offered subsidies for employment, cheap credit and tax subsidies. With the burst of the bubble economy all that has gone away and thus the proletariat is forced to the precariat. As every movement stems from the needs and aspirations of the society we have witnessed such movements such as Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring. Where people in the near east countries such Egypt, Libya, Yemen and other take to the streets to voice their concerns. Thus the precariat becomes self aware demanding the attention of the politicians.

So who really is the precariat? While in the developed countries it is the nomad employee with no or limited upward mobility in the developing countries the situation is more grave as the people may be in a situation of downward mobility. If that is not the case that may very well be because they have already sunk so low that there is no lower to go. Thus the precariat at this point is someone in a situation with no resolve. Thus the they need to press for new policies to be implemented to accommodate the new emerging class.

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Being privileged

Nathan W. Pyle / Via buzzfeed.com

by Tommy Pass

I saw an interesting article on a website called buzzfeed.com. It told of an exercise lead by a high school teacher to his students. He instructs his students to crumple up a piece of scrap paper and moves the rubbish bin to the front of the classroom. He then explains the rules of the game; he tells the students that they all represent a population of a country and that in order to move up to the upper class, all they need to do is to throw their crumpled up paper into the rubbish bin at the front of the classroom all while staying in their seat.

The students at the back of the classroom instantly complained, stating that the students sat in front of the classroom have a much greater advantage in the game. The results were as expected, the students sitting at the front of the classroom all had a very easy time getting their papers in the bin, while the students sitting at the back of the classroom had a very difficult time doing so, with only very few managing to get their papers in. The point of the game was to show what privilege looks like, the problems that arise within a society with low social mobility. What happened in the game is that the ones in the back of the classroom complained about their disadvantage while nobody in the front complained as all they saw in front of them was the small space between them and their goal. This can be compared to what occurs within a society with low social mobility; the working class complain about their disadvantages within the society while ignorantly being labelled as simply being uneducated and lazy.

We can compare this example to the veil of ignorance, which is argued by John Rawls. The students in the classroom where very aware of their position, everyone could see each other and everyone was very aware of each other’s advantages, all of whom having the exact same goal. If we were to implement the veil of ignorance in a classroom simulation, would we want to be randomly placed in a typically structured classroom where our chances of sitting right at the back are very high, thus making it very difficult for us to achieve our goal? Or would we want everyone to sit in a line, hence everyone being an equal distance from the rubbish bin? What if the goal was a joint effort, that what would benefit society the most was to get as many crumpled up pieces of scrap paper in the bin as possible? Would we then want to place so many students at the back of the classroom, making it extremely difficult for so many of them to reach the goal? I can’t speak for other people, but I for one would favour all students being placed in a row of equal distance from the rubbish bin, hence making it a fair challenge for everybody, the most attractive choice for me to be placed in from the veil of ignorance and also making it possible to fit the largest amount of crumpled up papers in the rubbish bin.

It is exactly the same in our society; the pros of an equal society far outnumber the cons. Some silver tongued outrider of the corporate world will make the argument sound very attractive for having a very unequal society, but this ignores the fact that we are all reliant on one another in society, none of us are in a world of our own. The truth is even huge corporations depend on the labour of their workforce. This workforce is expensively trained up by the state in the form of public education, state healthcare, etc. The same corporations also depend on the state for other benefits such as research and infrastructure, all (especially the stockholders) while trying to argue for a larger income gap, arguing that doing so will give a society greater competition, higher employment rate, etc. The arguments against a more equal society and higher social mobility is that doing so creates freeloaders and scroungers, but aren’t the ones who rely on the workforce of a state the ones who are the scroungers with their tax avoidance and refusal to pay their workers higher wages? The only ones who benefit from such an unjust society would be the super-rich, which add up to just a fraction of 1% of society, thus the percentage of society which would benefit from equality would be the vast majority.

Why Everyone Can’t Be Equal

English: Vector derivative of File:Gini Coeffi...

English: Vector derivative of File:Gini Coefficient World CIA Report 2009.png Based on https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2172.html (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anonymous student post

Companies that outsource work abroad allow people in the lower classes from more affluent countries to live beyond their means. Such as a middle class family that chooses to bring a maid from the Philippines versus hiring a maid from a company in their own country. Most people like bargains yet they don’t think about the consequences of a cheaper price. Migrant workers who are willing to work for less pressure the wages to decrease or remain the same. Corporations such as Walmart import a large amount of their goods from China and they also pressure manufactures to lower their prices.

A problem with many countries is that they support exporting their citizens to bring money home from overseas, yet when a foreign company arrives with its own workers it causes issues. Also the Philippines encouraged its female population to work abroad, but then they decided to contradict themselves by discouraging mothers from working abroad. High unemployment rates in certain areas causes discrimination against foreign migrant workers in that the ‘natives’ may not be able to find work and thus the foreign migrant workers are the scapegoat because many illegal immigrants have tainted their image.

The main issue is that the jobs do not pay sufficiently and that respect of persons and laws prevent people from obtaining available work. That reason causes people to migrate abroad for higher paying opportunities and even then migrant workers are mostly contract workers and contract workers don’t receive benefits.

The majority of exported workers from the Philippines are female. They leave as contract workers who can only begin to make a profit once they’ve paid off their contract. The affluent families in Europe and the Middle East tend to hire foreign maids as the laws are lax on the treatment of foreign workers and as such many Filipina caretakers experience abuse at the hands of their employers, especially in the Middle East.

In Japan many Filipina women work as hostesses. Also these women make enough money from working abroad that they can send gifts and money and in some cases hire a caregiver to take care of their family at home. Japan is reluctant in considering a hostess visa due to Japan’s nationalistic mirage of being a moral country.

Also the Dagongmei from China; the female working population who come from rural areas are treated poorly on the job. They work many hours for a very low wage yet that wage is high enough for them to send money home. Their work in the factory is temporal as the majority have plans to return home.

Besides engendering work enables men to be exempt from working as nannies and nurturing their children. Also many female migrant workers from Mexico and the Philippines tend to be more highly educated than the male migrant worker population, but low-paid jobs have pressured them to seek work abroad. Also countries that have a high export of female migrant workers tend to have a high unemployment rate among males.

Poor people in the US, specifically those who receive welfare and government aid cost the middle-class and lower a substantial amount of tax dollars. Companies such as Walmart that pay low wages tend to have many if not most of its workers receiving government benefits because they do not earn enough. Even with large tax breaks such companies would rather have tax payers fund the welfare programs. According to many economic analysts raising the minimum wage would decrease the number of available jobs. Also with an increased wage prices would also increase which would cause customers to complain.

Equality is necessary, just as inequality is, but for different reasons. Income inequality is important in order for capitalism to work, yet too much inequality is adverse to economic growth, as is too little. Also socialism is not truly equal in that it removes rights by silencing people. Besides a burger flipper should not earn the same wages as a doctor. Where equality is necessary is in women’s rights and in ending unlawful discrimination of people for various reasons.

References

2009. “Filipino Maids in Mideast Jobs Say They Face Abuse.” Jerusalem Post. http://www.jpost.com/LandedPages/PrintArticle.aspx?id=130055

Ehrenreich, Barbara, and Arlie Hochschild, eds. 2003. Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New EconomyNew York: New York Metropolitan.

Hasanov, Fuad, and Oded Izraeli. 2012. “How Much Inequality Is Necessary for Growth?” Harvard Business Review https://hbr.org/2012/01/how-much-inequality-is-necessary-for-growth/ar/1

Kenworthy, Lane. 2007. “Is Equality Feasible?” Contexts 6(3):28-32.

Ngai, Pun. Becoming Dagongmei: Subject, Gender and Power in a Global Workplace.

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. 2003. “The Care Crisis in the Philippines: Children and Transnational Families in the New Global Economy,” pp. 39-54, in Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild. New York: New York Metropolitan.

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. 2011. Illicit Flirtation: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Pennington, Maura. 2013. “To Fix Income Inequality, the Have-Nots Must Become the Do Somethings.” Forbes.com http://www.forbes.com/sites/maurapennington/2013/03/08/to-fix-income-inequality-the-have-nots-must-become-the-do-somethings/

Standing, Guy. 2011. The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Train, Amy. 2012. “NOT Made in America: Top 10 Ways Walmart Destroys US Manufacturing Jobs.” Demos.org. http://www.demos.org/publication/not-made-america-top-10-ways-walmart-destroys-us-manufacturing-jobs

Worstall, Tim. 2014. “Fantastical Nonsense About WalMart, The Waltons And $7.8 Billion In Tax Breaks.” Forbes.com. http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2014/04/14/phantastical-nonsense-about-walmart-the-waltons-and-7-8-billion-in-tax-breaks/

Ydstie, John. 2014. “The Merits of Income Inequality: What’s the Right Amount?” NPR.org. http://www.npr.org/2014/05/18/313137739/the-merits-of-income-inequality-whats-the-right-amount

Whiteness vs. Lightness: Advertising Happiness

by Chelsea Mochizuki

In “Consuming Lightness”, Evelyn Nakano Glenn describes research that suggests there is a correlation between light skin and socioeconomic status, and that lighter-skinned individuals are perceived to be more intelligent, trustworthy, and attractive. Skin tone, she writes, is a form of symbolic capital, and the lighter the skin the more social privileges you are awarded, such as increased job and marital prospects, as well as the concession to shop at “white” stores without being followed around by a security guard who profiles you as a shoplifter because your skin is dark.

Why is light skin favored over dark skin?

Glenn writes about 6 regions where light skin has been and continues to be favored over dark skin: Africa, African America, India, the Philippines, East Asia (Japan, China, Korea), and Latin America. She attempts to identify the origins of the preference for light skin over dark skin in these regions. In Africa, she says, women with red or yellow undertones to their skin were traditionally considered more attractive, and European colonization created a hierarchy based on skin tone, in which the social privileges of lighter skin became institutionalized. In this way, she describes the origins of preferring lighter skin in these regions as based more on a traditional beauty ideal than on the influences of colonization. Lighter skin preferences in the United States and the Philippines were due to racialization and colonization, and especially slavery in the United States. In East Asia, she writes, there are instances of preferring white skin long before the threat of colonization. In India, however, she writes that the origins of skin preference are lesser known, but most likely became ingrained into social hierarchy due to colonial influence.

So was the preference for light skin mostly created by colonization and/or contact with Western European powers? According to Dr Premen Addy, a senior lecturer in Asian and international history at Kellogg College, Oxford, before the Raj in India, good characters from folklore were always described as light skinned, and bad characters as dark skinned. This association of light as good and dark as bad is certainly not unique to India. In many regions, it seems that colonization did not directly influence the preference for light skin, but rather, through institutionalizing the social privileges of having light skin, made having lighter skin socially beneficial.If a new government formed in your country and said that people with green skin do not have to wait in line and get extra income without having to work, people without green skin would suddenly want to have green skin, regardless of whether there was a preference for green skin before the new government formed.

Is the preference for whiteness or lightness?

Glenn was careful to point out that women and men were not trying to emulate white beauty standards or look more like Caucasians. According to Glenn, in all of the regions she described, most women are aspiring to become two or three shades lighter, even out their skin tone, or reduce signs of aging. Even in the case of the Philippines, most women, she says, aspire to look more Chinese or mixed-Spanish, like Filipino celebrities. Using skin lightening products does not necessarily mean that one wants to become “white” or “Caucasian”. Rather, it suggests the opposite. Lighter skin has become the Indian, or Filipino, or South African beauty ideals, separate from the beauty ideals of Europe or the United States. To say that skin lightening is emulating western culture is not only inaccurate (except for individuals who literally aspire to become more Caucasian in appearance), but ethnocentric in assuming that “Caucasian” beauty is the universal ideal and consumers of skin lightening products aim to emulate this.

The “Evils” of Advertising

Glenn describes the types of commercials and advertising used to sell skin lightening products, such as infomercials that associate light skin with modernity, mobility, and cleanliness, and others that bluntly suggest dark skin leads to unhappiness and with only light skin will you achieve prosperity. This insight is nothing new; advertisers, informercials, and commercials often use this “problem, solution” strategy to sell their products– just look at the examples in this youtube video, “hilarious informercial struggles compilation”.

“This skin-lightening product is the solution to your dark skin and the unhappiness and misfortune it brings you!”

In order to sell products using this strategy, advertisers have to paint their skin-lightening product as the solution. In order to have a solution, there must be a problem to solve, and solving that problem must be perceived by individuals as worthwhile. Acne, unwanted hair growth, enlarged pores, cellulite, flabby arms, single-lidded eyes– there is a plethora of media-painted “problems” we must focus our efforts and wallets on “solving” in order to be “happy”. However, how many of these problems have been institutionalized, to the point where it affects anything from social status to the degree in which certain laws are enforced? Has anyone with bad acne ever been barred from entering certain stores or sitting in certain seats? How about cellulite? None to the extent in which skin tone dictates social privilege.

Do you think advertisers created the association between dark skin and unhappiness in order to sell skin lightening products, or rather are introducing a solution to a problem that has already been established in society? What do you think?

Reference

Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. 2009. “Consuming Lightness: Segmented Markets and Global Capital in the Skin-Whitening Trade.” In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Transnational migration of people and capital

by Curran Cunningham

This first blog is intended to set the parameters for my forthcoming analysis of International Migration. As a keen reader on economic matters, my focus will be primarily on the impact of remittance flows on economic growth of both host and recipient countries.

My research kicks off with preliminary readings from Peggy Levitt and B. Nadya Jaworsky’s paper, ‘Transitional Migration Studies: Past Developments and Future Trends’. The paper’s focus is on three modes of transformation which migrants experience when they move to another country: socio-cultural, political and financial. I will concentrate on the financial aspect which looks into viewing transnational migration as a by-product and indeed victim of the later model of capitalism.

Transnationalism is the catalyst which is generating rapid globalisation. The increased interconnectivity between people and institutions has broken down the economic and social barriers that had once sheltered nation states. Multinational corporations are taking advantage of the opportunities of transnationalism to manufacture goods in a production line spanning the globe. Those processes oftentimes pass through a number of developing countries, with companies maintaining strict quality controls, minimising costs and thereby maximising profits. This can certainly have positive results for the countries concerned, helping generate employment and investment there.

A spin-off of this globalisation is the growth of migrants working abroad in industrialised and emerging markets, providing services locally at minimum wage costs, such as in the construction industry in Dubai or housekeepers in Europe and the United States. They are joined by a growing number of more educated personnel who are migrating, sometimes only temporarily, to enjoy better wages and living standards for their professions in the developed world, including doctors and nurses.

The paper, published in 2007, shows how a doubling in remittances worldwide in the last decade is leading to growing interdependency between the developed and developing world. The concern is that large industrialised countries are becoming over-dependent on cheap foreign labour while non-industrialised countries survive on remittances that their workers abroad send home rather than creating jobs and growth in their own economies.

The costs and benefits of this can be exploitative at times for less-developed and competitively inadequate countries compared to economically top notch developed nations or economic blocs. Critics have argued that globalisation has led to transnational capitalism increasingly monopolise and centralise capital by leading dominant corporations in the global economy. Scholars critical of global capitalism have argued instead in favour of a grassroots’ transnationalism by workers and co-operatives as well as through popular social and political movements.

William I. Robinson reveals his concerns about growing remittance interdependence in his 2010 paper ‘Global Capitalism Theory and the Emergency of Transnational Elites’. He objectifies capitalist transnationalism as the pursuit of facilitating the flow of people, ideas, and goods between different regions of the world in the belief that it has increasing relevance for the rapid growth of capitalist globalisation. Pro-capitalism critics argue that it does not make sense to restrict migratory workforces, globalised corporations, global money flow, global information flow, and global scientific cooperation. However, Robinson believes this is the very reason why there is a widening gap between the rich and the poor and has led to a corresponding rise in exploitation to the detriment of ‘true’ sustainable development at an international level.

Countries such as Cuba have been used by researchers as an example of worsening economic conditions and increased inequality due to remittance flows. At the extreme cases, some non-industrialised countries have had such a reliance on remittances as a source of economic revenue that without them, their economies would crash. These countries are said to be at the mercy of “foreign migration policy makers”. This trend may be also bad for the host country, as their dependency on migrants leads them to plan development policies based on migrants’ future contributions, seeing them as the answer to solve their state problems while otherwise being unable to solve it themselves (Levitt & Jaworsky, 2007).

On the flip side, Min Zhou, in her 2004 paper “Revisiting ethnic entrepreneurship: convergences, controversies, and conceptual advancements,” looks at the positive elements of international migration in breaking down social barriers and allowing further integration even while under the veil of discrimination.

Zhou brings into light the benefits of ethnic entrepreneurship. In accordance with McEwan Pollard, Henry argument, Zhou also believes that ethnic minority economic activity has a positive effect on a nation’s future economic development in increasing the range and diversity of both actual goods and foreign business know-how, whether it be ethnic food manufacturing or Chinese business networks (2005).

Transnationalism in itself – and cross-border ties in general – allows ‘valuable social capital’ to be instilled in ethnic communities to help them in their horizontal and vertical integration with the aim of breaking the inequality trend. This ‘social capital’ can help also the second generation to integrate better and start climbing the social ladder (Ruble, 2005).

Guarnizo brings to the table the notion that predicting remittance revenues are a measure of credit worthiness and secure loans for a state (2003). With these arguments, many governmental and non-governmental bodies have jumped on the “remittances-as-development-panacea” bandwagon (Kapur, 2005).

Having looked at the cost and benefits of remittances to economic growth, my next blog post will assess under what circumstances education does or does not succeed in socially integrating migrants.

References

Guarnizo, L. E. (2003). “The economics of transnational living.” International Migration Review 37:666-699.

Kapur, D. (2005). Remittances: The new development mantra? New York: United Nations.

Levitt, P., & Jaworsky, B. N. (2007). Transnational Migration Studies: Past Developments and Future Trends. Retrieved June 9, 2014, from http://policydialogue.org/files/events/Levitt_Jaworsky_Transnational_Migration_Studies.pdf

McEwan, C., Pollard, J., Henry, N (2005). The ‘global’ in the city economy: multicultural economic development in Birmingham. Blackwell.

Robinson, W. I. (2010). Global Capitalism Theory and the Emergency of Transnational Elites. UNU-WIDER.

Ruble, B. A. (2005). Creating diversity capital: Transnational migrants in Montreal, Washington, and Kyiv. Washington, D.C: Woodrow Wilson Center Press.

Transnationalism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved June 13, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transnationalism

Zhou, M. (2004). “Revisiting ethnic entrepreneurship: convergences, controversies, and conceptual advancements.” International Migration Review 38:1040-1074.

Skin Whitening as Social Uplifting and Achieving the Ideal “beauty”

by Moe Miura

There are many skin-whitening products in global markets today. One can easily purchase skin-whitening products even without knowing it, because whitening one’s skin tone is already a big phenomenon in the 21st century all over the world. However, South Africa has significant story about its history of the phenomenon of skin whitening.

In Evelyn Nakano Glenn’s Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters (2009), author Lynn M. Thomas focuses on the history and the use of skin lighteners in South Africa. Today, 35% of the South African women are said to be using the skin-whitening products. Then these questions pop up: why do South African women try to whiten their skin tone? Is there a history behind it?

South Africa is widely known for its history of apartheid, where black and colored people did not have the same political or economic rights as white people, and also were forced to live separately from white people. This policy led to the further discrimination of black and colored people, segregation, and the skin color preferences influenced by the European colonialism (Thomas, 2009). Thus it created the idea of lighter skin equals more liberty and less/no discrimination. Historically, the use of skin whitening products had a lot to do with the fact that there was a significant racial discrimination against black and colored people.

pictureAnother reason of using the skin lighteners was “technology of the self”, meaning people decorate themselves to transform themselves, so that they can achieve happiness or perfection. This can range from concealing blemishes to bleaching their faces. Advertisements have played a big role in informing people about this idea that whiter is more beautiful, using musical stars and beauty contest winners. Capitalism also pushed this idea because the more difficult the thing to achieve, the harder people try; concealing flaws and having lighter skin was difficult thus people would purchase more stuff to achieve this “ideal beauty”. The market of skin lighteners had become multimillion-dollar-per-year endeavor.

As it can be seen, reasons of South African women purchasing skin whiteners ranged from racial uplifting, capitalist commerce, to making themselves look better as a “technology of the self”.

Reference

Thomas, L. M. (2009). Skin Lighteners in South Africa. In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by E.N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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Skin whiteners and beauty: the impact of global markets

Royal Siam natural skin whitening products

Royal Siam natural skin whitening products (Photo credit: RoyalSiamBeauty)

by Jiyang Shin

Skin bleaching has become such a steady market across the globe that without even trying, one may end up purchasing a skin product that contains substances that make your skin tone lighter, brighter, thus “healthier”, as some cosmetics companies advertise. What this phenomenon signifies is that the majority of society values whiter skin over their natural skin tone. 

A colleague of mine, who is Japanese and has a relatively darker skin tone, once went to a cosmetics corner of a department store and asked the store clerk which shades of eyeshadow would match her color. However, instead of getting her an eyeshadow that she expected, the store clerk recommended her a product that will make her skin glow and bright. I was stunned when she shared her story because the beauty industry (and other political factors) not only succeeded in creating the image of beauty, but it has come to a point where it is socially acceptable for a store clerk to force her skin bleaching worship on individuals who are perfectly confident with their natural skin tone. Skin bleaching has established a firm position in our society that it is almost as if we are given no other option but to turn white.

It is a common theory that the phenomenon of global skin-whitening obsession largely is due to colonial occupation by European nations, and this could also suggest the possibility that our perception of beauty is significantly determined by the distribution of power and wealth among the various racial groups (the whiter, the superior). In recent years, tanning has become a new trend among the young population in the US, and even politicians such as Mitt Romney. Karen Sternheimer (2010) argues that the emergence of the middle class and the automation of labor after World War I re-identified being outside as more with leisure than with work. Being able to afford a vacation in tropical islands is the new richness, so to say.

However, I believe that the current wave of tanning trend, although still dominant, is more complex than the shift in social perception of being outside. Ethnically ambiguous models are frequently featured in advertisement of fashion retailers such as H&M in recent years. It is reasonable to argue that being multiracial is becoming the new definition of beauty, signifying that having white skin will no longer be a necessary criterion to be perceived as pretty.

Reference

Sternheimer, Karen. 2010. “Lightness and whiteness.” Everyday Sociologyhttp://nortonbooks.typepad.com/everydaysociology/2010/05/lightness-and-whiteness.html

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Declining Unionization in the Age of Economic Globalization

A protest in Utah against Wal-Mart

A protest in Utah against Wal-Mart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Jeawon Moon

The liberal economist Friedrich Hayek claimed that ‘the effect of union activities to influence pricing is potentially very harmful, making the market system ineffective. For the economic freedom labor unions’ power should be restricted.” As he insisted, labor unions have often been believed to disturb effective corporate management in an increasingly competitive marketplace, especially with the fast-pace of globalization. Companies aim to improve their productivity and create a stable profit by keeping an anti-union strategy. However, strategies have been criticized as making income inequality severe all over the world. I will explain this by giving the example of Wal-Mart which is one of many famous companies that do not allow a labor union.

Wal-Mart, a giant company in the retail industry, has been successful with the policy ‘Everyday Low Price’ satisfying customers’ demanding for less price but high quality. Its way of cost reduction for low prices and improving productivity has received positive evaluations from neo-liberal economists and other business leaders. However, hidden behind the success of Wal-Mart is the exploitation of cheap labor, which means that Wal-Mart’s cost reduction depends on low pay for workers. Employees of Wal-Mart have to put up with terrible working conditions such as low salaries, less than the minimum cost of living, no health insurance, paid holidays or sick leaves. They are less-skilled workers who are viewed as just commodities and expendables whenever the company can throw them out. This explains why they reluctantly continue to accept low wages and poor working conditions to make their living. Nevertheless, they cannot fight against the ruthless company for fair wages and dignified conditions through the power of a union because it is very nearly impossible to organize a union due to the harsh anti-union strategy of the company. Wal-Mart has blocked labor unions completely to make employees unable to demand higher wages. However, many companies think the strategy of Wal-Mart is a desirable strategy to survive in the midst of the fierce competition of the current free world market.

Economic globalization is understood as free trade, creating a private sector and allowing foreign investment, and it has been supported to increase incomes and wealth through the effective use of resources and free competition. However, the hidden reality is brutal. The declining unionization trend is one of factors showing that the globalization is contributing to the worldwide inequality issue by increased inequitable distribution of income. In other words, the economic globalization causes the polarization between competitive countries, industry, companies, individuals and uncompetitive ones.

References

  1. ルディー和子『ウォルマート「儲け」のしくみ : 低い粗利で、大きな純利益 — 世界NO.1企業の「儲け」の秘密を徹底分析!』あさ出版、2002年
  2. スティーブン・グリーンハウス『大搾取!』文藝春秋、2009年
  3. HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH. 2007. Wal-Mart’s Violation of US Workers’Right to Freedom of Association. Discounting Rights 19:2National Labor Relations Board.
  4. Wikipedia, Criticism of Wal-Mart [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Walmart]
  5. BIG GOVERNMENT, Labor Unions: Employment at Wal-Mart Like Slavery [http://biggovernment.com/capitolconfidential/2010/04/13/labor-unions-employment-at-wal-mart-like-slavery/]

KFC and Christmas cake – Christmas in Japan

by Michelle Liebheit

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 7.15.27 PM

„Let’s make a reservation for the best Christmas.“ (KFC Christmas advertisement, 2013). Source: http://www.kfc.co.jp/xmas/?utm_campaign=xmas&utm_source=kfc

It is December and like every year this means that Christmas is coming soon. The city is more crowded than usual, packed with people looking for presents. The shops downtown are playing Jingle Bells endless times, and from everywhere Santa Claus and his reindeers are smiling at you. A giant Christmas tree is displayed in the central station and when it turns night, all the Christmas illuminations come to light.

So which city do you think this is? New York? Berlin? Or is it London?

No – I happen to be in Kyoto, Japan. However, this description could easily suit all major cities around the globe. You might say: This is globalization! But what is this word actually and what influences does it has on Japanese culture? In the following I want to analyze this question with the example of Christmas in Japan.

Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, although the 23rd of December happens to be one, as for being the present emperor’s birthday. While there is only around one percent Christians living in Japan, Christmas has received great approval. However, since Japanese Christmas does not consist of going to church, listening to the sermon and watch a nativity play before having dinner with your family, Japan has developed some unique elements itself.

Due to a clever marketing campaign dating back in 1974, KFC successfully established its fried chicken as the perfect Christmas dinner in Japan. Nowadays for Japanese people, Christmas equals a bucket of fried chicken from KFC just like New Years is associated with the especially prepared and in boxes presented food called “o-sechi ryôri” (おせち料理). Promoting this idea, even KFC’s figurehead Colonel Sanders, whose lifelike stature stands in front of each Japanese store, will be dressed in a Santa costume around Christmas time. Due to its popularity, people even need do reserve their KFC Christmas dinner at least a month prior to the event. KFC makes twice as much profit in December than in other months.

Another unique Japanese Christmas dish is the Christmas cake (クリスマスケーキ), its most typical type being a sponge cake decorated with whipped cream and strawberries. It is usually picked up by the father of the household. By the 26th prices drop immensely and shops are trying to get rid of their left stocks.

Even though Christmas became a “big hit” in Japan, other Christian holidays like Eastern remain rather unnoticed. Japanese have been picky in choosing what to borrow from foreign countries – apparently most, when it comes to holidays. In class we talked about how some movies are successful around the world, whereas others are not. In this case, action movies seem to be the most “translatable”, since they usually do not have a lot of talking and shooting with guns unfortunately seems to be universally understood. Converting this to our look on foreign holidays in Japan, is it simply a failure of marketing that Eastern has not been as well received as Christmas in Japan, or what are the factors for successfully making a society celebrating a non-native holiday?.

As Millie R. Creighton writes, a holiday successfully promoted by Japanese department stores needs to “accord with Japanese ideology, or serve a particular function in contemporary Japanese society” (1991, p. 683). So even though Christmas came from a different religious background, it still transports a deeper meaning Japanese can relate to: Christmas is all about love and giving. These are values that are universal throughout different societies and Japan is a living proof for this. The holiday has been domesticated and the important male figure is Santa Claus and not Jesus. Of course, this is not a Japanese phenomenon only. On the other hand, Eastern still concentrates more on the historical figure of Jesus and therefore might not seem quite appealing to people with different believes. Other examples of successful holidays in Japan are Mother’s and Father’s Day or Valentine’s Day.

This example shows that globalization is not about making everything the same. Societies adopt particular parts of foreign origin and create a version that suits them best. Through globalization ideas, things and people can easily spread and move from one place to another on earth, but what is being accepted and what is being rejected is still up to society and its values.

References

CREIGHTON, Millie R. “Maintaining Cultural Boundaries: How Japanese Department Stores Domesticate ‘Things Foreign’”. Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 25, No.4, 1991.

HODKINSON, Alan and STRONACH, Ian. “Towards a theory of Santa. Or, the Ghost of Christmas Present“. Anthropology Today, Vol. 27, No. 6, 12/2011.

QUIGLEY, J.T. “A Kentucky Fried Christmas in Japan”. The Diplomat, 12/2013. http://thediplomat.com/2013/12/a-kentucky-fried-christmas-in-japan/

How to Solve the Problem of the Working Poor in Japan

In Justice

In Justice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Megumi Takase

Under capitalist society, the poor can’t earn enough money to make a living while the rich own the large portion of the total wealth of their home countries. It is also true for Japan. Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) featured the problem of the working poor and attracted attention in 2006.

People who are called the working poor live at the low standard of living though they work hard. The problem of the working poor is caused by the structure of society. In Japan, corporations tend to recruit only new college graduates. Thus, it is difficult for people who can’t enter the high school or university for economical reasons to be recruited as regular employees. They tend to become non-regular employees and fall into the working poor. It happens not because of their faults but the social structure.

I think that the government should take action to solve this problem because it is difficult for individuals and corporations to do it which the structure of society made. Above all, the government should promote redistribution of wealth. Whether you succeed economically or not depends on luck. For example, suppose you were born in a rich household. You can enter the private university even if you can’t get good grades in high school. In job hunting, you will have an advantage over the poor who can’t enter the university only because you graduate from the university. After you enter a company, you will earn more income than the poor who are high school graduates. Of course, college graduates must do effort to develop their skills after entering a company. However, if they were born in a very poor household, they must not have an advantage of being a college graduate. Thus, the rich should distribute their wealth to the poor who unfortunately fall into the poor situation.

For the government to promote redistribution of wealth smoothly, the rich should have tolerance for distributing their wealth to the poor. In addition, the poor of course shouldn’t depend on social welfare program. Both the rich and the poor should consider and help each other. For creating a society where everyone considers others, I think that education is important. In high school, I had “Modern Society” class twice a week. However, I only studied the structure of the law, the Diet, or taxation. I had few opportunities to discuss about social inequality in the class. Before I took “International Sociology” class, I hadn’t considered this problem very often. Under this situation, people won’t be interested in the unfair society and understand redistribution of wealth. They will pursue their own benefits. For solving the problem of the working poor, Japanese government should draw up the curriculum which makes the young interested in social inequality.