Welcome to the blog of Miroslav Georgiev - classical pianist and conductor. Here you can read and discuss interesting stuff from the world of music, life, politics and more.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Industrialization, Progress, GDP and more contemporary catchwords, Part I

Our society is indoctrinated, and far more so than communist societies. You'll ask 'Why?' I answer - because they've managed to make us convince ourselves that we understand everything, and that what we hear constantly in the so-called 'Western media' is the unquestionable, unbiased truth. At least during communism we had the common sense not to believe everything the propaganda was spewing at us.... Now? Obama says: 'These are terrorists!', and we start hating them; CNN says: 'These are freedom fighters!', and we start loving them. The experts say: 'GDP is the most important factor in a nation's progress!' and we can't take our eyes off the trimester reports....

So, let's think about INDUSTRIALIZATION. The INDUSTRIALIZED countries are the most advanced in the world, they produce the world's riches and technological advancement, while the rest are just twiddling their thumbs and wallowing in misery. INDUSTRY is the key to PROGRESS, and without PROGRESS we will  ..... mmmm, it's not clear what, but probably something really nasty. Let's take a look at INDUSTRIALIZATION, shall we?
From the very meaning of the word, we derive that to industrialize means to start using machines to manufacture goods, instead of people; also, in a broader sense, it means to move from an agrarian society to an industrial one, where manufactured goods represent a major part of the country's production, rather than agricultural goods. Indeed, we had this process in the 18th through 20th century in most of the Western world - factories were rising, chimneys were fuming, machines were whirling, and industrial goods were produced in greater and greater quantities. True, at this time goods which were up to then scarce, like clothing or tools, became far cheaper and accessible for increasingly more and more people. This process started feeding on itself, while more and more machinery was used in all segments of society, and more and more factories were needed to produce parts for machines.
What few remember today is how these factories employed thousands of workers each, which labored in fumes, heat and oil. Many writers of the time describe how miserable factory workers were, how women and children were used on a massive scale because they would do labor for nickels. The press today nostalgically describes how industrialization gave rise to the wealth of the middle class, especially in the US. They neglect to recount the hard struggles of the workers to earn adequate pay - a struggle which didn't succeed until the 60s or even later; up to then workers were only paid enough not to die of hunger. In their romantic, idyllic reminiscences they also forget the terrible pollution that all these factories spilled everywhere around them - land, forests, rivers, lakes....

Still, undeniably humanity was progressing, although at a hard price. Technology was developing, ground-breaking inventions were being made almost yearly. And then something happened.... the factories started closing. The technological advancement has actually refined the industrial process to such a degree where not thousands, but 20 or so workers were needed to maintain the same level of productivity in a factory. Not only that, but it was becoming more and more expensive to EMPLOY workers - now that they finally had good pay, health insurance, etc. Finally, and most important - they had discovered OUTSOURCING. Why do I need to maintain a factory in US and spend, say, 100 000 per month on maintenance and salaries, when I can use a factory in China and spend 15 000 per month?
And this is the crucial point that many miss in modern industrialization - it is not about producing goods anymore, it's about producing them for as little as possible.

Today, half (or more) of the world's industrial production is done in East Asia - China, Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia, etc. These are the so-called newly-industrialized countries. They are concentrating all the Heavy industry (chemical processing, metal processing, etc.), while Western countries have few High-tech factories here and there. Even more insane - iron, oil and other raw materials are taken halfway around the world to China and Indonesia to be processed, then returned back halfway around the world to be used in high-tech factories?
 We all know, for example, where our iPhones and iPads are produced; we know where Prada makes their bags (well, maybe we don't but we should - they produce these in East Asia). What we don't know, or don't WANT to know, is HOW they produce all of these gadgets we are so excited to use! Did you know, for example, that there are whole industrial towns in China, built around huge factory complexes, where workers live like slaves, laboring 12 and more hours per day, far from their families? Where suicide rates are over the charts? Did you know that they're paid a fraction of what a western worker would receive for the same job? Now do you understand the reality of modern INDUSTRIALIZATION?
In the crazy quest of East Asia to concentrate the world's production, they have abandoned all care for their environment. In recent articles they say that pollution in China's cities is becoming so bad it resembles the effect of a Nuclear winter! Plants have slowed down their growth not only because soil and water supply are becoming poisoned by industrial activity, but also because photosynthesis has slowed down significantly???? That because of that, a serious food crisis is looming in China?
So, go ahead and INDUSTRIALIZE your country as part of the quest for prosperity. Build factories and hire workers; just be sure to do that for the least amount of money possible - then the world's big companies will relocate to your country. Later, when the workers finally demand their rights, these same companies that were so happy to come, will relocate to the next recently-industrialized country, where labor is still cheap.
It doesn't matter that they actually won't need to do all that if they simply invested in some high-tech factories that don't need any workers, and whose production lines are so efficient they pollute as little as possible. But because of the crazy logic of the market economy, they won't ever do that  - at least not until there are places like East Asia (and soon, Africa).  

(...to be continued)

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