Industry Concentration: Who wants to play Oligopoly?

A major topic in my further research into the globalization of industry (mining in Papua New Guinea) will be the issues of Industry Concentration.  Now operating at a significantly expedited rate, this concept, otherwise known as oligopoly, means that a few very powerful firms have cornered an area of the market to maintain maximum control.  Media concentration is a more popular subgroup of this process, as people are beginning to look for new ways of seeking truth, when the variety of bias to learn from becomes fewer and fewer.  It also pertains to the food industry, human rights, inequality, risk, and many more.

This concentration and control allows large corporations to expand their businesses into a more profit-producing machine, but which has led to practices which include removing skilled labor, and essentially slowly turning anything made into something of mass-production. This again, inherently lowers the amount of options which the consumer has, and essentially allows the leaders of these corporations to control the movement of the economy.

In Papua New Guinea, the mining industry has taken over a lot of nutritionally rich land, which has since resulted in issues with maintaining subsistence practices, human migration/population control, ecological costs and more.  In this sense, the mining industry is essentially directed by a few major firms, which in turn completely alter certain areas’ livelihoods and economy.  Within Anthropology and the social sciences, there has been a bit of a debate about the issue.  Some took the stance that the corporations went to more-than-adequete measures to inform the indigenous people of the possible risks.  Others believe that indigenous peoples were at a disadvantage to understand the deal they were getting into.  Kirsch makes a strong argument that the whole situation is taken out of context, resulting in to real direct interaction with the problem.

Futurama, a TV show on cartoon network does an interesting humor-based take on the trust-like oligopolies which are growing as we speak.  A character–MOM–slowly acquires all sorts of businesses, both conglomerate and mysteriously.  The first half of this video does a good job illustrating how the media portrays this social problem.

References:

Futurama Game Part 1# [Cutscenes], 2009. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raYv7xH-no8&feature=youtube_gdata_player.
Shughart, William. “Industrial Concentration.” The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics | Library of Economics and Liberty, n.d. http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/IndustrialConcentration.html
LEONARD, WILLIAM N. “Industrial Concentration and Growing Market Power.” Challenge 13, no. 2 (December 1, 1964): 28–32.
Indigenous Movements and the Risks of Counterglobalization: Tracking the Campaign against Papua New Guinea’s Ok Tedi Mine
Stuart Kirsch.  American Ethnologist , Vol. 34, No. 2 (May, 2007), pp. 303-321
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Did the “Yes Men” Fix the World?

A few classes ago, my professor played a movie called The Yes Men Fix the World.  It’s essentially a documentary about two men, who take it upon themselves to “fix the world.”  What they find wrong with the world, seemed to be essentially large, multinational corporations which operate profit-driven businesses at extreme environmental, cultural and harmful personal costs for innocent victims of byproducts of big business.  In relating to my previous musings,

The film targeted a few recent activism projects involving the two men, impersonating high-ranking people at huge international businesses at conferences, expos, even on international television through an interview with the BBC.  The intentions of their gags are to demonstrate actions that could be taken by these huge companies, that choose not to.  Most likely in efforts to avoid built-in bias of presentation, the camera captures a variety of reactions from approval and appreciation to angry confrontation and confrontation, as well as some interesting observations from hidden and discreet cameras.  Throughout the film, there is interesting background information on current political, economic thought–though inherently biasly presenting the ideas.

Most likely to avoid interpreting the input of the relevant samples of the populations, they incorporate people that would represent experts on certain aspects of the issues they discuss in mostly interviews or other footage capturing their experience.  However, it is worth mentioning, that the Yes Men selected much of the footage, thus implanting further bias.  The tools they use to convey their opinions did primarily rest in their selection of footage and incorporation of directed humor.

A great example was during a segment of interviews with members of various think-tanks.  These men (interestingly all the same sex), are normally presented in formal society as intellectual experts–they’re talking heads on the news, publish literature in economic journals and spread the philosophy with which their think-tank aligns.  The Yes Men took a little creative initiative to an answer one man gave to the type of background he’d like to be green-screened in front of.  This tactic is an example of how they used humor to un-expertize these people representing values in contrast to those of the Yes Mens.

There’s a psychological concept called change blindness that basically states that if an object is quickly switched in the same spot, the brain does not register the change–like a card trick.  This, I believe, may explain why the Yes Men were able to successfully give entire speeches preaching the opposite of what was expected…but does this demonstrate the blind masses or does this show a hope and preparedness of people to believe these corporations would do some uncharacteristic ethical change?

The last thought I am left with, is the problems themselves.  It is common knowledge that the globalization of world problems increase the damage exponentially in business ventures and such–but in a world so densely populated and connected, are the problems necessarily worse or is this just more global awareness of tragedy which unavoidably effects more people due to the sheer increase in global population?  The United States, now representing a country where the less fortunate are often still more fortunate than many others in the world, went through an industry boom too.  Are the favelas, townships, tenements, and slums of the Global South today worse than the factory system in the US during that time?  Sinclair’s The Jungle is the perfect example, revealing issues that aren’t all yet solved today.  Colonization, the foundation of the US, is essentially an outdated version of neoliberalism, and look how she turned out.

Please know, I do agree, with much of what those guys are doing…the fact the companies recognize it’s better for them to not even sue represents a knowledge of their shortcomings…but since truth is subjective, there are relevant arguments to all forms of truth.

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“I’d like the in-house Specials” – Go Find Community

In my previous post, I mulled over McDonald’s and it’s role in the process of globalization – a representation of mass corporate universality which is rapidly spreading throughout all corners of the world.  For our next post, our assignment was to find a community’s response to the issue targeted in our previous post (McDonalization).

My thoughts immediately jumped to when I was back home over winter break.  While spending time with my friends who live in the area full-time, they insisted we go out to eat at this restaurant….operated out of someone’s house!

It was essentially a house with the kitchen and the living spaces set up to accommodate serving patrons.  The customers were all Hispanic blue-collar males still in their work clothes.  Behind the counter, a similar group, with one younger male who spoke a little bit of English-nominated to take our orders.  There was no menu, the options were simple, and the food was cheap.  BUT, it was delicious, and you could peek in the kitchen and watch your order be prepared if you wished.  There was nothing on the outside of the house to distinguish it from any other in the highly residential, suburban neighborhood; and the only reason we knew about it was because one of our friends lives there.

This may be a rare find in the US, but in many countries in the global South, this is a common form of a restaurant.  Whether intentionally or passively, these men were counter-acting the draw of McDonald’s and other low-income-targeting fast food multi-national companies by electing a local community business for their after-work meal.  I would be interested to know about more groups and restaurants like this to know if this is a unique phenomenon in the US (and for the great, authentic food as well).  Are these just buddies looking for a little cooking to remind them of home, or a community working together to support each other, their culture, and the local small-scale economic player?

 

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Go Find Art! – Globalization

I have now officially declared my major area of research….for this class.  My future blog posts will now be addressing the issues of globalization specifically as they pertain to trade.  For this assignment, we were sent out to go find expressive culture, or forms of art which are meant to convey a message about the subject which we will be researching further in the course.

I found a very interesting, short and sweet video on the more specifically focused issue of McDonaldisation, or essentially, McDonald’s as a prime example of the type of globalization the world is experiencing now.  The video can be accessed by clicking here.  Now quite a few things jumped out at me when I watched this right away, but this is a blog, not a dissertation so here we go.  Moriah’s analysis of McDonalisation in 400 words or less, for your reading pleasure!

A brief summary: The video opens with the suspenseful part of the score to Star Wars with a shot of the earth rotating in space (what does this tell us about the target audience?), quickly zooming in on France and switching to the shot of the Eiffel Tower.  The music shifts to the ominous theme of Darth Vadar as the familiar golden arches of the good ol’ American multi-national corporation are carefully lowered on to the national symbol (what does this tell us about the artists’ feelings toward McDonald’s and its involvement in globalization?).  This kind of shot continues with widely recognizable symbols of countries all over the world become just another branch of Mickey D’s.  After zooming back out to the globe McDonald’s signs rapidly populate the otherwise physical map of the world to the swelling of Darth Vadar’s heavy song.  It cuts to a shot of Ronald spinning the globe on his finger like a basketball (Is the world now McDonald’s toy?).  The music stops simultaneously cutting to a white screen with the claim “McDonald’s opens a restaurant every 4 hours.  Now that’s McDonalisation!”

First of all, and most obviously–the face that McDonald’s was used as an example to represent all (corporate) examples of contemporary globalization.  In literary rhetoric when a part of something is used to represent the whole, they call it a synecdoche; which is essentially what kilee06 and many others have been doing to help people understand the broad and universally relevant concept–and it’s not the first time that McDonald’s has been used to explain new social phenomenon…ever heard of McMansions?  Now, if you all understand what that means about globalization, what does that say about McDonald’s…and everyone else?

And the ending statement, the concluding thought isvery interesting.  A rhetoric echoing non-profit or public service messages meant to shock with a tangible concept for an abstract consequence.  The artist was trying to communicate the consequence of corporations like McDonald’s.  McDonald’s representing the evil of globalization, except, I can’t help but ask–what’s so bad about opening up McDonald’s all over the world?  Was the point of the video to show the evil of multinational corporations, American neoliberalism, malnutrition, the rate of contemporary globalization, or globalization as a whole?  If this is meant to address globalization as a broad topic, what about other related issues such as organ trading, pandemics and the many others which McDonald’s would fail or be a stretch to represent?  These types of questions remained unanswered.

Well, that’s more than I had words for!  Feel free to leave any more analysis of the video or about globalization at all!

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Peer Commenting Post

For the class which this blog is based on, we were all required to read and comment on 3 of our classmates blogs.  I thoroughly enjoyed getting further introductions into other new social problems, such as Andrew’s discussion of genetic engineering, which expanded on issues of what the field was capable of and expressed concerns many have over who would benefit in actuality.  Al’s more precise definition of nanotechnology also cleared things up, while bringing attention to a fast- developing field, and Megan’s post on the digital divide broadened my understanding on who the divide was between, pointing out other demographics typically not thought of as disadvantaged in that issue.

Thanks guys, for some very informative posts!  I’ll definitely be looking further into all of those issues, and it will certainly be interesting to see how things develop over time.

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Is Copyright Law SO PA-thetic?

I’ve narrowed my research to focus on one specific topic within the more novel issue of intellectual property; the topic being copyright law—a hot issue right now, gaining publicity through protests and petitions spreading from posts and blackouts put up on social networking and other user-directed sites such as Wikipedia to gain support from constituents more likely to support their stance on the legislation.  SOPA and PIPA (the legislation mentioned before causing all the ruckus) are a pair of bills aimed at stopping the illegal download and sharing of media though targeting host “rogue” sites which work around international jurisdictions to allow for such illegal sharing to take place.  The most widely cited example being The Pirate Bay, which provides downloads for almost any movie, game or music to be downloaded for free.

Before I continue – some context: it’s important to distinguish copyright law from other forms of intellectual property including patents and trademarks.  Trademarks ensure a name brand, but can be the same product as another company but with a different name and company behind it-generic store brands as responses to name-brand companies is a good example.  Patents, are in theory, to protect the inventor of a product from having his concept made and sold by others.  Copyright is specific to forms of media including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, both published and unpublished according to the 1976 Copyright Act.  Elvis would’ve had to pay the original performers and writers of many of his songs, Shakespeare would’ve experienced some controversy on his basic storylines, and Vanilla Ice would’ve maintained his artistic integrity away from the harassment of Queen.

So, is copyright law really succeeding in protecting the little guy from big mean companies coercing him out of the earning he deserves, or is creativity and the spread and accessibility of information being hindered by vague language and legal resources and capital allowing large corporations an advantage?  More recently, the Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 addressed the type of piracy issues more recently faces with the advancements made in the realm of the Web.  While illegal downloading may be more widespread through the internet, it is important to remember that piracy was not impossible before, but could also occur through burning CDs, and really began on an amateur scale with tapes.  Through the vague language and large use of sharing, sites not interfering with the spirit of anti-piracy legislation could also be affected, including YouTube, Wikipedia and others, many of which already do their best to take measures against piracy and comply with laws forcing them to remove media found to infringe existing copyright law.

 

So many more thoughts to come

  1. “Copyright vs. Trademark vs. Patent”, n.d., http://www.lawmart.com/forms/difference.htm.
  2. Julianne Pepitone, “SOPA explained: What it is and why it matters,” CNNMoney, n.d., http://money.cnn.com/2012/01/17/technology/sopa_explained/index.htm.
  3. “Why today’s Web blackouts are working – Big Tech – Fortune Tech”, n.d., http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2012/01/18/why-todays-web-blackouts-are-working/?iid=T_Blogs.
  4. “Week In News: The Salvo Against SOPA : NPR,” NPR.org, n.d., http://www.npr.org/2012/01/21/145576381/week-in-news-the-salvo-against-sopa.

 

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“Another World is Possible” Afterthoughts

“Another World is Possible” is a documentary, probably available free to the public online (unless SOPA becomes a reality) about the World Social Forum, held annually in Brazil (though I’m not sure it is always held in the same location) on issues that they presented as problems of the common man, rather than international players–heads of state, multi-national corporations etc.  It is a sort of response to the World Economic Forum, run and participated in by the international players those attending and participating in the World Social Forum are meant to contrast.

Judging by the name of the film, it was written through the lens of a supporter of the Forum, choosing a name suggesting that drastic change, what the Forum attempts to help accomplish, is possible—mirroring the views of those who organized and participated in the event.

Taking this into account, the film had a very uplifting and inspiring voice sharing the views of the forum through testimonials of a diverse group of optimistic participants discussing what they believe the Forum can accomplish, and their experience participating, between cuts of big names in “sustainable” development speaking  clearly and with conviction to an energetic audience with the scientifically structure rhetoric of the system already in place.  In this monologue-filled aspect of the film, primary problems discussed in addition to the broad category of development included issues of globalization, homosexuality, indigenous populations, morality, the environment, violence, race, and inter-and intra-cultural exchange.

In contrast to the Economic Forum this even reflects, a more casual dress code and overall structure was taken on—as well as exchanging of expressive culture.  Protests and demonstrations including music, banners, clothing, performances, and cheers were the non-expertise based tools that attendees used to represent demographic population’s views and interests, both individually and as part of a group.  This also juxtaposes the formal homogeneous protocol of economic leaders participating in the “other” forum which are indicators of their position and rank within a certain interest group.

One interesting tidbit I noticed throughout—and would have liked to look into more if I had more than 250-ish words worth of reflection energy—was the placement on sections regarding economic/greed/monetary issues overlapped with visual shots of marketplace activity within the WSF.  A subtle questioning of the forum’s idealist roots of sneaking an opportunity for gain under a veil of do-good purpose?  Or a proud display of successful person-to-person transitions without the middle-man money-eating big corporations—a sort of fair-trade scenario?

If you want to check out the documentary in question despite my disillusioned presentation of it: http://www.bullfrogfilms.com/print/awip.html

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