13 November 2009

Interesting Perspective From Thailand

It is so interesting to see the perspective of the world from over here in Thailand.

The United States believes that the world loves the U.S., and the government works hard to get the American public to believe that the America is a God-send to all of the other nations across the world, especially developing countries.

But not all of the developing world loves the United States. I am learning that more and more each day. The World Bank is not as positive of an organization as is portrayed in America. From this side of the world, I can see the other perspective.

Coincidentally, in my time here, I have been reading "The Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" by John Perkins. Basically, it is a nonfiction account of one man's life working for the U.S. off the record. His job was to go into developing countries and to grossly overestimate the amount of "development" that the country would benefit from i.e. electricity, modern technology, etc. Then, the U.S. businesses and contracting forms would convince the officials of that country that they need this "development". Then, the U.S. would give out huge loans, knowing that the countries can never possibly pay them back and then the countries are forever indebted to the U.S. The rich people of the country benefit, the poor become even poorer, and the U.S. has access to the country's natural resources. Indentured servitude in modern form.

Certainly a side of globalization that you don’t see in America.

I visited the Pak Mun Dam, which is declared one of the biggest failures of the World Bank. Basically, the amount of electricity it would produce was grossly overestimated, and no one researched the effects it would have on the surrounding villages. So, the dam affects the fish coming down the river. The village heavily relies on the fish to support themselves. Additionally, the rush of the water when the dam is opened destroys agriculture along the water, etc. The people are understandably angry, especially because they were neither consulted about this decision nor did they receive adequate compensation for their loss of livelihoods, and have been fighting the government for 20 years on this. An instance of John Perkin’s account before my own eyes.

I was in Bangkok for World Habitat Day. There was a large protest, of every issue imaginable. So I stood by and watched the protest. It was interesting to see some of the signs going by. The most interesting had to be the signs that read, "No Capitalism", a protest you would never see in America. Additionally, there was a crowd of people wearing masks of the leaders of the Western world, Obama included. On the back of their heads were masks of Satan (Obama's), zombies, monsters, etc.

From the standpoint of some individuals in the developing country, capitalism is simply about getting as much as you can without giving or concerning yourself with who is being hurt. This is what is outlined in Perkin’s novel. Because some of the people in developing countries are the ones who are on the receiving end of this “greed”, their perception of America is less than positive. While we hear about how we are bringing electricity and modern technology to these poor, helpless countries, the perception of some of the developing world is quite the opposite, as though we are invading their country and pushing ideals that we think are positive, i.e. capitalism, onto their culture.

Learning about this entire other perspective is alarming just because of what a fantastic job the U.S. does of disillusioning its public to believe it is "the best" and that the rest of the world needs us. What the media fails to relay is all of the times we enter a country because we need them.

Nicole Keimer
Northeastern University


Ana Kostioukova said...

I definitely agree with what you are saying Nicole. It's funny because I too have read "The Confessions of an Economic Hit Man". At first, I couldn't believe some of the things it talked about, however, after finishing the book I was reading the New York Times online and the articles it featured was titled - "Brother of Afghan Leader Said to Be Paid by C.I.A." Also, the current situation in Haiti sounds very similar to what Perkins experienced in his professional life. It is amazing how much is all around us once we learn awareness.

Although many development policies have failed people here, it is strange to see how much Western culture is adored. We as students here, execute farang privilege daily in its many forms. I have been told more than once about how Thais are more likely to follow the advice of a foreigner rather than a native. Further, I would also like to consider the image of beauty in Thailand. Almost every female product has skin bleaching formula. While considering another observation, it seems to be that most of the people on television and in advertisements, most often than not, look half white rather than authentic Thai. Maybe the same weapons of media that have clouded our own vision of how beloved America is by the world, have also facilitated the change in perceptions in developing countries such as Thailand.

Haley said...

I disagree very much with your comment that “the United States believes that the world loves the U.S.” When President Bush was in office, we constantly heard about how our enemies abroad hate us for our freedom, how the axis of evil is working to acquire weapons of mass destruction and must be stopped. We all remember September 11th, perhaps one of the most obvious displays of hatred for America to ever occur, and how it led to the declaration of the “War on Terror.” US troops have been deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq for numerous years now, and it is clearly evident that “not all of the developing world loves the United States.”
These countries, however, are not the ones you were referring to, as they are not victims of failed World Bank Development policies and projects. Thailand, as you mentioned, has numerous examples of these projects, with Pak Mun Dam being one of the most obvious. Interestingly enough, I have rarely encountered negative opinions about the United States here. I too went to World Habitat Day, but much more than being an anti-capitalist protest, it was a protest to raise awareness about housing rights and issues. Why does Thailand, which has experienced significant political, economic, and cultural shifts because of United States policies, still hold the United States in such high regard?

Dan said...

Nicole, I appreciate how you chose to write about such a pressing issue that affects the entire world. The images of protestors in Bangkok depicting Barack Obama as the devil is very powerful. The first thing that came to my mind was an image of a typical American family viewing this image on the evening news. The father and the mother likely would instantly lash out at the TV screen criticizing the Bangkok protestors for their sentiments of hatred directed towards their wonderful nation. The children are trained to believe that anyone with a similar view as these protestors is wrong and not worth the time to understand where they are coming from. This presents some serious problems to changing awareness about the US's relation with the developing world. The protestors appear in such a way that influences Americans to neglect their convictions. Therefore, by protesting in this manner are they hurting their own cause?

Hilary said...

Hey Nicole,

You bring up some points that I'm constantly debating in my head as well. I agree that at least in the last 50 years the US government has worked hard to "get the American public to believe that the America is a God-send to all of the other nations across the world, especially developing countries." I took a class last year on diplomacy in modern history and we often discussed how Woodrow Wilson's ideologies about the spread of democracy and the necessity of interventionism for world peace have shaped American foreign policy ever since. Since WWII the US has had it's hand in so many cookie jars and has impacted so many countries' economic and political realities that modern imperialism has quite literally been defined by American foreign relations. I'm not sure if this is all bad (since every country looks out for its best interests, right?) and I can appreciate Wilson's idealism, but it can be painful to look at exactly how the US came to be the dominant global force. I too feel like the US government has had to go on a constant campaign convincing Americans that we are in fact loved throughout the world because we do have the political space to challenge our government's interventionist policies and I really do believe that some of our trade and political policies would be challenged more if people were more aware. Haley has a good point that throughout the Bush administration we constantly heard how hated we were throughout the world. At the same time though, we were constantly told of how much good the US is doing for the world in order to negate that negativity. Remember, we invaded Iraq to save the poor Iraqis from an oppressive dictator... right? But a lot of the American ego can also be attributed to the fact that because the US is a "country of immigrants", many Americans are under the impression that all people around the world would rather be in the US than their native countries (no matter what they say).

I still have yet to read Confessions of an Economic Hitman, but it sounds like it basically sums up dependency theory. This may sound a little radical, but the truth of the matter is that a lot of our prosperity has been due to the exploitation of other countries' resources. I'm not going to say the World Bank is all bad or that all of its projects have been failures, because that's just not true. But the fact is that the majority of the World Bank's funding comes directly from American multi-nationals and it is often times their interests that drive WB policy. Or in other words, many projects the WB funds are those that the American goverment or American corporations have vested interests in. Foreign aid in the neoliberal context has had a similar impact. Aid is usually given conditionally with the requirements that developing countries liberalize their economies and open up to US investment. Thailand directly felt the weight of 'American' neoliberalism when they were forced to undergo a structural adjustment program in exchange for the IMF bailing them out of the '97 Asian Financial Crisis. On top of what you could call a near occupation of Thailand by the US military during the Vietnam war, Thais seem to have a very love/hate relationship with our country. It's really disillusioning to look at these power chains and to realize just how heavily the US has directly or indirectly affected the entire world, especially those in developing nations. Great post. I'd love to hear more of your thoughts on these topics since I think you bring some unique perspectives to the table.

Hilary Ford
Sarah Lawrence College

Ashlee said...

When I read this post I could do nothing but completely agree. I have also read the book "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" and I can definitely say that its content and the accounts of John Perkins shocked me as well. I too agree that the U.S. does a good job in hiding its true motives and intentions in developing countries to its public, especially to those who have no way of being informed otherwise.
Before I made the trip here to study in Cuernavaca, Mexico I would definitely have considered myself one of those persons who had no way of knowing otherwise. I knew that my country was not perfect, but I had no idea the extent of the damage that was caused in other areas due to the manipulation and extortion of other helpless, developing countries.
After reading "Confessions" and participating in a seminar in El Salvador where I got to see firsthand the effects of the United States and how they have negatively impacted the population of this poor country, I definitely consider myself more informed and able to make decisions for myself about my own countries actions as well as equipped with knowledge to share to others who were once in my position.

Ashlee Woods
Emory University

Gender and Social Change in Mesoamerica participant- Cuernavaca, Mexico

Cecilia Marquez said...

I think this is an interesting point because I have also been learning a lot recently about globalization. One of the things though, that has been hard is the essentializing that I feel like happens when we talk about the "U.S."

I agree with what you said that the U.S. government does a great job trying to cover up what globalization is really doing and who it is really benefiting, but I also think that sometimes it is dangerous to ignore the huge numbers of people in the U.S. who know exactly what globalization is because they have been displaced as a result of it.

As someone whose father had to leave his country of origin as a result, at least in part, of globalization I am all to accustomed with the negative effects that it has on families and communities.

Just food for thought, I know it's something we have done a lot in our semester, assuming that everyone in the U.S. is a certain way, or has a certain identity.