One way…

This is a revisitation of when we were talking about capitalist globalisation, and the danger it poses to indigenous groups of people. I say danger because it has the potential of causing us to get fixated on one way of being, one mode of operation in our daily lives. I say this because as we were talking about the solidarity economy, my mind would begin to envision what it would be like to have a  world like that. Not just a small community here and there, but a world – idealist dreaming, I know. In all honesty, what we were describing as went through the solidarity economy sounded so strange to me because it was so completely opposite to what I have been brought up and taught to believe. The idea that, rather than an economy where each seeks their own personal interest and hence by default helps others, there is an ideology and a system of being in which people seek the good of others and the environment. A system in which “me” is not the centre. The idea of socially responsible consumption, production and governance sounded so farfetched to me because I had not taken the time to see it play out. The idea that as humans we would want to see others better off from our efforts and that we would want to preserve the environment we live in should not sound so farfetched to me, but it did. Which brings me back to the danger of being told time and time again that there is one right way to do things. Just like the globalisation of capitalism can often endanger the values of indigenous societies, its continued promulgation in our lives, from kindergarten through college can lead us to believe it is the only way, which, as shown by the solidarity economy, it isn’t.

Searching for alternatives

In class we’ve been discussing the increasing viability of co-ops as service providing alternatives to the corporation. It’s inspired me to look harder for alternatives when making purchases even though buying from the corporation is often more accessible and cheaper. But actually, with the internet it’s become a lot easier to connect with co-ops and even individuals who provide goods and services you might need.

In particular, my aunt often visits family in Ireland and uses the site http://www.homeaway.com when searching for accommodations to directly connect with individuals renting houses or providing bed and breakfasts in Ireland. It’s proven to be a great alternative to the ‘mass produced’ hotel rooms since you get an actual kitchen to cook in, for instance. I actually think the international hotel chains are a good example of the impersonal nature of the corporation’s supplying to people in mass. I know I’ve never had a very personal or even enjoyable stay at a hotel, high end or not. Additionally, workers in hotels are often underpaid. It’s also the nature of a large hotel to be full of people but still relatively anonymous and full of formalisms from staff. It’s a very alienating and awkward environment for everyone in this way. Yet the easy name recognition of international hotel chains makes them more desirable for people traveling to a foreign country. The familiarity of the name brand feels safe, and it’s hard to combat that. So I really appreciate alternatives to this model. It may be convenient and feel safe, but it’s not desirable for anyone on a humanistic and socially responsible level on such a large scale. This is why I’m using Home Away to get in touch with local people in Buenos Aires both to avoid the hotels and experience something different. It’s also proving to be a lot cheaper than the hotels which is an added bonus.

Optimism at the Hope of a Cooperative Economy

This final section of the course has been a very interesting one to me—while I enjoy thinking about what needs to change in the system we exist within and unwillingly contribute to, it is exciting to hear about socially responsible actions that do, in fact, make a difference.  I can list plenty of improvements I would love to see realized on the global scale, but if they are too abstract to actually be implemented, these ideas remain ideas.  Good news, though: steps are being taken towards a solidarity economy, from changes in individual choices to larger social entrepreneurship ventures. I myself am inspired to more heavily consider the decisions I make as they affect others, whether it be purchasing Free Trade coffee instead of grounds from a larger manufacturer or not supporting firms that are blissfully ignorant of their carbon footprint.  In being introduced to all of these ways consumers, citizens, and employees can make a difference, I am made aware of the opportunities available to me to continue this progress towards cooperation and environmental respect.

Our in-class discussion about choosing careers based on what we value as individuals and endeavoring to do something that we enjoy shed light on the dilemma I am currently facing in balancing my desire for financial stability and my desire for a “priceless” profession.  I can have both; I can have a career I can stand behind because, whichever field I enter, I can be sure that I actively support the firm’s social accountability from the inside—just as  I can refuse to take a job that compromises my personal  philosophies on economic stakeholders versus just the shareholders.  In thinking of this, I cannot help but hold some lingering inhibitions about those who enjoy doing things at a consequence to the environment.  If I don’t agree to lie about a company’s “green” status, someone else certainly will.  I’m not saying that we’re doomed by any means, but we need to restructure and reshape the way we feel towards making money by faulty means—if we can strip these high-paying jobs of their value because they aren’t morally responsible, there is the potential that fewer people would be so inclined to pursue them.

Can it really be that simple?

Maybe I’m just not looking at all possible consequences, but I just don’t understand why the government cannot just heavily subsidize all these green and socially responsible initiatives. This is something we’ve been taught since Econ 101, if something is good for the public the government should subsidize, if something is bad, the government should tax. So I’m just curious as to why green initiatives aren’t heavily subsidized? We are currently subsidizing corn, and this worked really well for those farmers. Now I’m not saying that it’s great that we now have corn in basically everything we consume , but the subsidy did its role, the sale of corn is now much higher than it used to be, we found ways to utilize corn so that we can support these farmers. So what I’m asking is why can’t the government somehow support local farmers and more organic foods? This would not only support local farmers, but would also drive the prices down for these organic products and make it more available to the public, including the poor. Because when it’s all said and done, poor people would like to be a part of the green movement, but since local produce usually costs much more than the produce that isn’t local, they probably don’t buy it because they cannot afford it. So by subsidizing the sale of local and fresh produce it’d benefit both the producers and consumers. But again I keep asking myself, can it really be that simple? Because if it really is, why haven’t we done anything about it?

Thankful

I’m really glad Professor Matthaei decided to end the course with the Solidarity Economy.  I was starting to feel so frustrated with how capitalism has come to be.  Learning about how the United States exploits other countries all over the world is disgusting and quite frankly disappointing.  I found myself frustrated at the idea that so many people just don’t know what is going on behind the production processes of so many products.  Learning about the Solidarity Economy has however made me feel a lot better.  Learning about the Solidarity Economy has however made me feel a lot better.  It has opened my eyes to all the different things people are doing to better the situation we are in.  Although I probably never be as radical as the fregans, there are things people can do everyday to help our economy become more sustainable and fair.  Buying fair-trade items and reusing old things rather than buying a new one are only a few things people can do everyday in order to help.  I was also very happy to read “Beautiful Business.”  This reading definitely allowed me to see that good successful businesses can exist in the Solidarity Economy.  All in all it’s nice to know that people do care about what is going on and are taking initiative to help.

 

-Mariaesther M.

 

Socially Responsible Investment

As we talked about today in class, it is in the big companies best interest to serve the stockholders, not the stakeholders. Since the stockholders have all this power, why is it that it is always so that what is in the best interest for the stock holders is not the same as the stake holders. If we could have a movement that reorganizes the priorities with the stockholders so that they too are socially responsible. And this reminds me of the new market of socially responsible investment that we are going to learn more about later. This seems like a very interesting aspect of economics that I can’t wait to learn more about. That not only are we accepting that the mainstream view that the consumers have the power is flawed, but in addition we are going to use it to our advantage and invest in these companies until we have enough stock to have enough influence to alter their agenda to fit our socially responsible actions.

Who is to blame?

While going over the readings regarding the danger of huge corporations, my mind was drawn to the examples that I grew up hearing regarding huge corporations that took advantage of the natural resources of certain African countries and left these countries somewhat destitute. For the longest time, none of the mining companies in the mineral rich country of Liberia were owned by local entrepreneurs. One of its largest exports, rubber, was only tapped by the huge multinational firm Firestone; who managed to sign a 100 year contract with the Liberian government that enabled them to continue producing rubber at dirt cheap prices. Shell also has a bloody and ugly history in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. But in all these cases I am left asking, where was the regulating hand of the government? While one can say that these companies have indeed taken advantage of the above mentioned countries, to name a few, one cannot downplay the role that governments have played in allowing these actions. I recognise that governments do need better information regarding the operation and long term planning of large corporations to make more informed decisions regarding their regulation, and this is to be provided by these multi-national corporations. But one cannot deny that governmental regulation has indeed been neglected in the past, rendering governments now almost powerless in dealing with large corporations.

Blog 2: My personal experience with race and gender hierarchy

By Esther Gonzalez

Something that I’ve realized is how active hierarchy is in my life. More specifically, I’ve realized how much my dad believes in race and gender hierarchy. My dad has been a large influence on my life. He’s very logical and intelligent, which are traits that I obviously strove for. But there are some things that he believes that have always troubled me. The only difference is now I can fully explain it.

My dad was born in Mexico, but he grew up in Los Angeles. He hasn’t said this in so many words, but after knowing him all my life, I can pretty firmly state that he is slightly (and probably unintentionally) racist against “our own” – Mexicans. Growing up, he associated Mexicans to chicano gangsters, who either were in jail or dropped out of school by high school. He remembers running and hiding from gangs. He wasn’t exactly the model student at the time, but after he grew up, joined the Air Force, and traveled a bit, he realized that he didn’t want to settle in Los Angeles. In fact, he didn’t even want to settle in Oxnard, which was “too close” to Los Angeles, because of the high Hispanic population (and subsequent gangs). This (and the better schools) is why I grew up in Ventura, which is a staunchly middle class suburb. This, in essence, is why most of my best friends are white. This is why every boy I’ve ever seriously been attracted to has been white.

More than this, my parents never taught me Spanish. Granted, neither of them speak it all the time, but both of them could get by in a Spanish speaking country. My dad told me later that this was an intentional move, as he wanted me to be fully concentrated in English, so that I wouldn’t be behind the learning curve. To some extent, it must have worked, since I’m currently at Wellesley. But now I know of children who have been successfully multi-lingual from an early age, and I am insanely jealous. Partly because this is a valuable skill, but also because I have absolutely no culture. I never had a quincenera, I’ve never celebrated Dia de los muertos. Spanish was my worst class my sophomore year of high school, which caused some of my friends to playfully tease me: “but you’re Mexican!” Maybe in the blood, but not in the soul. Despite being Mexican, my dad has tried to further himself from this, because he believes that the American (aka, white) way of life is superior.

Beyond this, my dad, despite respecting women, believes that there is a clear distinction between the genders, and that men are inherently the dominating group. The greatest example of this is when I was joking with my boyfriend at home, and told my dad that I “wore the pants” in the relationship. You would think that he would be happy about this, since he has often told me to be cautious of the animalistic nature of men, but no. Instead, he gave me a look, and said “you shouldn’t be”. Of course, this caused me to give him a look and think “what does that mean?” Of course, that means that in spite of the fact that he knows I am a fully capable woman, my dad still believes that my boyfriend should be “the man” in the relationship (but let’s be real here: I’m a Wellesley woman.) This lies parallel to this fact that he believes that women cannot be pastors. There have been a few times when I or my mom has asked him to hold our bag while we do something, and he shrinks away, because it’s not “masculine”. To me, this is ridiculous. When my little brother did this to me over the summer, I made sure to have a discussion with him about how that train of thought is completely unnecessary. In general, my dad is a very capable father and he nothing if not well meaning. I just hope that I can give my little brother a more balanced world view than the fully white/male dominant one that I grew up with.

Feminism (valuing the devalued, combining, and integration)

Recently I was talking with some friends about our families, and I realized that I was one of the very few who had grown up in a “traditional” home, with parents who were still together and a stay-at-home mom. After thinking about this, I realized that I have devalued my mom in many ways, as any normal self-interested daughter does. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve subconsciously assumed she was incapable or not ambitious. It was only after reflecting on this that I remembered a time that I was supremely impressed with her abilities to contain and entertain a group of children when we volunteered at a nursery. This is a different skill set, but it’s ridiculously valuable.

I feel like my relationship with my mother and my perspective on her has shaped how I view my future as a woman. I used to shrug at the idea of having children, because at this point I’m ambivalent. In fact, I’ve joked with friends that the main reason Wellesley women should have children is because we want to make sure the gene pool stays intelligent, which is a cold and objective way to look at the topic. However, our class discussions about the value of motherhood and the effort of raising children re-opened my eyes to the realities of parenthood. Because of these discussions and learning about child development in psychology, I’ve become more interested in the joys of raising a child.

But this situation is still conflicted. When I think about my future, I realize that I’ve focused on multiple possible career paths, so that if I wasn’t to succeed in one, I would go into another. This shows me that I strongly valuing working. Moreover, a lot of these career paths are in public service, such as journalism, teaching, and working with a non-profit. If I was to have a child, would I be willing to stop working when I think that my work is genuinely helping and educating others?

In theory, I like the idea of combining, but now that I’ve talked to friends who have strained relationships with their parents because they had demanding careers, (as Prof. Mattheai mentioned could happen) I’m extremely hesitant. My psychology class showed me how vunerable children are as they develop, and I don’t want to in any way scar or “mess up” a child so that they can’t have a functional relationship with others as adults.

As of right now, because I don’t really have to worry about this for another five years minimum, I like toying with the idea of a stay-at-home dad. This Integrative process is a really valuable one, in my opinion. It shows not only that women can be the bread winners, but that men are completely capable of being nurturing and supportive. For me, this is definitely the next step. I’ve talked to at least one member of an older generation that believes that most men are literally incapable of having the “motherly love” for their children, and this really depresses me. I feel like this might be true in their generation because of the way males and females have been polarized, but I’d like to this that our generation is a little bit better at breaking down this polarization. I look forward to the day when it is no longer eye opening to realize that both sexes can be equally “masculine” and “feminine”.

“Affluenza and Me,” Revisited

During my first year at Wellesley, I found myself (most fortunately) enrolled in Professor Matthaei’s Intro Microeconomics course.  We were assigned a reflection paper following the viewing of the documentary “Affluenza and Me.”  Below is an excerpt from my response to this consumption epidemic:

“The words “want” and “need” have incredibly similar definitions in modern day vocabulary- -they are used almost interchangeably, without much thought, despite the slightly higher sense of urgency connoted by “need.”  For example, one may want that purple cocktail dress, but simply need those suede pumps.  I, for one, am certainly no passive bystander to this trend, but, while participating, I have come to understand the implications such ignorance reveals about American society.  […] I cannot overcome or even ignore my internal drive to consume.”

Entering my fourth year as a college student and having spent the majority of that time living on my own, on a very limited budget, I have since drastically altered my consumption habits beyond the fashion front; my experience consuming outside of shopping had been very limited as a First-year, but that has quickly been remedied. This past summer I was an unpaid intern trying her best to live in an apartment in Boston— for those of you who have tried to afford a $700-per-month living situation on a negative budget (eating costs money, who knew?), you can vouch for its difficulty.  “Needs” were limited to dry pasta, milk, toilet paper, and dishwasher soap.  I didn’t live on just those four items for three months, however.  Even with my scarce income provided by a paid part-time job, I found it so tempting to “splurge” on Starbucks coffees and the necessity of fixing a broken iPod.  Consumption, I’ve learned, isn’t just about buying for the sake of buying; it can be traced back to skewed perceptions about spending habits that have us solely thinking about the short-term and not sustainability: it can be about buying the paper towels instead of reusing a dishrag because, well, it’s easier.

Looking back, what, exactly, was so ‘terrible’ about not being able to meet my every want?  Perhaps it is simply the loss of choice— choosing amongst the few things I could afford and, even then, being prompted to pick the less economic option.  It’s not, by any means, enough to say, “I will never buy a single unnecessary item ever again!” because, well, even without the financial means to do so, I managed to make several absurd purchases. The trick, I’m learning, lies in considering long-term sustainability: when you spend, spend on goods and services that will last.  To come full-circle with a note on clothing consumption : this summer, I chose not purchase a single article of clothing. My roommates and I, both avid shoppers, opened our wardrobes up to each other in the spirit of thriftiness.  What an amazing concept, sharing.  Instead of buying that one skirt for that one event and then essentially losing it in the depths of a closet, I could borrow that piece and not spend a penny. In thinking on cooperative living, it is clear how effective sharing can be when applied beyond the clothing sphere and into equipment like lawnmowers and washer/dryers.

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