Author Archive

Gaining perspective on global capitalism

This weekend I finished an amazingly informative book by Jeffry Frieden, “Global Capitalism: Its Fall and Rise in the Twentieth Century.” If like me, you’re in search of greater perspective on the globalization debate, I highly recommend you read this book. Frieden, a Harvard professor, offers a balanced and objective assessment of global capitalism from the origins of the Industrial Revolution through the end of the 20th Century.

I know it was balanced because I remain torn between the two poles of opinion about globalization: On the one hand, global trade has vastly improved the fortunes of many poor countries and their citizens, e.g., South Korea, and more recently, China and India; on the other hand, it has left hundreds of millions behind with little hope of grabbing onto even the first rung of the economic ladder, especially (but not only) across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Indeed, as Frieden demonstrates repeatedly, global capitalism has always produced winners and losers. International trade helps exporters and many of those they employ and can result in greater choice and lower prices for consumers in importing countries. But it also produces losers among domestic manufacturers, farmers and other suppliers who cannot compete with cheaper imports, resulting in loss of jobs and family and community upheaval. This win-lose dynamic has been playing out for more than 100 years.

What’s different today – and what concerns me most – about global capitalism is the deplorable gap between the biggest winners and the biggest losers. As Frieden writes: “By 2000 the richest 1 percent of the world’s population earned substantially more than the poorest half; indeed, the combined wealth of the world’s two hundred richest individuals—more than a trillion dollars—was greater than the combined annual income of the poorest half of the world’s population.”

More than attacking globalization as evil, the issue for me is attacking the weaknesses in the system of international trade and finance that have enabled so much to go to so few and so little to so many. The “globalizers,” as Frieden calls them, clearly emerged victorious at the end of the last century and with the demise of communism, they appear to have unchallenged claim to write the rules of economic behavior worldwide. Of course, as Frieden reminds us, there was a “Golden Age” of global capitalism once before and that all came to a swift and shocking end when World War I began. It took another world war and many years more to re-establish global capitalism’s supremacy.

So the globalizers ought not to take anything for granted, starting with the support of the billions on Earth who have little or nothing to show for the globalizers’ ascendancy to the throne.


What’s that smell in the suburbs?

Somewhere southeast of Portland in Oregon City there are a few Mom & Pop store owners today who are feeling abandoned, all in the name of economic development. A new mall is being planned for development in the area, and the city manager told the Oregonian, “We’re going to do what needs to be done to make this happen.”

What he’s referring to is “The Rivers,” another one of those high-end “lifestyle” retail developments that are all the rage these days. The proposed cost: $160 million to $180 million. Likely tenants: Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, Staples, Dick’s Sporting Goods, among many other non-local chain retailers.

The proposed development is a joint venture between a Tualatin company and the California State Teachers Retirement System. You can bet the vast majority of the money is coming from the California teachers. So once again, it’s out-of-state developers using their vast resources to invest in another suburban mall stocked with out-of-state chain retailers. And once again local government is bending over backwards to make it possible for these out-of-state businesses to siphon local dollars out of the area’s economy, pledging “$25 million to $35 million to assist with roads, utilities and other site development costs.”

When do you suppose the last time Oregon City spent $25 million to $35 million to help ensure independent, locally owned stores in succeed? They’re the ones who keep their incomes flowing through the local economy, creating a multiplier effect that benefits all in the local community. And that’s just the economic gain from having a healthy local merchant sector. Instead non-Oregon investors/developers and retail giants will once again gladly pocket our community’s disposable income and ship it elsewhere – all with the active political and financial support of local municipal government!

The headline this morning inadvertently says it all, “Oregon City vision: Turn dump into mall.” Developers are looking to build “The River” on a former landfill. That’s fitting, because the whole thing stinks.

Thursday, July 5th, 2007
Posted in Business & Economics, Oregon | No Comments »

Buy green? How about buy nothing

I have been a marketer for more than 20 years, and appreciate the importance of marketing for any organization. I also count myself among those aspiring to a truly sustainable lifestyle. So why would I have any bone to pick with marketers of green goods and services? Because too many of them want us to think green consumption is harmless, maybe even good for our planet.

I like what Alex Steffen, the executive editor of, told the New York Times on Sunday: “There is a very common mind-set right now which holds that all that we’re going to need to do to avert the large-scale planetary catastrophes upon us is make slightly different shopping decisions.”

In other words, we’re being urged by many green marketers to buy a hybrid, vacation in an eco-friendly overseas resort, purchase organic cotton clothing, install a solar panel on our second home, when in fact we should be selling our cars, limiting our air travel, buying less clothing (and other stuff) and owning only one home (and a small one at that).

As New York Times reporter Alex Williams writes in the same piece, “It’s as though the millions of people whom environmentalists have successfully prodded to be concerned about climate change are experiencing a SnackWell’s moment: confronted with a box of fat-free devil’s food chocolate cookies, which seem deliciously guilt-free, they consume the entire box, avoiding any fats but loading up on calories.”

The tough thing isn’t switching to a fat-free snack, it’s doing without the snack altogether. We don’t just need to consume more green stuff and less bad stuff. We need to consume less. Period. Bring on the companies that see a way to make their mark and their income from “non-consumption.” If I had my way, that’s what green marketing would be all about.