Brother and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Lughnasa                                                                         New Harvest Moon

Took Mark over to Walmart where he shopped for work clothes, slacks and button down shirts.  He bought 5 of each, a set for each day of the week.  Here’s the weirdness.  Bangladeshis made the clothing.  They came, most likely, by container ship to California, then by truck to a Walmart regional distribution center.  At some point, again on a truck, these shirts and pants completed their journey to Coon Rapids, Minnesota.

Mark walked in and bought them.  He now has them here in Andover.  In less than a month he will pack up those same new clothes and carry them, via plane, to Saudi Arabia.  If he takes them on a subsequent trip to Southeast Asia, they will have traveled around the world plus a little.  Strange.

There is an interesting counter argument to local boy Thomas Friedman (grew up in St. Louis Park) and his flat earth model of globalization.  It suggests that the world has actually grown more local, with only a tiny percentage of the world’s population ever leaving their home country and a large percentage of those who stay in their home country rarely or never leave their own locale.  Globalization, in this view, is a veneer of corporate profit taking spread over the world, a sort of cheap plywood globe on top of which the elite travel by jet, work in several different time zones and consider themselves transnationals.  Under this veneer toil the sweatshop workers who make the elite’s transnational world possible.

The world they make possible though, as in all times, lies as far from them as the earth lies from the sun.  No Bangladeshi textile worker could ever hope to duplicate the trip the slacks he or she made have already taken.  Never.  The vast majority of Chinese who work in export related manufacturing could never follow their products to America or Europe or even to Shanghai or Beijing.  Travel to any region of the world where globalization functions to shift resources or cheaply made goods to developed markets.  There you will find sugar cane workers or miners or electronics assemblers or athletic shoe makers paid poorly so that we might buy cheaply.

Attacking this kind of global disparity seems to be a job for trade unionists, but they’ve not been up to the task.  Not sure how you push against it with any success.

When the whole thing crashes though, that cheap plywood globe will make a hell of a skateboard park.