Saturday, April 01, 2017

World on Fire

The introduction discusses the author's aunt's murder in the Philippines. She was a rich Chinese woman who employed many poor Chinese. She didn't think much of the people she employed, and even had them live in relatively poor conditions. (Yet those were probably better conditions than they would otherwise live in.) The chauffeur one day just decided to slit her throat. (Would things have been different if she treated them better? Or were the relations just such a mess that it was inevitable?)

Many examples are provided of "dominant minorities" in parts of the world. The Chinese tend to dominate the economy in most of Southeast Asia. This creates tensions with the ethnic majorities (who often dominate politics.) There is often an uneasy truce with the political elite - they know they need the Chinese help to keep the economy going. However, when tensions boil over it is often the "poorer" Chinese that feel the brunt of the conflict. (They are the one that the common people most often see. They don't have the big advantages that the uber-wealthy have.)

The implementation of democracy and capitalism tends to increase the conflict. Democracy brings about political control by the ethnic majority. Capitalism and market liberalization tends to increase economic power of the economically dominant minority. The reforms typically raise the standard of living for everyone. However, the minority tends to show a greater improvement, leading to a greater differentiation. This creates more conflict that empowers "nationalist" type governments and increases the internal conflict. Countries like Singapore luck out because the majority is the economically dominant Chinese.

Dominant minorities have achieved their positions through a variety of means. In parts of Africa (such as Zimbabwe and South Africa) and Latin America, the descendants of colonists have a dominant position in society. The "whites" tend to have land and the historical advantages to dominate the economy. The "mixed-race" individuals tend to be mid-tier, while the "natives" are more likely to live in poverty. In same countries "race" can be fairly arbitrary, with the wealthy being considered "white", regardless of original race. Countries can sometimes view themselves as large "melting pots" where everybody is of a common race. And then, a charismatic politician can turn things around and convince the poor that they are the true natives that should wrest control of the land from the colonial powers. (Hugo Chavez and Robert Mugabe both come to mind here.)

In other countries, the dominant minority arose independently and often due to oppression. Lebanese dominate many African countries. They did not have the advantages of the colonial powers, but worked hard and rose in strength. Many of the Russian Oligarchs are Jewish. They were prevented from attending the best universities or rising up in the Communist hierarchy, and thus had to work hard and develop skills and ruthlessness that helped them succeed during the the fall of communism. Certain tribal groups control other countries, often using close knit connections to dominate.

The dominant minorities theory can even be extended to the world. The United States dominates the world economy. This leads to resentment in many parts of the world. (These same people that resent the US are also likely to emulate the US and purchase many American products.) People may benefit from the many American products. Education and access to media and markets have helped them to increase their living standards. However, this access has also helped them to see how far they have to go to be like Americans.

Is there a solution? Equality may appear to resolve these issues. However, people always seem to find some way to differentiate. As long as somebody seems to be doing better, there will be conflict. However, if people see a way that they can get there, the conflict may be resolved. Perhaps we just need to let everybody be king for a day.

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