THE SOUTHEAST ASIAN FINANCIAL CRISIS AND DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE IN THE GLOBAL SYSTEM: DARE WE CREATE A NEW FRAME OF MIND?
by AZLY RAHMAN
Written at Columbia University, New York, December 1997
The collapse of the economies of Southeast Asia, which began with the July 2nd. devaluation of the Thai baht, culminating in the October 24th. shock of the Wall Street represents a phenomena in terms of the speed upon which capital flights has rendered several nations bankrupt, and one which ended the so-called East Asian miracle, euphorically held as defensible by many a “corporatist” and developmentalist state of Southeast Asia. The pervasive dependency and tying-up of the Pacific Rim economies, integrated in an export-led model of development fashioned under the “Center-periphery” ideology of late capitalism, and on which can be said as a legacy of the colonialist mode of production, can however be analyzed via a conflict paradigm rather than via world systems theory based upon Rostowian or Friedmanian economics.
The collapse of the financial systems of especially nation-states such as Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia, albeit grudgingly admitted by the leaders of such nations, has its roots in the fundamental and structural underpinnings of the international capitalist system which predictably will contribute to its crushing, under its own weight – at least in the analysis of the “Domino effect” of the region’s financial fall. The collapse has, up to the time this essay is being written, predictably yields political, social, and global ramifications. Beginning with Thailand’s changing of its prime minister to the varied reactions to the International Monetary Fund’s administering of its “bitter medicine”, i.e. the demand to restructure the respective country’s economy, and the massive “rescue package” almost forced to be taken by Thailand and Indonesia, the crisis has also opened a Pandora box of possibilities in terms of the socioeconomic and political upheavals which have and will undoubtedly change situations in the region. It also opened up possibilities for a redefinition of what “development” can mean and entail recommendations for structural changes not merely in the manner development is ordered but most importantly calls for the rethinking of alternative forms of development itself taking into consideration education for creative and critical consciousness.
In this essay, I shall argue the following; that
i) the Southeast Asian financial crisis represents a culmination of an imminent structural breakdown of the world capitalist system which has closely tied the nation’s economies into a massive, close-knit and systematic global production system.,
ii) the growth and rise to prominence and power of transnational banks (TNBs) as an outgrowth of the global reach of transnational corporations (TNCs) has even put the periphery nations in the region into a volatile existence within the context of Center-periphery.,
iii) the replacing of gold standard in favor of the floating value of the affected Southeast Asian currencies, pegged to the United States dollar has opened up avenues for the even more pervasive game of currency speculation which partly contribute to the massive, incisive, and decisive capital flights in the game of financial Dominoes lasting only a few months.
iv) the structural functionalist approaches to the analyses of the crisis cannot fully explain the reasons behind such collapses; that Marxist dependency analysis is provided as an alternative way of looking at the crisis.,
v) a reordering of thinking on the question of development can offer the most viable “rescue package” in the long run for the Southeast Asian economies which have thusfar enjoy miracles albeit the decades of development have contributed much to distributive justice in the region and have offered fertile grounds for abuse of human rights both basic and privileged.,
vi) an educational framework for alternative social, cultural, economic, and political movement favoring liberation as opposed to development can become a capstone to the analysis of the crisis so that a radical reengineering of the definition can be made to favor grassroots development rather than elite-commanded reform programs
In analyzing the phenomena of capital flights and stock market crashes, we look at the two critical phases in the chronology of events leading to this phenomena first, the July 2, 1996 devaluation of the Thai baht and the massive capital flights of Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia and second, the October 23, 1997 of the Hong Kong stock market crash, celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Wall Street crash. This illustration is necessary if we are to further analyze the underlying structural causes of the Domino effect with an alternative paradigm of the global development project. It began in July 2, 1997, when the Thai government decided to de-link its currency baht from the US dollar and allowed the baht to float freely in the global financial market.
The devaluation triggered in the plunging of the Thai currency by 23 per cent of its value and triggered next a 10 per cent fall of the Philippines peso followed by the Malaysian ringgit fall by 4 per cent. Next came the drop in 5.4 per cent value of the Indonesian rupiah (Symonds, 1977, pp.1-2) The collapses in currency value of such a proportion happened within a few weeks. It continued to slide to the extent that by the end of October, the baht has lost almost 50 per cent of its value, the peso by 26 per cent, the rupiah by 40 per cent and the ringgit fell to a nine-year low. (Cohen, 1997, p.3) The continual collapse of those values is partly aided by international currency speculators who saw it an opportunity to profit from the crumbling currencies.
The currency value collapses were followed by stock market crashes in the respective countries with its peak in the October 23rd Hong Kong stock market crash which triggered the panic on Wall Street the following day. It then also triggered panic sellings in stock exchanges in Tokyo, London and Frankfurt. Wall Street managed to “bounce back” after an all-time average low since the 1987 crash due to International Business Machines (IBM), buying out of its own stock and the strengthening of the US dollar. In order to prevent the further sliding down of the Southeast Asian currencies and render the economics totally bankrupt, the International Monetary Fund as the maintainer and stabilizer of the global financial project intervened with its rescue packages particularly in the form of billions of dollars loaned to Thailand and Indonesia partially, forcing these countries to restructure their economy according to the dictates of the international monetary body.
IMF injected $US 15 billion loan to the Thai government making it the “longest single bailout since the collapse of the Mexican peso” and thus forcing Thailand to employ austerity measures including the closing of 58 out of 91 of its finance companies. (Symonds, 1997, p.1) Malaysia itself contributed US$ 1 billion in addition to the IMF package. The next economy to be rescued by the International body is Indonesia, which was injected a US$ 23 billion and of that was offered US$ 3 billion by the United States. Malaysia loaned US$ 1 billion to this neighboring nation-state. IMF then forced Indonesia to do a major overhaul of its “fiscal, monetary, and track systems” much to the reluctance of President Suharto who foresaw the erosion of his family interest in the key strategic sectors which has brought fortune to his family and strength to his 32 year old rule. (Tyson, 1997, pp.1-2)
Malaysia, still able to resist the dictate of the IMF, nonetheless had to shelve some of its major billion dollar projects, namely the controversial Bakun dam, a linear city for its capital Kuala Lumpur, and an East-West highway link. It’s 1998 budget nonetheless contained implementation of austerity measures, cutbacks in property developments, and the tightening of monetary policies. And if the Southeast Asian Domino effects had not been enough, the latest catastrophe before the November 26, 1997 APEC meeting in Vancouver, had been South Korea and the fall of the oldest Japanese stock brokerage firm- Yamaichi Securities these two sent shivers all across the financial world of the capitalism. (Whitesides, 1997, p.3) The annual summit of the Asia Pacific Economics which traditionally had been a meeting ground to trumpet triumphs of the Asian miracle, was an avenue to find urgent solution to the global crisis.
Whilst the developing economies of APEC are recipients of suggestions from the United States predominantly, Japan was assuring its trading partners that the Yamaichi closure does not indicate that the Japanese economy is in the same troubled financial league as the rest of the region. The “remedy” as accorded by the United States, as presented via President William Clinton and State Secretary Madeline Albright is for the Asian nations to reform banking systems, curb corruption and make investment climates more conducive. (Whitesides, 1997, p.3) The further meltdown of the world capitalist economy, at least as far as this paper discusses , in the Asian region, is still in progress. It is therefore not the scope of this essay to further detail the chronology of the Domino effect. The July 2 Thai baht devaluation to the APEC Vancouver meeting of November 27 is sufficient to provide an illustration of how fast the incidents of financials falls can beget an international crisis of such magnitude, more pervasive than the Mexican peso crisis of the mid 1990s.
Before analyzing the precedents of such effect, which will culminate in the discussion of alternative development framework, let us look at some of the major economic, social, political and global implication of the sweeping recalcitrant effect of the crisis. It will be a useful procedure to the political economic analysis of Asian economics which follow. This implication translate into systems breakdown, austerity drives, “recolonizations” by the IMF, social unrest, political upheavals, stock market crashes and further instability of the Asian balance of economic power. Like the butterfly effect which produces global climactic change analyzed their analyzed via modern-day complexity theory, the Asian crisis mirror as such in the manner how changes in one area can trigger chain reaction which force systems to destabilize almost to the point of no return. Such is the logic of the capitalist mode of distribution, which may defy any attempt to fine-tune the already overworked, overheated, and overconfident system.
Economic, social, political and global implications of the Southeast Asian financial crisis can be seen as the financial powerhouses of the region crumble one after another. Integrative system of capital accumulations guided by the ideology of the free market of the liberal economies masked under the name of free trade for a free world allowed the growth and consequently the burst of the economic bubble. Whereas the leit motif and the lingua franca of the international capitalist worldview are dominated by terms such as “developmentalism”, “corporatism”, “market-driven economy”, “per capita income growth”, “GNP” and “export-led economies”, they terms have masked the social and political-economic dimension of the ideology.
Brewing underneath the euphoria of “democratic-natured global economy” is the cacophony of events and social developments which are vulnerable to the dire effects of the collapse of the developmentalist ideology based on materialism. The power of the media, corporatist-state controlled and perpetually playing the Prozaic tune of “progress”, “democracy” and “economic well-being” in many a Southeast Asian nation-state, albeit the systematic repressing of dissenting views within them, has shielded the modern day masses from the idea that “all may not seem so well” at the highest level of their government.
This carefully controlled dissemination of information bias to the ideology of Southeast Asian corporatist developmentalism was then a key factor in explaining why the sudden collapse of the respective states economies cause as a total shock to the man/woman on the street who has been made to believe in the morality of their governments and in the magic of the global marketplace. Even more so powerful a tool of consciousness repression is the believe in the “East Asian miracle” and an “Asian Renaissance”; which pervades all levels, from the leaders to the led (see for example Arrighi, 1996). Miracle then became a mirage and mayhem. Euphoria then has become an epidemic which has spread not only throughout Southeast Asia but also threaten the economic might of the second most powerful economic nation in the World: Japan.
An economist who summarized the inner-workings of the financial crisis as it relates to currency speculation and the global production system wrote:
Central banks in Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia have succumbed to currency speculators in recent months and abandoned their policies of pegging their currencies to a basket of currencies dominated by the U. S dollar. The currency-pegging policies became unbearable because of ballooning trade deficits. The deterioration of trade accounts in turn were caused by several factors… Global over-investment in semiconductor, petrochemical, steel, and automobile manufacturing has hit major export industries. Rising real wages here diminished the cost advantage and attracted waves of foreign direct investment over the decade. Finally, banks in the region had been hurt by loans brought about by increasing speculative risk-taking in economies that, it seemed for a while at least, could do no wrong. (Hancock, 1997, p.2)
As in a similar vein, Uchitele (1977) writing in the New York Times attributed the fall to not only currency speculation but more globally in the manner Southeast Asia has existed the last few decades as producers of goods which have come to a saturated and overheated stage. Southeast Asian economics, in their over-zealousness to “catch-up” with the post-industrialized West, was producing “more cars, toys, appliances, film clothing and electronic device that people will buy at a high enough price. (p. 2) There were excesses in almost every industry, which led to the building of excessive production plants, and the heightening of price wars.
Transnational banks played their aggressive role in financing these productions and became key players in advancing “state corporatist developmentalist projects in East Asian nations. And when industries are producing more things to compete at the global marketplace, production overcapacity sets in. Thus in relation to the East Asian crisis, we saw what Uchitele (1997) wrote as “the fall of the house of cards” in which (taking the example of car manufacturing):
In an open-border global economy nearly every car manufacturer, for example, is trying to have a presence in every market. But when all the factories crank out more cars than people can buy, down come car prices. Down go the profits of car companies. Out go the workers. And out go the number of people who can afford to buy cars. Economies can spiral towards recession, or worse. This is what is beginning to happen in Asia now. (p. 2)
Much of the uproar on the role of currency speculators in this episode of Asian financial tragedy can be explained of at this juncture. Whilst there is some truth in for example Prime Ministers’ Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia’s claim that Southeast Asian crisis can be pointed to this “herd” as such as the hitherto improvable George Soros, it is only a piece of the puzzle. The capitalist mode of the production which caused overcapacity, overconsumption and overheating of the economy and overplaying of the role of the international financing in financing productions, has allowed these speculators to take advantage of the financing game.
Instead of goods traded which they have “value” as it relates to currencies, currencies were traded as if they no longer have value as they relate to goods. This episode of the development of the advanced capitalist mode of production and trading led to the collapse of the “house of cards” build upon the global economy “as a stage and speculators and all are players”. The link between the overproduction and overconsumption is then clear when we look at the overall analysis of the role played by the speculators in the global production game:
The financing of this new production often come from international investors moving huge sums across borders. They frequently borrowed the money at low interest rates in Japan and the United States and then invested in booming Asia in expectation in earning a high return. Money borrowed at 1 or 2 per cent a year in Japan might typically pay 8 to 10 per cent invested in Asia. …. Chunks of this money inevitably went not into factories but into speculation. Borrowers defaulted. And as the hope for big returns failed to materialize, fear grew, first in Thailand, that money invested in that country’s currency, the baht would earn enough to pay debts incurred in dollars or yen. There was a run on the baht last summer, which spread to stock prices and other Asian financial markets. (Uchitele, 1997, p.2)
In culminating this analysis of the economic dimension of the crisis, it is important to note that by the concluding day of the APEC member meeting in Vancouver, the situation has become so serious that South Korea, a once powerful “dragon” in the East Asian region has had to ask for a rescue package from the IMF to the tune of, some economics say, US$ 75 billion. Some even say that in the end, the aid needed to bail out the economy could even be US$ 200 billion. (Francis, 1997, p.3)
The IMF package, as it has dictated for Thailand and Indonesia entail the restructuring of the South Korea economy, Francis (1997) wrote of the goals of the program and the dilemma of the world monetary body as they relate to its ability to set limits to its rescue program especially in light of the South Korean quagmire:
The goal of the IMF package is three-pronged. First, it provides loans that can buy time for a nation to get its financial house in order. It also requires recipient countries to make significant financial and fiscal reforms in exchange for the loans. And it aims at restoring confidence so that the crisis does not spread to the nations. …. But rescue missions in recent months for Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia have not stopped what is being called the “domino effect”. The crisis reached South Korea in mid-November, with both its currency, the won and corporate stocks plunging in value. Finance Minister Lim ChangYuel announced November 21 that his nation would seek $20 billion in IMF loans, plus an additional open line of credit. IMF officials have arrived in Seoul to negotiate a rescue package. Experts guess it could reach $75 billion. But now economists are asking if the IMF will have the financial resources to bail out South Korea and meet its earlier requirements. (p. 2)
In concluding the global economic implication of the Southeast Asia financial crisis as a magnitude which may bring the global economy at large towards a recession in the not-too-distant future, we can state the crisis is merely a watershed which has and will unleash a variety of social, political, and global crisis in the region. While not intending to go deeply into the various turns of events which have happened since the episode of the Thai baht devaluation which brought the “fall of the house of cards”, suffice it is to say that any structural breakdown of a nation’s economic functioning, especially in the era of modern corporatist state will have its ramifications and prices to pay affecting the social and political systems. We saw the resignation of the Thai Prime Minister (although merely three-months in power), massive protests by workers and bankers on the streets of Bangkok, war of words by the Malaysian Prime Minister with his “scapegoats” namely George Soros and the “West” in his analysis of the event as a conspiracy, halting of billion dollar projects and governmental bail-outs of its major corporate- political investors, closing of tens of major banks in Indonesia and continuing dissatisfactions with the Suharto regime right up to the resignations of Japan’s Yamaichi Securities chief and the South Korean Finance Minister.
Political economists are yet to analyze and document how many thousands of jobs are lost across Southeast Asia with the bankruptcies of the major investors financing the production factories which thrive on the over producing of goods in a global economic system living and breathing on “market drives”. Social activists and workers are yet to help narrate the sufferings of those retrenched as they struggle to feed their household -- this, a social and human dimension of the financial crisis which are not within the leit motif of the corporatist state which breathes on jargons such as “structural adjustments”, “rescue packages” “economic glitches along the road to the further progress” and “austerity drives”.
Precisely because the contemporary global capitalist system has continued to measure progress via micro economic ontology of facts and figures, wherein human and material progress is calculated via econometric means and displayed via comfortable numbers crunched and trumpeted across the globe, that the human cost of development has often been largely ignored. But the reality of the situation is that whilst economic stability can be paraded as such and used to legitimize the corporatist state ideology, an economic fallout as such as the current analysis cannot escape the scrutiny by “humanistic economists” who would look at such quagmire as having detrimental as having effect on the political and social lives of people. It means that split second currency flights and roller-coastering of the stock market across the globe means more than just numbers to the wealthy individuals and many capitalists of the region; they mean further economic hardships in the lives of those affected when prices of essential goods are raised, austerity measures are administered and social and welfare programs are threatened.
The currency and stock market games being played by corporatist governments, much to the ignorance of the masses, especially of the farmers and the workers, are ones which has left them bewildered and beleaguered of the instant changes that has happened in their lives. They may not yet know what hit them for, explaining to them that the region is in a financial crisis would be futile. For the abject poor for example, their language is that of survival: how to feed the family with the little earn. If during Southeast Asia’s economic boom, poverty reigns, what would the scenario be in this current recession? An illustration of the inter-relatedness of the economic problem with the effect on the social-political sphere is one in Indonesia. As written by an Asiaweek correspondent:
Probably the most tense in slump-hit East Asia is Indonesia, where in recent years they had already been chronic spasms of ethnic rioting, fed in part by enmity towards rich Chinese and crony businessmen. On top of the hundreds of thousands likely to be retrenched, there are 2. 6 million entrants to the workforce every year. To employ most of them Indonesia needs 7% GNP growth, but only 5. 4% is forecast this year and 4. 8% next year. Compounding woes are the recent closure of 16 banks, and soaring consumer prices – in Surabaya, the No. 2 city, rice is reportedly dearer by more than 30%. (Saludo, 1977)
This is but one illustration by which the most basic of all essential good, rice, can even possibly be denied to the object poor who do not understand what stock markets and currency speculator means. Already across the region, governments are scrambling to control price hikes so that the politics of food, which can translate into social anger, can be kept under control. The drought in investor confidence currently suffered by nations will further deteriorate the condition of the poor who generally live in subsistence level of less than US$1.00 a day. As noted by Stijn Claessens, the World Bank’s principal economist for East Asia and the Pacific,
“[a] key issue is how Asia will raise the tons of billion of dollars needed to bail out financial institutions, as much as 15% of GNP. If governments slash out outlays for the poor, even as jobs fall and price leap, then increasing unrest, if not violence, is inevitable. (Saludo, 1997, p.2)
Thus, beginning with an analysis of the Thai crisis to the possible precarious condition of the poor at the advent of a recession, I have briefly provided a survey of linkages of how the current financial crisis is related within the spectrum of micro and macroeconomics. From the politics of declining numbers flashed onto the screen of the world’s major financial powerhouses, to the politics of dis-empowerment and disenfranchisement of the modern day proletariat of Southeast Asia, the global developmentalist project which brought corporations, governments, industries and transnational banks and corporations, has reared its ugly short-comings.
Looking from a radical world systems perspective, precisely because the Southeast Asian economies are merely “sovereign production houses” of the advanced economies and precisely because their leaders are “well-rewarded production managers” of the global production system that the economic quagmire these nations are in can be explained logically as a massive breakdown of periphery nations of which they are cogs in the huge global production wheel dominated by the advanced countries such as the United States, Japan, and Western Europe. The post-colonial dilemma has not been resolved; for the nations then become freer to produce more for a global economic system which is a natural outgrowth of colonialism.
Instead of producing rubber, aluminum, tin and other strategic minerals for the advanced nations as it was the scenario in the 1970s, the 1980s and 1990s saw more sophistication in the nature of “wants” produced for the global marketplace. In a powerful analysis of this phenomena of global production system, McMichael (1996) for example detailed a framework of the system into a logical explanation of the political economy of the global capitalism in which the historical materialistic dimension of late capitalism of Rostowian “five stages of growth” is demonstrated. In the case of car manufacturing, for instance, McMichael note the global dimension of its existence:
The Mitsubishi Motor Corporation, which is headquartered in Japan, has subsidiaries producing components in South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Australia, and even the United States (as joint ventures with the Chrysler Corporation and the Ford Motor Company). Mitsubishi cars, assembled in Thailand or Japan, are sold in the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea as Dodge or Plymouth Colts. (p.93)
Even more precarious is the network of integrated enterprises in the global information industry beginning in the middle of the 1980s to the current Southeast Asian nations’ trend of transforming their economies into little Silicon Valleys. The world factory in the production of micro-electronic goods which puts East Asian nations in a catching-up game with their First World proteges can be illustrated of its global capitalist inner-workings as such below:
The telecommunications technologies allow firms to organize along global lines, moving components and software among offshore sites and selling end products in world markets. Thus we find “global assembly lines” stretching from California’s Silicon Valley or Scotland’s Silicon Glen to assembly sites in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Sri Lanka. The global assembly lines are extremely fluid commodity chains as production organizations among the links of the chains is centrally coordinated. That is, the pattern and context of these chains is determined continuously at the headquarters of transnational companies according to market conditions. (McMichael, pg.89)
The illustrations of the automobile and electronic industries, are but only two of the examples of production lines in the global factory system financed by transnational banks and providing enough room for maneuver by financial speculators who move chunks of capital from one country to another. The global capitalist system has allowed the frontiering of fertile grounds for distributive injustices of such magnitude to happen in which national sovereignties are critically threatened at the expense of millions of workers and producers in the respective capitalist states. Political leaders, in cultivating such fertile grounds and in their fervor of playing the catching up game with the entrenchedly powerful advanced economies, have often maintained and clung on to power via Machiavellian means in order to make their nation-states safest for the capitalist brand of democracy. It is this system which gave rise to Southeast Asian leaders who believed that they should stay in power “for as long as the people need them”.
Thus we saw historical junctures in the political history of states in the region, which allow for example Ferdinand Marcos to rule for 20 years, Lee Kuan Yew for more than 35, Suharto for more than 30, and Mahathir Mohamad close to 16. Economic stability, viable for investment by transnational corporations, these leaders maintain, must have its precondition in political stability --- whatever the social, moral, philosophical costs may yield. This logic may then explain why millions of citizens after for decades being fed by the mystical knowledge of progress via state-controlled media apparatus, found it hard to believe that the root cause of the financial meltdown is not due to a historical-materialist-structural breakdown of the capitalist system but instead believe that speculators such as the George Soros of Wall Street may be the culprit behind the crippling of the economies.
The following sections will thus try to offer alternative ways of looking at the root cause of the crisis and how a radical shift in thinking borrowed from contemporary ideascapes of the advancing millenium can perhaps aid us in redesigning our ontology. In analyzing and finding comfortable solutions to the manner we cope with the crisis, the nagging issue of distributive justice as championed by the United Nations will precede my attempt to answer the question: dare we create a new frame of mind?; one based on the rendering of our philosophical and political priorities in which, together with fate conspire, to destroy the scheme of things entire, so that we can mould them closer to our heart’s desire.
Before we move on to the last two sections of this essay, those I call “catharsis” and “praxis”, and then look at some possible directions educational and social philosophy can take their course, we turn to the “synthesis” aspects of the crisis as it relates to the political economic framework upon which this essay largely rests. The use of the typography “prognosis-analysis-synthesis-catharsis-praxis” is illustrative of the argument that the distributive justice system as it has rendered the advent of a near global recession metaphored as such as a huge machinery of socio-political and economic basis which has ran out of steam. Or, in a humanistic psychology tradition, one can look at the global system as revealing a stage of troubled adolescence; of a child, after having for years been fed with material goods and be granted freedom without much responsibility and without being imbued with a deeply understood moral and ethical system, has grown up with major excesses anathema to his/her development as a holistic and spiritually conscious being.
Such is the predicament of the Southeast Asian nations under the guide of their parents who see modern conception of utilitarianism as a goal in the overall developmental life span. Southeast Asian civilization, at least in its economic dimension, has met its discontents, calling upon classical and political-economists alike to offer their paradigmatically plausible explanations into the root cause of the madness which has begun to dawn upon the nations. If in the previous section, I have attempted to illuminate the root cause of the Southeast Asian financial crisis by predominantly looking at it from a Marxist political economic standpoint within the world systems ontology, the following discussions will center around framing the issue within the distributive justice framework of the global system. We now turn to the synthesis of the crisis with the overall work of the United Nation’s perspective on what constitute as system based upon the giving of a fair share to “we the peoples of the world”.
Taking the financial crisis as a phenomena of the late twentieth century capitalism, I shall relate it briefly with others in the agenda of United Nation’s “corrective measures” to be taken if we are to see a more equitable and just world order in the next century. It is by juxtaposing the domain of efforts undertaken by this world body historically, with the current crisis that we can look at contextually the logic behind the quagmire Southeast Asian nations will be in. The socio-economic and political problems which will plague these nations in years to come would be a microcosm of the ones which have been plaguing the world at large: increasing poverty, uneven distribution of wealth, unemployment, undernourishment, and a range of others which are spin-offs of these.
It all sums up to the question of human rights, which require us to create newer frames of mind. The global view of such as injustice is illustrated by Richard Falk, quoted in Felice (1996) who explained the nature of the global system:
Two of the structural features within an integrated economy that account for the extent of economically generated adversity in the world today are hierarchy and unevenness. Hierarchy refers to the domination of the global economy by North America, Japan, and Europe, augmented by the Asian dragons, while unevenness points to the vastly different effects of the globalization on the economic and social condition of peoples, classes, genders, ethnic groupings, races, and civilizations. Unevenness extends within the North and South itself, as demonstrated by the persistence of homelessness and significant unemployment in the North and apparently co-opted elite in the South who have more in common with the interest and outlook of the North than with their own peoples. (p.78)
The resultant of such structured features is documented in the 1994 reports on The State of the World’s Children and in Human Development Report which illustrated the escalating of the global arms spending whilst millions upon millions are threatened with poor health, undernourishment, malnutrition, and famine. (p.78) Whilst the Third World, including member nations in Southeast Asia have been grappling with the issue of how best to feed the poor whether there is a financial crisis or not, it is also paradoxically tuned into the ideology of “preparing for war in order for peace to be attained”. Thus, a newer form of militarism is advancing in that these nations are preparing themselves for peace by stockpiling conventional and biological weapons. In a report by the Commission on Global Governance (1995) it is stated that:
The Third World became increasingly militarized, drawing funds away from vitally needed economic and social development. …The world may in fact be on the verge of a new race to acquire weapons of mass destruction. These include biological weapons in addition to nuclear arms. (p.13)
It is interesting then to analyze how the new priorities will be set in Southeast Asia after the paralyzing attack on its economy; whether bombs will continue to be prioritized over breads. The connection above made between arms and hunger is essential for one to understand how nations arm themselves from each other in order to protect not only “statehood sovereignty” but to channel surpluses from their earnings based upon the notion that political stability is a precondition for economic well-being and progress. Indeed however, the arms trade has become such a lucrative business for producers that demands are created in the form of conflicts between and within nations so that more sophisticated means of interest-safeguarding can be acquired through the balance of terror.
As a corollary to the above, it would be interesting to observe in the next few years to come, how the recession and economic system breakdown in the Southeast Asian region can lead to the altering of the configuration of the balance of power in the region.
How would the United States for example, view the weakening of the economic might of Southeast Asia in toto vis-a-vis the emergence of China as the next major superpower of the Eastern world? Would there be the selling off of the ideology of the fear of “China’s hidden military agenda” to the nations of Southeast Asia as they calculate one another’s comparative strength in an era of post-economic system breakdown? Would economic insecurities translate to military build-ups at the expense of resources much needed to rebuild these nations in the areas of social, educational, and economic confidence building?
In addition to such correlation between arm, hunger, and the possibility of a military buildup, how would the recently impoverished nations of the region deal with internal dissatisfactions, as a result of IMF dictates, austerity drives, industrial and banking sector shutdowns rendering hundreds and thousands unemployed, escalating prices of essential goods, political dissentions, and a range of other derangement produced by the capitalist mode of production subscribed historically by those nations?
Whilst political dissentions and social movements against authoritarianism and corrupt governments may not be new in Southeast Asia, the post-financial crisis period may force these governments to use more intelligent measures not only to explain to their people the “real” cause behind the economic plague, but to better equip themselves against their own people. The corporatist developmental state, a feature of First World capitalism’s transplantation of its global production system ideology has succeeded in creating a tightly-knit economic system run by high-tech means of information retrieval and dissemination that any breakdown in one area such as Thailand can trigger paralysis of other systems. I have briefly illustrate how the system works – from the Bangkok Stock Exchange to Wall Street – in an apparently complex and chaotic world of financial dealings but perfectly intelligible and predatory to speculators who play their role when their acts come. And in the game of financial dealings, against the backdrop of a global system which thrives on cut-throat competitions in a dangerous zero-sum game, laced with jargons of economic determination and liberation, sanctioned by the respective players, the backstage scene is nonetheless disturbing.
The silent acts played by the se mute actors are among them, in the form of epics of over-consumption and overproduction, malnutrition and mass unemployment, arms buildup and authoritarianism, and social alienation and the strengthening of the war system. The major casts are, and have been those who have been in power for a long time, with the producers and financiers determining the plot and the outcome of the story. In the case of Southeast Asia, it is a story which ended with a surprise ending – leaving the entire cast and their financiers scrambling to find out who secretly had rewritten the final act; instead of a play one with a happy ending, a tragedy with divine comedies in the making.
There is no guarantee that the swift-sweeping crisis, which has befallen Southeast Asia, would not trigger a global recession in the next century. Neither will there be a guarantee that even if structural and corrective adjustments are made to the present capitalist system, economic regions of the world will not be revisited by such financial plague. The Southeast Asian case, as we’ve looked at in the previous sections, is a reflection of the international distributive injustice system which is built upon competition in all aspects – control of natural resources, building of engines of mass destruction, ordering of the human species via dehumanizing international system, (albeit subtly cloaked in the garb of liberalism,) and all forms of socio-political arrangements blended with Machiavellian and Social Darwinistic frames of operation.
The technology we develop, albeit has made life easier in the fields of medicine, social service and education, over the centuries has also been used to bring about untold damages to our own species in the form of sophisticated and deadly development and deployment of weapons for mass annihilation. The technology we have constantly perfected too has helped degrade the environment, devastate rainforests, pollute atmosphere, destroy coral reefs, deforestate and dessertificate planet Earth we are naturally required to live in harmony with.
Our creativity, the highest human instinct bestowed upon us has been used without moral conscience. Reports upon reports from the United Nations agencies have documented the range of abuses we have created since time we knew how to misuse technology. There is creativity in our developing of missiles, trajectory systems, nuclear-powered submarines marooning “enemy waters”, and shields in space in the event of a “star wars”. There is creativity in the manner we build cities unfit for human habitation and in the way we provide dignity to others as it relates to modern-day class distinctions. There is creativity in the way we order our international economic system into such a grand design that the entire global system becomes a huge production house controlled by a few. We have thus, at the brink of the millennium, cultivated planet Earth not only as an experimental lab of human rat race but also as a place in which we test our weapons, make territorial claims upon geographical areas we should rightfully share, and build social systems which advances the interests of the privileged few.
The financial crisis in Southeast Asia is a moment of realization in several aspects. First, it signifies the infallibility of an international economic system, which is framed and operated around the principles of dangerous competition to shove “wants” more than “needs” to the global consumers. It is one which has matured to the highest stage of capitalist formation considering the fact that there is now one dominant system which has triumphed over “command economy” based upon scientific socialism – the “end of history” and the birth of the one global economic system. Second, the crisis signifies the triumph of technology over our own species in which currency trading, described in business military jargons as “attacks” are carried out by those operating the 200, 000 over computers in the world’s major financial markets.
Our creativity in designing split-second trade-computing devices as such should make us realize the thesis that technological development and deployment, in the hands of the morally corrupt users can bring about international catastrophes. And lastly but not the least, our moment of catharsis in the case of the Southeast Asian fallout is that the decades of development projects pursued along ideology of economies of scale and utility, has brought about environmental disasters to the major regions of Southeast Asia; especially in the decades that industries replace farmers, and “cybercities” replace traditional communities.
Infrastructure built at costs depleting natural resources have in its agenda to facilitate the movement of goods and human labor in the integrated capitalist system. The catharsis in short, signifies a moment wherein economics should not merely be left to politicians and political economy merely to university professors!
If education must become one of, if not the only, powerful enterprise to answer the question: “what must proceed this catharsis”?, it should play this role in the realms of critical, creative, moral, and futuristic consciousness. If praxis must become a logical step out of the thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis aspects of our thinking about the international economic system in general, and about the Southeast Asian financial crisis in particular, it can start with our analysis of alternative development paradigms currently being experimented globally. Some radical shifts in the way we develop technology, our closeness to Nature, in the way we practice our social relations, and our degree of altruism in the way we frame our interpersonal relations – all these are among the premises we ought to have faith in order for praxis to operate within an educational framework pillared upon principles of a “Moral Economy of Our Information Age Society”.
What should be the underlying themes for this newer frame of thinking? The scope of this essay would certainly not allow the detailed program of educational praxis which invites us to reframe the developmental issues discussed throughout this essay, nor would it allow discussions of agenda much needed in the best possible scenario of an international order based upon the principles of distributive justice. Voluminous amount of work documented by the organs of the United Nations have begun to emerge to enlighten us on the efforts being made in creating such awareness on environmentalism, fair trade, peace-building, and all those of which the United Nations is given birth to deal with.
In concluding this brief section on the praxical nature of the program of action nonetheless, I will highlight some key concepts we can explore in order to engineer a rethinking on development and to equip us with the necessary tools to venture into the desirable path as we come close to a crossroad at the turn of the century. These concepts can provide alternative modes of thinking to be experimented with over decades and generations especially for nations desiring to de-link themselves from the competitive nature of the global system.
Before highlighting the concepts, it is useful to note McLaughlin (1997) of a much needed transformation as a necessary corrective measure out of the excesses of industrialism brought about by both the capitalist and the socialist systems:
In the last few hundred years, industrial society has encircled the earth, and in requiring massive disruptions of ecological processes for its ordinary functioning threatens all forms of life on this planet. Both capitalist and socialist variants of expansionary industrialism routinely require the destruction of species and ecosystems. Industrialism now threatens to disrupt atmospheric conditions fundamental to the whole biosphere. If ecological problems have roots in industrialism, then a perspective which takes industrialism as part of the problem is needed. … The trans- formation of industrialism will, I believe, involve a multifaceted struggle over several generations. The changes required are of the magnitude of the agricultural and industrial revolutions. (p.1)
“The multi-faceted struggle” involved must began with us daring to explore themes from best practices in liberatory movements and avante gard humanistic ideas which have emerged out of the tension, chaos, complexity, and changes brought about by the industrial revolution and its precursors. A moral economy of an Information Age society thus, may require us to explore themes such as “fundamentalism” (“basic needs as rights” movement), ecosophy (the underlying philosophical outlook which is contributing the “deep ecology’ movement), “feminism” (the reassertion of the love and care dimension of our androgynic self), “cosmopolitan localism” (the kind of thinking which makes us rethink what current notions of progress means and how we can design grass-root development projects which is compatible with the goals of realizing our authentic beings) and lastly, “mysticism and personacracy” (a moral philosophical dimension of religious life which calls upon the ordering of extending oneself within and without so that beings and non-beings around us comes into relation but not merely as objects but as experiences in the ocean of Mystical schemes of things)
In way of synthesis and elaboration of the themes presented above; those of which can precondition us to dare create a new frame of mind, it is my assertion that an educational framework which can emerge out of the urgent need to meet the anxieties of the next century, can be conceptualized. In it must contain the value of fundamentalism in the manner we prioritize “needs” over “wants”, which entails us to understand and demystify the inherently dehumanizing ideology of mass and conspicuous consumption. In it must also contain a deep and systematic valuing of planet Earth as the one and only we have for realization of our planetary consciousness. An educational philosophical perspective which goes beyond paying lip service to environmental protection must be realized in the form of environmental activism, form pre-school right up to post doctoral education. In it must also contain the awareness and the deep structuring of the perspective of feminism; one which looks at males and females as equal partners in our shaping of more just and humane world under.
In it must contain the conviction that what international non-governmental organizations have to say in their struggle for consciousness raising in the various areas of human and social concern must be studied and turn into praxis at the local level transcending the boundaries set by nation-states. This entails partnering of educational institutions with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the common struggle to make global peace a common agenda. And lastly, in the framework must contain the cultivation of spiritual values in the present and future generation to understand the meaning of living symbiotically with nature in an evolving concept of being and becoming of peace with oneself and the other beings we share living space with. Such nature of praxis and the insistence on the need to reengineer the inner-workings of our educational framework constitute a challenge we would have to face, as an alternative paradigm of human development, in order to redefine the meaning of justice in the way we order our life in a world threatened by a plethora of pathologies. Dare we thus, move towards a newer paradigm and envision alternative futures in a world wherein laden with fundamentally perplexing questions on distributive justice?
INSTEAD OF A CONCLUSION
I have argued within the limitation of this essay that the Southeast Asian financial crisis which began in July and which had continued to bring those effected deeper into economic, social and political quagmire is but a mirror of the global distribution injustices which has plagued us since man know what power can do or undo. This is exacerbated in the modern concept of the global interdependence scenario the world is presently in; especially in the manner the world is ordered as a huge production system. A political economic analysis is provided in looking at the issue. I have also argued that education, as an enterprise wherein the fullest potentials of the human being can be realized, and as an avenue for change can be reengineered of its framework to bring in progressive themes such fundamentalism, ecosophy, feminism, cosmopolitan localism, and mysticism. Such themes are necessary in our quest for our realizing of a more humane world order and a moral and just future.
This essay ends with, instead of a conclusion, a hope for the themes to be further expanded so that the future of life and living we prepare for our children and grandchildren is not one which is exacerbations of the current crisis but that in which we have chosen as an alternative which is enhancements of the moral progressivism cultivated out of the current crisis. It is a philosophical question; one of choice in which if we believe that paradigms anathema to our progress as powerful, intelligent, loving and wise human beings, CAN be destroyed, we then OUGHT to destroy it which entails then that we CREATE newer ways of looking at things.
This may be the only hope we have for planet Earth of which we have been entrusted by our Creator to care for. As an ancient Iranian philosopher once said : Could Thou and I with Fate Agree To Break the Scheme of Things Decreed Could Thou and I with Fate Conspire To Mould Them to Our Hearts’ Desire. And hence, I end this essay with: What then must we do?
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