How Many Slaves Work For You?

Click here to find out. I’ve got at least two dozen apparently, though I’m sure it’s far more.

Suffering and exploitation are an inseparable part of our economic system, and there’s really no way to avoid it. Just about everything we use or own comes at the expense of someone else’s well-being. This is nothing new of course, but it’s far less noticeable than it once was, given the complexity and opaqueness of today’s market. We buy things without really knowing their origins or what was put into them, as I’ve discussed in just a single example before.

I’m not sure what we can do to fix this exploitative system. Some have argued that there must be an underclass of labor that must be used and abused for the sake of providing cheap goods to the market. I don’t know if that will always be true, but I’d like to think that someday we could change that.

Sixteen Cities to Watch Out For

Cities are what are shaping civilization. Humanity is more urbanized now than ever before, and we’ve created unprecedentedly large communities where millions of human beings – and all their ideas, businesses, talents, and beliefs – intermingle and converge within a dense space. This is why cities are dynamic – and also a bit overwhelming – and why they’re driving growth, innovation, and culture across the world. In other words, they’re shaping the next century of human development.

This is especially the case for the developing world, which is rising rapidly, if not tenuously, in economic, political, technological, and cultural clout. Our globalized and interconnected world is giving way to global cities, where cultures, peoples, and businesses from across the world gather, giving urban configurations influence far and wide. These are the cities who’s financial markets, media outlets, industries, and other exports can change nations, or even the world.

Tokyo, Paris, London, and especially New York City were classic examples, and remain core global cities to this day. But they’re already being joined by many others, some surprising and some not so much. Foreign Policy has posted a slideshow selecting the 16 cities that will influence the world – for better or for worse – or that will be defining symbols of the coming era.

Like any list, some of the selections are contentious, but they still make for a good view and a lot of consideration. I hope you enjoy. Feel free to add your own suggestions as well. I’d be curious to read them.

Click here for view the article.

The Video Game Boom

What began as a simple curiosity has grown into a billion dollar industry that pervades our society, media, and commercial market. Video games have become a staple in entertainment, popular culture, and the average young person’s life for well over a decade. But they now seem posed to become the single-largest form of media ever, if current growth trends persist. The Economist reports:

OVER the past two decades the video-games business has gone from a cottage industry selling to a few niche customers to a fully grown branch of the entertainment industry. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a consulting firm, the global video-game market was worth around $56 billion last year, and has grown by over 60% since 2006, when the Nintendo Wii console was launched. The gaming industry is more than twice the size of the recorded-music industry, nearly a quarter more than the magazine business and about three-fifths the size of the film industry. PwC predicts that video games will be the fastest-growing form of media over the next few years, with sales rising to $82 billion by 2015. The biggest market is America, whose consumers this year are expected to spend $14.1 billion on games, mostly on the console variety. Consoles also dominate in Britain, the fifth-largest gaming market. In other parts of Europe, and particularly Germany, PC games are more popular. China has overtaken Japan to become the second-biggest market, and  is one of the fastest-growing, with sales rising by 20% last year.

And since I’m a visual man myself, here are two charts that better reflect the growth and dynamism of this massive industry:

Notice how games are booming outside their traditional markets – namely North America and Japan. As in most things, China is set to become one of the largest game markets in the world, and with time, may very well begin to churn out prominent video game companies of its own (so far, its game developers are largely domestic and relatively unknown).  The “Others” section is also pretty massive, suggesting that video games – like so many other products and media – are globalizing far beyond the long-established developed rich-world markets.

As a semi-serious gamer and world-culture enthusiast, I for one think it will be exciting to possibly see more game selections emerge from other countries. Of course, that assumes that the old guard of Japanese and (especially) American game companies don’t try to retain their long-held market advantage by buying off or out-spending their competitors.

Sounds familiar? These titans of industry are not unlike their contemporaries in other markets, from Hollywood to news media to oil: as their commercial markets expand, so to does their influence and power, and many gamers – myself included – are concerned about the perverse influence that all this growth and money will have on small or up-starting developers. Companies like EA Games, one of the largest media corporations period, have already developed a reputation suited to Industrial Era conglomerates: trying to dominate the market through cunning business practices and brute force.

Alas, that’s the way it goes for most things. People lament the loss of artistic and individual freedom in Hollywood, now dominated by a core of powerful studios and their mass-produced blockbusters; or of reliable news outlets similarly absorbed into just a handful of huge media corporations. The novelty and adventurism of a new idea – a sort of Wild West frontier that nearly all industries start off of – makes way for something that becomes too conformist, greedy, and soulless: the rehashing of the same formulaic but money-making stuff the draws in the larger crowd but leaves the veteran and enthusiasts reeling.

Granted, I’m not this cynical about it, but I’ve certainly heard this sentiment expressed with respect to video games, just as I have about virtually everything else that inevitably becomes commercialized once it’s popular enough. I think it’s a valid concern, but like anything else, this sort of development is a double-edged sword: after all, more money also means more technical innovation, and we’re seeing games become more cinematic and groundbreaking by the year.

Furthermore, the backlash against this sort of commercialization, coupled with the ubiquity of technology and programming skills, means that small-time game makers still have their niche, and we can still expect a fair share of quirky, innovative, and diverse selections to complement the “big box” stuff (which can also be pretty fun too). I know its all still debatable, and I don’t have the time to go into much more detail, but the game industry is moving so fast there’s no telling where it’s really going. I think there is reason for excitement and anxiety, and I’d like everyone’s thoughts on the matter.

Graffiti: A Global Art Form

I know I’ve become quite a booster for Foreign Policy lately, but I find that it covers quite a few interesting and eclectic topics for an international relations periodical. The topic of this article concerns graffiti transcending it’s American origins and becoming a global art form. It also delves a little bit into the rather touchy subject – for art aficionados at least – about how one defines art, and to what extent the creation of art, in particular graffiti, is truly about political or personal expression, counter-cultural transgression, or merely an act of impulsiveness.

I for one do view it as an art form, both for it’s aesthetic quality and it’s capacity to communicate all manner of ideas, thoughts, or feelings. I would love to find a comprehensive collection of graffiti from all over the world. I always find globalized cultural products of some kind to be fascinating, especially when they include a unique fusion of styles or the development of culturally-specific variations. It’s just another way human beings across the globe are being connected.

Developing World Rising

The 21st century has been dominated with discussions and concerns about a major paradigm shift in the world: the rise of so-called developing countries. It’s pretty much become accepted that poorer, comparatively under-developed nations – chief among them China, India, Brazil, and maybe Russia – will soon reach a level of wealth and industrialization long characteristic of North America, Western Europe, East Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. The modernization and prosperity gap between the developing world and developed countries (as rich nations are called) is quickly narrowing, with vast political, social, cultural, and economic implications for the world.

The Economist recently published a brief but detailed report about this increasing shift in power and fortune for emerging economies (as they’re also called). One version is heavier on the info-graphics – linked here – while the other is more wordy and analytical, and linked to here. For practicality’s sake, I’ll post some of the data here, as it pretty much speaks for itself.

Essentially, developing economies still have some ways to go in terms of attaining the “mature” characteristics of an advanced economy, such as more outward investment, consumer spending, and large companies. But by and large, they’ve not only caught up with the rich world in many ways, but seem poised to surpass it rather quickly. As the Economist article notes:

The combined output of the developing economies accounted for 38% of world GDP (at market exchange rates) in 2010, twice its share in 1990 (see upper chart). On reasonable assumptions, it could exceed the developed world’s within seven years. If GDP is instead measured at purchasing-power parity, which takes account of the fact that lower prices in poorer countries boost real spending power, emerging economies overtook the developed world in 2008 and are likely to reach 54% of world GDP this year. Even more impressive, they accounted for three-quarters of global real GDP growth over the past decade.

So momentum and recent historical precedent are clearly in the emerging world’s favor. Granted, the future is always a difficult thing to predict, especially when it comes to economics (as we’ve grown painfully aware of these past few years). But barring some gigantic global catastrophe, we can expect to see a lot of new countries join the stagnant ranks of the industrialized world, if not officially, than at least as far as the quantitative measures go. Even another economic crisis might not be too troubling: most of today’s developing nations were among the first to emerge from the punishing global recession, and were far less harmed by it than their richer rivals. As the article poignantly notes:

Two decades ago economic models treated the developing world like a dog’s tail, wagged this way and that by rich countries but too small to affect them. Now the tail wags the dog. Their greater weight and speed mean emerging markets drive global growth, commodity prices and inflation.

These emerging powers will no doubt be more than happy to exercise that sort of influence, which they’ve long had to face from richer nations. However, I don’t want to overstate the implications of any of this. Again, the developing world still has a long way to go, and it will likely take decades for most of them to reach the level of development that we’re accustomed to. Economic growth doesn’t account for political and social progress either: China and Russia may still be corrupt and authoritarian, while India may still contend with ethnic, religious, and political tensions.

There’s a lot to be concerned about regarding the costs to the environment and labor rights: what will a world with billions of new and increasingly demanding consumers be like? Will there be enough resources and land for all of them? Can the world take any more waste and pollution from all the new industries and goods that are proliferating? How much logging, mining, and clearing for farms can our planet take? And what will happen to the vast underclass of workers that will be expected to extract and make all the resources needed?

More people having access to food, shelter, healthcare, and education is a good thing, but how sustainable will it be, and at what costs will it come? I’ts perverse to think that the long-suffering majority of this planet must be questioned in its growing prosperity due to unfortunate timing. But if the rest of the world came to live more like Americans, we’d have a lot of scarcity on our hands, as even current levels of consumption are being increasingly difficult to maintain.

Thus, this “rise of the rest,” as Parag Khanna, an international relations expert puts it, will present vast challenges to a fragile but increasingly dynamic world. One could only hope that the growing clout, wealth, and education levels of these nations could constructively be applied to address these concerns before they bring us all down.

Pakistan Reinvents Jazz

We rarely hear of anything good or “normal” coming out of Pakistan anymore. Like Mexico, Iran, and other countries gripped by some sort of civil strife, the country suffers from an intractable image problem that leaves it synonymous only with grim news headlines of violence or instability. But there’s more going on in these places than conflict, corruption, and misery. Life goes on, and people still go about their daily routine. Art, literature, and scholarship is still produced, as in all human societies.

As the title states, Pakistan, for example, is adding a distinct and intriguing twist on classical jazz music, while resurrecting its beleaguered classical and underground music scene.

The video is short, but I felt it merited attention, and I hope some of you decide to look into the genre some more (there’s some interesting stuff out there). I’ve become quite weary of our limited and negatively biased perception of most of the world, being exposed to the same old negative stereotypes that persist in both media and the public consciousness. Our society has long been intrinsically ethnocentric, and many Americans are deprived of most of the fascinating cultural products and ideas that emerge around the world – assuming most of them care enough in the first place.

So as far as many of my peers are concerned, much of the world is either war-torn, poor, or uninteresting; countries that are bedeviled with misfortune and conflict are at a considerable disadvantage already, without this added sentiment. Part of my life’s goal as both an IR major and a world culture aficionado is to dispel these notions to the best of my ability. I think I may create a series that will try to cover various cultural and intellectual achievements from around the world, particularly from countries that are obscure or have bad reputations. I also hope some of you contribute to this project as well – I’m always happy to engage in illuminating cultural exchanges.

If there’s one thing that’s always fascinated me about humanity, it’s our innate knack for creative and high-minded pursuits in every civilization we form, regardless of size, development, or environment. That’s something I want – and hope for – others to appreciate.


Hello everyone, I hope you’re all well.  Unfortunately, I’ve been hit with another hectic schedule lately, so I haven’t had time to post or write as much as I’d like. However, I figured that I could at least leave you all with an interesting video to watch, once against courtesy of RSA. This one covers a topic that I find to be sadly under-appreciated in it’s significance: migration (in case you couldn’t tell by the eponymous title).

Humanity has become increasingly mobile with the progression of time and technology, and the 21st century may come to be defined by massive movements of people to and from different parts of the world. All these journeys could have considerable influence on economics, society, politics, culture, and even religion. As people move, so do ideas, faiths, customs, and economic potential. Both the place of origin and the destination will be altered in some way, sometimes for good, for ill, or somewhere in-between. This has already begun, and the recession has done less to slow it down than we’d think.

As the video keenly but concisely illustrates, keeping up with the ramifications of all these exoduses  will require a lot of innovation: in the way we build and design cities; in the laws that govern property and travel;  and in how we think of and treat migrants of diverse backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. Migration also allows us to experience the power of human ingenuity, willpower, and perseverance, as people travel vast distances and endure great hardships to improve their lives and that of their communities. Migration will be a definitive element of identity for millions.

While there’s much more I’d like to say on the topic, I must save it for future post. I’ll also leave you all with an interesting review of one of the few books to cover this fascinating topic. I hope you all enjoy reflecting on and exploring this issue as much as I do. Until next time. If I don’t get around to posting tomorrow, than have a fun and safe fourth of July.