Commentary Magazine


Topic: globalization

The Wages of Globalization in the South Pacific

In 1813, the frigate USS Essex, after having raided British merchant shipping around the coast of South America, needed to find an island where it could retrofit without fear of being set upon by the Royal Navy. So its captain, the brave and impetuous David Porter, ordered a 2,500-mile voyage to the Marquesas Islands, a chain of fourteen volcanic islands located in the South Pacific about 850 miles northeast of Tahiti. He arrived in the horseshoe-shaped harbor of Nuku Hiva on October 25, 1813, and soon set up camp on the shore. He dubbed the bay Massachusetts Bay and built a small fort he called Madisonville. He even tried to annex the islands for the United States—a proclamation that Congress ignored when lawmakers learned of it months later, thereby missing the chance to make the United States a Pacific power decades before California was granted statehood. Read More

In 1813, the frigate USS Essex, after having raided British merchant shipping around the coast of South America, needed to find an island where it could retrofit without fear of being set upon by the Royal Navy. So its captain, the brave and impetuous David Porter, ordered a 2,500-mile voyage to the Marquesas Islands, a chain of fourteen volcanic islands located in the South Pacific about 850 miles northeast of Tahiti. He arrived in the horseshoe-shaped harbor of Nuku Hiva on October 25, 1813, and soon set up camp on the shore. He dubbed the bay Massachusetts Bay and built a small fort he called Madisonville. He even tried to annex the islands for the United States—a proclamation that Congress ignored when lawmakers learned of it months later, thereby missing the chance to make the United States a Pacific power decades before California was granted statehood.

Before long, Porter and his men were embroiled in the violent politics of this Edenic island. Having aligned themselves with the Taaehs, the tribe which controlled the harbor where they landed, the American sailors found themselves drawn into conflict with the Taaehs’ local rivalries. The savage fighting, which traditionally ended with the victors eating the vanquished warriors, inflicted a number of casualties among the Americans. It was, in some ways, a harbinger of what the United States would encounter as its military forces ventured into the Asia-Pacific region to places such as the Philippines and Vietnam, where our involvement in local politics proved even more deadly.

I wrote about Captain Porter’s expedition in my 2002 book, The Savage Wars of Peace. But until now I had never visited Niku Hiva. Not many Americans have, aside from the contestants and crew of “Survivor: Marquesas” which was filmed here in 2001. I was intensely curious to find out how the island had fared in the years since Porter’s arrival, but I had not been able to arrange a journey until now. It is still not an easy place to visit: Getting there required multiple flights, first from New York to Los Angeles, then to Tahiti, then to Hiva Oa (another island in the Marquesas chain), and finally a puddle-jumper to Niku Huva.

Arriving 202 years after Porter, I was at no risk of being drawn into a war. The islands, having been claimed by France in 1842, are a peaceful if hardly bustling part of French Polynesia. The natives have long since giving up head-hunting in favor of tamer pursuits such as farming and selling tikis (carved wooden idols) to the small number of tourists who come here, mainly from France. The beauty of Nuku Hiva remains striking even if it is more tamed, less wild than it must have been in Porter’s day. (Hiva Oa, where Gaugian died in 1803, is less visited and hence its tropical vegetation is less under control.)

You can still pick bananas, coconuts, grapefruit, and much else off the trees free of charge. You can still hike treacherous mountain trails through the jungle similar to those that Porter and his men must have taken on their expeditions against the warlike Typees (made famous by another visitor: Herman Melville). And of course you can enjoy the striking beauty of the harbor where Porter first set foot.

The major difference since Porter’s day is not only the elimination of cannibalism but also the elimination of most of the local inhabitants. When Porter arrived, there were an estimated 80,000 people in the Marquesas. By 1926 the figure had fallen to just 2,000. Today the total population is still under 9,000 and many of the islands are entirely unpopulated. Nuku Hiva is the most populous of the Marquesas chain, but it has only 2,650 people — as many as live within a few blocks of me in New York.

What happened? Where did all the people go? In brief, what happened here is the same thing that happened to the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas: They were wiped out after the arrival of the Europeans. Some were killed in battle. Many more were killed by diseases to which they had no resistance that the Europeans brought with them. This was not a conscious genocide of the part of the Europeans, but the effect was no different than if it had been. The Polynesians were wiped out as thoroughly as the Sioux or Seminoles.

It is melancholy to reflect on this sad yet probably unavoidable chapter in the interchange between Europe and the non-European world. Polynesian attitudes toward France, their colonial master, have also been colored by the open-air nuclear testing that France regularly undertook in the South Pacific in the 1960s, sending radioactive clouds over these islands. As if in repayment, France heavily subsidizes these islands and provides for infrastructure — schools, hospitals, roads, an airline — that they would probably not be able to afford otherwise.

French Polynesia has the highest per capita GDP in the South Pacific — $14,500 compared to $4,300 in Fiji. Polynesia is not entirely independent as Fiji is, but it is largely autonomous in its internal affairs, with much of the bill footed by French taxpayers. Not a bad deal. Some forty percent of the workforce is employed by the government; on Hiva Oa, I was told by an expatriate French hotelier (a figure who seemed to have wandered out of a Somerset Maugham novel) that almost every family survives on the salary provided by one member who has been hired by the civil service.

Somehow, despite all the travails of the last two centuries, the Marquesans have managed to preserve major elements of their culture. They still speak their traditional language (Marquesan is distinct from Tahitian), usually complemented by French, the language of instruction in the schools. They still get tattoos — a Polynesian invention. They still partake in traditional festivals and celebrations. And they still eat many of their traditional dishes, such as goat in coconut milk curry (delicious!).

But they no longer worship the old gods; most have long since been converted to Christianity by missionaries who in the 19th century made the near-naked women wear unbecoming Mother Hubbard dresses. Marquesans now dress pretty much like everyone else in the tropics: t-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops are the standard uniform. And like everywhere else around the world, their homes now feature TV sets blaring a daily diet of mindless fare.

But of all the places I have visited around the world the Marquesas are among the least spoiled. Certainly they have been considerably less touched by the modern world than tourist hubs such as Bora Bora or Moorea, to say nothing of Hawaii, which dwarves them all in the number of visitors. There are simply not a plethora of great beaches here, and hence no resort hotels, and hence few tourists.

Hoping to get a glimpse of what Captain Porter and his men had seen in 1813, I was not disappointed. But in addition I also got to meet, however briefly, some of its contemporary inhabitants — the distant offspring of the men and women that Porter met — who are struggling to hold onto the ways of their ancestors amid the inexorable forces of globalization.

June-2015-Promotion_animation

Read Less

Globalization and Democracy Can Coexist

Jackson Diehl writes today of a nagging problem for the twin efforts of globalization and democratization: they seem to often work against each other. Specifically, the economic growth that stems from a globalized economy creates winners and losers–and neither seems particularly keen on establishing true democracy. It’s a problem Joshua Kurlantzick writes about in his most recent book Democracy in Retreat. The subtitle of the book mentions the “revolt of the middle class,” the subject of Diehl’s piece today.

Both Kurlantzick and Diehl put the focus of their frustration on the “winners” of global commerce: these emerging middle classes. In reality, though, the categorizations aren’t so clear-cut. Who, for example, qualify as the “losers” of global economic expansion? They certainly exist, but analysts often disagree on who merits inclusion in this category much as umpires differ over the precise contours of the strike zone. In Diehl’s column, the “losers” seem to be those left behind–people who didn’t necessarily lose anything at all, but merely didn’t win.

That’s one of the obstacles to making sweeping generalizations, but nonetheless there is enough consistency to declare a trend. Diehl makes a slightly different argument than Kurlantzick, since Diehl has the advantage of writing one more cycle of “uprisings” later than Kurlantzick. But the basic premise is twofold: an unspoken implication that the poor have more reason to rise up, as well as a defensive middle class unnerved by populism on behalf of the poor. Here’s how Kurlantzick describes it:

Read More

Jackson Diehl writes today of a nagging problem for the twin efforts of globalization and democratization: they seem to often work against each other. Specifically, the economic growth that stems from a globalized economy creates winners and losers–and neither seems particularly keen on establishing true democracy. It’s a problem Joshua Kurlantzick writes about in his most recent book Democracy in Retreat. The subtitle of the book mentions the “revolt of the middle class,” the subject of Diehl’s piece today.

Both Kurlantzick and Diehl put the focus of their frustration on the “winners” of global commerce: these emerging middle classes. In reality, though, the categorizations aren’t so clear-cut. Who, for example, qualify as the “losers” of global economic expansion? They certainly exist, but analysts often disagree on who merits inclusion in this category much as umpires differ over the precise contours of the strike zone. In Diehl’s column, the “losers” seem to be those left behind–people who didn’t necessarily lose anything at all, but merely didn’t win.

That’s one of the obstacles to making sweeping generalizations, but nonetheless there is enough consistency to declare a trend. Diehl makes a slightly different argument than Kurlantzick, since Diehl has the advantage of writing one more cycle of “uprisings” later than Kurlantzick. But the basic premise is twofold: an unspoken implication that the poor have more reason to rise up, as well as a defensive middle class unnerved by populism on behalf of the poor. Here’s how Kurlantzick describes it:

Despite the fact that militaries could hardly be called agents of reform, middle classes in many developing nations, both in the Middle East and in other parts of the world, often continued to support the armed forces as potential antidotes to popular democracy–democracy that might empower the poor, the religious, and the less educated. In this way, Egyptian liberals’ concerns about the fruits of democracy were not unique. Overall, in fact, an analysis of military coups in developing nations over the past twenty years, conducted by my research associate Daniel Silverman and myself, found that in nearly 50 percent of the cases, drawn from Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East, middle-class men and women either agitated in advance for the coup or, in polls or prominent media coverage after the coup, expressed their support for the army takeover.

Kurlantzick’s expression “the fruits of democracy” captures well the fear of being, not to put too fine a point on it, looted. Diehl, who uses the term “elite revolt” to characterize the latest round of uprisings, puts it similarly:

So why are they rebelling? Because globalization is not merely an economic story. It is accompanied by the spread of freer and more inclusive elections to dozens of countries where they were previously banned or rigged. That has enabled the rise of populists who cater to globalization’s losers and who promise to crush the old establishment and even out the rewards. In country after country, they’ve succeeded in monopolizing the political system. Hence, the elite revolt.

Diehl offers up Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez as a cautionary tale. And while the original framing of the issue puts more onus on the well-to-do (with great power comes great responsibility, and all that), this seems to even things out a bit. It’s understandable that a new middle class would be opposed to empowering the next Hugo Chavez.

So all this seems to suggest that maybe states like China have it all figured out: maybe the combination of democratization and globalization is too powerful for the two events to take place simultaneously. But this argument is missing an ingredient, and it’s one Kurlantzick glances at but doesn’t dwell on: stability. That’s clearest when looking at Russia’s Putin-era backsliding on democracy. Nobody’s wealth is safe without political stability.

But this, to me, is ultimately an argument in favor of globalization and democratization–as long as the term “democratization” means more than just elections, and globalization means more than just money. In April 2012, I quoted the Eurasia Group’s Ian Bremmer discussing the report that perhaps a majority of Chinese millionaires prefer to live in the United States to their home country, and it’s worth re-quoting here:

And yeah, it’s about quality of life. Yeah, it’s about the environment. Yeah, it’s about opportunities for their kids. It’s also about no rule of law in China and worrying about corruption and the sanctity of their assets over the long term. Your assets are okay tomorrow. The United States, we’re over-litigious. China doesn’t have that problem. You don’t have to worry about lawyers in China. You have to worry about someone ripping off your stuff or being forced out of the country or not being heard from again.

In some very real ways, it doesn’t matter how rich China gets if those with all the money will only park it in New York City. The same goes for Russia, though proximity to Europe seems to predispose that money toward London’s banks. But both New York and London are in the West, and both are in democracies (at least until the European Union gets its way). Because even the messiness of democracy–true democracy, with free institutions and the rule of law–provides more long-term stability than the arbitrary governance of autocracy.

Bremmer predicated his quote by saying we have to watch what people do with their money, not rely on what they say. And his point was that the elites in authoritarian countries are trying to protect their assets from their own country’s government–the very government that has enriched them and which speaks in their name. The “elite” can revolt all they want to protect themselves, but even when they successfully grab the reins of power, without the rule of law they still end up looking for a way out.

Read Less




Pin It on Pinterest

Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.