Latin America and Bill McKibben’s notion of “more versus better”

The More versus Better paradigm Bill Mckibben discusses in Deep Economy is particularly compelling when considering the role Latin America occupies as a site of globalization and a source of inexpensive labor that facilitates the North American consumerism. While it is true that a new social and economic consciousness concerning this paradigm and its effects on labor forces abroad is emerging within certain sectors of the US population, the notion of producing more consumable goods as efficiently and cheaply as possible still remains the dominant viewpoint. McKibben focuses on the effects More versus Better has had on the United States reality, however I believe it is useful and applicable to consider it within the context of Latin America. Production is often outsourced to the Global South (among other geographic regions), which has effectively transformed the region’s cultural, economic, and environmental landscape in the name of American wealth and happiness.

The effects of globalization are multifaceted and it can be seen that the cultural and economic effects are the most prominent. The issue of identity emerges in how one must rethink culture and consider how culture is transformed by globalization; this is to say that must consider the heterogenization (the blending of cultures) and homogenization (the fear of widespread cultural Americanization, commoditization, or absorption by polities of a larger scale) of culture in global society. However, in economic terms, globalization and poverty emerge as the primary discourse. The polemic paradigm of “poverty among plenty” is part of the globalized reality and is the consequence of unbridled transnational capital that crosses the North to South divide.

Economic imperialism and neocolonialism continue to be long-standing traditions in the Global South. The notion of the “free state” is both paradoxical and ironic; the status of a “free state” only true liberates the small wealthy sector of the population. Much of the population is under the control of transnational corporations that control “free” enterprise that serves the needs of American consumerism. However, it can be seen that these transnational corporations are “peripheralizing;” they are maintaining the façade of withdrawing direct control from a country’s economy by drawing local businesses into informal and dependent working relationships. While in theory drawing on local enterprise is locally beneficial, without long-term formal commitments or contracts from foreign-owned multinational corporations, this is damaging to local economies because it creates economic vulnerability and dependence.

Local cultures and economies are finding it difficult to hold out against the power of transnational global culture and presence, and this exploitation of local industry and populations by transnational corporations creates long-term consequences. McKibben posits that American growth and demands have exceeded its environmental capacity, and therefore, growth must be outsourced at the expense of the environment and certain sectors of the population. Calling to mind the work of Rob Nixon and the theory of slow violence, the transnational corporations’ desire to increase profit margins manifest in damaging ways—pollution, disregard for safe working conditions, hunger, poverty, deforestation and erosion, displacement of peoples, and the elimination of local industry that limits (or eliminates) the possibility of mobility. This economic race to the bottom creates spaces and cultures of violence, which are accompanied by a host of emergent ethical and social issues. Although McKibben’s work does focus on the United States reality, when viewed within a global context, it is particularly salient and compelling to consider the role Latin America occupies in relation to American consumerism and as a source of labor for industry that drives wealth and provides (or fails to provide) material happiness and satisfaction.

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