Wednesday, September 26, 2012
I was recently listening to a podcast by Carolyn Nordstrom of her 2008 Franke Lecture in the Humanities, emergent(cies). Nordstrom discusses the extraordinary power wielded by those in control of an underground economy of weapons, drugs, and human trafficking. Paul Farmer attested to Nordstrom's extraordinary dedication to ferreting out the transactions that knit together so many imperiled and privileged lives. I look forward to reading her book Global Outlaws:
To write this book, she spent three years traveling to hot spots in Africa, Europe, Asia, and the United States investigating the dynamics of illegal trade around the world—from blood diamonds and arms to pharmaceuticals, exotica, and staples like food and oil. Global Outlaws peels away the layers of a vast economy that extends from a war orphan in Angola selling Marlboros on the street to powerful transnational networks reaching across continents and oceans.
Nordstrom's extraordinary fieldwork includes interviews with scores of informants, including the smugglers, victims, power elite, and profiteers who populate these economic war zones. Her compelling investigation, showing that the sum total of extra-legal activities represents a significant part of the world's economy, provides a new framework for understanding twenty-first-century economics and economic power. Global Outlaws powerfully reveals the illusions and realities of security in all areas of transport and trade and illuminates many of the difficult ethical problems these extra-legal activities pose.
The secrecy surrounding such trade (and even manufacture, in the case of cigarettes) has many causes. In a tour de force narrative in the lecture, Nordstrom describes how the fate of a child shot in Angola could be directly related to global market forces. Pirate banking systems enable the flows of funds for "goods" ranging from arms to fake pharmaceuticals. Those struggling for transparency in these systems occasionally score some victories. But without much more serious efforts to monitor the flow of money and goods, we should expect the "global outlaws" to exercise more influence in ever more rogue economies.