Aid or Parasite? The rise of financialization

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How do you know if you’re in an extractive relationship?

I think if we’ve learned anything this week from the #FreeBritney documentary it should be that any crises can be taken advantage of. And while that’s not the point of this post, I am finding it is. As a full-time employee and grad student navigating the competitive landscape and high costs of higher education, I can’t help but see the dominant force of extraction everywhere I look. The high costs associated with my educational pursuits will likely leave me in debt for most of my life and, at the same time, help an elite class profit off of the student loans I withdraw along the way. This extractive reality is the norm for many students, especially from the BIPOC community, and ironically, it is something I am reflecting on this week thanks to my education.

That brings me to this week’s reading Disassembly Required by Geoff Mann discussing the era of financialization prompted by the downturn of the industrial era in the ’70s. Mann chronicles the rise of financial services like banking, insurance, and investment in the ’80s as it quickly became a dominant source of revenue for financial and nonfinancial companies and GDP growth in the US (Mann, 2013, ch. 6). The rise of finance occurred alongside global capitalism, the deregulation of markets and essentially allowed North American capital the financial instruments to generate profit overseas. While this might seem like a good idea or “investment” opportunity, previous regulations often protected poor countries from the potential impact of wealthy ones. So, it comes as no surprise to see the spread of wealth inequality occur at this time in addition to consequences around the world.

This seems like a good place to insert author Jason Hickel’s discussion of foreign aid in The Divide. The common story of international aid often poses rich countries as a poor country’s hero or savior. However, Hickel shares that aid is often much more parasitic in nature postponing a “developing” country’s economic resilience and emergence from poverty. For example, Hickel states that for every dollar of “aid” developing countries receive $24 is extracted in net outflows. Additionally, he shares that rich countries aren’t “developing” poor countries, they’re impoverishing them and that, poor countries have been developing rich nations since the 15th century (Hickel, 2018, p. 29). This is just one example of the far-reaching consequences of financialization that has become so normalized here in the US.

So how do we properly heal from a parasite or virus for that matter?

In a culture that allows and even encourages parasitic behavior, I’d like to share a quote on beauty from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran that says, 

“All these things you have said of beauty, yet in truth you spoke not of her but of needs unsatisfied” (Gibran, 1923, p. 75).

It may seem odd to discuss beauty as a final thought, but as we extend our efforts toward DEI and sustainability initiatives, or offer grants and aid to poor communities, we should start to consider how our “heroic” needs often shroud the ability for others to simply survive. We should take the precious time COVID-19 offers us as an invitation to experience the beauty of this world, the communities we are connected to and become curious as to how we might transform the co-dependent relationships we currently have into truly regenerative ones.

Cited Sources:

Gibran, K. (1923). The prophet. New York: A. A. Knopf.

Hickel, J. (2018). The divide: Global inequality from conquest to free markets. WW Norton & Company.

Mann, G. (2013). Disassembly required: A field guide to actually existing capitalism. AK Press.