Month: July 2010

Thoughts on Independence Day

Posted by – July 4, 2010

Some thoughts on the 4th of July, which is Independence Day here in the US.

First, I should derail the entire thing by mentioning that I have actually already experienced one independence day celebration this year, and that was here in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn: The Norwegian independence day. Usually, the Scandinavians stick together here, but since the Norwegians got their independence from the Danes, I thought I would keep a low profile that day.

Right, back to the topic. What I actually wanted to say is that I find it remarkable that practically every household thing here is made outside of the US. So, the United States are celebrating the independence from the United Kingdom, but the States are in fact tremendously dependent on a lot of supplier countries.
This is remarkable in some ways. If, for one thing, we compare to the invasion of Iraq - something which people even now say is not about oil, but seriously: If it was an effort to stop a regime of oppression, then there is no end of questions to ask; I vould, for instance, ask: What about Yemen? A colorful place in Human Rights debates. Just a random question. And if we are talking about oppression, and getting into just the most superficial definition of that, I would think sweatshops would be somewhat relevant to discuss under that category. I do understand that China is a bit of a mouthful to be policing with military, but we have a very close tie with China. And for a place talking so much about democracy, human rights and freedom, you would wonder about all these Chinese products here. You know how people talk about voting with your feet, spending the dollar where it will buy the rights you are fighting for? I would say that someone speaking about rights and democracy wearing Chinese-made clothes are about as impressive as fur-wearing animal activists. And how many computers are actually made without a Chinese component?

Now, you could say that this is a resource issue, but it obviously is not. If, like me, you grew up in Denmark, a tiny country with few natural resources, this might be a partially valid argument, but this is the United States of America, and I doubt that there are any resources that could not be sourced here.
I mentioned the question on, and Jeff Ratcliff pointed me towards the website. Actually, in the beginning I was thinking about doing a “US patriot product” type of marketing thing, and I see that some products like American Apparel go into that. But as I was looking into it, I gradually began wondering how much the US has actually sold off.
There are disclaimers on this one: I live in New York, which is obviously a place with a concentration of the country’s white-collar work, so there isn’t much in the way of physical production here, just some secondary and a lot of tertiary production. That may be skewing my impression.
Also, and this seems a bit silly, but: I may be taking the offical lingo too seriously. It seems reasonable that the patriotic statements are a stylized picture of the state of the nation, and going to war doesn’t work as well if you state that it is a war for practical purposes. The United States have been in a curious position in the last years after the 9/11 attack (no, I am not going to go into conspiracy theories; if this has your interest, watch the first Zeitgeist movie), because they had never been attacked directly, all the wars had been conducted off-continent. And so, 20th century-methods were applied to a 21st century challenge - a challenge called terrorism which, one might add, still has a considerably smaller loss of life than obesity and bad living conditions in countries like, say, China, Thailand and other places which make our daily products. Sweatshops are not there to further economic development, and anyone who says so is lying to someone.

Does all this make me sound like a hippie? I was a left-winger once,  but these things have lost their meaning as I got older. What I certainly can say is that the US is nothing remotely close to independent, and there is a lot of hipocrisy about the values behind policies and corporate actions. Perhaps there is just less hipocrisy in those who support predatory capitalism, since that is what happens when everybody turns a blind eye.

On a different note, a personal comment -
Talking about independence, it also seems relevant to talk about those you depend on, and those who depend on you!
I moved to the US in December, and I have come to appreciate it. I was looking for work for a long time, and this spring I finally got employed at the Danish-American Chamber of Commerce, an interesting networking group for companies interested in working and investing between the two countries, and recently also at Miller Rosenfalck NY, the New York branch of a London law firm specialised in internation law for American companies getting established in Europe and vice versa.

When we came here, I was registered as my wife’s dependent - a bit hard to swallow, as I left my job in Denmark to come here - but now I am earning money for the household as well, which is a tremendous relief to me. While I have no doubt that my wife’s job has been made easier by me being able to help with the house and our son - making the conecpt of the dependent a bit floating - it is good to balance it out.
My wife is pregnant again, and we are expecting a second child in december.
Considering the family and the independence one would have without it - and that is my personal thought today - there are some ways of giving up independence that make life better. Some people like to say that nobody owns them, but I do need my wife and my son, and I have an obligation to them that make me theirs, as they are mine.
It is the heart that binds.

So - happy 4th of July. Enjoy your independence and the places where you have given it up for something greater.