Ishmael Reflection Essay
While reading Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, one begins reflecting on the relationship between developed economies and the Third World. Clearly, the concept of captivity, as described in the book, relates strongly with the relationship between the two types of the economy. On one hand, developed economies have dominated the Third World countries in regards to the exploitation of natural resources and the dictation of terms regarding all aspect of their survival. On the other hand, developing economies are overdependent on the West for survival. This overdependency has been manifested in many forms, including but not limited to trade preferences, foreign aid, and security. Therefore, while looking at this relationship, one notice many of the ills, facing society today, including economic crisis and global warming that have originated largely from developed economies.
One of the major themes presented in Ishmael is the theme of captivity that correlates with the relationship between developed and developing economies. Thus, it is easy to assert that the latter have been the captives of the former since a very long time. The growth and development of Western economies depended largely on developing ones. One agreeable point is that Western economies depended on them for natural resources and even labor to grow. Consequently, most developing economies remained under colonial rule for many years, providing the resources and the labor to developed countries so that they reached their position of today. One of the major issue facing the relationship between Western economies and developing world is that of allocation of scarce resources (Wong). Back in history, Western economies had the advantage in that they had access to capital. Thus, this dominant position allowed these countries to have an easy access to raw materials and to dominate over third world countries. The major problem remains that this dominance persists even to date.
The relationship between the West and the Third World countries can be likened to that of the takers and the leavers, as explained in Ishmael (Quinn 69). Reflecting on this relationship, one can argue that the West (takers) always tries to further explore natural resources as a way of quenching their thirst and demand for innovation and invention. While this exploration is purportedly aimed at improving humankind, it has contributed significantly to the very ills that face humankind today. For example, the biggest contributors to the problem of global warming are the Western economies. On their part, the Third World countries must contend with foreign aid as a survival tactic since they cannot produce enough food with the changing weather as a result of global warming. The problem of food insecurity has led many countries from the Third World to borrow heavily from the West, including conforming to the policies designed specifically to create added advantage for the West (Wong). For example, the fall of many countries in MENA region can be attributed to their lack of conformity to the Western policies, after which they are attacked. The result is self-destruction of human race, as described by Quinn in his book. In essence, the takers get greater control of the world economy while leavers suffer silently.
The divide between Western countries and those of the Third World points towards inequitable access to scarce resources. According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) 2012 rankings, the top countries with the highest human development index (HDI) are in the West (Globalization 101). In contrast, 37 out of the 46 countries ranked lowest in regards to HDI come from the Third World countries and, more specifically, Africa (Globalization 101). The rankings incorporate the ability of citizens to have an easy access to education, healthcare, and high standards of living alongside other factors. As seen from these figures, it is clear that development is a localized issue, and over the years, the West has dominated over developing nations. It should be noted that Western economies are largely based on the concept of capitalism. Under this system, most of the benefits are reverted back to capitalists, thus giving them an opportunity to accumulate more. The Third World countries, on the other hand, lack the necessarily mechanisms and means to propel them forward as they rely heavily on imports for survival.
Exports form the backbone of many Western economies while the Third World is dependent on imports to fill their market. It is interesting to note that many of exports from developed countries do not reach comparatively less developed economies. More interesting is the fact that producers in developing countries are forced to sell their product below market value while purchasing imported products at inflated prices (Buttonwood). This inflation is exported from developing economies through quantitative easing as a result of decisions by the Western central banks to reduce interest rates by buying government securities. In addition to lowering interest rates, quantitative easing also helps to increase money supply, which in turn increases lending and liquidity (Wong). While this helps to promote exports, it potentially lowers the level of imports. In such a scenario, the exporting country will have an added advantage over the importing country in that the latter will not export to the level that can allow equality (Buttonwood). For instance, during the financial crisis of 2007/8, the federal government of the USA instituted quantitative easing a number of times, thus making it difficult for other countries to export to the USA, while at the same time, increasing its exports to other countries, most of which are the Third World countries.
The reader of Ishmael will notice that the overexploitation of land resources, as discussed in the novel, is akin to the dash for resources that characterized European colonialism. As the result of price spikes, this process may resurface all over again, and the Third World countries, which hold many of these natural resources, will suffer more. Most developed countries are already in the process of securing their raw materials’ supply. For example, China already builds alliances with many developing nations in an effort to secure a market for their products while at the same time, establishing new supply lines for the much-needed raw materials (Buttonwood). Other countries already impose export bans due to the overexploitation of natural resources. The result is what Quinn describes as a world robed of its natural resources by depletion and unsustainable practices. In Ishmael, this is instigated by the tendency of the takers to push for more and more resources in an effort to quest their demand for more resources. As seen in Ishmael, this action by the takers leads to the destruction of the leavers (Quinn 86). Noticeably, the divide between developing and developed economies can be traced back to the ills committed hundreds of years ago by the Western economies. The Agrarian Revolution and the consequent invasion of the Third World countries by Western economies, especially the European ones, helped to disintegrate these countries while benefiting the Western countries. While colonization is long gone, there still exists a form of modern colonization, whereby developing countries are forced to adopt the policies designed by Western countries so that they could benefit from foreign aid and other investment opportunities. To a greater extent, this led to the domestic affairs of developing countries being run by developed ones, a fact that is compounded by their overdependence on Western economies for survival.
While reflecting on the concepts of human supremacy, as depicted by the Mother Culture character, one has no doubt that humans, especially from the Western economies, do not agree to the law of competition (Quinn 72). This can be likened to sustainability, where people and nations in particular consume nothing more than what is required to help secure the survival of future generations. In contrast, in his book, Quinn sees people as being gratuitous in their tendency to eliminate other species, thereby underscoring the law of competition and the rule of survival, where every species must do anything in order to survive but not eliminate other species (71). The idea of supremacy is more related to the actions of the takers and less to the behavior of the leavers. Western economies have relied exponentially on the Third World countries for their growth. This has been done through exploitation, as seen in the case of European colonialism and again as depicted by the world economy, where lesser economies are controlled by the more developed ones. While this seems as a lesser point, Quinn would argue that huge and more developed economies should afford lesser economies a chance to develop. A counter argument to this is that the Third World countries receive help in form of foreign aid from more developed economies. However, a closer look suggests that this foreign aid is designed to benefit the agenda of the giver (Wong). For example, foreign aid comes with the ultimatum for the receiving country to follow or enact a certain policy for it to benefit, with the failure of which, this aid can be rebuked. More important is the fact that most foreign aid does not address the critical needs of the receiving countries and imposed projects that do not offer long-term solutions to the problems of the receiving countries. To this, some people would argue along the line of mismanagement of funds and corruption. While this may be true, it is the giving country that instigates the mismanagement of funds by misallocating the funds to the projects that are of lesser importance.
In conclusion, reading Ishmael has helped me understand better the distant line between developed and developing economies. I feel that the relationship between these two types of economy is based on suppression and subordination. Thus, developed economies, the takers, have used developing economies, or the leavers, as help to their prosperity for years. In a huge way, the current status of Western (developed) economies has been built on the suppression of the lesser economies, with a good example being the European colonization that lasted for years. During this time, the Europeans used slaves for labor and took the natural resources from the Third World countries to aid development of their economies. More precisely, the Europeans and other developed countries thrived, and somehow, they continue to do so at the expense of developing nations. Today, despite receiving foreign aid, the Third World countries are bound by the Western policies, so if they fail, they receive reprimand in the form of economic sanctions. The takers, who see themselves as more civilized, also create problems such as global warming and the recent financial crisis. However, these problems reflect quite badly on developing economies. Reflecting on the book, one can clearly see that most of the problems facing people today are the result of their own doings.