Saturday, December 17, 2016

Global Outlaws: Crime, Money, and Power in the Contemporary WorldGlobal Outlaws: Crime, Money, and Power in the Contemporary World by Carolyn Nordstrom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is not an easy read, although it reads well. It's not "easy" because no matter how intelligent you think you may be about contemporary world affairs, you will be humbled. What you think is going on in the world, meaning: everything in newspapers and on television for twenty-four hours a day, literally—What you think is important?—well, you will learn that it is not. What you are watching on television is a mask. A subterfuge to keep us all occupied and busy, while the real theft happens right under our collective noses. And that theft is what keeps the global economy running. And it always has, for millennia.

Anthropologist Carolyn Nordstrom has travelled the world in a search of the end of a trail that begins when she sees a small Angolan boy in an Angolan street selling individual cigarettes. Mesmerized by his struggling enterprise, she explores how he got his job. And therein lies her understanding of the world none of us knows about. Africa is not as impoverished as we think.

Over two decades ago, I had travelled to Nigeria on several occasions, myself, as an attorney—not as an anthropologist. I learned myself that they do not have welfare (or they didn't years ago when I was there). Everyone works in Africa, if you begrudge me this generalization, please. I say this because there is a system, above-ground, and under-ground that employs everyone. Is everyone gainfully employed? Most likely not. But they have the dignity of earning a living. And that dignity of earning a living supports the food that you eat on your plate, the price of food in Wal-Mart or wherever you shop - yes, even Whole Foods. And it's the enterprise that even Congress knows very little about.

Even Presidents can do little even to intimate how the world truly works. It has always worked this way. But it is Ms. Nordstrom's explanation of "how" it works that is worth the read. I won't spoil it for you, because I want you to savor the "ah-hah" moment that I had in realizing how truly ignorant I was, even about the things that I "thought" I understood, both as a graduate of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, and as a lawyer who has practiced some form of international law for most of my career.

As for my review of the book, I learned that this type of writing that Ms. Nordstrom does is called, "creative academic nonfiction." We need more of it. The reason I kept reading the book (although it took me 10 months) because there was so much in it that I wanted to digest. Due to the fluidity of her writing style it read more like a novel than a nonfiction book. But the research was definitely scholarly.

My caveat is that the book repeats the same information over and over again to a degree that the mantra becomes a bit stale. But I think lawyers do the same, so I can't really complain. Perhaps she really wants us to understand, so she beats you over the head, almost as if to convince. The thing is that you don't need to be "convinced" because so much of the book is from first-hand information that she experiences. Ms. Nordstrom travels the trade routes, talks to the lorry-drivers, the merchant marines, the warehousemen, the people who make the goods on our table arrive to the stores on time. And at each stage she explains how they are involved in the unseen matrix.

There is no illuminati. There's business. And for those of us who bemoan the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the Presidency? Well, read the book. He's replaced the faceless bureaucrat with the knowledge of who truly runs the world—the people with whom he does business—and instead of being unseen engines of the world's economy, they have a new megaphone called "political power" now.

I think the book is pretty dated now as it was copyrighted in 2007. Almost a decade has passed, so I don't know if Ms. Nordstrom's paradigm still works the same way. I had heard someone on C-Span state that one area of unaccountability [that the book exposed as riddled with issues] has been "cleaned up". I'm not so sure. So, I might need to read a more contemporary read.

So, you think you know how the world works? Well, this may confirm your knowledge, as some of it did, in my case. But in other areas, I was actually taught something. If I can't learn something new when I read, it's a waste for me. So, I'm very glad to say that I read the book.

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