Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bangladesh and Wall Street After the Flood: Two Different Kinds of Property

Early estimates say that maybe 3,000 people have died in the Bangladesh cyclone and floods.

And the footage shows that much poor-people's property has been destroyed -- houses gone, animals rotting -- therefore bringing many people closer to worse hunger, stunting, and earlier death.

If those now-famous rising sea-level projections are correct, Bangladeshis will perhaps suffer most, since on their very low landscape there reside large numbers of very poor people.

Those same computer animations that imagine what might happen if the oceans rise, also claim that, under extreme scenarios, New York's Wall Street might be under water.

But though that would destroy many papers and computers, and even immerse some vaulted-up gold, the damage would be largely temporary and the world's rich people would come out fine.

In the old days, when a Spanish galleon went down and its Aztec gold hit the ocean floor, the gold's new Spanish owners could figuratively hit the bottom too since there was no recovering that lucre by clicking a computer mouse (for such reasons, insurance arose).

But today, big money is digitized and safely launched into cyberspace to orbit, physically untouchable, until it is needed for recovery at its' owner's whim. (The only, now remote, exception to this situation -- unlikely to happen short of nuclear detonation or its internet equivalent -- is if the computer server that vouches for the money's existence somehow gets destroyed, and if no one has been sent a backup copy attesting that the owner is, indeed, still rich).

That's part of the nature of today's big capital, much of it is slippery, liquid, un-pin-down-able. It can be instantly recovered and/ or instantly moved, crashing (or bubbling) markets and currencies, or even -- again, at the owner's whim -- deigning to not let some people die.

But when you're very poor in most of the world you have no digitized, cybered, bank account. You're lucky if you have some coins or folding cash, and if its stored in, say, an elder's pocket or the lemari (the chest of drawers, as in Indonesia), and if it gets burnt or washed away then its lost and gone forever, as with chickens, full grain jars, or other small properties.

Richer peoples might say "a dollar's a dollar," but, economically, that isn't true. A rich person's cybered dollar carries its own built-in, arguably no-cost insurance. Come fire, flood, or come what may, that dollar will always be there, ie. that dollar is, in practice, worth more than the non-cybered dollars (or equivalents) held by the poor.

In homes in poor deltas in places like Bangladesh -- and such places make up most of the world -- one's modest wealth can, by its mere physicality, be eradicated by the hand of God, or by a petty thief, by a careless kid with matches (or, for that matter, by a developer's arsonist) or even, -- in those more recognizedly political cases -- by an unofficial, self-appointed bomber on foot, or an official Air Force one from on high.

Email Me