FAUST, GANDHI & NEHRU
Two of us have to go
One can imagine Fijis, Bosnias, Ethiopias, and LDCs, in an internal monologue of the Gandhi-Nehru type. If they go for Gandhi (who, as decades and socialist-capitalist failures roll on, ages well), resist infatuation with a certain kind of “modernity” and instead embrace conservative sustainability and radical local self-governance, then they better not play with neolibearlism’s strangest fruit – intellectual property and various other manifestations of intellectual capital.
But the Gandhi moment is impossible, even for Gandhi. Or isn’t it? That‘s for sure above the paygrade of this story. To repeat, almost like an adult’s advice to a teenager on proper use of credit cards, or 1940s home tutorial on electricity (good servant, bad master, etc.), if you have no choice but to play on neoliberal playground, play well. Industrialization dreams few dream these days, if any. Fiji certainly can’t. Your First World startup, dear First World reader, will not be sending an assembly line their way. We all know where you’ll go.
Nehru won over Indians back then with dreams of 50 years of development in 5 (and Gandhi quietly went away to die) and there is still little doubt that he would do it again. The only problem is that that kind of prosperity gospel, though both debatable and plausible for a place like India, never added up for Fijis of this world. Today, even less so. Put simply, Fiji, as a dot in the sea of blue, cannot compete on price as it will never be the cheapest alternative. Nor can it do scale as it is tiny. But it can compete on specialness; because it is pretty special. Foreigners who flock to Fiji don’t do it because it’s easily reachable. People who buy Fiji Water don’t buy it because it is the cheapest water. It’s a mine of intangibles. Those in the know, like our story’s main protagonists, know.
So do today’s Nehrus, such as the cadre in Beijing, sitting on the dream’s update. What is it?
In a quote (emphasis mine):
No big marquee brands means China is stuck doing the global grunt work in factory cities while designers and engineers overseas reap the profits. Much of Apple’s iPhone, for example, is made in China. But if a high-end version costs $750, China is lucky to hold on to $25. For a pair of Nikes, it’s four pennies on the dollar.
“We’ve lost a bucketload of money to foreigners because they have brands and we don’t,” complained Fan Chunyong, the secretary general of the China Industrial Overseas Development and Planning Association. “Our clothes are Italian, French, German, so the profits are all leaving China. . . . We need to create brands, and fast.”
And a graph (scrible mine):
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