Tuesday, March 28, 2006

"Value Transforms Very Quickly"

Cecilia Ballí spoke here at Texas A&M International last night. She's the Texas Monthly writer perhaps best known for her 2003 article on the murders of women in Ciudad Juárez (better known here for a piece from 2005, "Borderline Insanity," in which she provided one of the best readings of the violence in Nuevo Lareedo). She talked a bit about how angry it makes her when journalists or politicians speak of violence "seeping across" the border; these kinds of panicky pronouncements avoid acknowledging the fact that, as she put it, "it's our border, too."

Among her observations about our complicity in the violence in Nuevo Laredo: on the border, "value transforms very quickly." I think she intended this as a way of connecting the violence in Juárez to the violence in Nuevo Laredo. In the former, the explosion of maquiladora manufacuturing (beginning in the 1960s) led to massive growth that crippled the city's social and civic infrastructure while paying poverty-level wages; the rapid expansion of maquiladoras--in some ways a kind of first wave of job exports for U.S. manufacturers--relied heavily on the fact that "value transforms very quickly" at the border. For the latter, the demand for drugs in the United States (itself partly the result, I'd argue, of a misguided, unfocused "war on drugs") means that supply-side investments--such as killing journalists in Nuevo Laredo--promise ever-greater payoffs.

Her argument about Juárez is much more nuanced (as it should be, given that she's working on a book about the topic), and addresses the complex relationship between economics and Mexican attitudes about women. And she didn't--I don't think she meant to--explicitly argue that the violence in both cities is about the effect of market economies on borders . . . or vice versa. But this is what I heard her saying anyway: our blind commitment to free trade has enabled us here in the U.S. to pretend the border doesn't really exist at the same time we rely on that border, as that is where, as Balli put it, "value transforms very quickly."

I think I like that phrasing so much because "transforms" can be both intransitive and transitive there. As spoken, it's intransitive: Value transforms. Value changes. But I heard it as transitive: Value transforms something very quickly. Lives, for example. Moreoever, the violence inherent in that quick transformation is an economic, a market violence, one that both depends on and refuses to recognize the border. One that insists the border isn't there when the value of a leather steering wheel cover is transformed suddenly, violently by a bridge crossing in the back of a freightliner. One that insists the border is there when people--especially people on the other side are transformed--or killed or raped or tortured into confessing for crimes--by value. One that shouts angrily about the border when the unskilled-labor value of an eighteen-year-old Mexican kid is transformed suddenly as he crosses the bridge in the back of a freightliner.

Believing--as so many congresspersons from places like Colorado do--that we can have the value transformation without the violence "seeping across" is like believing in a kind of market version of cold fusion. Hell, we should be happy it's only "seeping." Not much to worry about right? Let's build a big, seep-proof wall and be done with it. Just so long as it doesn't interfere with free trade.

1 comment:

Guy Barry said...

I have to say I didn't really understand your article.This is a real case of relativism,speaking how you see it,instead of how it really is.