Global recession and its discontents

Today the world seems flat. From Asia and Africa to Europe and the Americas, the people of the world are experiencing the traumatic effects of a global economic recession. This post is an attempt to describe the social impact of the great financial crisis as seen and felt by ordinary citizens around the world.

The most commented signs of the crisis are the Wall Street crash and the collapsed housing industry in the United States. Without belittling these unfortunate economic disasters, we should also highlight other symbols of the crisis which people around the world are witnessing and experiencing everyday.

For example, the economic downturn is forcing many South Koreans to change or abandon their travel plans. This has affected the tourism industry in Brunei which is a favorite destination of many South Koreans. Because of declining number of global tourists, Egypt’s tourism workers are complaining that their salaries are not given on time.

Decreased consumer spending in the U.S. has also brought down the demand for garments made in Bangladesh. This has weakened the garments export industry of Bangladesh which employs a large number of the population. Bangladesh exports its products mainly to the U.S. and United Kingdom.

In Russia, the financial crisis is signified by reduced government spending on health care. In Japan, the recession has become evident through reports showing reduced department store hours, slump in car sales, and increasing presence of jobless and homeless persons in temporary facilities, parks and even net cafes.

Economic freeze became literal in Ukraine as hot water was shut off in much of Kyiv for a week last December because of unpaid water bills. Evie of Kiva Stories from the Field narrates the hardships endured by freezing Kyiv residents:

“In sub-zero temperatures and bitter continental winter conditions, losing heat for a week is a hardship to pale at. People couldn’t even wash dishes, because the water was literally freezing out of the tap. Even now, three days after the heat was turned back on, radiators are merely lukewarm, homes are still freezing, and people are sick with colds and flu.”

Hong Kong, a tower of strength in the global financial community, was shocked to learn that the stocks of HSBC Holding crashed to its lowest level since 1995. The shock was personified by a TV commentator who shed a tear while reporting the unbelievable HSBC plunge last week.

This news has further weakened the confidence of Hong Kong residents in the economy. Those Were the days underscores the relevance of the HSBC debacle in Hong Kong:


This is a matter of Hong Kong people's confidence: Hong Kong people in general believe that even when the whole world falls, HSBC won't fall. That's why in the past few months, whenever HSBC was in a critical stage, individual stock holder will buy in to keep its stock from falling. HSBC and individual stock holders’ lives are connected.


The financial crisis is generating a lot of anxiety. This is evident among a growing number of Japanese youth who have pensive questions about the troubled state of their country. In Hungary, some have noted the mood of pessimism prevailing in the country as shown by the following newspaper headlines in recent weeks:

“Here are some Hungarian headlines of late: “The situation is worse than in October” (Index). “The German chancellor is reminded of the second world war” (Hírszerző). “Crisis: According to Bajnai amputation is necessary” (Hírszerző). “We are sitting on a timebomb of bloody social strife” (Hírszerző). “Hope is not in sight” (Heti Válasz).”

Perhaps the feeling of pessimism is not limited in Hungary alone. Latvia Economy Watch makes this apt and smart observation about Europe’s financial woes coinciding with the launching of the Large Hadron Collider last year:

With every passing day getting I find it more and more difficult to avoid associating all those worthy attempts to uncover that illusive Hick's Particle with the all-encompassing black hole into which our financial markets seem to be getting sucked with a disturbing velocity, despite the numerous efforts by the global financial authorities to invent some sort of monetary equivalent to “anti-matter”.

In Kazakhstan blogger Pulemetchizza compares the crisis and a famous expression by writer Mikhail Bulgakov:

Crisis is in the rest-rooms. Earlier we used to have high-quality two-layered toilet paper and towels in the rest-rooms. Now we have the cheapest toilet paper, and no towels available. Looks like in a couple of months we will just be cutting a newspaper.

Sign of the times. From the Flickr page of IH (40)

Sign of the times. From the Flickr page of IH (40)

The global recession is forcing many people to behave in strange ways. In Latvia, four special guard dogs in a state prison were killed to save public funds. In prosperous Singapore a disgruntled senior citizen, angry at not receiving a red envelope containing US$135 traditionally given at Chinese New Year, set a lawmaker on fire. Bloggers from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have observed that many people are now keeping their money under mattresses instead of depositing them in banks.

Even language has not been spared by the recession contagion. In Kazakhstan the word “crisis” is now perceived as a taboo, especially by government ministers. While in Japan, asking “What are you up to now?” and “Are you married” have become taboo questions because of rising unemployment. Blogger koheko explains further:


Over the new year I met with friends of mine for the first time in a while, and I was glad to learn that they are all doing well. But at the same time, we've all hit our thirties now, and there were some things that concerned me. First, what was most interesting, or should I perhaps say shocking — feels to me like a complex phenomenon — but the question “what are you up to now?” seems to have become taboo.

Social discontent

The current economic crisis has worsened social inequalities in many countries. It is not surprising that public unrest has gripped both rich and poor nations. In Russia disgruntled citizens have launched Dissenters’ Marches in the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg last December. Streetwise Professor has written about a popular drivers’ protest in Vladivostok:

“In Vladivostok a march of protest of several thousand automobilists against the increase in customs duties for used foreign makes went outside the thematic bounds: people started talking about the costliness of fuel, food products and housing-and-public-utilities services, about unemployment, the crisis and property stratification.”

The Vladivostok rally was significant because the media openly discussed the prospect of unrest in Russia and the protesters were ordinary citizens who have refused to join opposition-led marches in the past. As more Russians are becoming dissatisfied with the economy, the Russian president has unleashed a preemptive legal strike: The Russian Criminal Code was modified to allow the instant prosecution of persons who instigate “mass disturbances” and “diversions.”

Recession-related protests are erupting in different parts of the world. There was a general strike in France and wildcat strikes in Britain last January. Protesting Greek farmers clashed with riot police last month. More than 600 labor protests were registered in Egypt last year. In Singapore, investors protested in the streets when big Wall Street banks crashed last October. Riots broke out in the French overseas departments of Guadeloupe and Martinique as people protest against skyrocketing prices. In Guadeloupe, the slogan of the rioters was Lyannaj kont pwofitasyon, Creole for “Let's gather up to fight against all sorts of abuses”.

More than 10,000 people participated in the so-called Penguin Revolution in Latvia last January. The protesters disliked the statement of the Prime Minister who compared Latvians to penguins who stick together in the time of severe winter storm. The slogan of the Penguin Revolution is “Nasing spešal” (Nothing Special) in reference to an answer given by the country’s finance minister to an interview question regarding the state of the country’s economy. There is now a “Nasing spešal” website, T-shirt products and even a “Nasing spešal” menu in some restaurants.

Over the past few months, the financial crisis has engulfed much of the world which created disastrous economic consequences. The full impact of the global economic recession has not yet been felt. The number of jobless, homeless, hopeless and angry individuals and groups in the world is expected to swell further. This promises to be an exciting but scary year.


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