Alternative Globalizations

Linked with our presentaion of Patrick Brantlinger – USA.

Linked to our presentations of Corporate America’s New Golden Rules.

1. What Is Globalization?:

In Understanding Media (1964), Marshall McLuhan announced that the electronic mass media were transforming the world into a “global village.” (See a Position Paper by Patrick Brantlinger and Janet Sorensen, for the Progressive Faculty Coalition of Indiana University).

By the mid-1980s, the word “globalization” was itself rapidly going global. Today it is central in debates about the world dominance of transnational corporate capitalism, the nature of “postcolonial” and “postmodern” experience, and the futures of both the West and the rest of the planet. Among many other issues, globalization raises the question of the evolution of a uniform or mass consumer culture across the world (McDonalds and Wal-Marts everywhere). But the increasing poverty of much of the so-called Third World means that billions of people are excluded from the commodified consumer culture associated with the West. After all, how many Liberians, Afghans, or Guatemalans can afford to purchase new SUVs or even Nikes?
“Globalization” most often refers to the rise to global dominance of transnational corporations such as Nike, Wal-Mart, General Motors, Mitsubishi, and Philip Morris. “The biggest transnational companies,” writes sociologist Anthony Giddens, “have budgets larger than those of all but a few nations” (70). Of the world’s largest one hundred economies, fifty-two are now transnational corporations. Wal-Mart’s assets are worth twice as much as those of New Zealand or Peru; Philip Morris outranks the Czech Republic and Algeria. Misubishi is bigger than Saudi Arabia (Anderson 68; Korten 210). These corporate giants are not (yet?) replacing nation-states as the new ruling powers of the world, though some have argued that they have already done so.

But TNCs have enough clout to reshape or override many national laws and regulations aimed at protecting the rights and welfare of labor, the general public, and the environment. The advocates of TNC globalization argue that only through the spread of capitalist “free markets” will the world’s endemic social problems–poverty, ignorance, poor health standards–be overcome. But the critics contend that TNCs are having just the opposite effect. They point to many indicators–the Third World debt crisis, environmental degradation, economic recession, unemployment, political instability, war, terrorism–to show that globalization via the TNCs is not working.

Since the end of World War II, various international efforts have been made to help the “underdeveloped” parts of the world move toward western standards of prosperity, security, health, and education. Besides branches of the UN such as the UN Development Program, two of the most influential organizations aiming at the development of poor nations have been the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Though these were launched with good intentions, their critics see them as doing little more than further empowering the TNCs by funneling wealth out of the poor nations, mainly in the form of service charges on the enormous debts those nations have accrued. In many impoverished countries, education, health, and other social welfare programs have been rolled back or eliminated in order to meet the debt repayment schedules imposed by the IMF and WB.

Meanwhile, the World Trade Organization, dominated by the wealthy countries—the so-called G-7, headed by the U.S.—has been seeking to eliminate trade barriers and make “free market” capitalism prevail everywhere. But so far, it has worked mainly to protect the interests of the G-7, rather than those of less powerful countries. So, for instance, it insists on lifting tariffs on agricultural imports, but does nothing about eliminating the enormous subsidies that American agribusiness receives, allowing its cheap corn, for instance, to drive local farmers in Mexico and elsewhere out of the market altogether.

Despite the optimism of the advocates of TNC capitalism, so far economic globalization has not helped spread prosperity around the world. Both within most countries and among them, the inequality between the poor and the wealthy has been growing rather than decreasing. Even the WB now admits that “Globalization appears to increase poverty and inequality…. The costs of adjusting to greater openness [that is, `free trade'] are borne exculsively by the poor, regardless of how long the adjustment takes” (IFG 1). Between 1960 and 1989, writes Belay Seyoum, “global inequality got worse: the ratio [of wealth] between the richest 20 percent and poorest 20 percent of the world’s population rose from 30 to 1 to 59 to 1″ (57). The difference today is an astronomical 80 to 1. Seyoum notes that “the average African household [in 2001] consumes 20% less than it did 25 years ago” (57). Over the last two decades, instead of rising, the life expectancy of individuals in many African countries has fallen, partly because of AIDS but also because of poverty, famine, and other diseases. As to the boost to economic “development” that loans from the WB and the IMF have brought to the Third World, many poor nations “are facing enormous hardship because more money is spent on debt service than on education, healthcare or poverty reduction. …African countries [now] spend four times more on payments to international creditors than on education” (Seyoum 225). This is partly because loans from the IMF and WB come with strings attached: the countries receiving those loans have to agree to Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), which often mean cutting back both on social welfare (health, education, etc.) and on locally and regionally sustainable patterns of production and trade.

TNC capitalism is also creating more rather than less economic inequality within many western countries, including the United States. According to the most recent census data, in 2000 the poorest fifth of the U.S. population received 4.3% of the nation’s annual wealth, while the richest fifth received 20.8%. In 1980, in contrast, the poorest fifth received 5.3% and the wealthiest, 14.6%. “There is an extraordinary concentration of wealth among a small group of the super rich in many countries. The world’s 225 richest people [had] a combined wealth of over 1 trillion US [dollars] in 1997, an amount equal to the annual income of the poorest 47% of the world’s people” (Seyoum 58). This is an amount also approximately equal to the indebtedness of the Third World to the WB, the IMF, and other mainly western sources of credit.

That much of the Third World is getting poorer has led critics and activists of many persuasions to call for reforming or even abolishing the WB, IMF, and WTO, and for either reforming or cancelling such “free trade” agreements as NAFTA which have promoted TNC capitalism and inequality. Other aspects of globalization that also fuel criticism and protest include the breakdown of welfare programs in western countries, the undermining of organized labor (partly through the globalized “outsourcing” of production, with the familiar loss of jobs at home—2.2 million jobs lost during the Bush II regime), the relentless commodification of global cultures, and environmental degradation. Add to these issues war, terrorism, and the continued proliferation of “weapons of mass destruction,” and the current version of globalization looks to many observers to be mainly destructive rather than the opposite.

2. Are There Alternatives to TNC Globalization?:

TNC globalization has encountered many forms of local and regional resistance, including versions of ethnic and nationalist self-assertion and defense. One example is the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico, where its leader, Subcomandante Marcos, declared in 1994: “NAFTA is a death sentence for indigenous peoples” (Anderson 92). Instead of bringing prosperity, NAFTA has increased Mexican poverty by 25%. In any event, such resistance is not just local or regional, but itself global, as evidenced by the huge demonstrations against the WTO, IMF, and WB in Seattle (1999), Quebec (2000), Genoa (2001), and many other locations around the world–most recently, Cancun and Miami (2003) (Cavanagh 2; see also Fisher; Korten). These protests, typically misrepresented by the mainstream media, are themselves transnational, drawing hundreds of thousands from around the world. Coupled with the millions of protestors against the U.S. and British invasion of Iraq, appeals for peace and appeals for alternatives to TNC globalization are both aspects of an emergent vision of a better, genuinely democratic “new world order” that aims to eliminate poverty and also environmental destruction while creating fair labor standards and an international system of peace and justice.

On April 9, 2003, The Chicago Tribune, hardly a radical newspaper, reported: “The revolution has begun…anti-war protesters in the U.S. and around the world are part of a broad, anti-corporate, anti-greed movement that predates the…war in Iraq.” Activists whose interests formerly seemed quite distinct and even opposed to each other–trade unionists versus environmentalists, for instance–have been forging alliances that are now part of the emerging, global mass movement. In Indiana, the campaign against the building of a new terrain interstate, I-69, has surprising connections to the protests of Panamanians against a proposed industrial corridor across their land. The “Plan Puebla Panama” (PPP) entails a $10 billion, 25-year series of industrialization projects steamrolling through southern Mexico and Central America. I-69 is slated as a transcontinental thoroughfare that would connect with the trans-Panama Highway central to the PPP.

Though decentralized, the movement for global justice has a kind of center in the World Social Forum, whose annual meetings starting in 2001 in Porto Allegre, Brazil, have drawn thousands of activists from around the world. Its most recent gathering in Mumbai, India, was attended by at least 100,000. Its critics charge that this mass movement is “against globalization” and “free trade”; but its supporters advocate “global economic justice,” “fair trade,” and “environmental sustainability.” Rather than corporate globalism imposed from the top down, the movement works for democratic “globalization from below” (Brecher). Among the goals shared by the many organizations now engaged in this mass movement are:

** Global peace and security, including disarment of all “weapons of mass destruction” everywhere.

** Economic justice, including the cancellation of the massive external debts of the poorer countries of the world.

** Adherence to fair labor practices and environmental standards by all corporations and governments.

** Protection of the “global commons,” including water and other increasingly precious resources, from privatization and exploitation by corporations.

** Creation of a democratic global polity, including a system of international law and social justice (starting with the strengthening of the U.N.).

** National and international policies that protect the rights of “indigenous peoples” and their cultures, as well as of all other ethnic, cultural, and religious “minorities.”

Activist organizations that share some or all of these goals include, besides the World Social Forum (fsm2003@uol.com.br), Global Exchange (globalexchange.org), the Global Policy Forum, the International Forum on Globalization (ifg.org), Mobilization for Global Justice (globalizethis.org), the U.S. Network for Global Economic Justice (50years.org), and the Third World Network, among many others. There is a fuller list at the end of Anderson, Field Guide to the Global Economy. These groups typically produce newsletters and provide much on-line information about their activities.

Works Cited:

Anderson, Sarah, et. al., Field Guide to the Global Economy. New York: The New Press, 2000.

Brecher, Jeremy, Tim Costello, and Brendan Smith. Globalization from Below: The Power of Solidarity. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2000.

John Cavanagh and Jerry Mander, eds. Alternatives to Economic Globalization: A Better World Is Possible. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2002.

Condon, Garret. “Futurists Say World is at a Turning Point.” Chicago Tribune. April 9, 2003.

Fisher, William, and Thomas Ponniah, eds. Another World Is Possible: Popular Alternatives to Globalization at the World Social Forum. London: Zed Books, 2003.

Giddens, Anthony. The Consequences of Modernity. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1990.

IFG (International Forum on Globalization). Does Globalization Help the Poor? San Francisco: IFG, 2001.

Korten, David C. When Corporations Rule the World. Second ed. Foreword by Danny Glover. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers and Kumarian Press, 2001.

Seyoum, Belay. The State of the Global Economy 2001/2002: Trends: Data: Rankings: Charts. Baldwin Place, NY: Encyclopedia Society, 2001.

Waters, Malcolm. Globalization. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2001.

A pamphlet on the PPP and those fighting is available from this website: http://www.asej.org/ACERCA/ppp/ppp.html.

Comments are closed.