Are the Real Globalists?
by Lydia Leftcoast
Those of us who are active in the movement to reform the
IMF and the World Bank and to curb the excesses of NAFTA and
other trade agreements are often referred to as "anti-globalization
protestors." The name implies that we are backward-looking,
narrow-minded, and opposed to international trade.
As a matter of fact, we are not against either globalization
or free trade.
Personally, I would love to see the kind of globalization
in which human rights were universally respected and every
country from Albania to Zimbabwe balanced growth with ecological
sustainability and fair distribution of the benefits of growth.
I would love to see the kind of free trade--fair free trade--
in which people and companies specialized in what they did
best, competed fairly without needing to destroy their competitors,
and received fair prices from customers throughout the world.
As a former foreign-language teacher, I would also love to
see the world undergo intellectual globalization, in which
foreign languages and cultures become objects of fascination
and wonder for the average person, instead of objects of scorn
These would be genuine forms of globalization.
What is being called "globalization" nowadays is not globalization
at all. It's corporate hegemony, multinational corporations
saying that their interests should prevail above all national
interests, above all ecological interests, and above all human
interests. They may clothe their demands in idealistic, almost
sentimental declarations about wanting to raise living standards
around the world, but when asked to conform to simple principles
of decency (such as paying living wages, meeting minimum health
and safety standards, or not trashing the environment) they
respond that their only responsibility is to their shareholders.
Despite their noble-sounding proclamations, they are quite
content to hurt anyone and anything in the pursuit of profits.
They claim (correctly) that the governments of Third World
countries want them to invest, but what does that really mean?
It may mean that these governments are under such a debt burden
that only hosting foreign-owned manufacturing plants will
allow them to meet the IMF's quotas for increasing exports.
It may mean that the more corrupt governments are looking
forward to all the juicy bribes and kickbacks that a wily
official can squeeze out of a wealthy corporation.
Advocates of corporate globalization point out that people
eagerly seek jobs in the plants set up by multinational corporations.
That is also true, and quite understandable in countries where
unemployment is in the double digits. But what is better for
a country's long-term interests, a foreign employer who sends
most of the profits back to New York or London and will cut
and run as soon as another country offers lower wages and
more lenient regulations, or a local employer, who keeps the
profits within the country and has a long-term interest in
maintaining and improving the local physical and social infrastructures?
The experiences of the East Asian countries suggest that you
want to go with the local entrepreneur every time.
If the IMF and World Bank were truly interested in Third
World development, instead of devoted to making life easy
for corporations, they would target their funding at indigenous
entrepreneurs, and they would never, ever demand that a nation
cut spending on education and health or require exorbitant
interest rates on loans to local farmers and businesses as
a condition of receiving aid. How is a nation supposed to
develop a healthy economy when its people are illiterate and
in poor health, or when its indigenous businesses are failing
for lack of financing? Indeed, the IMF's prescriptions sound
like prescriptions for eternal poverty and dependence on outside
Even the conservative British magazine The Economist admits
this in a backhanded way. No issue is complete without some
article or editorial advocating "free trade" and "globalization"
as defined by the multinational corporations, and the writers
invariably speak in glowing but imprecise terms of the benefits
of unrestrained worldwide capitalism--while acknowledging
in a few passing sentences that the benefits will accrue to
the masses only if certain practices are changed.
I believe that the anti-IMF, anti-WTO protestors are the
true globalists. Many of them have lived overseas, not in
the sheltered, over-priced executive ghettoes found in every
major city, but among ordinary people as students, missionaries,
researchers, or volunteers for NGOs. They're the ones who
raise the questions that the corporate globalists don't like
to hear, such as "How are people already living on the edge
supposed to survive under the harsh conditions imposed by
outside financial interests?"
Many other protesters have seen their home communities devastated
when a venerable local company is bought out by a multinational
conglomerate that cuts wages and benefits and/or moves production
overseas. They also ask uncomfortable questions: "How can
America remain prosperous if jobs that provided a middle-class
living standard are replaced by minimum-wage jobs?" It is
true that, unlike the bean counters in their air-conditioned
offices, neither group may understand the bottom-line issues,
but they understand all the other issues. They know that what
is good for the stockholders is not necessarily good for anyone
No, the corporate globalists are not real globalists, but
isolationists. In conservative jargon, "isolationism" refers
to reluctance to engage in overseas military ventures, but
the corporate globalists are isolationists in a more profound
sense. They see only their own narrow interests. If and only
if besieged by outside pressure groups, they may offer pretty
rationalizations of their predatory behavior or make some
cosmetic changes in their practices, but in the end, the bottom
line is all that matters. They are isolated from the concerns
of their own employees, their own communities, their own nations,
the wider world, and the natural environment. Like so much
of right-wing corporatist philosophy, their whole worldview
boils down to "me first."
The so-called "anti-globalism" protestors are not "anti-globalism"
so much as "anti-greed."