Democratic Underground

Who Are the Real Globalists?
January 12, 2002
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 or fear.

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 economic forces.

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 else.

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."

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