Jul 042006

13 myths about globalization

this is a very simple lecture. it is not about my research. it is a simple summary of the perspective of global south scholars. everything in it is very easily verified.

  1. globalization is the same thing as internationalism. it’s constantly presented to us through the images of family, multiculturalism, and communication. all these things pre-existed colonialism and it simply appropriated them! those policies are essentially a bill of rights for corporations. the WTO describes itself as a constitution for a new global economy. what makes these policies so powerful is that they include the rights to usurp and override any other law, whether it’s local, national, or international. globalization is a set of policies which corporations the right to do business. the images of multiculturalism, family, and communication are used to obscure the policies, priorities, and institutions of globalization which in fact damage families and culture, making multiculturalism impossible. globalization is not trade, that is very old. it is not travel, people have been traveling across the pacific for thousands of years — in canoes! people have been sharing wisdom and enjoying one another’s cultures for thousands of years. and now multinational corporations appropriate those images as a veneer on exploitation and destruction. what is it, then? it is a set of international policies, enforced by international financial institutions, which for the most part are imposed on the Global South as part of the noose of debt, distorted development, and export-dependency.

  2. globalization is a new, enlightened economy. in fact, it is an old, colonial one. that is why movements from the global south call it ‘recolonization’. it reverses the gains of postcolonial governance in areas such as land reform, nationalization of industries, and cultural protections. indeed its policies mirror colonial policies in uncanny ways. for example the outlawing of sale of unpackaged cooking oil in India feels the same as the outlawing of production of homespun cloth.

  3. globalization may be exploitative, but it’s better than nothing (or a few losers, but mostly winners)in these poor countries. during several interviews i did in cancun, people came out of their chairs (much to the dismay of my cameraman) saying “it’s not nothing! it’s not nothing!” these countries had rich ecological resources, self-sufficiency in food, and met most of their needs for centuries. the idea of a poor or hungry Africa or asia or latin America is absurd! the only way this has happened is for the land to be taken away from the people, so they cannot feed themselves and for the mineral and other natural wealth to be stolen! to look at a line of people hoping for a job in a sweatshop and say “see, we’re providing something we need” is the height of ahistoricism blinded by colonial paternalism. these days we are embarrassed that we told ourselves that slavery was doing a big favor to the Africans. we may be embarrassed before too long that we countenanced such exploitation, let alone congratulated ourselves for it. where were those people who now seek a sweatshop job 20 years ago? they were independent small-scale producers, farmers, processors, craftspeople, or artisans, producing for local markets. what has happened to those local markets?

the primary beneficiaries are the poor.

  1. we cannot yet evaluate free trade, because it is only in place for 10 years. false. these agreements implement the same policies enforced by structural adjustment programs of the IMF and world bank since the early 1980s. over that time period inequality has increased. there are 8 different statistical economic methods of measuring inequality and whichever one you use, inequality has gotten worse globally and within most countries. these policies are a disaster. even by their own admission, sap implementation has an inverse impact on economic growth.

  2. globalization frees the market to satisfy important human needs. needs, such as hunger do not manifest as market demand. only buying power manifests as market demand. since hungry people lack exactly that, a market-based food system will easily pass right over them. most of the meat produced in Africa goes into European dog food.

  3. globalization is about de-regulation.no, it’s not in fact any kind of economic orthodoxy. it is simply a bill of rights for corporations. they sat down and wrote these agreements, so as to be able to invade and control every aspect of life. not only do structural adjustment and free trade open up local markets to corporate takeover, they also commodify and introduce into the market aspects of life which were not formerly economic. one of the important areas in which the free trade regime fails to deregulate is in the area of patent protections for seeds and pharmaceuticals. in these areas, the wto is demanding increased regulation, because that is what facilitates profit. also the rules on sanitary standards simply eliminate traditional methods of production and hand over the market to corporations which have high-tech sanitation methods.

  4. globalization increases consumer choice & access to technology. all over the world citizens are demanding the right to choose whether they will eat genetically modified organisms. most countries have some kind of label or restrictive scheme at this time. the US companies are battering against this information. they have already got it unlabeled into the US food supply and they are arguing that they cannot manage to sort out (isn’t that convenient for them!) try to go to the grocery store and exercise your choice to not eat it. we are receiving the illusion of choice among brands and artificial flavors, but choice over the more serious fundamentals, such as whether a product was made in a sweatshop, whether the fish was harvested sustainably, and biotech are choices that corporations are actively wiping out.

  5. globalization is democratic.the big wto ministerials are collapsing not because third world elites are unwilling to exploit their own people, but because these meetings are so undemocratic that they are a slap in the face even of these elites. the WTO claims to work by a consensus process, but what that really means is simply they will not have a majority vote because if they did the great powers would be completely outnumbered. the consensus process means that the documents are written by a small group and then handed to the larger group in a “take it or leave it” manner. this approach, which is described as “bullying” by activists of the global south, has resulted in the collapse of the third and fifth ministerials, and the progress made at the 4th is widely considered to be rhetorical, rather than substantive. moreover, what kind of democracy is going on when free trade agreements violate the UN Declaration of human rights, the labor conventions at the wto, the biosafety protocol, and handfuls of World Health Organization codes and international treaties?
    turning to the World Bank and IMF are “proxy governments” of the US. The U.S. has by far the largest share (18% of all votes) and can veto policy decisions, since they require an 85% vote. The IFIs may not be totally controlled by the U.S., but it’s close: even
    The New York Times described the IMF as a “proxy” of the U.S. government. Any analysis of these institutions’ policies is thus also a critique of U.S. policies.1 at the same time, the peoples of the world are told that consuming is where they have power, that consuming is more important than citizenship, that consuming is citizenship.

  6. farmers and other small producers need access to global markets. Via Campesina is saying “no, we need access to our local markets.” dumping and tariffs………….ironically it is also claimed that this dumping will actually stimulate local producers to awake from their stupor of backwardness and become “more competitive”. really it just wipes them out.

  7. but we are helping. we are giving “foreign aid”. no, foreign aid flows in reverse. when we describe the global south as terribly poor, we must put that poverty carefully into historical context. In 1996, sub-Saharan Africa paid $2.5 billion more in debt servicing than it received in new long-term loans and credits. Debt slavery is foreign aid in reverse- for every dollar sent to the poorest countries in aid, $13 flows back to lenders in debt service. World Bank figures for 1999 show that $128 million is transferred daily from the 62 most impoverished countries to wealthy countries.  the profit these “banks” generate is not money, it’s control. from the perspective of the global south the debt has been paid many times over through slavery, colonialism, natural resources taken for very little payment and with destructive impact on the ecology, plantations, sweatshops, brain drain, etc. i encourage you to read the Dakar declaration and the gauteng manifesto of the south-south summit in this regard.

  8. privatization is more efficient.from the perspective of bolivans and south Africans and others on whom the deadly experiment of privatization of energy and water is being enacted it is outright theft of their water, natural gas, and other energy sources.

  9. global culture brings us all closer: strife, war. in contrast, diversity is a good hing.

  10. there is no alternative.this is the trump card of corporate power. and it’s totally empty. in fact nearly anything would be better. and there are thousands of alternatives. there are thousands of alternatives. the world social forum is one location where these alternatives are being articulated.

  11. opponents of globalization are romantic luddites, spoiled children, angry punk rockers on protest tour, “hopping” from summit to summit to express their alienation through mayhem. another convenient myth. it’s just the kids that everyone hates anyway, there’s no serious opposition. unfortunately, this is far from true. the movement is negligible in the united states, much stronger in Europe, and deafening in the global south, which is the real point of impact. farmers, small producers, students, consumers, workers, fisherfolk, urban dwellers. in the global south all parts of society are hit hard and have been fighting back against structural adjustment programs for decades already. We are Everywhere. there are a number of consistencies in this movement: support for autonomy, participatory democracy, creativity, the struggle for dignity, diversity, direct action, and the idea that everyone is an expert.

1 It is widely acknowledged, even by observers who are not critical of the IMF, that it is “essentially a proxy for the United States” (Michael Wines, New York Times, December 26, 1998: “Yeltsin Agrees To Closer Ties With Belarus,” p. A1)