critical globalization studies

this lecture is an introduction to what i call “critical globalization studies”, which reflects the work of an international group of scholars, primarily economists and historians.


there are a few premises of critical globalization studies:

  1. globalization is not the same thing as humanitarian internationalism, the process by which people sort of travel around and work together and develop sympathy for one another and build relationships and have inter-cultural experiences. we call that ‘internationalism’ and globalization refers to something else, which is a set of economic and political processes.
  2. globalization is constantly described as “natural”, “evolutionary”, “inevitable”, and “progress”. CGS does not accept any of those terms.
  3. we hear about glob as if it’s a brand new phenomenon. in fact it’s not entirely new, although it has some new components. so CGS sees that it is very important to acknowledge 4 historical phases of globalization.


the first phase of globalization was European colonialism

british, french, portuguese, Spanish, dutch conquests of Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and parts of Asia took place from 1400s to 1900s.

the purpose of colonialism was to control land, labor, natural resources, and markets

realize: people were doing fine. had agriculture, trade, education, cosmology, medicine, jewelry, art, what we call “natural resource management” regimes, math, science (“experimental method”)

what’s important to understand about colonialism is that it was a very sophisticated system for taking control.

it involved military, economic, political, legal, social, cultural, ideological, and religious tactics

involves slavery, but slavery is very inefficient. there are cheaper ways. controlling people’s minds is cheaper. so ideological and other aspects used to convince people to see outsiders as superior and to submit themselves and hand over their stuff.

i’m not going to get into how each tactic worked. i’m just going to give one example.

in India, before the british came, there was a very advanced system of agriculture and people were wearing cotton clothes.

under colonialism, military force and taxation were used to drive peasants off of their  subsistence farms. these people then became what are called “landless laborers”. whereas before they were able to feed themselves from their own farms and their roles as producers and consumers were integrated, once landless these roles have been severed.

british companies then invite the landless workers to come work on plantations on their former farms, and these plantations grow cotton. Britain has gained access to very cheap land, good soil, and cheap labor. the Indian peasantry has lost independence and is now dependent on getting “a job” from british companies in order to produce and to consume.

the british companies then ship the cotton back to England, where the industrial revolution has just transformed the nature of society and work and there are factories with cheap labor to weave the cotton into cloth.

then the cloth is shipped back to India, where the british colonial rulers outlaw the production of cloth, thereby forcing Indians who knew perfectly well how to make cloth, to buy it. this is called “getting control of the market”. 

now there was constant armed and unarmed resistance to this system and eventually, by around 1950, almost all of the colonized nations mounted anti-colonial revolutions and became nominally self-governing nations, meaning that they had their own constitutions and parliaments and were supposedly free to have a process of deciding what sorts of laws they wanted to have. 

and they weren’t exactly grateful for what the Europeans had brought to them. we know this because the columbus day sesquicentennial in 1992 was a total flop. there were more protests than celebrations around the world.

now i used the phrase “nominally” self-governing because in many ways the formal, political, decolonization was superficial. indeed some analysts claim that the process of decolonization is far from complete, it is an ongoing process. in many cases the colonial patterns of land distribution were not repaired, so much of the best land in the nation remains in the hands of foreigners or national elites and is not used for local consumption. in particular, the ideological effects still linger. many postcolonial peoples (who we now call “third world peoples” still accept, for the most part, european values and priorities. but everywhere in the postcolonial world there are movements working to figure out what it would mean to decolonize, and there is very vigorous debate about whether to still emulate the values and culture of the colonizers or try to recover indigenous values.

one more important piece of how colonialism functioned has to do with how it controlled critical-thinkers in the colonizer countries, back in Europe. people were getting a lot of information about slavery and massacres, and so forth that was happening, but there was this ideology called “paternalism” which convinced European citizens that even though this system seemed brutal and tragic, it was really better for the colonized people, because they had been so uncivilized before. so enslaving and brutalizing people and destroying their way of life was recast as doing them a big favor.

the 2nd phase of globalization is called “development”

by the 1950s, most colonized countries were independent.

they were having processes to figure out how they wanted to run the country. this was a very messy process of dialogue. in many places the “nation” inherited from European rulers did not match pre-existing territories of ethnic groups, so it is still a source of great difficulty to work with a political unit that did not match historic social and political patterns.

so while postcolonial nations were trying to figure out how to manage “independence” in a new form that was not traditional, the capitalist european countries and the us were competing with the socialist bloc (mostly the ussr) for control over third world resources. they had lost access to all those resources, and they wanted that back. so they were sort of trying to seduce the third world into forming alliances with them.

the great historic struggle between capitalism and socialism, at least in the third world, really was not about any ideological issue, or even about class warfare, as it was in Europe and the US, it was simply a struggle over  which empire would have access to resources in the postcolonial nations.

the capitalist countries created the idea of “development” in the mid 1950s.

“development” is also called ‘modernization theory’

the promise of “development” is that if third world countries followed the advice of the capitalist countries and industrialized, urbanized, and made sure there was no protectionism of the economy (meaning just exporting willy nilly), that they would then have economic growth. that growth in turn was promised to bring increased standard of living (education, healthcare, longer lives, less infant mortality, infrastructure like roads, electricity, telephones, and environmental quality). the promise was that the third world nations would slowly become first world nations and even, eventually, democracies. development theory also offered the world “peace”, with increasing incomes and standard of living, nations would have no need for war.

 now “growth” is defined with national figures, like Gross National Product GNP, and according to those figures development has worked to increase growth. but a growing sector of economists are rejecting those figures as measures of economic health because these figures don’t take distribution into account and they don’t distinguish between socially beneficial kinds of economic activities and socially hazardous ones. so for example a large chemical spill generates a lot of economic activity for companies that are paid to clean up and for healthcare for victims, so it appears as a positive contribution to GNP when it really is a disastrous event for society and the environment.

to cut to the chase, it has been a 50 year experiment with this approach, and there has not been a single case of “success”.

the only case which you will hear cited as a success is south korea. but that is a false case because south korea actually did not follow the prescriptions of modernization theory, but had state command capitalism and very tight protectionist policies which are not allowed within the model.

in the 1960s a critique emerged from the postcolonial nations that the form of development being promoted by their former colonizers was not actually modernization along the path that allowed them to develop, but something they described as “dependent development”. the postcolonial nations were to play certain roles in the assembly line of products, roles defined by the modernized nations, but roles which were dependent on foreign production processes and consumption patterns. so the term ‘dependent development’ can be used to describe projects which allow for some kinds of development, but are dependent and therefore not allowing the third world country to have autonomous power in economic policy and development priorities.

but despite this abject failure, development practice is still unchanged, and 3w elites still pursue it.

modernization theory is enforced by the two most important financial institutions, the IMF & the WB. created 1944 ostensibly to regulate the economy after the war

WB was to give large loans for infrastructure development. IMF was to give short term loans in case of economic crisis. now their roles are less distinct.

in the 1970s OPEC was making huge oil profits, which they deposited to private banks. being banks, they wanted to make more money on the money so they wanted to loan it out and get interest. but this was so much money they didn’t even know where to loan it. they decided to loan it to third world countries. at the time, countries were not thought to be defaultable. so huge amounts were loaned out at very low interest, and next to no oversight over what the money would be used for, perhaps assuming that it would be used to develop the economy

much of the money was given to non-democratically elected regimes or dictators. they spent a lot of it on military to repress resistance movements in their country. a good amount of it was spent on themselves or put in foreign bank accounts.  some of it was spent on what are called “symbols of development”, like one skyscraper or an elegant airport, or a fancy highway that went a short distance. very little of this money was spent on infrastructure or any kind of economic development that would build the country in the long term or benefit the poor.

in the 1980s, interest rates skyrocket, and export earnings in major commodities that third world countries depend on the earnings from declined and the loans can’t be paid. at this point the IMF steps in to buy out the loans. IMF bailouts rarely have a positive impact on the people of a country in crisis, what they are doing is bailing out the banks. so the IMF became the loan-holder for the third world debt

and at this point, they say “we’ll roll over your loan” (like taking a second mortgage), but they toughen up the rules. they say “we want to make sure you can pay, so we’re going to help make sure you’re running your economy in a way that will ensure you can pay.”

this “advice” takes the form of Structural Adjustment Programs, which are also known as Structural Adjustment Conditionalities.

what SAPs basically do is liquidate the economy. this means that any natural resources, like forests, should be sold off. money should not be spent on any kind of social services, government inspections, or enforcement. (so they lay off civil sector workers.) any government-run enterprises, like the transportation and water system, should be sold off to the highest international bidder. this is called “privatization”, it includes pressure to sell off their water, telephone, and electric systems to foreign private companies which charge people to use their own water and infrastructure. also results in layoffs and wage cuts. user fees are implemented for health & ed (and even a tiny user fee spells the difference between some healthcare and no healthcare). raise taxes, cutting or freezing wages at current levels, repressing labor organizing, cutting food subsidies to the poor, and devaluing the currency (this makes labor cheaper for foreign corporations, but makes any imported items more expensive for consumers), and allowing foreign corporations to operate in “enterprise zones” where they don’t have to pay taxes or obey existing environmental and labor law.

the result? WB economists document a precise inverse relationship between sap implementation & growth. 

a few stats:

  • external debt burden of sub-Saharan Africa has increased by nearly 400% since 1980, when the IMF and World Bank began imposing their SAPs. For the developing countries as a whole between 1980 and 1992, the external debt burden double
    Africa spends four times as much on debt repayment as she does on healthcare.
    Between $7.5 and $15 billion is needed annually to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa each year. Yet, Africa pays out $13.5 billion in debt service every year.
    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. 
  • resurgence of infectious diseases including tuberculosis, malaria and cholera
  • If debt had been cancelled in 1997 for twenty of the poorest countries, the money released for basic healthcare could have saved the lives of about 21 million children by the year 2000, the equivalent of 19,000 children a day. (UN Human development report, 1997)
  • Due to the HIV/AIDS crisis, life expectancy in Zambia is expected to drop from 43 to 33 years, a level last experienced in Europe in medieval times. Over half a million children are out of school, and these numbers are not declining. Yet debt service after enhanced HIPC still remains more than spending on health and education in 1998 combined. (Source: Decision Point document; UN Human Development Report 2000; Halfway there?, Oxfam International position paper, July 1999)
  • After debt relief under the enhanced HIPC initiative, debt service in Mali was $88 million in 2000. This is greater than the level of government spending on health ($54 million in 1998), in a country where one in four children do not live to see their fifth birthday, and where per capita spending on health is $5 as compared to the World Bank’s recommended level for basic health care of $12. (Sources: for Enhanced HIPC, Aug 11 2000; UN Human Development Report 2000; Halfway there?, Oxfam International position paper, July 1999)

and despite a lot of information about how it doesn’t work, first world citizens still buy into it because they believe that we are trying to “help” those poor people over there, which is the same “paternalism” left over from colonialism. there is a legacy of colonialism in western ideology just as there is in the third world.

important to understand that imf & wb are banks, but the profit they generate is not money profit, they generate control. they generate the right of the US and other major economic powers to dictate the economic policies and even laws in postcolonial nations. but what this means is that they dictate the conditions of daily life for the poorest of the poor.

the third phase of globalization is the era of “free trade”

  • 3rd inst created w/ IMF & WB in 1944, GATT
  • renegotiated regularly since, int’l agreements about trade in major goods
  • in 1994, after a seven-year negotiation, the GATT was transformed into the the WTO in January 1995.
  • WTO is the most international of a number of free trade agreements. WTO has 144 members now, whereas the NAFTA agreement just covers trade between the US, Mexico, and Canada, and the AGOA is a relationship between the US and most of sub-Saharan Africa, APEC covers much of the far east, Russia, the pacific, Peru, Mexico the US & Canada ¾ but the basic logic of all the FTAs is the same:
  • WTO promises are essentially the same as those of modernization system, increasing trade/export will hasten growth, therefore incomes, and facilitate peace. but also some new jargon is added, such as establishing a “rules-based system”, “dispute resolution” “increased consumer choice”, “efficiency”, and “promoting good government”…
  • we’re constantly told that glob is natural, evolutionary, inevitable. this is just not consistent with any definition of “nature” that i’ve ever heard. it is a 550 page document. it took seven years to negotiate the Uruguay Round. it was written by certain people with a certain set of interests. in fact it was written by non-democratically elected appointees of most powerful countries in the world, spearheaded by the US. 500 mncs had security clearance to participate. no citz orgs, no labor orgs, no env orgs.
  • essentially the WTO is a new int’l constitution. (they even call it that: “We are writing the constitution of a single global economy.” Renato Ruggiero, former Director-General of the WTO) more powerful than any existing nation’s constitution, more powerful than UN resolutions and the UN declaration on human rights. in fact, the decl of human rights has no enforcement powers, while the WTO does have them. the WTO has an entire bureaucracy of over 500 full-time employees who enforce it.
  • like the US constitution, any law that is passed within its jurisdiction can be tested against this constitution by the equivalent of our Supreme Court. at the WTO this court is called the Dispute Resolution Board.
  • so what does the constitution say? says that FT, the right to do business, is the highest possible right. so this means that the right of corps to do business, is the highest law, over human rights, labor rights, state and local law, the right of govts to regulate, the right of citizens to assert a law they want.
  • some examples of how the WTO works
    • tariffs & subsidies: corn: access to local markets.
    • non-tariff barriers
    • EU ban on hormone-grown beef established 1980  …. 1997 “not based on sound science”. but the science that is used as the reference point is a corporate-dominated body called Codex Alimentarus. here’s the enforcement, US allowed to put retaliatory tariffs of up to 100% on EU products to recover the $117M/year that the cattle industry says it’s losing. when the EU proposed to simply to label the beef, the WTO said that this amounted to “discrimination”
    • 80% of current US environmental law. bans on carcinogens in food. EU recycled computer law. every single time the WTO has ruled on food safety, environment, or labor, they have ruled for corporations.
    • India/cooking oil: under the Sanitary & Phyto Sanitary Agreement…India pressured to create legislation governing packaging of cooking oil this is why in the 3w globalization is called “recolonization”
    • Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, negotiated from 1996 to 2000. purpose was to establish an international framework to protect natural diversity from potential risks of genetically modified organisms. it did this by invoking the precautionary principle and requiring advance information about the transport of GMOs. scientists from all over the world worked very hard to create it. but they lost on the most important paragraph, which is whether the protocol would be subservient to the WTO. so because the WTO does not allow use of the precautionary principle, the Biosafety Protocol is toothless.
    • gerber-guatemala: WHO recommended practice is exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months. 118 countries signed a marketing code as early as 1981 and there is now a World Health Organization code regulating marketing. but Gerber claims that laws about advertising of infant formula are violations of “intellectual property rights”. gerber accused Guatemala of “expropriating” their trademark”.  this is what postcolonial observers call “bullying”
    • bring all existing law in line and don’t pass new: Maryland/burma procurement 1998 law (David Marchick of the Secretary of State’s office was sent to lobby the legislature ¾ you don’t have the right to make this law). the reason that laws against slave labor or child labor are illegal for the WTO is because they are based on something called a “process distinction”, which means you can’t tell the difference in the final product.
    • 3w constitutions: “technical cooperation” Mr. Bampa, minister from Kenya…   this is called by the WTO assistance in “adjusting to WTO rules and disciplines, implement obligations and exercise the rights of membership
  • national legislators never knew what hit them.  profound problem that people in the US have delegated issues of economics to experts. didn’t analyze, didn’t participate. only one congressman had read it. (Hank Brown, a Colorado Republican came forward). no public hearings ever held on the issue of the WTO.
  • directly violates Int’l Declaration of Human Rights, Agenda 21 of the Rio Earth Summit, International Labor Standards ratified by the ILO conventions.
  • modeled on SAPs, which have failed to deliver on this promise
  • inequality is increasing steadily for the last 20 years, no matter what measure you use. this system is not delivering on its promises. while there has been the appearance of growth, there has been “foreign direct investment”, there are “symbols of modernity” in third world countries, in reality inequality ¾ the gap between the rich and the poor ¾ in those countries has gotten worse. and simultaneously, the gap between the rich countries and the poor countries has increased. and the rate of absolute poverty has not been alleviated.
  • WTO is undemocratic at every level. it was not written in a democratic way, decisions w/i it are undemocratic, the 3w calls the process “bullying”.

the fourth phase of globalization is the incredible international movement of people who are saying “another world is possible. proponents of globalization say TINA “there is no alternative”, opponents say TATA, “there are thousands of alternatives”. and this movement, this fourth phase, is called “globalization from below”

it is diverse social sectors ¾farmers, workers, consumers, citizens, youth, grandparents, students, unemployeds, indigenous


  • Democracy/participation (new spaces, que se vayan todos))
  • Autonomy/cultural survival/endogenous development (ex zaps)
  • Creativity (asembleas) 
  • Solidarity (ex jubilee, seattle, u’wa, f15)
  • Direct action (ex midnight gardening, sem terra, reconnections)

quickly, here are some of the important historical moments of the movement’s emergence

  • by the mid 1980s, what came to be called “IMF Riots” were common across the third world, as millions of people went into the streets, held general strikes,  and confiscated foods and other basic needs in protest of SAPs.
  • this movement came to the first world in 1988, when 100,000 people protested IMF meetings in Berlin
  • 1992: U’wa people in Colombia decide they will not permit Occidental Petroleum to drill in their homeland. (in 2002, Occy withdraws)
  • zapatistas jan 1 1994, the day NAFTA went into effect:  “they are trying to turn mexico into a shopping mall.”
  • 1995: Ken Saro-Wiwa, activist with the Ogoni people who had been fighting oil exploitation of Ogoniland for over 40 years, was executed by the state of Nigeria with oil companies acting as part of the prosecution. first martyr to gain international attention for struggling specifically against corporations.
  • the Jubilee movement for debt cancellation started in the mid-1990s in UK, 1997 in US. 70,000 people made a “human chain to break the chains of debt” around the g8 meeting in Birmingham England may 1998. 24M signatures given to Kofi Annan, sec’y general of the UN, Prague, September 2000. S-S summit, Dakar declaration: “don’t owe, won’t pay”, the debt has already been paid many times over, “odious debt”, “debt slavery”, “debt bondage”
  • 1998 May: WTO meetings Geneva 1st “global day of action” 10,000 people
  • 1998 December: Formation of ATTAC, “ international movement for democratic control of financial markets and their institutions ”. now in 33 countries, a huge popular force.
  • 1999 June: “j18” “global carnival of resistance”, simultaneous in 43 countries
  • seattle protests of the WTO November 1999: US began to act in solidarity with this international movement. this was very meaningful and encouraging to the rest of the world. didn’t let people into the meetings. said “it’s undemocratic”. if the people can’t go in, no one goes in. the streets belong to the people. when electoral democracy (also called “thin democracy”) isn’t working, we have to create other ways to communicate and express our power. social movements have to disrupt the status quo so that it becomes untenable to continue the way it is. creating new kinds of spaces. taking direct action, even if it gets called illegal, is part of the tradition of democracy. that’s what the boston tea party was. it’s part of our history of resisting tyranny. as you know, under the wto the very sovereignty that was fought for in the american revolution is basically now cancelled by signing on to this international thing.
  • last three years tens of thousands of people have met in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in something called the World Social Forum where they are actually hammering out exactly an alternative form of glob, people’s glob or “glob from below”. the first year, something like 10k people went, second year, 2002, 51,000 people went from 123 countries. this year it was held regionally. and at the one in Florence which fomented a march of 1M persons against imperialism, the largest anti-war action to date.
  • Argentina since December 2001: the people are refusing IMF bailout “get rid of them all”, democracy in neighborhood “assembleas”
  • the phrases are: “resistance is possible”, “another world is possible”, “globalize this!”,
  • the movement has also created own media, check out democratic, participatory media. that would be the first place to go to learn more about this movement.



Frequently asked questions


how to solve poverty/hunger?

  1. cancel the debts
  2. land reform
  3. allow 3w countries to keep own resources, stop pressuring them to export, prohibit extractions of natural resources. let labor be used to produce for local needs.


This movement is so diverse? What does the “movement of movements” agree about?

1.     neoliberal forms of development are never going to solve poverty, heal the environment, or bring peace.

  1. so called “development” policies like structural adjustment and building dams actually and only benefit global elites.
  2. international institutions such as the WTO and World Bank are undemocratic, and their elitism is not beneficial.
  3. multinational corporations are having excessive power not only over the global, national, and local economic issues, the concentration of wealth, the treatment of labor, but in more qualitative aspects of life, such as defining science, affecting environmental and health and safety regulations, shaping culture, standardizing and controlling people’s desires and definitions of dignity, delimiting public space, disrespecting the sacred, etc.….
  4. people’s movements all over the world have, collectively, the wisdom and skills to run things much better.
  5. our diversity is a good thing.
  6. we are winning. Switzerland kicked the WEF out, the WTO had to meet in a country where protest is illegal, IMF/WB fall meetings just cancelled, G8 is going to try to hide in a remote canadian mountain resort (but we have rope ladders!), and Naomi Klein says that the world elite have gotten to such a point of cooptation that they are doing SM, “giving self-flagellating speeches about how their greed is unsustainable” and “strapping themselves in for whipping from their critics from Amnesty International to Bono.” Even the Financial Times, in comparing the meetings of the World Economic Forum and the World Social Forum, said the WEF was “poorly organized” and “no longer providing answers”. An organizer of the WSF went so far as to say “we don’t need them. Our messages and concerns are more comprehensive.”

When people say “another world is possible”, what are the first few steps?

  1. development of democratic civil society institutions that cannot be manipulated by the wealthy countries, multinational corporations, or by national elites. (this is already happening)
  2. increased participation of civil society so as to challenge the power of national elites.
  3. reassertion of national sovereignty, particularly in the areas of food, water, healthcare, and other natural resources
  4. cancellation of the third world debts
  5. process which empowers those most affected to make decisions over their own lives. (autonomy)


Why do 3w countries support the WTO?

  1. well because of the distortion of their economies during colonialism, they became dependent on exporting just a few crops (we call this “monocropping”)
  2. thus they are dependent on the global market now, and they need favorable terms of trade (i.e. not to have big tariffs on their exports)
  3. so they have no choice but to participate in WTO.
  4. the first step out of this system is regional trading agreements without the big powers.


What should happen to the WTO?

  1. at the very least it should be completely democratized, so that the wealthy nations do not have inordinate control.
  2. countries must be allowed to make their own laws, and must not have their laws battered down as a condition for being able to export.
  3. the majority of CGS scholars believe that the WTO cannot be reformed, because the entire basis of the text was written in the interest of a small set of parties. therefore they believe that it needs to be totally dismantled and an entirely new international institution built from the ground up.
  4. and some CGS scholars argue that there is very little need for the WTO. countries should not be monocropping and producing for export in the first place, they should produce for national or regional needs and there is very little needs for any kind of global governance around trade at all.


Isn’t there anything good about globalization?

  1. yes, it is increasing how much wealth the global elite control, which is, after all, its purpose.
  2. it promises that increasing exports will lead to growth which will enable countries to afford to increase standard of living, regulations, and to democratize. When that growth does not happen, obviously then it has failed in its promise. Or when growth does happen, but we do not see the corresponding improvements in human development, then it has failed.
  3. People who see it as a historical continuity with colonialism do not see anything good about it. they see it as conquest. just as they see colonialism as a conquest and therefore do not celebrate so-called “Columbus day” because it meant they got a new kind of shoes.