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Globalization and its Discontents: After Prague

We've Come a Long Way Baby

By Robin Hahnel


It is now firmly established that whenever and wherever global elites meet to further their plans for corporate sponsored globalization we will be there to oppose them. Tens of thousands will express their dissatisfaction with the effects of neoliberal policies in permitted demonstrations and rallies. Thousands will engage in peaceful acts of civil disobedience and risk arrest to disrupt the work of IMF, World Bank, and WTO officials who are, in fact, committing crimes against humanity no matter what they may think or pretend. And hundreds may engage law enforcement officials who protect the global elite and harass and abuse those who protest their crimes in running street battles that tie up major cities for days. There is a diverse and active network of first and third world organizations opposing corporate sponsored globalization at every turn that is here to stay. I, for one, can't wait for the major IMF/World Bank meetings next fall in Washington DC. They haven't had their big annual meeting here, in their usual place, since we were ready to give them the reception they richly deserve.  

It is now the case that the major news media will dutifully report protesters' message -- corporate sponsored globalization obstructs, rather than promotes economic development, aggravates, rather than reduces economic instability, widens rather than narrows the gap between rich and poor, and hastens environmental destruction -- along side official disclaimers from globalizers -- neoliberalism is being transformed into "compassionate globalization" which will spread economic prosperity to all. Before Seattle the mainstream media portrayed corporate sponsored globalization as benign and inevitable, and painted critics as spokespeople for special interests and cooks. While these stories persist, they are now accompanied by coverage of the disastrous human and environmental consequences of corporate globalism run amuck, and by effusive apologies from the leaders of globalization for failure to spread the benefits of globalization more equitably. In the of public debate we have put corporate globalizers on the defensive.  

But We Haven't Won Anything Yet  

No actual policies have changed. No unpayable debts have been cancelled that were not already written off a year ago. The global financial system is just as precarious as it was before Seattle. Structural Adjustment Programs and Conditionality Agreements remain unchanged, and talk of reducing required budget cuts in programs for the poor remains just that, talk. No responsible heads have rolled. Larry Summers is more firmly seated at Treasury than before. The transition at the top of the IMF, where Michel Camdessus was replaced by a fellow European globalizer, Horst Kohler, contained no rebuke to neoliberals or their policies, and Stanley Fischer, chief architect of capital liberalization and punitive IMF conditionality agreements, remains in charge of day to day policy. James Wolfensohn continues to assure the victims of his World Bank policies that "he feels their pain" while firing Joe Stiglitz and creating a situation that forced Ravi Kanbur to resign. Stiglitz was the lone voice from within the establishment critical of financial liberalization and deflationary structural adjustment programs. According to World Bank insiders Summers informed Wolfensohn that if he wanted another term as World Bank President, Stiglitz had to go. Kanbur resigned rather than suffer the public humiliation of Wolfensohn permitting Larry Summers to rewrite key sections of the annual World Development Report Kanbur edits . In "World Bank Dilutes Report" Charlotte Denny wrote in the London Guardian (September 13) "Professor Kanbur's draft criticized free market reforms advocated by the Bank and the International Monetary Fund, saying they had harmed poor people in some countries. The final version of the report omits most of the sections describing the downside of market reforms and concentrates on their benefits for economic growth." According to Duncan Green, policy analyst at the Catholic Aid Agency, "I'd say this is a clear case of intellectual censorship." Globalizers have also tightened their grip on both the Republican and Democratic Parties where their joint commission has successfully excluded Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan from the Presidential debates ensuring that no critical opinions of globalization will reach the American electorate during the fall campaign.  

Whatever changes we have won in public perceptions, we have made no gains in the halls of power. Neoliberals applying their "Washington consensus" are even more firmly entrenched than a year ago. For all our public successes, protestors have not moved reform minded, international Keyensians any closer to holding the reigns of international economic policy than they were a year ago. As a matter of fact, critics close to power have been weeded out as neoliberal globalizers batten down the hatches and stonewall change while mouthing shamelessly insincere sweet talk about equity and inclusion.  

What remains absent from the mainstream media are stories pointing out that actual policies and the people responsible for them remain unchanged despite rhetorical genuflections in the direction of globalization's discontents. Nor will the mainstream media publish analyses pointing out that the adverse effects of corporate sponsored globalization are entirely predictable. The media can also be counted on to studiously avoid self-criticism and to vilify the heroes in their own story. The mainstream media now admits that it is a good thing that we have woken up to the problems created by corporate led globalization. But if the mainstream media covers "all the news that's fit to print" how did it miss such an important story? Rather than praise for those who unearthed their cover up, the mainstream media continues to give its own pompous pundits, who slept through the biggest story of the decade themselves, unlimited space to vilify the whistle blowers who work for organizations like Fifty Years Is Enough, Citizens Trade Campaign, the Direct Action Network, Mobilization for Global Justice, and the Center For Economic Policy Research -- to name a few organizations that have been attacked in the media but offered no opportunity for rebuttal. Which leaves only the financially handicapped alternative media to carry the critical information we need to get out to people: Rhetoric aside, nothing has changed.  

Does All Reform Really Begin as Hypocrisy?  

In the October 2 issue of The Nation William Greider informed us that "a tide of corporate high-mindedness seems to be sweeping the globe. One international organization after another has scurried to catch up with the popular rebellions against globalization by announcing 'initiatives' to promote human rights, the environment and worker protections. Leading multinationals have been eager to sign up as co-sponsors, since the new codes or compacts are all voluntary and toothless. If corporate declarations of good intent were edible, the world's hungry would be fed. But even empty gestures can prove to be meaningful, sometimes far beyond what their authors had in mind. An enduring truth, a wise friend once explained to me, is that important social change nearly always begins in hypocrisy."  

I could not disagree that it is often the case that "first, the powerful are persuaded to say the appropriate words. Then social activists must spend the next ten years pounding on them, trying to make them live up to their promises." Nonetheless I was bothered by Grieder's formulation. Then it struck me that Grieder's insight suffered from a myopia common among intellectual social critics. Just as history books talk of Kings, Emperors, Presidents and Generals instead of organizations of ordinary people, Grieder was confusing what is inconsequential for what is important. Social change does not begin with the hypocrisy of ruling elites. It begins with injury that is perceived as such, followed by an awareness that being a victim is no accident but a necessary consequence of someone else's unjust privilege. Then activists turn perceived injustice into social movements that battle the rationalizing myths and social power that props up unjust rule. Only after all of this has occurred and the tide of battle has begun to turn are ruling elites forced to mouth hypocrisy. So it is not true that "important social change nearly always begins in hypocrisy." Progressive social change never begins in hypocrisy, and the greatest danger to progressive movements are the pressures brought to bear on them to betray their principles and become hypocritical. It may well be true that "important social change nearly always is preceded by ruling class hypocrisy." But that is effect, not cause. It is a sign that the true causes of social change have made headway, and their concerns can no longer be ignored or denied.  

I'm sure Grieder would not disagree. In his article he went on to point out some useful ways that groups battling corporate sponsored globalization can make use of the space opened by the recent wave of ruling class hypocrisy. But I would offer a different moral, that I remember hearing many years ago: Every progressive reform we enjoy today began as a movement that failed in the past. I prefer to remember those who fought but failed as how important social change always begins.  

Some Real News  

At long last it is now a matter of public record that the US is guilty of dumping in the global market place. After decades of berating the Japanese for dumping automobiles and the Koreans for dumping steel in the US market, a WTO tribunal has now ruled that a US corporate tax law which provides tax benefits for exports violates WTO principles of fair trade. It will be interesting to see if this has any affect on the "holier than thou" attitude of US government officials, politicians, and business and labor leaders about dumping. According to the Washington Post "the WTO ruled that America's system of granting tax breaks to US companies that export goods, known as the Foreign Sales Corporation program, violates WTO rules. The tax program permits US companies to reduce income taxes 15 percent through export subsidiaries set up in offshore tax havens such as Barbados and the Virgin Islands. Microsoft Corp., Boeing Co. and General Motors Corp. are some of the 6,000 companies, with 4.8 million workers, that get the $4.1 billion annual tax break." We were finally told the US is guilty of dumping because the deadline for overhauling US corporate taxes or paying $4 billion in sanctions and being subject to retaliatory measures from the European Union had come and gone. The purpose of the story was to reassure us that the US government had succeeded in postponing the deadline for imposing sanctions pending further negotiations over whether or not changes being debated in Congress would satisfy plaintiff's objections. So, it's official: The US dumps, but unlike others we have received a generous stay of execution to wait and see if we are sincerely repentant.

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Emanzipation Humanum, version 10. 2000, criticism, suggestions as to form and content, dialogue, translation into other languages are all desired