Tikkun Magazine, September/October 2001
Economic Globalization and the Environment
By Jerry Mander
Among many preposterous claims, advocates of economic globalization argue that it increases long-term environmental protection. The theory goes that as countries globalize, often by exploiting resources like forests, minerals, oil, coal, fish, wildlife, and water, their increased wealth will enable them to save more patches of nature from their ravages and they will be able to introduce technical devices to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of their own increased production. There is ample evidence, however, that when countries increase their apparent receipts in a global economy, most of the benefit goes to global corporations who have little incentive to put their profits back into environmental protection. Instead, they plow them back into further exploitation, or they just take the money and run, right out of the country. This is normal corporate behavior in a global economy.
Here, in the wealthiest country on earth, our president outspokenly promotes the idea of globalization as helping nature, while at the same time he advocates more oil drilling, more forest cutting, more poisons in rivers, and voices his fierce opposition to any measures that help control climate change-the ultimate expression of globalization.
The idea of globalization as some kind of environmental strategy is ridiculous on its face. But the matter is even more serious than it first seems. In fact, economic globalization itself--the very ideologies and structures that drive it-is intrinsically opposed to the survival of nature. No environmental side agreements or pollution controls or techno-fixes can mitigate the inherent environmental harms of a globalized economy with its export-oriented production models; the problems are built into the design. If we are going to proceed with this global experiment, we are going to have some predictable outcomes, and they are unavoidable. They are intrinsic to the form.
We will have to change the form.
Inevitable Force of Nature?
Advocates of globalization love to describe it as a done deal, the result of economic and technological forces that have simply evolved over centuries to their present form. They describe it as if it was an uncontrollable, undirected force of nature. Of course, if we accepted this description of the inevitability of globalization, as most media, governments, and universities tend to do, then obviously no resistance would be possible. Our only option would be to lie there, watch TV, and submit, or else try somehow to take advantage of the process for our own purposes. It should already be obvious that such passivity is not acceptable to a whole lot of people, judging by the evidence of the recent protests in Genoa, the 50,000 protesters in Seattle, the demonstrations by more than a million farmers in India, and the various uprisings in Japan, Brazil, Mexico, England, the Philippines, and even New Zealand. Lots of people are upset at this process.
Of course it's true enough that global trade activity and concepts like "free trade" have indeed existed for centuries in various forms. But earlier versions were entirely different from the modern version in scale, speed, form, impact, and, most importantly, intent. The modern version of economic globalization definitely did not simply evolve, as in nature, like some kind of naturally dominant plant or animal species, an economic kudzu vine. Modern globalization is no accident of evolution. It was created by human beings, on purpose, and with a specific goal: to give primacy to corporate values above all other values, and to aggressively install and codify those values globally.
In fact, the modern globalization era has a birth date and birthplace: the fateful meetings at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in July 1944. That was when the world's leading corporate figures, economists, politicians, and bankers got together to figure out how to mitigate the devastation of World War II. They decided that a new centralized global economic system was required to promote global economic development. This would lead away from wars, they thought, and would help the poor and the rebuilding process.
Out of the Bretton Woods meetings came the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (with other names at that time), and then the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which later gave birth to the World Trade Organization. Later clones of the model included NAFTA, the Maastricht Agreement in Europe, the upcoming Free Trade Area of the Americas Agreement, and quite a few others.
Together these instruments of economic globalization have been fulfilling their mandate, which is arguably to bring the most fundamental redesign of the planet's social, economic, and political arrangements at least since the Industrial Revolution. They are engineering a power shift of stunning proportions, moving real economic and political power away from national, state, and local governments and communities toward a new centralized model that gives great power to global corporations, banks, and the global bureaucracies they helped create, albeit with grave consequences for national sovereignty, community control, democracy, indigenous cultures, and more to the point today, the natural world.
The crucial point to remind ourselves about is that this process--these institutions and the rules they operate by--have been created on purpose by human beings and corporations and economists and bankers, and have specific forms designed for specific outcomes. It is no accident. It was not inevitable. And it can be reversed or revised, if with difficulty. What, then, can we say about the form?
The first tenet of economic globalization, as now designed, is to integrate and merge all economic activity of all countries on the planet within a single, homogenized model of development; a single centralized super system. Countries with cultures, economies, and traditions as varied as those of India, Sweden, Thailand, Kenya, Bhutan, Bolivia, Canada, Russia, and a hundred more are all meant to adopt the same tastes, values, and lifestyles, and to be served by the same fast food restaurants, hotel chains, clothing chains; to wear the same kind of jeans and shoes; to drive similar cars; receive the same films, music, television; to live in the same kind of urban landscape and engage in the same kind of agriculture and development schemes, and to carry the same personal, cultural, and spiritual values. Global Monoculture!
If you have traveled a bit lately, you have surely noted the trend, entirely visible before your eyes. Every place is becoming more and more like every place else. Cultural diversity is going the way of biodiversity. Soon, there will be little reason to go anywhere at all. Such a homogenized model directly serves the efficiency needs of the largest corporations, acting on a global plain, allowing them to duplicate their production and marketing efforts on an ever-expanding terrain, and to achieve the many efficiencies of scale that go with borderlessness. It's like the standard gauge railway of another century. Or, in today's terms, "computer compatibility." It's among the primary purposes of the great trade agreements and bureaucracies to make rules that assure that there are no blockages in the flow, that global corporations can move freely in all countries, and that economic homogenization and integration is accelerated.
A second tenet of the globalization design is that primary importance is given to the achievement of ever more rapid, and never ending economic growth--let's call it "hypergrowth"--fueled by the constant search for access to new resources, new and cheaper labor sources, and new markets. That is why there is such excitement about China joining the experiment, and such concern over the recent spyplane incident. To help achieve this hypergrowth, emphasis is put upon the ideological heart of the globalization model, free trade, accompanied by deregulation of corporate activity, and privatization and commodification of as many nooks and crannies of existence as possible. These even include formerly pristine elements of the global commons, elements that until now have always been far outside the trading system, areas that most of us have always assumed would remain the inalienable right of all human beings to retain in a noncommodified form.
For example, the genetic structures of our bodies, and of all life, are now very definitely being enclosed as part of the commodity trading system through biotechnology, hugely assisted by the WTO rules on intellectual property rights. Or consider indigenous seeds, for millennia developed and freely shared by agricultural communities, now subject to long-term monopolization by global corporations through patenting. Recent protests against the WTO's TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights) agreement by farmers in India, and by AIDS victims in Africa and other parts of the Third World have begun to focus a new harsh light on some appalling aspects of this issue. Now we face similar pressure on fresh water--rivers, lakes, streams--probably the most basic element of sustenance, always considered to be part of the commons, available to all life, but soon to be converted into part of the global trade system. At least that will be so if the parties to FTAA and NAFTA and the WTO proceed with their plans. A ll of these formerly free and public aspects of human life itself are being rapidly privatized, enclosed, and commodified as part of the globalization project, to bring even more raw material, more territory (geographic and biological) into play for corporate access, investment, development, and trade.
At the same time, the commodification process is now taking place in the realm of public services. This is a big part of both the new FTAA agreement and the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) within the WTO. Those latter negotiations concern many areas still reserved for government-services like public broadcasting, public education, public health (particularly important in Canada), water delivery and treatment, sewage and sanitation services, hospitals, welfare systems, police, fire, social security, railroads, prisons, and so forth. These may all soon be commodified for the first time, privatized, and opened to foreign investment and domination. We could wind up with itsubishi running Social Security, Bundesbank running our jails (and maybe our parks), the British Broadcasting System run by Disney, the Canadian health care system run by Merck.
And then there's the commodification of money itself. Right now, the overwhelming majority of global transactions, under the free trade system, do not apply to goods and services, but to capital. Money itself is a commodity for speculation, as are financial instruments, of coure. information technology has made it possible to shift unimaginably large sums of money instantaneously across borders, anywhere in the world, without anyone ever observing or controlling it, by the strike of a computer key. This has already had destabilizing effects on many countries, and was surely one of the precipitating causes of the 1997-1998 financial crisis focused in Asia. (Ironically, this free trade in money, and even free movement by corporations across borders defies traditional free trade ideology as espoused by Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the high priests of free trade pianism. Neither Smith or Ricardo ever believed that corporations should be bile, or that capital should be uprooted m its own community. They are sure ly turning over in their graves.)
So it's the job of the Bretton Woods instruments to assist this commodification, privatization, deregulation, and free trade by creating rules that require nations not only to conform to these principles, but also to actively try to eliminate impediments uithin individual nations that might restrict cororate access eto markets, labor, and resources. In practice, most of these so-called impediments to the system are laws that are legally created by governments: environmental laws, public health laws, food safety laws, laws that pertain to protecting worker rights and opportunities, laws that allow nations to control who can invest on their soil, who can buy their currencies, and at what speed and under what conditions. And, let's not forget, laws that try to retain controls over national culture. All of these laws, even if created by democratic governments through democratic processes acting on behalf of the popular views of citizens, are viewed by free traders as "non-tariff barriers to trade" and as obstacles subject to WTO challenges.
Though it is only six years old, the WTO alb O71_3eady has an impressive record of challenging democratically created laws and standards. It's been particularly potent in the environmental realm. The WTO's very first ruling was against the U.S. Clean Air Act, which set high standards against polluting gasoline. The Act was found to be noncompliant with WTO trade rules and had to be softened. The very popular Marine Mammal Protection Act-particularly the provision that protects dolphins otherwise killed by industrial tuna fishing-was found noncompliant under a GATT rule, now within the WTO. And sea turtle protections under the Endangered Species Act were also found illegal. The United States is going back to the drawing board on these. We can expect similar challenges against U.S. or state pesticide control laws, caffe standards, raw log export banspppppppp, ecolabeling of products, various "certification" schemes, et. al.
The WTO doesn't rule on1" against U.S. environmental laws. It also ruled against Japan for refusing imports of fruit products carrying dangerous invasive species. It ruled against the European Union for forbidding imports of U.S. beef injected with biotech growth hormone, even though the European public is totally against biotech. In agriculture areas, the WTO has consistently ruled in favor of large machine- and chemical-intensive global industrial ag corporations over small-scale family farming and indigenous farmers--most appallingly in the famous Chiquita banana case. That case held that the European Union could not favor small indigenous, often organic farmers within former European colonies over the industrial bananas from Chiquita.
The way these challenges work is really interesting. We are led to understand that it is countries that are suing other countries in the WTO, when actually the countries issuing challenges to other countries' trade rules are usually doing so on behalf of global corporations. So the United States sues to protect Chiquita bananas, Venezuela sues to protect its oil industry, and Mexico sues to protect its tuna industry. The net effect is that the whole process produces a mutual ratcheting downward of environmental or labor or health standards in all countries. It's a kind of "cross deregulation." It's a way that corporations can get their own governments to destroy laws in other countries, just as they pressure for deregulation domestically. The net result is that all laws and standards race downward to a low common denominator, just as is happening with global wage standards.
There is also a secondary "chilling effect" from this process. For example, not long ago, the government of Guatemala cancelled a public health law that forbade baby food/infant formula companies, notably Gerber baby food, from advertising their products as being healthier than breast milk. And Canada cancelled its national ban on the gasoline additive "MMT," a well-known carcinogen. In both cases the reasons were threats of suit under trade regimes. In the Gerber case the United States threatened suit in the WTO. Even more remarkably, in the Canadian case, the Ethyl corporation threatened to sue Canada under an outrageous NAFTA provision, the "Investor-state" provision--soon to also be in the FTAA agreement--that for the first time allows corporations to sue sovereign governments, not in domestic courts but in international tribunals ... for example, in the International Chamber of Commerce. The threat alleges an illegal "expropriation" by Canada, because Canada's environmental safety law prevented Ethyl fr om earning future profits that it might have enjoyed if there had not been a ban. A similar case has been brought against the state of California on a similar dangerous additive. California is now trying to settle out of court.
There are hundreds of similar cases and examples. These trade bodies exist for the purpose of providing global corporations an easy way to circumvent the laws that attempt to regulate them. They love to call it "free trade," but what they really mean by "free trade" is freedom for global corporations; these same rules in fact suppress the freedoms for communities or nations to regulate or otherwise maintain their primary values, from environmental sustainability to local approaches to health, culture, jobs, and national sovereignty--even to democracy itself.
Arguably the most important principle of free trade is its emphasis on global conversion to export-oriented production as some kind of economic and social nirvana. This is the theory that all countries should specialize their production within commodity areas where they have a so-called "comparative advantage" over other countries. Their advantage could be in coffee production or sugarcane or forest products or high tech due to unusually low wages. Each country should focus on these few specialized areas and then try to satisfy its other needs through imports, using foreign exchange earned by exports to pay for imports. This is a crucial component of globalization theory: the idea that it is necessary to replace diverse local or regional economic systems, systems that may emphasize highly diversified, small scale, industrial, artisanal, and agriculture systems, featuring many small producers using mostly local or regional resources and local labor, and consumed locally or regionally. The goal is to replace these diverse systems with large monocultural export systems.
Going back to the mid 1900s, many countries of the world had been actively trying to do the opposite--to diversify their industrial and agriculture systems precisely in order to recover from a colonial period where huge monocultural systems had been imposed on them: pineapple plantations, coffee plantations, bananas ... or, recently, industrial assembly work. Once out from under colonialism, countries saw that specialization made them extremely vulnerable to political decisions abroad, or to the shocks and whims of the market and commodity pricing systems. This often left them unable to purchase basics like food, energy, health products, or basic industrial needs. Naturally enough they sought self-sufficiency in these basic items. The system was sometimes called "import substitution" or simply national self-reliance. It was designed to achieve some degree of control over the overall shape of the domestic economy.
But after Bretron Woods, tremendous pressures were applied to these countries by the World Bank and the IMF to abandon this self-reliance. It came to be synonymous with "isolationism" and "protectionism." The Bank pressured these countries to open their borders to private investments by global corporations in a position to produce commodities on the large scale appropriate for export. Threats of boycott and exclusion from the global trading system were very explicitly made by the Bretton Woods institutions against countries that did not comply. It became impossible to get any financial aid from these institutions without submitting to their structural adjustment schemes. Eventually the pressure worked. This effectively opened such countries to a second round of colonialism: neo-colonialism.
Why were the banks pushing so hard? Here's the crux of the matter. Systems that emphasize local or regional self-reliance are extremely subversive to free trade, economic globalization, and hyper corporate growth, which all depend upon maximizing economic processes. Local and regional production for regional consumption is the archenemy of globalization since it operates on an inherently smaller scale.
If local populations or countries can satisfy their needs internally or regionally, there are far fewer opportunities for global corporations than if economic activity is designed to move back and forth across oceans, exporting, importing, or reworking commodities, then exporting them again, with thousands of ships passing each other in the night. The export-oriented model builds global economic growth fastest and provides opportunities for global corporate operations. But, alas, it's also what destroys the environment fastest. Environmental destruction, like the loss of cultural diversity, is an intrinsic element of the globalization model.
The central feature of an export-oriented model is obviously that it increases transport and shipping activity. In the half century since Bretton Woods, there has been about a twenty-five-fold increase in global transport activity. My friend and colleague, Minneapolis economist David Morris, loves to use the example of a toothpick, which comes wrapped in plastic and is marked, "Made in Japan." Japan is skilled in industrial production--that's one of its "comparative advantages"--but it has very few trees and no oil. But in a global economy, it is somehow thought efficient to ship wood from some country that grows it--Chile, Canada, the United States--and also to ship some barrels of oil to Japan, then wrap the one in the other, package them in serviceable commodity units, and ship them back across oceans to consumers. That toothpick, by the time it is finally used, might have traveled 50,000 miles.
The Wuppertal Institute of Germany has made a famous study of miles that food travels from source to plate. It reports, for example, that the average components of a 150 gram strawberry yogurt consumed in Europe travel about 2,000 kilometers before being combined together and then shipped onward to consumers: the strawberries come from Poland; corn and wheat flour from Holland; jam, sugar beets, and the yogurt itself from Germany; and the plastic and paper containers and wrappings from various other places. Ingredients in the average plate of food on American dinner tables these days are estimated to travel, on the average, about 1,500 miles from source to plate. Every mile of such increased transport activity in the global economy has tremendous costs to the environment, costs which remain externalized by our current measures of efficiency, that is, costs which eventually are subsidized by taxpayers.
For example, as global transport increases, it requires a massive increase in global infrastructure development. This is good for large corporations like Bechtel, who get to do the construction work, but it's bad news for the environments where such infrastructures are needed: new airports, new seaports, new oilfields, new pipelines for the oil, new rail lines, new high speed highways. Many of these things are built in wilderness or forested areas with relatively intact biodiversity. The impacts are especially strong now in South and Central America where there have been tremendous investments in infrastructure developments in wilderness regions, often against major resistance from native communities (the Uwe in Columbia, the Kuna in Panama, and many different groups in Ecuador have been particularly active). But the problems are also obvious in the developed world. In England, for example, a few years ago, there was a mass series of protests by 200,000 people from the English countryside against the rapid d evelopment of huge new highways jammed through rural landscapes so that truck drivers could better service the global trading system. The indigenous people in Latin America and the rural English are both protesting the same thing: local environment destruction from globalization.
Even more important is the increase in fossil fuel use. Ocean shipping carries nearly 80 percent of the world's international trade in goods. The fuel that's commonly used is a mixture of diesel and low quality oil known as "Bunker C" which is particularly polluting and very high in carbon and sulfur. If not consumed by ships, it would otherwise be considered a waste product. The shipping industry is anticipating major growth over the next few years; the port of Los Angeles alone projects a 50 percent increase over the next decade.
Increased air transport is even worse than shipping. Each ton of freight moved by plane uses forty-nine times as much energy per kilometer than when it's moved by ship. One physicist at Boeing likened the pollution from the takeoff of a single 747 to "setting the local gas station on fire and flying it over your neighborhood." A two-minute takeoff of a 747 is equal to 2.4 million lawnmowers running for twenty minutes.
It is now estimated by many that the increase of global transport is one of the largest contributors to the growing crisis of climate change. If we only had a government that actually believed climate change was real, the first thing it might do, aside from trying to meet the Kyoto standards, would be to advocate for less trade, not more. Mr. Bush is not likely to opt for that.
Increased global transport has brought other dreadful byproducts, including the epidemic increase of bioinvasions, a major cause of species extinction. With the growth of global transport, billions of creatures are on the move. They are hiding in cargo or in ballast. They are in suitcases or on our shoes or clinging to the sides of ships. Viruses, bacteria, mosquitoes, nematodes, exotic seeds, gypsy moths, zebra mussels, et al., are getting free transport in the global economy, and many are thriving in their new homes, often outcompeting native species, and bringing pollution or health crises. On the East Coast, for example, the emergence of the West Nile virus where it never existed before is surely due to transport activity. So is the spread of malaria and dengue fever to other parts of North America. Even hoof-and-mouth disease is due largely to globalization.
If you are going to ship perishables across oceans, you also need an increase in refrigeration, with its significant contribution to ozone depletion and climate change, and an increase in packaging and the use of wood pallets for cargo loading; these are little noted but significant factors in the increased pressure on global forests.
The central point is this: there is no way around the problem of environmental damage caused by a globalized economy! If you are going to design a system built on the premise that dramatically increased global trade is good, you are going to increase transport activity and you are guaranteed to bring on the kinds of problems I have just described. They are intrinsic to the model.
When We Lose Small Farms
In the end, the most traumatic social and environmental consequences of economic globalization occur at the regional and local levels, especially because of the shift from economies based on small-scale, diverse models of agricultural production, to the industrial export model. The results are grim.
We must remember that nearly half of the world population still lives directly on the land, growing food for their families and communities. They emphasize staples and other mixed crops and they replant with indigenous seed varieties, using crop rotation and community sharing of resources like water, seeds, labor, and so forth. Such systems have kept them going for a millennia. But, as I said earlier, local systems are anathema to global corporations. So companies like Monsanto, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland are leading a chorus of corporate, government, and bureaucratic statements--often expressed in millions of dollars worth of ads--that small farmers are not "productive" or "efficient" enough to feed a hungry world. Only global corporations can do it. We hear that, disgustingly, every night on the Lehrer News Hour, on so-called "public broadcasting." Archer Daniels Midland advertises that the only thing that is preventing it from feeding a hungry world is "politics" that refuses to lower barriers fo r it to go in and feed everybody.
Unfortunately, such companies have plenty of entry. Too much. Nearly all the investment rules of the WTO and the big banks--and many more now proposed--strongly favor global corporations and monocultures over local diverse farming for self-sufficiency. So, on lands where tens of thousand of small farmers once grew food to eat, giant corporations and global development schemes are converting the land to single-crop luxury monocultures run by absentee landlords.
These companies absolutely do not grow food for local people to eat. Global corporations specialize in high-priced, high-margin luxury items--flowers, potted plants, beef, shrimp, cotton, coffee--grown for export to the already overfed countries. As for the people who used to live on the lands, growing their own foods, they are rapidly being removed from their lands. And they are not getting jobs, either. Since these corporate systems feature highly intensive, machine- and pesticide-driven production, there are very few jobs. So the people who used to feed themselves become landless, cashless, homeless, dependent, and hungry! Communities that were once self-sustaining disappear, and still intact cultures are decimated. This is so even in this country, where there are now very few family farmers left.
Eventually, the farmers and their families flee to crowded urban slums. There, without community, without cultural supports, they try to compete for the rare poorly paid urban job. Families that once fed themselves become society's burden, while huge corporate farmers get rich from exports.
Some of these newly landless peoples also start fleeing across borders. We have certainly seen that in the context of U.S.-Mexico trade, since NAFTA. For Mexico's indigenous Mayan corn farmers--who supported themselves via the ejido coop farming system in Mexico for nearly a century (ever since the Zapatista revolution in the early 1900s) NAFTA has been a death sentence. In order to qualify for NAFTA, Mexico had to kill off the ejido system, opening up the Mayan farmlands to entry by outside investors, driving the Mayans off their lands. Landless, homeless, cashless, these people have often fled across the U.S. border looking for seasonal work as grape or strawberry pickers, only to be met with xenophobia and violence.
There is another unseen environmental problem intrinsic to this shift to the export mode: monocultural production, which raises enormous environmental problems. By definition, monocultures reduce biodiversity, not only by killing the microscopic life within the soils through heavy chemical use, but also by reducing production of commodities to one or two export varieties. Where indigenous Filipinos, for example, once grew thousands of varieties of rice, now just two varieties account for 98 percent of production, and the other varieties are disappearing. Mexico has lost more than 75 percent of its indigenous maize varieties. Among potato farmers on Chioe Island in Chile, (as well as in other parts of the Pacific slope of the Andes where thousands of varieties of potatoes were once grown), production has been reduced to four or five varieties suitable to large-scale intensive production. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN, the world has already lost up to 75 percent of its crop diversity because of the globalization of industrialized agriculture.
And then there's the external costs of industrial agriculture. Hailed as more efficient than small-scale farming, this is a kind of efficiency that ignores the costs of air, water, and soil pollution; the increased use of fossil fuels, pesticides, and herbicides; the loss of topsoil due to machine-intensive production; and the public health problems arising from food-borne diseases directly rooted in factory farming systems: salmonella, e coli, listeria, et al. Not to mention mad cow disease, hoof-and-mouth disease and others.
Finally there is the social cost of somehow taking care of all the farmers who have lost their livelihoods through this system as numerous small farms employing entire families are transformed into industrial farms managed by a handful of full-time workers. Taking all these external costs into account, is it not preposterous to call this system efficient? Maybe you can get a tomato from Mexico at a few cents less at the store, but we all will pay more in higher taxes in future years to clean up the messes this system causes. And the environment pays the most.
Millions of farmers around the world are exquisitely aware of the global corporate ag system, and they hate it. We have seen mass protests by rice farmers in Japan, Thailand, and the Philippines ... we have seen gigantic protests against Cargill, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Monsanto in India, with millions of people on the street. Two years ago, we saw a French farmer named Jose Bove drive his tractor into a McDonalds in France. Bove was protesting "bad food," he said, as well as the entire industrial ag system, the corporate takeover of small farmers and the destruction of traditional farming in France, the cultural and ecological destruction that goes with undermining products like artisanal small-scale cheese in France, and the harsh rules of the WTO's food standards agency, codex alimentarius. Among other rules, codex recently stated that cheese could no longer be sold in outdoor markets in France, unless it was shrink-wrapped, just like Kraft.
Once again, it's the economic model itself that's the problem. The whole idea of converting diverse local economies into gung-ho export trade systems can only benefit global corporations while making individuals, communities, and nations dependent and vulnerable. We would be far better off if international institutions and agreements put maximum emphasis on aiding local and national self-sufficiency, rather than maximumizing exports.
One could grant the benefit of the doubt to the architects of this global experiment. Let's say they meant well. Maybe they really believed that this system would produce a kind of rapid exponential growth that would be truly beneficial. We have certainly heard them repeat the main homily over and over: "A rising tide will lift all boats." This is the claim that globalization's benefits will trickle down to all segments of society; that, indeed, its real purpose is to help lift the poor. But is that true?
First of all, how can hyperexpansion he sustained? How long can it go on before we have to directly face the limits of a finite planet? Where will the resources--the minerals, the wood, the water, the power--come from to feed an exponential expansion, without killing the planet? How many cars and refrigerators can be built and bought? How many roads can cover the landscape? How many fish can be industrially vacuumed from the sea before the ecosystem fails, and the species disappear? How much pollution can we live with? or global warming? or ozone depletion before the social and environmental costs become too great?
And who, finally, benefits? It's not the farmers driven from their lands and made into homeless refugees. It's not urban dwellers, dealing with influxes of displaced peoples, jamming in to look for jobs. It's not workers caught in downward wage spirals. It's surely not nature.
Well .... Here in the United States we know that top corporate executives of the largest global companies are making salaries and options in the millions of dollars, often in the hundreds of millions, while real wages of ordinary workers have been declining. The Institute for Policy Studies reports that American CEOs are now paid, on average, 450 times more than production workers, with that rate increasing yearly. The Economic Policy Institute's 1999 report says that median hourly wages are actually down by 10 percent in real wages over the last twenty-five years The New York Times recently reported that even as the economy has begun to slide, executive salaries of large corporations, mostly global corporations, are steadily increasing, into the upper hundreds of millions. And in the industry that led our recent boom, the computer industry, where some people have famously made fortunes, 80 percent of assembly and production workers are temporary workers at $8 an hour, no benefits, no unions. Are we lifting all boats yet?
The U.N. Development Program 1999 report indicated that the gap between the wealthy and the poor within and among countries of the world is getting steadily larger, and it blamed inherent inequities in the global trade system.
And such is the degree of wealth concentration from all this, that the world's 475 billionaires are now worth the combined incomes of the bottom 50 percent of humanity.
Of the largest 100 economies in the world, 52 are now corporations. Mitsubishi is the twenty-second largest economy in the world. GM is twenty-sixth. Ford is thirty-first. All are larger than Denmark, Thailand, Turkey, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Finland, Malaysia, Chile, New Zealand.
And if you still cling to the nostalgic idea that big corporations are helping employ the global workforces-that size begets jobs-here's one final stat: the 200 largest corporations in the world now account for about 30 percent of global economic activity, but employ less than half of one percent of the global work force. As these companies continue to get larger and more globalized, they continue to replace workers with machines, or buy up competitors and eliminate duplicate jobs. Such economies of scale are intrinsic to the free trade globalization design, just as environmental pollution is intrinsic to export-oriented trade. Large scale mergers and consolidations produces fewer jobs, not more jobs.
So much for the rising tide that lifts all boats. Clearly it lifts only yachts.
That's the bad news! The good news is that it doesn't need to be this way. There is nothing inevitable about it. Globalization's just a set of rules and institutions that can be changed if we want to change them. If we have a democracy-do we?-then we can engage it. A whole lot of people understand all this, and are mobilizing to change it, as xve have seen in Seatde, in Prague, in Genoa, and as you will continue to see. This movement is not slowing down, though it is being met with increased fear and repression. As for the WTO, it is so worried about anyone wanting to monitor its next meeting this October that it has moved it to Qatar! Protest there will get you more than peppersprayed: it may get you killed. The WTO has clearly not learned much yet about openness, transparency, democracy. Qatar is a great place to hide.
Nonetheless, tens of thousands-hundreds of thousands-of opponents of globalization are moving forward. Most are in general agreement that the Bretton Woods model is hopelessly flawed, as it responds only to one set of values, that what's good for corporate growth is good for all of us and for the environment too. It's already clear that does not hold up.
There is now also major grumbling inside the WTO. Great schisms have developed on such issues as biotechnology, agriculture, services, and culture. Some countries are feeling great heat from their citizens about the destruction of traditional livelihoods or the health risks of the agriculture trade system or the pressures that the United States applies for massive conversion to industrial corporate ag models.
In Seattle, we saw for the first time that Third World countries have understood that the present system is not designed to help them, despite the phony WTO rhetoric; that it's designed to exclude them, or to keep them as resource and labor colonies for global corporations.
A great illustration of this happened during the protest in Washington D.C. last April against the IMF and the World Bank. The banks were giving daily briefings to the press blaming the protestors for harming the world's poor. It was the same kind of stuff that Michael Moore, president of the WTO, had been saying in Seattle, claiming that the WTO was the one working for the poor and we were harming them. The New York Times and Washington Post and all the networks dutifully carried surely one of the most cynical set of statements in history: this story, blaming us for harming the poor. But then one day I picked up a copy of the International Herald Tribune. It had a front page story giving the IMF charges that we were harming the poor, but right next to it, with equal space, the Herald Tribune carried a story about the G77 meeting in Havana going on simultaneously. There, the world's poorest Third World and less developed countries had voted unanimously, 77-0, to praise the protestors and sharply criticize th e IMF and World Bank.
That story was not carried in the Post or the Times, though it did appear in Europe and Asia, We have quite a bit of work to do with the media-including getting them to carry some stories about why so many hundreds of thousands of people are protesting.
But the best news, I think, is that most of the opposition no longer feels we should let the people who created this problem also provide the solution.
Last spring, some 25,000 anti-globalization activists- from all parts of the world-gathered in Puerto Allegre, Brazil, to begin a process of globally organizing toward a replacement for the Bretton Woods model. The hope is to define a new set of international agreements that operate from an entirely different non-corporate hierarchy of values. Of course you didn't read about this meeting much in the media either, because the media was all in Davos, where the captains of industry and globalization were meeting, at the same time, at the so-called World Economic Forum.
Sometimes, those of us in the anti-globalization movement are called utopianists. After all, we want to stop the so-called inevitable "progress" of corporate capitalism. But on this charge of utopianism, our critics have got things backwards. If utopianism is the problem today, then it's corporate utopianism. To keep arguing that a system that homogenizes global economic activity and culture just to benefit corporations, that removes power from communities and puts it into global bureaucracies, that marginalizes and makes homeless millions of farmers and workers, and that devastates nature in entirely unprecedented ways-to keep arguing that such a system can survive for long is corporate utopianism. I really don't think it's going to work.
Jerry Mander is the founder and president of the International Foundation on Globalization. To get more information, check out their website at www.ifg.org.
Mander, Jerry. 2001. Economic Globalization and the Environment. Tikkun 16(5): 33.