The trends of globalization are not so obviously threatening as the current spate of terrorist attacks and counterattacks, but they will lead to things far worse—limitations on the way we question government and corporate policies, restrictions on the free exchange of ideas and technologies and, most importantly, the replacement of our inclusive democratic model of government with a plutocratic, exclusive oligarchy. Here’s a look at how globalization is impacting key sectors of our life.
Maintaining any democracy requires the media to share information from as many distinct voices as possible. The temporary surge in internet-based content that marked the late nineties held the initial promise of introducing an uncountable diversity in media voices. However, the stock market collapse of the technology industry, and the subsequent loss of many promising new outlets, has exacerbated the growing problem of media ownership concentration, with even large independent news sources like Salon.com forever teetering on bankruptcy.
We are left with a media system that rests with only a handful of US companies, companies that work to promote corporate values and advance the global market on those terms alone. AOL/Time Warner alone has control over one-fifth of the American cable market, access to 30 million internet subscribers and hundreds of millions of readers, and a global reach through its movie and print powerhouses.
An even more alarming trend is the proliferation of new legislation across the Western world that all but eliminates the fair use of intellectual property. According to the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (1999), it could be illegal to listen to your own collection if it is obtained through means not specifically endorsed by the record company.
Enforcement cares nothing for borders, as Russian programmer Dmitry Sklarov learned rather shockingly after he was arrested under the DMCA for giving a lecture on methods to unlock e-book software—an action legal in Russia. Such overzealous protection of intellectual property, combined with arbitrary arrest and selective application of obscure laws, will have a chilling effect on free speech and innovation and are the face of a new type of fascism. Current and proposed WTO agreements would make such laws applicable in all countries.
Even more absurd is the issue of patent protections. Seventeen million Africans have lost their lives to AIDS, with 2.4 million dying last year alone. Anti-retroviral drug cocktails can cost up $11,000 per year, far beyond the $518 (1996) average Sub-Saharan African income. To add insult to substantial injury, multinational pharmaceutical companies even sued the government of South Africa for making affordable copies of the medication. There is a case to be made for recouping investment dollars, but there is a parallel case to be made for adapting prices to conditions that suit the local economic situation.
You’d think in an incredibly diverse global world we’d be sharing different ideas for different problems, learning new lessons from the world’s cultures and economies. Not so for incredibly powerful multilateral trade bodies like the IMF, World Bank and WTO. All three are largely run by bankers from northern countries who often apply a one-size-fits-all approach to crises.
Yes, they give countries money to address economic crises. But you have to follow their rules. Rules which include jacking up your interest rates (which controls inflation but makes it hard to stimulate growth because people are afraid to borrow or purchase if they have to pay ten per cent interest) and reducing government spending, thus leading to deterioration in public health and education. Best of all, they mandate that countries must open their markets to foreigners, thus allowing weakened local companies to be crushed by international competition.
They also insist countries develop cash crops for export instead of growing food for local use, which is one of the main reasons why both trade and the number of people who are starving or poor have only increased in the last decade.
We never hear about how Malaysia defied the IMF’s advice and implemented its own solution to the meltdown, which allowed it to recover much more quickly than those neighbours that adhered to strict IMF criteria. One could almost call this a colonial system. One of the most startling images of the 1997 meltdown is of IMF chief Michel Camdessus haughtily looming over beleaguered Indonesian president Suharto, arms folded in expectation of a signed agreement. Suharto lost the respect of his nation that day, and a revolution led by students toppled him shortly afterwards.
While the IMF is the scourge of developing countries, Canada and industrialized nations have their own concerns. According to Chapter 11 of NAFTA, foreign corporations have the right to sue governments if they undertake policies that are “tantamount to” a direct or indirect expropriation. With such vague wording in the original treaty, the implications for Canadian provincial and federal policy independence are grave.
Even government environmental standards are at risk; the first Chapter 11 dispute was brought by Ethyl Corp., which sued Canada for $250 million under the investor-state provision as a result of Canada’s ban on imports of MMT—a gasoline additive.
The House heard evidence that MMT posed health risks and clogged vehicles’ catalytic converters (which control emissions), and had passed legislation banning imports of MMT. Ethyl claimed the ban was an expropriation. The corporation dropped its suit, however, after the Canadian government reversed the ban, wrote a statement declaring there was no evidence MMT posed a health or environmental risk, and paid Ethyl $13 million in damages and legal fees.
These suits are heard by ad-hoc arbitration panels. There is no electoral oversight or accountability over these bodies, nor is there over supranational bodies such as the WTO, IMF or World Bank. Our future standard of living will be decided by grey bureaucrats, unaccountable to Canadians or their powerless politicians.
THE BIG PICTURE
Long ago Adam Smith and David Ricardo made irrefutable arguments for free trade, an exchange of goods that used local efficiencies in production to offer lower costs to consumers. This leads to the most glaring deficiency in the corporate globalization movement; it does almost nothing for the billions of poor in the third world. As Nobel laureate Kofi Annan has put it:
“How can we say that the half of the human race which has yet to make or receive a telephone call, let alone use a computer, is taking part in globalization? We cannot without insulting their poverty.”
Today, the ratio of average GNP of the countries with the richest fifth of the world’s population to the GNP per person of countries with the poorest fifth is 74:1. In 1990 it was 60:1, which was twice the ratio in 1960. But perhaps even more damning is the fact that the richest 200 men in the world control more money than the poorest half of the population—some 2.5 billion people.
We face a situation in which democratic institutions and decision-making processes are being gradually bypassed by unelected, unaccountable international agencies. There are no avenues for public input, and even fewer for appeal.
States are helpless to resist, and their people exposed to the capricious nature of unbridled capitalism. Corporate globalization, here we come.
1,000,000,000,000: Wealth, in $US, of the world’s richest 225 people—equal to the combined annual income of the world’s 2.5 billion poorest people.
4: Percentage of the wealth of those 225 people needed to provide all developing countries with adequate food, safe water and sanitation, basic education, basic health care and reproductive health care.
40: Percentage growth of GNP between 1970 and 1985.
17: Percentage growth of poverty during the same period.
100: Number of countries, according to the UN, who are worse off now than they were 15 years ago.
3,000,000,000: Number of people who live on less than $2.00 per day
1,300,000,000: Additional number of people who live on less than $1.00 per day.
70: Percent of those who are women.