Global Policy Forum

Globalization on Trial


By Rumina Sethi

Tribune (India)
June 27, 2004

The remarkable adulation for Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize winner for Economics and champion of globalisation, at Oxford last month made it amply clear what Europe's perspective towards global economics was. Although one of his Tanner Lectures focused on the ethics (or lack of it) involved in urging third-world economies towards globalisation, there was more of indulgent back-slapping than a serious negotiation with the issue.

Fences and Windows is a timely and provocative intervention in the rise of global capitalism and its advantages for the West. Naomi Klein "steep learning curve" involved a tour of 22 countries to record the events and experiences ranging from the demonstrations of anti-nuclear activists to discussions with European heads of state. Klein's central argument is how the so-called demands of multinational investors make governments indifferent to the needs of people who bring them into power.

The "Holy Trinity" comprising the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are singularly held responsible for ecological degradation, the spread of the HIV and food insecurities, the lack of funding for schooling and the contamination of water among other disasters.

For most of us, globalisation is the term used to cover trade and economic transactions and agreements between governments. The term also designates a kind of global web (such as the World Social Forum), "an intricate process of thousands of persons tying their destinies together simply by sharing ideas and telling stories about how abstract economic theories affect their daily lives."

The book contains short chapters. These are editorials, newspaper columns, essays and speeches, some of which have not been published earlier, spurred by George Bush's "war on terrorism." A recurrent theme is the "fence", an image which stands for exclusion and even neo-colonialism.

African countries, for instance, fence-off their own institutions against their own people on the advice of the World Bank. Streams of water become unavailable when Pepsi or Coke decide to set up factory. In Argentina, the very idea of democracy is threatened when the IMF rejects requests for loan on the pretext that it should decrease social spending and introduce further privatisation.

A "fencing" has come up from seed giants who regularly indulge in seed-tampering and patenting and affect natural farming all across the Third World by preventing farmers from re-planting existing seeds cheaply. The American copyright industry has far exceeded its production of arms and armaments.

It is globalisation that erects such fences: those who disagree with the ideology of "free markets" and "open societies" are bombed, as with Guatemala, later termed "communist". In Indonesia, the bloody coup staged by General Suharto was aided by the US and Europe because of the agreement that he would reinstate several British companies and the World Bank once in power. Yet globalisation economic policies are always floated as a sign of true democracy—without actually giving the power of taking decisions to the people.

Klein raises questions why we never hear of news about Africa which is a kind of fencing of news. Then there are "unvirtual" fences, made of steel and razor wire put up at borders. No wonder asylum seekers package themselves with consumer goods that enjoy a far greater mobility than they do. Asphyxiated bodies of refugees have often been found in cargo containers of office furniture or bathroom fixtures, but people living in the West are hardly exposed to these harsh realities. Guatanamo Bay or Abu Gharib prison are simply too remote for everyday contact and a revival of sensitivities.

It is funny how the First World leaders also hold their summits within "fences", that is, inaccessible areas owing to the threat posed by violent protesters. During the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in 2001, downtown Quebec was completely caged so that all residents were forced to show their identities to get inside their homes. The G-8 summits, for instance, are also usually held in isolated locations to prevent not only life-threatening terrorists but also rightful protesters.

But for every kind of fence, Klein believes, there are windows which are opening as well and which keep alive the true spirit of freedom. Free-spirited people will always have ideas and themes that have "a natural resistance to enclosure, a tendency to escape, to cross-pollinate, to flow through fences, and flee out open windows."

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