Globalization's Onward March


The bad news is the good news: globalization is here, now, and there is no stopping its advancement. That was the take-home message from some of this country's most prominent economists at Gustavus Adolphus College's 36th Nobel Conference, October 3-4 in St. Peter, Minn.

"Globalization will not be rolled back," declared Joseph Stiglitz, Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution and former chief economist for the World Bank. "The changes in technology, transportation, communication have lowered barriers," he noted. "The question is, how do we channel globalization, make it a force for good, for reducing poverty?" He noted that International Monetary Fund staff, with whom he met the week before in Prague, still did not understand the protest messages from Seattle last December. The demonstrations have had an impact, but the IMF is so insular that staff are aware of criticism but uncertain as to what changes are being demanded, Stiglitz said.

Stiglitz, a reformer, seeks to make more democratic the operations of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. "Globalization can be redirected only if voices of protest are heard. That is the challenge facing citizens in the coming years," he said. He believes the World Trade Organization's agenda is "decidedly unbalanced," favoring industrial countries. Like the other economists speaking, Stiglitz believes a properly managed globalization can lift the poor out of poverty.

He doubts that serious institutional changes will occur, even with significant protests. Reform, in his view, is dependent on ongoing demands for change. Since the United States, through Treasury Department appointments, dominates the IMF and World Bank, their basic outlook will remain status quo. Financial policy is set by Wall Street interests, no matter who is president. This economic outlook trumps the State or Justice Department or presidential economic council advisors.

The take-home message is that the "market fundamentalism" of American corporations drives economic decisions worldwide. Market fundamentalism is a dogmatic belief in laissez-faire capitalism, with no regulations domestically or internationally. Except, trade agreements are created to favor American businesses, even if specific policies, such as intellectual property right agreements protecting patents -- including biotechnological advances in drugs and agriculture -- and software are shoehorned improperly into the agreements. Corporate power is the basic ideology, its own philosophy.

By this analysis, globalization is 21st century robber baronism worldwide -- imperialism by corporations protected by the industrialized nations' trade agreements, rather than by the countries armies and navies.

Changing the focus of globalization is the issue, for the genie cannot be put back in the bottle, and trade, ideas, and people will continue to cross borders in increasing numbers. The debate may become "what kind of globalization do we want?" but even getting that on the agenda will be a problem. Note the title of the conference: "Globalization 2000: Economic Prospects and Challenges."

The American economists seemed oblivious to non-economic issues and unable to leave their numbers and analyses behind. Neither Stiglitz nor Harvard's Jeffrey Sachs believed that individual farmers or working people in the US have been hurt by globalization, though Sachs admitted "there are pockets of hurt in an economy of 270 million people." The three most visible social justice issues in metropolitan Minneapolis are affordable housing, living-wage pay scales, and hotel unionizing, affecting tens of thousands. But the policy makers see things in the aggregate, in terms of overall wealth and total employment. They do not see or comprehend the plight of individual workers or farmers.

The globalization debate has economists on one side, non-economists on the other. John Cobb Jr., retired from Claremont's School of Theology, cited reports that show countries adopting IMF polices with lower, not higher rates of growth, increased foreign debt, and forced reductions in social expenditures to service loans. "We are directly impoverishing the poor as a result of these policies," Cobb said.

Cobb criticized the mid-1980s "Washington Consensus" between the IMF and World Bank, United Nations organizations controlled by the United States. They determined foreign assistance would be based on "trade, not aid," he said. Loans for economic development are now the dominant means of support, not grants or aid directed at human needs. Much of the leadership of the world has "decided that the economy is the most important thing," he said, "and have organized life in pursuit of wealth. This is true on the national and international level."

Cobb objected to the "Wall Street Model" at home, which is based on investments and raising interest rates in response to a fast growing economy, to suppress wages, which hurts lower paid workers

Cobb told the audience at the Lutheran-based college that "Christians cannot be silent on the worship of wealth." He believes that economic growth has been raised to the level of religion and dominates our lives.

Amitai Etzioni, sociologist at the The George Washington University, ended the conference with his post-dinner lecture Wednesday evening. He challenged people to address large issues. "We need globalism of our social, moral, and political institutions. We should think of moral globalism parallel with economic globalism," he said. Etzioni noted that economic and technological forces have overpowered people throughout history.

The only way to face the future successfully, Etzioni believes, is for the nations of the world to come together with true loyalty and commitment to shared global values. "We must engage in moral dialogues," he said, "bringing our values and hold profound conversations of what is right and wrong." This is now working best on a people to people basis, not at the government level, he noted, citing the international movement to ban land mines.

Globalization has to be made a political issue. Economics have to be demoted, human rights and peoples' needs promoted. For that to happen, everyday people must get involved in a democratic movement that reaches beyond voting. Changing globalization's emphasis means changing our government. This issue stretches beyond election day and is in fact linked to the "deep democracy" that presidential candidate Ralph Nader is championing.

Globalization has arrived. Yet to be known is how the people of the world -- and here in the United States -- are going to respond. Will the values that inform us and on which we base global policy going to be dollars and cents and economic indicators or will they be moral and ethical beliefs?

Ken Jerome-Stern is a writer in Minneapolis.

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