The current world economic order referred to as globalization, globalism or globality has given rise over the past decade to its opponent called globalphobia. It was to vent this phobia that tens of thousands of protesters -many reports put their number at over 150,000- arrived at the sites of the two very significant meetings in Europe in the late July, 2001.
The dissidents, representing over 750 different groups of Europe, laid a virtual siege at the medieval palace in Genoa, Italy, site of the G-8 summit comprising leaders of the world’s seven richest countries: US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan, and Russia -the rump state of the Soviet Union after its disintegration. Russia was probably co-opted to keep it away from its erstwhile socialist economy and to ensure its integration into market economy.
The Genoa demonstrators’ central complaint was that globalism promoted grueling capitalism and threatened the world’s poorest societies.
Unrest also attended the site of the other conference held almost simultaneously in Bonn, Germany on climate changes, particularly global warming. Protesters ringed that site too.
The climate meeting was attended by representatives of 180 countries. The main item on the agenda was the ratification of the Kyoto (Japan) protocol, agreed in 1997 among the industrialized countries including the US on restricting the generation of greenhouse gases to the 1990 level.
Americans are the biggest emitters of such gases. They account for 26% of the world’s output and 36% of the total emitted by the industrialized countries.
The US opposed at both meetings suggestions for the ratification of the Kyoto protocol. President Bush had earlier withdrawn from the protocol on the ground that it was ‘basically flawed’ and ‘would cost too much to comply and possibly cost jobs at a time the US faces a slowing economy and energy shortages’.
The Bonn conference, nevertheless, produced a unanimously approved agenda to counter global warming and climatic changes. The US was left by the side.
As if to underline the deleterious effects of the climatic changes, the northern areas of Pakistan and the Orissa state on the east coast of India witnessed the heaviest monsoon rains in history causing large-scale deaths and destruction. Earlier, Pakistan and Afghanistan had experienced a severe drought forcing Afghan refugees, according to the L.A. Times, to eat grass for sheer survival. Temperatures shot much above the averages during summer throughout Asia and Africa providing empirical evidence of the effects of the thinning of the ozone layer and global warming.
American weather gurus too have been warning against the shape of things to come.
America is indeed a great society. It has contributed to the world most of the innovations fostering creature comforts. These include the quick means of communication including the miraculous Internet which has facilitated the globalism of world economy. America downed a decade back the Soviet empire and its socialist, centrally-planned, economic system. The disintegration of that super power has established the US as the sole paramount power of the world.
The American people are one of the most considerate and compassionate in the world. They protect even Kangaroo rats, spotted owls, and some varieties of frogs against encroaches of land developers and logging companies. They would not normally let anyone disturb the environment and ecology in pursuit of pelf.
Globalism, however, puts big business first; environment, social fabric and local cultures etc. rank a distant second. It has steam-rolled local attires, national cuisine, and national lifestyles to make room for fast food chains, blue jeans, tea shirts, fast music and other big business products.
No wonder, the largest 200 companies, according to International Forum on Globalization, control 28 per cent of global economic activity but employ less than half a per cent of the world’s work force.
According to a recent World Bank report, a sixth of the world population living in North America, Europe and Japan received nearly 80 per cent of world income, an average of $70 a day per person. On the other hand, the 57 per cent of the world’s population in the 63 poorest countries received only 6 per cent of world income, an average of $2 per person per day.
Such a disparity in a world that has been turned into a ‘global village’, thanks again to American technology, presages cataclysmic eruptions, such as massive migrations, starvation deaths and local wars. The exodus of well-educated youth from developing countries and the long visa-seeking queues of people at foreign embassies, foretell the future.
Eminent economists had therefore been advocating measures to gradually reduce polarization between the rich countries of the Northern hemisphere and the poor of the South.
The latter looked up to America to craft an economic order more humane, just, environment and the poor friendly. The poor too aspire for a place under the sun.
The developing countries embraced wholeheartedly the setting up of the World Trade Organization in 1993. It was presented as the panacea for all economic ills. Overnight, 135 countries became its members and following its guidelines the developing countries lowered import tariffs, did away with exchange rates and controls, and removed customs barriers and all else expected of them. What ensued was an economic globalism dominated by the industrialized countries turning the rich richer and the poor poorer.
The WTO brought no promised manna, no panacea, to the poor; it sharpened instead the fangs of globalism’s greed.
Adam Smith, the father of modern capitalism and the author of its bible ‘Wealth Of The Nations’, must be turning in his grave as his prediction that an ‘invisible hand’ would guide the rich to the amelioration of the lot of the poor remains unfulfilled. He gave a humane, compassionate face to capitalism. The current capitalism operated by multinational corporations has no such face; its actions are dictated by profit and greed.
The WTO compulsions coupled with the constant interaction of markets made possible by Internet, have brought down national boundaries and barriers. In the perspective of large corporations, the entire world appears as one big market without national boundaries. They can move their investments from one part to the other, often at the press of a button, in pursuit of profit. They did this in 1997 with the so-called Asian Tigers putting them at the verge of bankruptcy within days.
Apart from the cruelty of the system, it also suffers from a basic flaw.
While globalism has done away with national boundaries in the economic sphere, such boundaries remain on the political side. The world continues to be divided into 200 nation states. This incongruity, this mismatch between the two closely linked aspects of the world community give rise to serious apprehensions about the turmoil and eruptions waiting to happen.
Dr. Henry Kissinger, a former Secretary of State and a renowned intellectual, warned in a syndicated column in October 1998: ‘Free-market capitalism remains the most effective instrument for economic growth and for raising the standard of living of most people. But just as the reckless laissez faire capitalism of the 19th century spawned Marxism, so the indiscriminate globalism of the 1990s may generate a worldwide assault on the very concept of free financial markets.’
The assaults at Genoa and Bonn are the latest in the series.
The first very significant attack came at Seattle, Washington, at the WTO ministerial meet where 40,000 protesters turned it into a fiasco.
This was followed by the agitation against the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, in Feb. 2,000. Within two months of this, protesters blockaded the IMF-World Bank meeting in Washington D.C. The annual meeting of these two bodies at Prague in Sept. 2000 was also marred by a clash involving 12,000 agitators. The European Union summit at Nice was disrupted by protesters in Dec. 2000. The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting was again assaulted at Davos in Jan.2001. Force had to be resorted to disburse the protesters at Quebec, Canada, in April this year. Two months after this the World Bank had to cancel its conference in Barcelona. Then in June this year thousands of marchers created a mayhem at the European Union summit at Goteburg, Sweden.
Globalism has nevertheless come to stay, and so has globalphobia. Policy makers in the rich countries will have to seek a synthesis by putting a compassionate face on capitalism and market economy. As a first step it may be decided to write off the external debts of the countries unable to pay them back.
A good start was indeed made by President Bush when he advised the World Bank to offer half of its funds to the poorest countries as grants. He may similarly initiate bold decisions to tackle global warming instead of shying away from it in deference to big business.
The Environment Protection Agency of the US is reported to be currently revising the procedures for controlling the emission of pollutants by power plants. It is yet to be seen whether the revisions are in favor of the utilities or of the environment. The voices raised by the proponents of Globalphobia might, it is hoped, have a bearing on the proposed changes.