Is Globalization Inevitable
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.”
— Roger “Verbal” Kint (Kevin Spacey), The Usual Suspects, 1995.
“M1 can be as big as it likes”, someone recently said to me, “but isn't opposing globalisation a bit like opposing the telephone?” Not quite.
Rulers always justify their actions with high words and lofty claims. They seek to conquer the high moral ground and, with it, the mantle of “inevitability”.
Roman emperors termed the enslavement of Europe and the Middle East “civilisation”; the owners of the dark, satanic mills of the Industrial Revolution dubbed their work “progress”; and the investment bankers, stockmarket gamblers and multi-millionaire business executives of today's corporate capitalism call their subjugation of the world “globalisation”.
With such words, rebelling slaves, striking factory workers, anti-corporate protesters cease to be partisans fighting oppression and become ignorant throw-backs who oppose “civilisation”, “progress”, “globalisation”, the very forward march of history itself.
Globalisation, at its most basic, means simply the long-term, secular trend towards ever-greater interpenetration and interdependence of the world's economies. And this is indeed inevitable. Over the centuries, as production processes have developed and grown more sophisticated, their linkages have increased.
By this definition, however, globalisation is not something specific to now: it has been with us since the beginnings of mechanised industry. Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus were just as much “globalisers” as Bill Gates and George Soros are, if not more so.
But this is not what the world's rulers mean when they speak of “globalisation” and remind us of its “inevitability” — any more than Augustus Caesar and Caligula meant the spread of literacy, roads and sanitation when they spoke of the “inevitability” of Roman “civilisation”.
What they mean by these words is the caprices and cruelties of their rule, and whichever form of it, whether subtle or flagrant, presently meets their fancy.
And neither the forms of it, nor the rule itself, are in any way inevitable — which is why they spend so much time and make so much noise seeking to convince us that it is.
“Globalisation” is but their word, their high-sounding euphemism, for “global capitalism” and the forms it has taken over the last two decades.
What's been globalised?
Only very specific things have been “globalised” during the 1980s and 1990s; in many other things, there has been not a “growing together” but rather a pulling apart. Wealth, for instance, has not been globalised; it's been further concentrated, both within and between countries.
During the 1990s, the gap between the richest fifth and poorest fifth of humanity grew from 60:1 to 74:1. Three men — Bill Gates, his fellow Microsoft founder Paul Allen and rentier extraordinaire Warren Buffet — now own assets equivalent to those owned by the 600 million people in the world's 48 least developed countries, while the number of people living under US $1 a day is expected to increase from 1.2 billion today to 1.9 billion people in 2015.
Technology hasn't been globalised, either; its concentration in the hands of the high and mighty is greater than it has ever been before. Ninety percent of the world's patents on technology are now held in the richest countries, heavily protected by World Trade Organisation agreements, amongst other things. According to a February study by the International Labour Organisation, only 5% of the world's population has ever used the internet — and 88% of them live in the developed capitalist countries.
Not even economic growth, the supposed root of capitalism's historic superiority, has been globalised. The United States may have boomed in the 1980s and 1990s, but according to a study of countries' growth patterns by the US-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, the growth rates in 77% of countries were significantly lower in 1980-2000, the decades of “globalisation”, than they were in 1960-1980.
And the flow of people certainly hasn't been globalised, either — the fortress walls of all the rich countries are growing higher, to keep out the huddled masses.
The things which have been “globalised” are far more specific and far more pernicious.
Money capital has been “globalised”: it can now flow as it likes into (and out of) pretty much every country in the world, as profit rates rise and fall and as its owners see fit.
The global stock of financial assets has grown sixfold, from US $12 trillion to US $80 trillion between 1980 and 2000; cross-border flows of bonds and equities into the largest economies have increased by 55-60 times since 1970; and the amount traded on international foreign exchange markets daily has exploded from US $18.3 billion in 1977 to US $1.5 trillion in 2000.
The power, the grasp and the freedom of manoeuvre of the transnational corporation has also been “globalised”. While the volume of international trade trebled between 1982 and 1999, the sales of TNCs' foreign affiliates increased sixfold. Forty-nine of the 100 wealthiest and most powerful institutions are now corporations rather than governments and they control 70% of the world's trade and 80% of the world's foreign investment.
All this, the “globalisation” of some things and not of others, is no accident, nor the workings of some historical inevitability. It is by design, it is the result of the deliberate and calculated plans of men (and a few women) who meet in corporate board rooms and government cabinet rooms, at diplomatic summits and international conferences, and at exclusive social clubs.
For the number one thing that has been “globalised” in the past two decades is a very specific set of economic and social policies, the formulae of economic liberalism (in Australia, because these policies were initiated by a Labor, and not a Liberal, government, they are dubbed “economic rationalism”).
These policies are everywhere the same, they come from the exact same recipe book: hand over state assets to corporations, turn a blind eye to the operations of financial institutions, prorogue controls on capital flows across borders, allow currencies' exchange rates to be determined by speculators, weaken laws which specify labour rights or environmental standards, cut government spending on social programs, cut taxes on corporations and the super-wealthy, force workers to pay for their own retirement and education and health care, rob from the poor, give to the rich.
Between 1991 and 1999, there were 1035 changes worldwide in laws on foreign investment — 94% of them increased the freedom of foreign investors and reduced government regulation.
By 1998, 145 of the International Monetary Fund's 182 member-nations had acceded to the IMF's Article VIII, which specifies the free flow of capital across borders — 70 had acceded in the previous five years.
By March 1, 1999, the starting date for the WTO's new Financial Services Agreement, which drastically reduces restrictions on cross-border finance flows, 102 member-nations (out of 140) had signed onto it. The FSA gives the WTO jurisdiction over 95% of the world trade in banking, insurance, securities and financial information.
Those governments which haven't read willingly from the recipe book have had it forced on them. Since the 1980s, there have been 90 Third World countries forced to sign “structural adjustment programs” with the IMF, as a condition for refinancing their massive debt burdens. These programs are a long list of pro-business, pro-Western measures: the IMF's grotesquely named “Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper” for Tanzania, signed in April 2000, for example, included 157 specific changes to the country's laws and regulations.
Can it be reversed?
If “globalisation” — or rather the globalisation of financial flows, of corporate power and of economic liberalism — is the result of the deliberate and calculated plans of people, then they can be reversed by the deliberate and calculated plans of (other) people.
Privatised assets can be re-statised, freedoms can be taken away from corporations and given back to communities, tax burdens can be shifted from poor to rich, the rentiers can be euthanised and the expropriators expropriated.
There's one further proof that “globalisation” isn't inevitable: its architects don't think it is.
If it is inevitable, why are World Trade Organisation director-general Mike Moore and the trade representatives of the United States and Europe desperately criss-crossing the world twisting the arms of governments to make sure that the coming WTO conference in Qatar doesn't end up the debacle that the last one in Seattle in November 1999 was?
If it is inevitable, why have the drafters of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, the “corporations' bill of rights”, buried their document since massive public outcry erupted when it was leaked in 1998? And why are they now forced to plot its reintroduction, through as yet little-noticed clauses of proposed WTO agreements, by stealth and not in the open?
If it is inevitable, why are the meetings of the corporate globalisers taking place behind high barbed-wire fences and lines of riot police? And why are the numbers, and the confidence, of protesters around the world increasing?
Three days before thousands from across Europe gathered in the Czech capital, Prague, to demonstrate at the annual meetings of the World Bank and the IMF, the British Economist magazine, which boasts that it is the standard-bearer of economic liberalism, editorialised on September 23: “The protesters are right that the most pressing moral, political and economic issue of our time is third-world poverty. And they are right that the tide of `globalization', powerful as the engines driving it may be, can be turned back. The fact that both these things are true is what makes the protesters — and, crucially, the strand of popular opinion that sympathizes with them — so terribly dangerous.”
And into the breeze goes claims of “inevitability”.