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Globalization and Global Resistance Material / Written / Globalization

Origins of globalization
Global "peace"
Global war
Arguments for globalization
The free trade miracle
Global public relations
Global resistance (coming soon)

Origins of globalization

Globalization, like many huge things, results from two opposite, but eerily complementary, forces:

  1. Early efforts by well-meaning people to build a better tomorrow (on the raw material of historical horror).
  2. Long-term efforts by single-minded corporations to build better profits (on the raw material of the above).

In this, globalization is like other massive and massively co-opted phenomena, e.g. television, the "Green Revolution," and, perhaps most clearly, the Internet.

Television was originally promoted as a democratic medium whose possibilities were endless: "It is a creative force which we must learn to utilize for the benefit of all mankind," reads a typical bit of early dramatics by ABC. Some of these people actually meant what they said, and the subsequent corporate use of the medium can only be seen as a hijack more thorough than could have been accomplished by even the most sustained government effort.

Likewise, modern food engineering began as a scientist's sincere desire to remove the scourge of hunger from the world. But the practices into which relentless pursuit of profit have pushed this domain would be hard to match in heartlessness and cynicism: another gargantuan hijack.

The Internet is another example of a giant system coopted by greed-based giant interests, who then attempt to turn it entirely to their own ends.

The Internet, put in its place
"We all know the Internet didn't explode until it became a commercial enterprise." (Vint Cerf, Wired 8.01) This typical (but particularly bold) assertion reflects the common neo-liberal notion that only greed, or hunger, is capable of driving development and progress, and that the "free" trans-national market is the only form of economy that has really ever worked. (Has it worked? Some might find that notion itself a perverse form of memory....)

Invented by the U.S. military with taxpayer funds, the Internet was made into a rich public resource by countless academics, engineers, and geeks of all stripes, working not for the sake of profit--the only motive acknowledged to be important by free-trade evangelists--but rather out of belief in their projects and the benefit of their work to humanity. Recent attacks on the Internet's volunteerist nature in the name of corporate profits have already damaged the sense of free speech and communal development so precious to many, and helped pave the way for an Internet more literally precious to others.

Globalization, like television, biotechnology, and the Internet, also represents an appropriation of the well-intentioned efforts of others. Shortly after the last giant war, forward-looking people in France, Britain and Germany agreed to closely monitor and coordinate their countries' steel and coal output, in hopes of making it impossible for any one party (more precisely, Germany) to suddenly start building a significant war machine, and to make their economic interdependence a serious obstacle to the warpath. This earnest effort grew into the European Union, which, despite a disturbing resemblance to the Europe the Nazis envisioned (click here for advertisement), has preserved in the popular memory the idealism of its postwar proponents. At the same time, the EU has been the platform from which multi-national corporations have gutted sensible trade protections, as well as successful and popular social programs (the so-called "welfare state"), in favor of corporate profits and a very strange vision of peace.

Global "peace"

A vestigial idealism has been enlisted to support not only the recent excesses of the European Union, but also NAFTA, GATT, and the WTO., for example, claims that "The multilateral trading system established after the end of the second World War has... guaranteed peace and stability"--as if that were its point, and glossing over the fact that the "peace and stability" are between the major powers only. Not entering into this picture of "peace" are the innumerable "operations" against small powers to enforce global trade; the increasing incarceration in the U.S. of domestic sectors not very useful to the economy, and with no recourse to an
The value of hunger
Free-market preachers sometimes defend this century's mass starvations by insisting that come what may, even food must be subject to market forces--otherwise things could get even worse. In the 19th century, similarly, ideologues preached that the human ravages caused by the Industrial Revolution were essential components of progress, and that alleviating them--with, for example, a twelve-hour day--would bring society to a standstill. (Some specified that the spectre of starvation was needed in order to keep the working classes' nose to the increasingly unpleasant grindstone.)
increasingly expensive justice; and, of course, the mass starvations brought on by cultivated helplessness in formerly self-sufficient nations, to the benefit of free trade in food.

Like the WTO, late 19th-century ideologues also promoted industry as the only route to world peace, and claimed that the freeness of trade was the reason there had been almost no major wars during that century. Not entering their image of "peace" either, of course, was that century's unprecedentedly huge scale of colonial and domestic exploitation, which resulted in the moral and sometimes physical destruction of entire populations at home and abroad. Finance frowned only on large-scale wars between the strongest European governments, and wielded such power that it could prevent them: as in Central Europe under the Soviets, even long-standing enmities had to take the back seat... for a while. (Curious afternote: many people believe that the inevitable breakdown of this system led to WWI.)

Today, the WTO, exactly like 19th-century apologists, is only lubricating violence against a frontier (the Third World, and domestic poor everywhere) in order to ensure the smooth functioning of core machineries--all the while claiming, like its colonialist predecessors, to bring health and prosperity to that frontier. The WTO's version of free trade is no different from the original: a ruthless system that destroys exactly what is most vulnerable in the name of expansion, profit, and "progress."

Global war

The idea that free trade leads to improvement still holds sway in much of the First World, even among those who should know better. And in even more cases, the possible extreme effects of corporate freedom are not quite understood. In Europe, for example, many are conscious of the immediate losses--spiritual as well as material--resulting from privatization of core societal functions like education and health care (privatizations which are proceeding all the same, sometimes so clearly against popular desires as to make a mockery of democracy).

But though many may feel revulsion, few realize the much more extreme physical results which this form of power can effect with no public participation or even awareness--and which it is destined to do by its nature. Today, many otherwise intelligent Europeans still feel that if money

A corporate war?
These allusions to WWII are not entirely as facetious as might appear. For industry was seldom the silent, victimized and cowed accomplice of fascism, as countless German companies have painted it in their official histories. Corporations, both German and multinational, were in fact a driving force behind nazism, and sometimes took the lead even ahead of the nazi leadership. For the nature of business is to vigorously seek out the most profitable arrangements--and in fascist dictatorships there are even more such opportunities than in democracies.

is paying for something, the source doesn't matter, if there are avowals of impartiality ("no strings attached"). Nothing of course could be further from the truth, and what is needed is an informational D-Day invasion by all Americans of goodwill to rid Europeans of illusions about corporate money and what it can lead to, using examples from home.

And while the instructional examples cited above of television, food engineering, and the internet are still to one degree or another unfolding, and hence not pedagogically perfect, there is another example that couldn't be clearer, because it is entirely set in stone, or rather asphalt. Like the others it comes from America, so Americans of an instructive bent can refer to it with assertions of memory--although precious few who did not live through it even know that it happened....

* * *

Around the time that France, Britain and Germany were forging a commercial alliance to prevent future wars, three U.S. companies were forging a commercial alliance to prevent public transportation.

By 1945, U.S. cities had the most advanced public transportation networks in the world. Los Angeles had more miles of electric train tracks than any other single area of its size on earth. This type of transport, in L.A. as everywhere else, was cheap, clean, and efficient. You could get from one place to any other for a few cents (one or two of today's dollars or euros), with almost no danger and without polluting the environment much--just as you still can in any European city (except, nowadays,
More recent thuggery
Corporations have become much more sophisticated and careful since the days of American public transportation, but once in a while their disregard for decency and legality become equally visible. In one recent case, a Cincinnati reporter "hacked" into Chiquita Banana voicemail and discovered that company officers were engaged in bribery, skirting of Central American laws, avoiding regulations, etc.--the same practices that had earlier helped their company, then known as the United Fruit Company, nearly single-handedly destroy the economies and governments of Central America. These revelations did not lead to an examination of the company; rather, Chiquita was able to force the newspaper to issue front-page apologies to the company for violation of its "privacy rights." (The newspaper was also forced to pay the company a $10 million fine and to fire the reporter.)
Grozny). These public transportation networks operated in a zone between public and private; in an argument familiar to today's citizens, the private aspect was justified by the argument that market forces could achieve an efficiency that government never would.

And did they ever achieve some efficiency! Shortly after WWII, General Motors (cars), Standard Oil (gasoline), and B.F. Goodrich (car tires) slowly but steadily consolidated the public/private transportation companies of eighty U.S. cities (including Los Angeles) into one, and then, just as steadily, demolished every last shred of their prey. Meanwhile, to fill this growing gap in public transport, the three companies successfully lobbied that public money be used to build highways on the gargantuan scale we still live with today.

When it was discovered what had happened, and how, the perpetrators were brought to trial, found guilty of "conspiring against the public good," and forced to pay a fine of $5000--in today's dollars or euros, about the same amount that companies like Ford and Bridgestone pay today for skirting regulations at the public's expense.

The arguments for globalization

Tales of sneaky maneuverings around European electorates are already numerous (though none yet as enormous as that wrought by GM/SO/BFG on America). But
Twisting the democratic arm
Even in modern democracies, it is often not necessary for corporations to proceed through democratic channels. When Denmark rejected membership in the European Union, it was somehow deemed necessary to immediately hold another referendum with an only slightly changed question--and a "yes" was secured. And across Europe, adoption of the euro currency and other liberalizing measures are always presented as unpolitical matters, technical in nature and so not requiring approval by those pesky, unpredictable voters. As WTO Director General Mike Moore puts it, "Globalisation is not an ideology, not a political theory, but economic evolution."
in First World countries, at least, corporate interests are sometimes forced to proceed without subterfuge, within democratic frameworks, and to speak clearly about the ideas of free trade so as to sell them to electorates. Free-trade apologists must explain why it is necessary to accept the violence that is being done to the national happiness in the interest of the National Product--why healthy social programs must be dismantled, for example. And since in Europe corporations have not yet finished expanding into new rights and eliminating barriers to their maximum profit, a whole lot of electoral goodwill must be mustered and kept.

As it turns out, the arguments used in these cases to justify and promote unfettered corporate power are the same misreadings of Adam Smith that first took hold in the late 1700s. For about two hundred years, the supremacy of profit has been the keystone in an entire cosmology teaching that humanity must evolve towards less and less regulated competition, with less and less protection for the weak, infirm, or uncompetitive--and that this is the only natural/virtuous state for the species.

Just as God was originally conscripted into the arguments, most surely against His will, the same was done to Darwin a while later, resulting in something that might be called "corporate Darwinism." Now, obeying the dictates of profit-seeking unhampered by local prejudices and mores no longer led to heaven, but rather to various virtues. (Cleanliness, for example: The WTO website actually claims that free trade will make the world cleaner by "facilitating the diffusion of environment-friendly technologies around the world"--apparently in the face of all logic and evidence.)

The free trade miracle

The divine content of free trade mythology has changed since its inception, but the substance itself has not. Belief in free trade has proven immensely resilient, surviving even changes in our elementary metaphors.

Why the persistence? It cannot be the arguments themselves: they are so flimsy that the slightest glance beneath the surface suffices to expose them as mere opinions, with no substance beyond the emotional.

Nor can it be the results of the free trade prescription: the average growth rate of developing countries that are rigorously "liberalized" is 2.2%, versus 2.1% for those that are not. And during the last thirty years, the U.S. market has been "opened" and deregulated more, and more quickly, than that of any other developed country, but the average hours worked per year in the U.S. has increased considerably since then, while in less "liberalized" economies, they have declined (Bureau International du travail, Key Indicators of the Labor Market 1999, Geneva, 1999, p. 166). Compared with 1973, Americans must now work six weeks more per year to achieve the same standard of living (Juliet Schor, The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, Basic Books, New York, 1992, pp. 79-82).

This sort of failure is always chalked up by free trade apologists to impurity, to the incomplete implementation of free trade principles. For two hundred years, governments have been blamed for the failures of free trade, for their stodgy, authoritarian resistance to spontaneous free-trade evolution. If only governments would stand out of the godly (or natural) and inevitable course of free trade, things would turn out for the best.

But of course it is the "free market" that must be enforced in an authoritarian manner, by bodies such as the WTO, and it is resistance to the ravages of unfettered free trade that is spontaneous. What is natural and inevitable is refusal of people and their elected representatives to accept the destruction of society by market forces, before that destruction is finished, before free trade has run its full course.

Global public relations

Since neither arguments nor results are what sustains belief in free trade, why, then, do ordinary people often rally to the causes of corporate politics?

Money may have something to do with it: holding a few shares in mutual funds can make it easier to cheer abstract, long-term destruction, with or without supporting arguments, in the name of immediate dollars or euros.

But the primary reason for ordinary people to believe in free trade may be that it makes acceptable, even desirable, the fait accompli of free-trade ascendancy and all that this entails. More and more, corporate interests are succeeding in dismantling social programs, and generally running roughshod over laws and government, functions that used to be under some degree of control by electorates: to see this with no ideological veneer can be disappointing, or, depending on the degree to which one's life is impacted, debilitating. It is much more bearable to see it as part of a near-cosmic plan, a cosmology in which it is sensible and worthwhile, and in which one's participation, rather than being that of a tragic victim, partakes instead of the epic.

With the basis of belief not in any semblance of fact, but rather in emotional consensus, it is easy to see why corporations have expended such vast sums not only on promoting bad logic to elected decision-makers, but on public relations, i.e. telling the public stories. P.R. serves to defuse anger at a particular company and excuse its behavior; in the long run, it works to promote free trade above all other values.

One particularly dramatic P.R. story is that of "big government." Corporate apologists, for their own specific ends, often point to the influence of "big government" in the language of
Democratic government as "special interest"
Already in the 1930s, "as radio was becoming a major medium, the Federal Radio Commission 'equated capitalist broadcasting with "general public service" broadcasting' since it would provide whatever 'the market desired,' Robert McChesney writes, while attempts by labor, other popular sectors, or educational programming were deemed 'propaganda.' It was therefore necessary 'to favor the capitalist broadcasters' with access to channels and other assistance." (Noam Chomsky, Year 501, South End Press, Chapter 9.)
conspiracy (see text box for an early example), to the absurd point that government agencies are sometimes called "special interests." One large-scale result is that in the popular culture of tabloids and the like, conspiracy theories almost always involve giant, sinister government agencies and operatives, whereas corporations, thanks to their carefully cultivated images, are nearly invisible. The cumulative result has been a distrust of democratic processes.

Indeed, such P.R. might as well be a conspiracy, it works so well. Its long-term effects dovetail wonderfully with its immediate uses: since it points to privatization as as a path to freedom from arbitrary government decisions and motives, it helps marshal to corporate interests the support of a public which should by all rights be against it.

The free market, designed and constructed and refined to exploit all situations for the sake of profit, has in the U.S. self-organized to achieve the destruction of public transportation, the ethnic cleansing of politically volatile inner cities, the mass fattening of the poorest class, the reduction of useless leisure time for all classes, and on and on and on--all the while using the language of freedom and choice and Constitution with an abstraction and distance that might be poetic if it weren't so cynical. These are a few of many such amazing reversals, like television helping turn American society into the television image of Soviet society, that are inexplicable at first sight--no one is in control, but the result is infinitely more effective than a "real" conspiracy, consciously decided and plotted, ever could be.

Global resistance

Global resistance has arrived. This section, unfortunately, has not. Coming soon!

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