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The Debate Over Institutional Values


Sean Gonsalves

A

few lingering thoughts on the whole WTO event: WTO supporters, which includes

Clinton and his "liberal" media, say they are for freedom. Front-line

and armchair protesters – not to be confused with the handful of vandals that

destroyed property – say they’re for freedom too. The crucial question is:

freedom for whom? If you look at how the WTO operates, you will see that it

stands for corporate license; autonomy for affluent consumers and permission for

the wealthy to levy the heavy social costs of "development" and

"globalization" on the shoulders of those least able to afford it.

Change

and progress are not necessarily synonymous. And there’s a qualitative

difference between democratic freedom – the primary concern of WTO skeptics -

and the market freedom being touted by business and thought-leaders.

Democratic

freedom is the liberty of a people to have a genuine say-so in the social

decision-making process; to allow for individual creative potential to flourish

within various cultures clothes, Disney products or Zenith television sets. Why

are those who make the important distinction between market freedom and

democratic freedom ridiculed by the "liberal" media?

The

Boston Globe called the demonstrators "Senseless in Seattle." Those

who question the unaccountable power of the corporate-managerial class are

either stupid or violently uncivilized, or both. In condescending tones, I’ve

heard WTO cheerleaders try to explain David Ricardo’s notion of

"comparative advantage" in free-trade, failing to note that since

capital is now mobile and labor is not, the central premise of Ricardo’s

argument crumbles. They refer to "evidence" that purports to show that

"free markets" increase "living standards," as if the GDP is

actually an accurate measure of well-being; as if we’ve ever had a real

free-market. These neo-free-traders use words like "efficiency" and

"specialization," scrupulously avoiding ethical questions like: why

should efficiency be our foremost social value?

So

while they seek to impose upon the entire globe this value of

efficiency-no-matter-the-social-cost, with a straight-face, they talk about how

wrong it is to impose our "higher values" on other nations, as if

workers everywhere aren’t opposed to child-labor, sweatshops, low-wages,

polluted air, unhealthy water and plunder. And they go on and on ad naseum about

"jobs."

Jobs?

The Institute for Food and Development Policy notes that "whenever a larger

economy is created, new economies of scale come into play. Large transnational

companies who use automated mass production technology to produce goods at low

per unit costs, flood local markets at prices that small, national companies

using labor intensive production practices cannot compete with.

"As

witnessed in Mexico under NAFTA, these smaller companies go out of business and

hundreds of thousands of people are laid off as new high tech factories hire far

fewer workers. One result is fewer jobs are needed to manufacture the same

quantity of goods….Profits shift from nationally-owned companies, which tend

to re-invest locally, to transnational companies based in distant nations, who

rarely re-invest in the affected country."

The

top 200 global corporations employ one-half of one-percent of the global work

force. So this isn’t about trade. It’s about deregulated international commerce.

It’s about erasing national and cultural boundaries and knocking down

"trade barriers" that prevent corporations from exploiting cheap labor

in order to produce as much as possible for as little cost as possible (ignoring

huge "externalities"), and to sell as many "goods" as

possible to as many affluent consumers as possible.

Speaking

of jobs and labor standards, wasn’t there full employment during slavery? More

the point, those organizing to improve living standards and work conditions in

most of these developing countries, run the risk of being repressed, tortured

and murdered by state-sponsored military thugs, principally supplied by the U.S.

"defense" industry and trained at places like the School of the

Americas. Doesn’t this play an indispensable role in keeping labor cheap – the

cheap labor that giant corporations are drawn too, according to the

"laws" of the market?

Finally,

if corporate and political leaders have suddenly realized the importance of the

WTO being an "open" institution, then why didn’t they invite the media

inside? Of course, the much-needed democratic critique and struggle going on

should not be aimed at morally marginalizing the rich. As Bertrand Russell

noted, there is no such thing as the "superior virtue of the

oppressed." The debate is over which institutional values ought to take

precedence – market or democratic., which has nothing to do with having the

widest possible selection of Gap

 

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