Our “globalisation” against yours

Dear Guy Verhofstadt, Prime Minister of Belgium, President of the European Union,

On September 26, you wrote an open letter to what you call the “anti-globalisation movement”, in which you question “contradictions” in its arguments, claim it “unwittingly veer[s] dangerously towards extremist, ‘populist’ right-wing views” and even compare it with “religious fanatics who live and die by the Bible or the Quran”.

If you write an open letter, you must expect a reply. Here is mine.

“What is suddenly so wrong with globalisation?” you ask, apparently somewhat puzzled.

“Prior to Seattle, globalisation was not a sin but a blessing. This was in stark contrast to the dissenting voices on the far right that bemoaned the loss of identity in a globalised world. But since Seattle, you have shunned globalism as if it were a modern-day form of bubonic plague, sowing poverty and ruin.”

You continue throughout your letter in the same vein, saying at one point “your concerns as anti-globalists [about global warming, speculation, unfair trade] are extremely valid. But to find the right solutions to these valid questions, we need more globalisation, not less.”

Later you say, “Globalisation can, after all, serve the cause of good just as much as evil. What we need is a global ethical approach to the environment, labour relations and monetary policy.”

I’m afraid you must have us confused with someone else – either that or you’ve been reading too much corporate PR which slanders us as a “Noah’s ark of flat earthers”.

Get this straight: we are not an “anti-globalisation” movement; we are a counter-globalisation movement. There is not one process of globalisation going on, there are two: yours, from above, and ours, from below.

We do not speak of “globalisation” as some grand abstraction, as you do.

What you call “globalisation” is but a sneaky attempt to hide what is really going on.

By using this word, you seek to present matters of deliberate policy (such as the EU which you preside over encouraging, enforcing even, commitment to trade liberalisation) as though they were acts of nature occurring without human intervention. They are not.

What we oppose is precisely that set of policies that you and the rest of the global elite are trying to force down our throats – “free trade”, privatisation, deregulation, unregulated capital markets, structural adjustment, corporate welfare, user fees on education and health care, a set of policies which is indeed “sowing poverty and ruin”.

Our stand is not against anything that has the word “global” in front of it (since when did we oppose global solutions to climate change?), but against global capitalism, which debases every thing to a commodity and every human relationship to a “meeting in the market-place”.

You say you “would also like to point out a number of contradictions in [the movement’s] way of thinking”.

You note that we “oppose American hamburger chains, reject soya that has been genetically modified by multinational corporations, and condemn worldwide brand names that influence buying habits. Many of you feel that everything must return to a small, local scale. We must go back to the local market and local community.

“And, yet, not when it comes to migration. Then, globalisation suddenly becomes an aim.”

Where is the “contradiction”?

We oppose patterns of production and consumption which are dictated by McDonald’s, Monsanto and Nike and advocate a decentralisation of economic and political power, and at the same time advocate a borderless world in which people can move freely – that is simply what “globalisation from below” means, the mirror opposite of your “globalisation from above”.

Let me point out some contradictions of your own.

You recognise that “globalisation, as a movement that disregards national borders, can easily deteriorate into a form of `selfishness without frontiers”,” and further that “Even when we are driven by the very best intentions, it is only natural for us to be more concerned with the interests of a multinational oil company or of European sugar-beet farmers than with the fate of the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta, or the meagre incomes of workers on sugar-cane plantations in Costa Rica.”

Yet you would have us believe that the solution is more of the same: “world trade needs to be further liberalised”.

“Experience has shown that the per capita income of a country’s population rises by 1% for every 1% that it opens up its economy”, you claim. “This explains the wealth of Singapore, which contrasts with the poverty of a closed economy such as Myanmar’s.”

Here we come to the heart of the matter.

First, you choose the two countries that (seem to) fit your argument, and ignore all the other countries of the South, the ones that have embraced, or been forced to embrace, your policies and have gone backwards.

Rates of growth between 1980-2000, the era of “globalisation”, were significantly lower than those between 1960-1980 in 77% of countries for which data is available, according to one study by the US-based Centre for Economic and Policy Research.

Second, you ignore the fact that “export-driven growth” has left many Third World countries bound to the volatilities of world markets and long-term price declines in primary commodities. “Free trade” has made them less free.

The price of coffee, for instance, the world’s second most traded commodity and the main source of earnings for nearly 20 of the world’s poorest countries, has halved since the beginning of 2000, to around 50 cents a pound, the lowest in real terms for 100 years. It’s not the only commodity to have done so.

Third, while acknowledging the unfairness of Western restrictions on Third World exports, you ignore all of the other, often grotesque, imbalances built into World Trade Organisation rules.

West Africa, for example, used to have a thriving tomato industry, until it liberalised import controls in 1994. Since then European growers have taken over 80% of the market, because local growers can’t compete with the massive (and perfectly legal) export subsidies paid to the European companies by the EU.

Fourth, you ignore the fact that, set into the very nature of trade between unequal partners, is a transfer of wealth from the poorer to the richer.

Trading primary commodities for finished goods and services has led to a long decline in poor countries” terms of trade: between 1988 and 1993, the terms of trade of the least developed countries fell by 12% on average, recovered by 6.0% in 1994-97 and then declined sharply, by 28.5% and 23.2%, in 1998 and 1999.

You proffer a solution: “ethical globalisation, a triangle consisting free trade, knowledge and democracy”.

But we don’t trust you.

If you were sincere, and not just interested in your public image, you would by now have abandoned attempts to enforce a new WTO trade round which most poor countries don’t want, you would have forced the World Bank and the IMF to cancel the debts owed them by poor countries, you would have instituted a Tobin Tax to deter what you call “immoral speculation”, you would have passed Europe-wide laws mandating large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

And we don’t believe you.

Your “ethical globalisation” will not work – at least not so long as the global economy is run by the “multinational oil companies” you mention and by governments (including your own) which “only natural[ly]” serve them.

“What is missing is a powerful instrument to enforce [ethical globalisation]”, you say, suggesting a reformed G8 that would include government representatives from each of the world’s regions.

But the people of the world have had enough “enforcement” and no longer trust any politician to represent their interests in such a body.

That is the real meaning of our movement, our “globalisation from below”, which you have steadfastly refused to understand.

You ask what our “answer” is, what “solution” we put forward? Here it is: Go away, and leave the rest of us to build our world anew.

Yours truly,

Sean Healy, Sydney, Australia, October 2001.

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