Globalization: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

Excerpts from a talk by Jerry Mander

Reported by Mac Lawrence in Timeline July/August 1998

Jerry Mander is well known in environmental circles. Ads he wrote, which appeared in national media, helped save the Cascades National Park, create the Redwood National Park, and keep the Grand Canyon from being overrun with dams.

In 1972, after a growing concern about the current state of the world, Mander left his advertising agency career to found Public Interest Communications, a pioneer nonprofit advertising and public relations firm. Since then, he has written three books: Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, In the Absence of the Sacred, and his most recent, The Case Against the Global Economy, focusing on his current passion -- the negative consequences of globalization.

In a talk to a standing-room only audience at the Foundation office recently, Mander explained the rationale for his three books. The first book shows how television shapes a unified, global consciousness which promotes a culture fitted to the purposes of the corporations who own and operate global media and who have a stake in people living, believing, and buying according to the corporate vision of how life should be lived.

His second book is about how modern technology substitutes mediated experiences of the world for direct experience. This, Mander noted, “separates us from our inner selves, our communities, and from effective power over our lives. It’s also about the political drift of technology. We hear a lot about the Green Revolution and the Computer Revolution and so on, but we are rarely told whether those revolutions are right-wing revolutions or left-wing revolutions. And I can tell you for sure, they’re not neutral revolutions; they have very clear consequences.

“The third book, on economic globalization, encompasses the other two books since economic globalization is aided by the globalization of consciousness and by our separation from the Earth.” While noting that economics is not a subject we all love to talk about, Mander made clear that “we’d better learn about this one because it affects each one of us, every community, every worker, every business, and the natural world.”

Economic globalization had its birth at the end of World War II, Mander noted, “at the infamous Bretton Woods meetings of the world’s leading economists and political leaders in New Hampshire.” There soon followed the formation of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Next came GATT (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), and most recently the World Trade Organization, NAFTA, Maastricht, and OPEC.

The idea was “to create a new model to run the world better -- theoretically so people could be fed, enjoy the fruits of the technical revolution and the consumer revolution, and to ensure that there would be no more horrible wars. These people certainly saw themselves as do-gooders and altruists, despite their self-interest in the outcome.”

The structure they chose to build this brighter future was the global corporation, to which they gave extraordinary power. As Mander noted, “Now these institutions of economic globalization are arguably producing the most fundamental redesign of the planet’s social, political, and economic arrangements, at least since the Industrial Revolution. They’re producing a power shift of gigantic proportions, moving real economic and political power away from national, state, and local governments toward global corporations and banks, and to the global bureaucracies they have created. The net result is what many of my colleagues call ‘monoculture-culture’ -- the global homogenization of culture, lifestyle, economic practice, and ideology, with the corresponding sacrifice of local traditions, values, arts, and traditional small-scale economic practice.

“Economic globalization actively undermines all values, except economic values. It enshrines the free market and its principal actors -- global corporations -- as the engines and the benefactors of the process. It places first importance on the achievement of ever-more rapid economic growth and the constant search for new markets, new resources, and cheaper labor, which is why everyone is so excited by China’s joining into this experiment.

“To achieve rapid economic growth, globalization of course requires totally unrestricted free trade, privatization of enterprise, and deregulation of corporate activity. Together they remove all impediments that might stand in the way of expanded corporate activity. In practice, the impediments are usually environmental laws, or public health laws, or food safety laws, or laws that pertain to worker rights and opportunities, or laws that permit nations to control investment on their soil, or laws that try to retain national controls over local culture.

These are now viewed as obstacles to free trade and are quickly being outlawed by the great new trade agreements. And while corporations are being deregulated and freed, nation states and local governments are being increasingly regulated and confined; they now find it more difficult to act in the cause of preservation of local jobs, identity, culture, local tradition, national sovereignty, and the environment.”

Mander is particularly disturbed by the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). For the past few years, he reported, the 29 industrial nations that comprise the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have been working in Paris on an international document “that places severe restrictions on the abilities of all levels of government -- national, state, provincial, city, regional, local -- to regulate foreign investment. Like most of these global trade agreements, the MAI discussions are held in secret; only the ability of some people to steal an occasional draft document makes it possible to know what is in it.

“Under the MAI, no government -- national or local -- will be able to say, ‘OK, you can invest here but only if you hire local workers or if you make joint ventures with local partners so as to preserve a national or regional character.’ Under the MAI, no country or community can favor local enterprise for any contract -- for road construction, or building stadiums, or providing luncheons in schools, or running your health delivery systems. You can have Mitsubishi running your national health care. No country or city could be allowed to say that permits for fishing, or farming, or forestry, or wood processing must go first to national or local residents or that zoning laws must be observed about what kinds of commercial operations may take place.

“Under the MAI, no country could make new restrictions on mining or forestry to protect dwindling resources or to preserve the environment. Foreign investors could challenge new rules because they could say that the new rules favor local companies who, in the past, were not restricted. In other words, it would be considered discrimination against foreign companies if local companies had cut down forests before foreign companies had even thought to enter.

(From an ad by The International Forum on Globalization in The New York Times, February 12, 1998.)

Top Secret: New MAI Treaty

Should Corporations Govern the World?

Business Week says it’s “the most explosive trade deal you've never heard of. [It] would rewrite the rules of foreign ownership, affecting everything from factories to real estate and even securities. But most lawmakers have never even heard of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment.”

Why not? Why have the public, the press and lawmakers been excluded from these negotiations? It's time to demand the full details.

No country could discriminate against foreign investors based upon their environmental or human rights, or political practice. Had the MAI been enforced during South Africa’s apartheid regime, all government boycotts and sanctions against South Africa would have been illegal. We might still have apartheid. Nelson Mandela might still be in jail.

“Under the MAI, amazingly, the rules of so-called expropriation are extended to the absurd. Corporations will now have the right, if it passes, to sue nation states to recover so-called lost profits from investments they would have made except that some new law made it unprofitable to do that. Taxpayers might have to pay for the profits on investments that were never made. Corporations could sue to recover lost profits caused by public strife, public protest, boycotts, or strikes. This would provide many governments with ample incentive to forbid free expression.”

MAI Futureworld

Under the new MAI treaty, no nation will be able to restrict foreign investment into any segment of its economy. Neither could it make rules about reinvesting profits in local communities, or hiring local workers, or respecting cultural traditions, or protecting the environment. If approved, even public property, once it has been partially privatized, would be subject to foreign takeover. We may indeed see Hollywood running Canadian Broadcasting, or Bundesbank operating American Airlines or Yellowstone Park. Or, Mitsubishi managing the Louvre, or the Taj Mahal. In an era of privatization, global corporatization, and total freedom of investment, anything becomes possible.

Mander noted that advocates of economic globalization promise a $250 billion expansion of world economic activity whose benefits will be a “rising tide that lifts all boats. But,” he asks, “will such a gigantic economic expansion actually happen? And, if it does, how long can it possibly sustain itself before it runs into the limits of a finite planet? Where will the resources, the minerals, the wood, the water, come from to feed such exponential economic growth? Where will the effluents of this hyped process -- the solids and the toxics -- be dumped? Who actually benefits from all this? Will it be working people who globally are already losing jobs to high-tech machines and to corporate flight, and who’ve been clearly placed in a downward wage competition with their co-workers in all other countries? Already in England they’re advertising to the global business community that English workers are the lowest paid in Europe. Imagine a developed country advertising the low wages of its own people. Asia and some countries in South America and the Caribbean have also been advertising that way. It’s a big competition towards the lowest possible wage.

“Will it be farmers that benefit who, whether in Asia, Africa, Europe, or the U.S., are now being driven off their lands by World Bank export development schemes? These schemes replace diverse local farm production and local trade with giant corporate farms that no longer grow food that local people can eat, but instead grow coffee, beef, or grain for export to the global economy. Will it be city dwellers who are now faced with millions of newly landless refugees roaming the globe, seeking some place to live and the rare poorly paid job?

“Can ever-increasing consumption be sustained? How many cars can be built and bought? How many roads can cover the land? When will the forest be gone? Is life better from all this? Are we as individuals, as families, as communities made more secure, less anxious, more in control of our destiny? How could we possibly benefit from a system that destroys local, regional, and national economies and governments while handing real power to faceless bureaucracies in Geneva?

“The famous German ecologist, Wolfgang Sachs, says that the only thing worse than the failure of this massive global experiment would be its success, for even at its most optimum level, the benefits of a global economy only go to a small minority of people who sit near the hub of the process while the rest of humanity is left fighting for fewer jobs, increasingly landless and homeless, living in violent societies.

“Already in the U.S. we begin to see how the system really works. While corporate profits are at their highest in history, with many CEOs making salaries in the millions of dollars and some as much as $80 or $90 million per year, real wages of ordinary workers are falling, and good jobs are being replaced by part-time or temporary work in the service sector. Meanwhile, social services are in decline in all countries. The gap between the wealthy and the poor within countries and among countries is rapidly increasing. And globalization accelerates the problem both by separating peoples from their traditional livelihoods and by creating this downward wage spiral. This includes third-world countries where low wages comprise the only so-called comparative advantage. If they don’t keep wages down, there might be no jobs for them at all.

“What is improving is the power of the largest corporations and the wealthiest people. The world’s 358 billionaires are collectively worth the combined income of the bottom 45 percent of humanity. Of the largest 100 economies of the world, 50 are now corporations. Mitsubishi is the 22nd largest economy in the world. General Motors is 26th. Ford is 31st. All are larger than Denmark, Thailand, Turkey, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Finland, Malaysia, Chile, New Zealand. So much for the rising tide that lifts all boats. Actually, it mainly lifts yachts.”

Mander decries the lack of coverage in the media of the problems caused by globalization. Nor does the media connect to globalization the problems it does report, such as wars over oil, ozone depletion, ocean pollution, or habitat destruction. Even the current financial crisis in Asia is connected to globalization, Mander says.

“The gigantic ‘bailout’ by the IMF is made to seem like a beneficent act of charity toward these underprivileged, dysfunctional, Asian friends. Rarely is it observed that the money does not go to these countries as much as to the American, European, and Japanese bankers who caused the problem in the first place by stimulating over-expansion and over-specialization in export-oriented, nontraditional economic areas, making bad loans, and who find themselves now in a desperate panic. In effect, it will be taxpayers paying bankers for their horrible mistakes. Bankers are being rescued, not countries.” Another negative Mander points out is the currency speculators who can “move unimaginably huge amounts of money instantaneously and invisibly from one part of the world to another by a mere touch of a key, destabilizing countries and currencies, forcing nations to seek the radical solutions of an IMF bailout. John Cavana calls it a ‘casino economy’ when countries cannot control the rapid entry and exit of speculators.”

Globalization also causes an immigration crisis, Mander says, as people flee across borders searching for jobs, only to be met with xenophobia, violence, and demagoguery. NAFTA, he says, “was a terrible blow to the remaining self-sufficient corn farming economy of Mexico’s Mayan peoples, making native land suddenly vulnerable to corporate buyouts and foreign competition. Meanwhile, in India, Africa, and South America, the mega-development schemes displaced millions of indigenous people and small farmers to make way for gigantic dams. The result is that more people join the landless, jobless, urban mass.”

Mander also notes that in the media “rarely is the connection drawn between hunger in the world and the increasing control of the world food and production supply by gigantic corporations like Cargill. They effectively determine where food will grow and how it will grow and by whom and what ultimate price consumers will pay.”

Computers also play a role in economic globalization, Mander observes. “To use terms like ‘empowerment’ to summarize the effects of computers is, I’m afraid, to badly misunderstand what power is about in a real political and economic context. Computers may help people feel powerful or competent and surely they are useful in many ways, but they do nothing to balance the corporate centralization of power via these very same instruments. Quite the opposite. In my view, computer technology may be the single most centralizing technology ever invented. For while we sit at our PCs, editing our copy, sending our e-mail, transnational corporations are using their global networks 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with far greater resources. Their faster and better machines are spread out everywhere on the planet at a scale and a speed that makes our level of empowerment pathetic by comparison. In fact, the giant transnational corporations of today and the whole global economy simply could not exist without the global computer networks to keep those thousands of enterprises in touch and all of their billions of parts moving in the same direction.

“When they push their buttons on their computers, they’re not just sending letters and information to their people. Their messages result in hundreds of billions of dollars in resources being transferred from banks in Geneva to Delhi or Sarawak, with concrete results. Forests get cut down, dams get built. So truly what kind of revolution is the computer revolution? Why do we fail to see who the big winner is? For despite their usefulness to all of us, and I certainly acknowledge that, the electronic revolution has far more to offer the corporations and multi-national enterprises than they ever will to you and me.”

In concluding his talk, Mander advised: “Advocates continue to speak of globalization as if it was inevitable, like a force of nature, like evolution or gravity. And they call it ‘utopianism’ to oppose it. This ‘inevitability factor’ has had until now the desired effect, which is to get most people to not even think about it or oppose it and instead to simply try and find some kind of survival niche within it. But this issue of inevitability needs to be challenged.”

Acceptance, Mander said, produces passivity. “But if we decided, within the remnants of our democratic society, that we would rather not proceed in this direction, it becomes less inevitable than it was the minute before. Options begin to appear. That is step one. Step two is: Never let anyone get away with saying that globalization is somehow a natural process. It is a system thought up by human beings, an experiment, a creation of corporate people and economists that benefits them but destroys communities and democracy. It has structures, ruling bodies, political and economic powers. These can all be changed if we get our heads out of the inevitability box.”

For step three, getting something done, Mander cited the example of Canada, where MAI is widely discussed. He urges concerned citizens in the U.S. to put forth the same kind of effort by contacting newspapers and government officials at all levels. Mander is convinced that once county supervisors and city councils understand that MAI is not only a potential disaster at state and national levels but at the local level as well, they will join the debate.

For an analysis of MAI
see the Western Governors’ Association report

Websites in opposition to MAI: (Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen Global Trade Watch) (Boston Area MAI Action Groups)

Websites in support of MAI: (World Trade Organization) (Organization for Economic Community Development)

Reprinted from TIMELINE, a bimonthly newsletter of
Foundation for Global Community,
222 High St., Palo Alto, CA 94301-1097. Subscription: $10 per year.
Phone: (650) 328-7756
Fax: (650) 328-7785

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