Globalization: What You Don't Know Can Hurt
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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.”
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
“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:
http://www.citizen.org/gtw (Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen Global Trade Watch)
http://world.std.com/~dadams/MAI (Boston Area MAI Action Groups)
Websites in support of MAI:
http://www.wto.org (World Trade Organization)
http://www.oecd.org (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.
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