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Globalization and Its Discontents

Winners and Losers in the New World Order

FUTURE PERFECT: The Challenge and the Hidden Promise of Globalization, By John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. Crown: 386 pp., $27.50

MOLLIE'S JOB: A Story of Life and Work on the Global Assembly Line, By William M. Adler.Scribner: 352 pp., $27.50

THE SELLING OF 'FREE TRADE': NAFTA, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy, By John R. MacArthur. Hill & Wang: 368 pp., $25

BEYOND GLOBALIZATION: Shaping a Sustainable Economy, By Hazel Henderson. Kumarion Press: 96 pp., $10.95

FIELD GUIDE TO THE GLOBAL ECONOMY, By Sarah Anderson and John Cavanagh with Thea Lee. The New Press: 146 pp., $16.95

FUTURE POSITIVE: International Cooperation in the 21st Century, By Michael Edwards. Earthscan Publications. 304 pp., $29.95

OPEN SOCIETY: The Crisis of Global Capitalism Reconsidered, By George Soros. Public Affairs: 320 pp., $26

GLOBAL TRANSFORMATIONS: Politics, Economics and Culture, By David Held, Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt and Jonathan Perraton. Stanford University Press: 540 pp., $29.95

August 13, 2000|BENJAMIN R. BARBER | Benjamin R. Barber is Whitman professor of political science at Rutgers University and the author of, most recently, "Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Reshaping the World" and "A Place For Us: How to Make Society Civil and Democracy Strong."


Globalization has gone from the corporate suites to the nation's streets: in Seattle, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and this week in Los Angeles, demonstrators are protesting it, while politicians inside the convention halls are embracing it. Its proponents insist globalization is an ineluctable consequence of the information economy in an age of economic interdependence and creates and distributes wealth in ways that will ultimately benefit people throughout the world.

Adversaries counter that globalization is capitalism run amok, operating outside every conceivable regulatory frame, a human disaster for people's jobs, communities and lives in the First World no less than in the Third. First World union members, citizens of the multiplying cities and towns that have watched jobs and then whole industries migrate abroad, underpaid teens slaving in Third World apparel plants and a great many ordinary citizens unable to see how they are benefited by multinational corporate mergers and international currency speculators will embrace the second claim. A great many politicians, most business people and the zany tribe of economists (save a few prominent dissenters) in the First and Third worlds will embrace the first claim.

What makes the dilemmas of globalization so perplexing is that both claims are at least to a degree true. Nor should this really be so surprising. Karl Marx noted long ago that capitalism was a dialectical system that could both harness unprecedented productive forces and produce even greater inequalities and injustices: untold wealth but untold oppression, greater productivity but diminished stability, economic progress but political tyranny, long-term growth but short-term revolution. Why should global capitalism, which permits the market to regress to an early 19th century kind of pre-civilized social Darwinist anarchy, be any different?

The headlines over the last six months have shown clearly enough how the globalization of the economy in the absence of any parallel internationalization of controlling democratic institutions can generate exuberance among its beneficiaries (the China vote) and anger and resistance, as well as a certain obdurate know-nothingism, among its victims. In the First World, where globalization has revolutionized markets and endangered the traditional job economy (work is portable, workers embedded in real families and communities and nations are not), it has jeopardized the old economy and all those dependent on it; and in the Third World, where it has made entry into the global economy dependent on the exploitation of women and children and the endangering of safety and environmental standards, it has jeopardized development.

Understandably, those appalled by global capitalism's human costs have demonized its supporters and called for an end to it in the name of rights, protectionism or even anarchy. The street resistance by unions, environmentalists, protectionists and anarchists in Seattle in November, 1999, in Washington in April, in London in May and in Philadelphia in July, though colorfully many-hued, was dominated by Stop Globalization! rhetoric.

Nevertheless, trends rooted in the nature of the new telecommunication technologies, the interdependence of the information economy, the realities of ecological and biogenetic commonalty and the porous vulnerability of national boundaries in the face of capital flows cannot be arrested. History cannot be annulled.

Moreover, depending upon where you stand, resistance to globalization can itself appear as a reactionary rather than a progressive stance--a kind of stealth xenophobia by which First World countries use "progressive" values like opposition to child labor and environmental and safety abuses to raise labor costs in the Third World and thus attract jobs back to their own countries. Far from backing the Seattle demonstrators, the foreign ministers of India and Nigeria seemed nearly paranoid in their conviction that the demonstrators were actually doing the dirty work of First World governments, cloaking raw self-interest in high moralism. They understood there were two sides to Marx's equation and that to abjure the costs of economic development by remaining mired in poverty was not an acceptable "progressive solution" to the problem of how to deal with its ecological and human rights costs. Environmentally safe workplaces are, after all, expensive, raising the costs of the goods produced and making them less competitive in the First World; factories that refuse to utilize cheap child labor also increase costs, making First World goods more attractive. And besides, the 12-year-old girls working for too little in Third World apparel factories would be working for even less, and probably as prostitutes, if they didn't have these jobs.

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