Books on globalization

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Wed Mar 14 15:51:30 MST 2001


Village Voice, Week of March 14 - 20, 2001

Global Harming by Rick Perlstein

Views From the South: The Effects of Globalization and the WTO on Third
World Countries
Food First Books and the International Forum on Globalization, 175 pp., $12.95

Five Days That Shook The World
By Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair
Verso, 118 pp., $20

Let's say you're a farmer. That's  not a stretch: According to the  new
book Views From the South:  The Effects of Globalization and  the WTO on
Third World Countries,  three-quarters of humanity earns  its living from
agriculture. You're  South Asian; that's not unlikely,  either. One-fifth
of the world's  population lives on the  subcontinent. Once upon a time you
grew the foods you and your neighbors actually ate, diverse cereal grains,
which kept stomachs comfortably full even if they left your village poor in
cash. Now you have been globalized—pressured to raise commodities for sale
abroad. Integrating the nation into the "global marketplace" was not your
choice—not even your prime minister's choice. It was, simply, an imperative
if India was to receive the International Monetary Fund and World Bank
loans it needs to survive.

Unfortunately you grow soybeans. You are forced to charge much more than
your competitors in America, who sell their beans at $155 a ton; that's
because American farmers get paid outright by the government $193 for every
ton they grow. India could never afford such subsidies. But even if it
could, that would be illegal; international trade rules disallow such
subsidies unless they are already written into national law. And America
has been paying off its farmers in this protectionist manner for over 65
years.

It's enough to make a used-car salesman blush. Or cause a farmer to take
his own life. In the district of Warangal, acreage once devoted to grains
and vegetables has been dug up at the siren song of "white gold"—miracle
hybrid cottonseeds devised in Western laboratories to yield Jack and the
Beanstalk-like bounties. Problem is, they don't turn out to yield all that
much. And they are so vulnerable to pests that chemical use in the district
went from $2.5 million for a typical year in the '80s to $50 million three
years ago. And where once farmers saved their seeds to use over again each
season, now they have to buy them fresh each year from the global "life
science" corporations that own the copyrights. Debt upon debt,
hopelessness, no way out; and in 1998, 500 of Warangal's farmers died by
their own hand. This is what people are talking about when they talk about
the ravages of what those in power prefer to call "globalization."

Views From the South, a splendidly constructed anthology of essays by
leading Third World critics of the World Bank, the International Monetary
Fund, and the World Trade Organization, is a book to break your heart. You
want to cry when you read about the feisty tools the United Nations' poor
majority forged for themselves in the '60s and '70s to achieve record
levels of economic growth, only to see them crushed as "protectionist" by
nations superciliously demanding a "level playing field" for First World
products. Learning how the WTO makes its rules, by a process it prefers to
call "consensus," which better resembles the techniques of a street-side
bunco artist—a sensitive soul might just blubber uncontrollably. "I've
always been on the side of the little guy," says WTO director general
Michael Moore. It's not too much to begin calling the situation by its
proper name: evil. India's exports to Europe are less than half of what
they were before globalization began. Africa's food import bill has doubled.

What, dear reader, to do about it? You're way ahead of me: You've seen
those masses taking to the streets to protest globalization in Seattle,
Prague, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, seen the teargassing and
paramilitaries on TV, read the exemplary coverage in this very
newspaper—all of which give anyone with eyes to see the suspicion that
America is closer to becoming a police state than it ever has been. You
might, then, turn to Five Days That Shook the World, a new book of
reporting on the antiglobalism activism that began in November 1999 at the
WTO meeting in Seattle, in which you'll read about Madeleine Albright
pressuring the mayor of America's most self-consciously liberal city to
declare the equivalent of martial law (Seattle's mayor resisted her request
to allow the federal government to take over the policing altogether); a
civil emergency declared in Detroit (2000 police in riot gear) for a
meeting across the river in Canada; police holding kids against jail walls
by their necks until they turn blue; and police shutting down a
Philadelphia convergence center based on intelligence that it was being run
by "the former Soviet-allied World Federation of Trade Unions." But you
also might put Five Days down in frustration. They say that journalism is
the first draft of history. That doesn't mean that journalists are supposed
to publish their first drafts as history.

It's hard to trust a book that hasn't learned some very basic lessons in
punctuation, doesn't know whether Seattle boasts a "Mayor Shell" or a
"Mayor Schell," offers its sympathy to war-torn "Etitrea"—or boasts of a
strong feminist tinge within the movement even while leaving off the cover
the names of the two people who wrote the book's most riveting chapters,
both of whom happen to be women. (Many of the book's chapters are signed,
though none by Alexander Cockburn, which isn't surprising since Cockburn's
delightfully distinctive writing voice is nowhere to be discerned in its
pages.)

Five Days That Shook the World bears an argument, an important one, and one
worth chewing on with friends: that rather than having forged a triumphant
coalition between unionists, Greens, and passionate young devotees of
"direct action," Seattle and its aftermath were successful only when the
more radical forces of direct action drowned out the enfeebled,
establishment-addled voices of groups like the Sierra Club and the AFL-CIO.
But it's carried on here in sound bites, ad hominems, macho posturing, and,
too often, editorial incoherence. I've never seen a more slapdash book.
There's evil out there. The victims deserve better.

Louis Proyect
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