Squeezing the Poor

John Cox hazel_motes52 at hotmail.com
Thu Apr 25 08:58:32 MDT 2002


---------- Forwarded message ----------

from www.commondreams.org

Published on Monday, April 22, 2002 in the Toronto Star
Squeezing the Poor
Maybe Castro's Right. Maybe That's All Globalization Really Is About.

by William E. Rees

ON APRIL 12, the Council of Canadians released a leaked copy of the G8
environment ministers' proposed final statement on the World Summit on
Sustainable Development (WSSD) to be held in Johannesburg in
August. Not surprisingly, the environment ministers from the eight
leading industrialized countries will again support the corporate
trade agenda of the WTO, this time by linking globalization to the
ever-elusive concept of "sustainable development."

As the leaked document proclaims, "(the WSSD) should be a point of
convergence for the positive outcomes achieved at the Millennium
Summit in New York, World Trade Organization negotiations in Doha and
(the) Financing for Development Conference in Monterrey."

But the G8 Ministers can hardly view all the outcomes of these
meetings as positive.

For example, Cuban President Fidel Castro informed the U.N.'s March,
2002 conference in Monterrey, Mexico that "the existing world economic
order constitutes a system of plundering and exploitation like no
other in history" not exactly a ringing endorsement of
globalization-as-sustainable-development. He then stormed from the
meeting, lingering barely long enough to enjoy a standing ovation.

It would be easy enough to dismiss Castro's antics as just another
loser's rant.

But what about that standing ovation? Castro's words must have
resonated with some of the delegates. The fact is, there is more than
a little evidence that Castro had a point. The real question is, why
has most of the developed world ignored that evidence for so long?

One answer is that over the past 25 years, the governments of market
democracies, abetted by the mainstream media, have all but programmed
their citizens to ignore it.

Today we scarcely acknowledge disconcerting trends in international
development until some horrific event knocks us on the head think
9/11. So-called "modern" or "rational" society remains as
self-delusory and myth-bound as any that has preceded it.

Now mass delusion is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, cultural
myths are the necessary glue for social cohesion and national
unity. But there is a darker side in which social delusions amount to
little more than deep denial in the service of evil. (Remember the
Holocaust?)

As writer Derrick Jensen has observed, "For us to maintain our way of
living, we must...tell lies to each other, and especially to
ourselves...The lies act as barriers to truth. The barriers...are
necessary because without them many deplorable acts would become
impossibilities."

In recent years the governing elites of the market democracies have
persuaded or cajoled virtually the entire world to adopt a common myth
of uncommon power. All major national governments and mainstream
international agencies are united in a vision of global development
and poverty alleviation centered on unlimited economic expansion
fueled by open markets and more liberalized trade.

For the first time, the world seems to be converging on a common
development ideology, one that promises ever-increasing wealth for
everyone, everywhere.

The downside is that constant repetition of the myth has so
conditioned the population that the majority seems incapable of
applying basic rules of evidence to the growing cascade of data that
refute it.

Instead, we deflect uncomfortable truths by telling reassuring lies to
each other; we dismiss open-eyed globalization protesters as
dangerous, uninformed rabble "who must be crushed." Meanwhile, living
the myth is depleting the world's ecosystems, rending our social
fabric and ultimately undermining world security.

Part of the problem is that the great ship "Globalization" has lost
its theoretical keel. The assumed benefits of a fair and efficient
global marketplace depend on key assumptions of the theory of "general
competitive equilibrium."

However, as British economist, Prof. Paul Ormerod documents, there are
"...so many violations of the conditions under which competitive
equilibrium exists that it is hard to see why the concept survives,
except for the vested interests of the economics profession and the
link between prevailing political ideology and the conclusions which
the theory of general equilibrium provides."

Fellow economist James K. Galbraith of the University of Texas is
similarly disenchanted with neo-liberal theory. According to him, the
empirical evidence "flatly contradicts" the major premises and
findings of economic analysis. Galbraith takes this disconnect from
reality as evidence of a "...nearly complete collapse of the
prevailing economic theory...It is a collapse so complete, so
pervasive, that the profession can only deny it by refusing to discuss
theoretical questions in the first place."

In these circumstances, we should hardly be surprised that the new
world economic order is not delivering the promised goods even on its
own terms.

Third World poverty reduction is ostensibly the major goal. However,
the structure of the real-world global financial system ensures that
the benefits of global growth accrue mainly to the already wealthy,
those who designed and promote the globalization agenda (and who
mostly live in the G8 nations).

Many debtor nations are forced under World Bank-International Monetary
Fund structural adjustment programs to spend more of their income
servicing debts to the world's richest nations than providing social
services to their own impoverished citizens.

And to raise the money they often have no choice but to plunder their
natural resources.

Market-based development can thus do real harm to entire peoples and
to the ecosystems that support us all. Globalization protesters know
this, and many development analysts know this.

But in 1999, when Joseph Stiglitz, then Chief Economist of the World
Bank (and a Nobel Laureate) admitted to the problem, the myth
prevailed. Stiglitz was noisily fired for breaking with WB/IMF
ideology.

The data, however, cannot be so readily dismissed.

In the 1960s "only" three dollars flowed North for every dollar
flowing South; by the late 1990s, after 30 years of unprecedented
growth and increasing globalization, the ratio had grown to seven to
one.

In 1970 the richest 10 per cent of the world's citizens earned 19
times as much as the poorest 10 per cent. By 1997, this ratio had
increased to 27:1 and the wealthiest 1 per cent of the world's people
commanded the same income as the poorest 57 per cent. Just 25 million
rich Americans (0.4 per cent of the world's people) had a combined
income greater than that of the poorest 2 billion of the world's
people (43 per cent of the total population). As I said, Castro had a
point.

All of which raises a final question: Is it possible that the
conventional myth merely serves as cover for a hidden parallel agenda?

Contemplate the counsel of U.S. presidential policy adviser, George
F. Kennan, whose views in 1948 seem coldly resonant today: "We have
about 50 per cent of the world's wealth, but only 6 per cent of its
population...In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of
envy and resentment. Our real task is to maintain this position of
disparity without detriment to our national security. To do so, we
will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming.

"We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as
human rights, the raising of living standards, and
democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to
deal in straight power concepts. The less we are hampered by
idealistic slogans, the better...."

Kennan's words are unambiguous and provide a more revealing context
for recent world history than anything the prevailing popular myth has
to offer.

Perhaps we should keep this in mind as Canada prepares to host the G8
meeting in Kananaskis in June. Perhaps this time, instead of merely
bashing the protesters, the media should give equal time to what they
have to say.

William E. Rees is a professor at the University of British Columbia
School of Community and Regional Planning.

Copyright 1996-2002. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

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