What is Globalization?
We hear the word ‘globalization’ everywhere these days.
So what does it actually mean?
Well, according to one dictionary definition, to globalize is to “make global or worldwide in scope or application.”
But the above definition is a verb, and to evaluate a verb on its own is logically impossible.
To state the obvious, how can I make a statement like ‘to eat is bad’ or ‘to write is good’? Surely eating some things may be good, eating others might be bad. There is crucial information missing which we would need to know in order to make our analysis: in this case, what is being eaten.
Similarly, to evaluate what the media calls ‘globalization’, we would also need to know some missing information: we would need to know what is being globalized in this process.
So, we can ask ourselves what is being made “worldwide in scope or application” when the WTO, the media, governments, and other actors refer to ‘globalization’?
Well, it turns out they are referring to a very specific concept.
When an organization like the WTO uses the word ‘globalization’, the thing that is being ‘globalized’ in the process is the main priority of corporations: meaning, essentially, their short term profits. In effect, their ‘globalization’ means to spread worldwide the logic of making short term profit, regardless of the social and environmental consequences and the effects on future generations.
In practical terms, this means taking action to ensure that corporations can operate in more and more countries and more and more continents, with less and less restrictions on their activities by such things as laws, standards, or even government spending.
So ‘globalization’ is not a phenomenon, it is not some new era of history, or even a very complicated concept, as much of the propaganda around it would suggest.
The term actually refers to just one, very specific variety of international economic integration, based on the virtually unrestricted maximizing of short term profits for multinational corporations.
For opponents of the ‘corporate globalization’ heralded by groups like the WTO, the core of the argument is that this sort of international integration would end up creating a world based on corporate greed rather than human needs, and a world where such concepts as democracy, sustainability, culture, or anyone’s human rights are not considered priorities.
And what exactly is the WTO?
The World Trade Organization, or WTO, is one of the main engines driving this corporate globalization. It is an international organization of 146 member countries. It acts as a forum for negotiating international trade agreements and the monitoring and regulating body for enforcing agreements.
According to Greenpeace it is “one of the most powerful institutions in the world.” Yet few of us would be able to say what it is and what it actually does.
The WTO was created in 1995. Prior its creation, it was the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) that focused on “promoting world trade” by pressuring governments around the world to reduce tariffs.
But with the creation of the WTO, the corporate agenda was significantly strengthened. Aside from removing tariffs, the WTO could also pressure countries to remove so-called “non-tariff barriers to trade”— governments could effectively be pressured to change almost any national or local legislation that might be seen as ‘impacting trade’.
The basic idea is simple:
Instead of only forcing vulnerable third world countries to have low wages and high pollution (because their governments cannot stand up to, or have been bought off by, richer and more powerful corporate interests), why not weaken all governments and agencies that might defend workers, consumers, or the environment. Not only in the third world, but everywhere?
Why not remove any efforts to limit profits because of their negative effects on labor, health, ecology, society or culture, or even development?
Why don’t we only consider as our sole criteria for making decisions, the fact whether there are immediate, short term profits to be made or not?
This in a nutshell is the logic practiced by the WTO.
If national or local laws of one WTO member are seen as a “barrier to trade” by others—for example, because they take into account environmental considerations, health considerations, or minimum labor standards—the WTO acts as a judge. Its verdicts are not only entirely predictable and pro-corporate, the verdict is also binding. Countries can face sanctions and punishments if they do not follow the rulings.
如果世貿組織成員國中的其中一個國家或地方法律被指控對國際貿易造成限制 ﹣例如，該被指控的國家因考慮環境、健康或基本勞工標準而訂立的法例 ﹣世貿組織會擔當法官對爭端作出裁判。它的判決不單完全可以預計和傾向偏向於企業利益，同時亦具約束力。若成員國不服從判決，將會受到世貿的貿易制裁和懲罰。
The WTO, then, overrules governments and populations on behalf of corporate profits. We can see just from this short explanation why it is seen by many as so powerful and dangerous.
Why do we see the WTO as a vehicle to advance corporate profit-seeking logic?
When we address a question like this, the logical thing would be to consider the WTO’s history to date.
On doing this, we can see that In every case that has been brought to the WTO challenging environmental or public safety legislation on behalf of corporations, the corporations have won.
When foreign commercial shrimp fishing interests challenged the protection of giant sea turtles in our endangered species act, the turtles didn’t stand a chance.
When it was Venezuelan oil interests versus the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality standards for imported gasoline, the oil interests won.
When it was U.S. cattle producers against the European Union’s ban on hormone-treated beef, European consumers lost.
When it was Thai citizens against the global tobacco giants, the cigarette companies won.
The list goes on.
But shouldn’t we favor the regulation of international trade?
Sure, but not the type of regulation proposed by the WTO. The WTO is about protecting corporate ownership and monopoly over the patenting of plants, processes, seed varieties, drugs, software, and all capital, fostering its exchanges of goods despite any ill effects, and breaking down any protections of labor, the environment, health and safety, that might limit corporate profit making.
Why are people ‘anti-globalization’? This sort of attitude is narrow-minded, old-fashioned, and dangerous!
Many times, the media has used the term “anti-globalization” to refer to those opposed to the WTO. This makes it easier for WTO supporters to claim that those who oppose the WTO are just nationalists, or protectionists, or racists because they oppose the ‘phenomena’ of ‘globalization’ and the so-called ‘global village’.
This is an example of just how dangerous it is to evaluate something without correctly defining it.
Once again, how can we be opposed to the act of ‘globalizing’ in itself? We would need to know what is being globalized in order to assess properly.
And since we have clarified above what the WTO means by ‘globalization’, it should be easy to refute the above argument. We may not be opposed to globalizing many positive things: people, ideas, cultures, music, art, even economies can come together across borders in many desirable and inspiring ways. But we are definitely opposed to corporate globalization and the very specific agenda of institutions like the WTO.
That said, there is no denying that it may be possible for some people to oppose the WTO out of narrow self-interest—to say, in essence, my country should be able to do as it prefers, I don’t care about what happens in other countries.
But the view of the movements against the WTO should be more comprehensive: that social, labor, ecology, cultural, and other concerns should have priority over profit-making everywhere, not solely in one’s own neighborhood or country.
The real debate between WTO supporters and their critics is not about protectionism or nationalism, therefore, but about who will be protected from the ravages of unrestrained competition. The WTO does not care about guarding those who labor or protecting the environment, or long-term development, or fostering cultural sustainability or diversity.
By globalizing corporate logic, the majority of people everywhere will actually lose from expanding trade.
But surely it would be more productive to join the WTO and work together to change their attitude and amend some of the rules?
Practically speaking, this would seem to be impossible. Aside from being extremely powerful, the WTO is also an undemocratic institution. Therefore its decision making power is unaccountable to working people, communities, and even most governments in the world.
Having said this, there are different levels of criticism. Some groups, including much of the mainstream labor movement, essentially argue for a better form of WTO-led globalization. Their view is that using large protests and strategic involvement with the WTO is a good way to pressure the organization and could serve to hold it accountable, thereby positively influencing the decisions it makes. They believe that by inserting core labor rights, environmental protections, and “social responsibility” standards into the WTO’s mandate and practice, it could be reformed.
Many other critics, however, do not agree with simply putting pressuring an institution that is illegitimate and unaccountable to ordinary people. These critics also argue that such tactics may perhaps result in a few short term concessions, they are illogical in the long term- institutions such as the WTO, they say, have a very specific and destructive agenda that will end up hurting us all. And they have no reason to voluntarily give up or dilute this agenda in any effective sense.
Criticism of the latter sort instead questions the WTO’s very existence, and critics do not see the sense in having so much power concentrated in this type of an institution. They say, in essence, that the institution and the economic system it represents as being fundamentally flawed. Though there are many strands of this latter sort of criticism, the general attitude is that people should oppose the power and resist the project of the WTO and work together to create more representative organizations and institutions, in the hope of working for a fairer, more sustainable, more democratic set of economic relations in the world, for the benefit of all people.
Overall, different points of view and strategies certainly exist. But the danger of a world that values only short-term profits for a few elites is an analysis shared by most people.
OK, I agree that addressing these issues is important.
But how can I challenge powerful and unaccountable institutions like the WTO? How can I change the global economy?
The same way people and communities can change anything. The same we can win a pay raise, or fight an eviction, or even stop dangerous legislation like Article 23—by getting together with our neighbours and working as a group.
We could begin by remembering the following, important point, explained well by the US writer Noam Chomsky:
我們以回憶美國作家 Noam Chomsky曾提到的一個重點，作為開始：
“Nobody should be misled by the idea that there is a thing, ‘globalization’, which somehow is inevitable. There are various different kinds of international integration. They have taken various different forms over the years, they can take new forms tomorrow. They are be good, maybe bad: we can measure that in terms of their outcomes. But in principle there’s no reason whatsoever why populations can’t make these decisions.”
Logically put, in order to be effective, people’s groups and associations should work to raise the costs in areas that policy makers care about, so that they feel they must listen or the costs will climb even higher.
What do elites care about even more than they care about these international agencies? Not much, it’s true, but one thing is the overall stability of their money and their power.
So, pursuing WTO agendas is something corporate and political elites want to do, there is no denying that. On the other hand, if doing so polarizes populations into forming movements that threaten not only these policies but even threaten the underlying logic of profit-making and governing, that is too high a price to pay. They do not want to awaken the “sleeping giant” of the populations that they govern and exploit.
How can people like you and me raise costs in such a way? Well, we can begin by educating our friends and neighbours and anyone else about the WTO and other global financial institutions, and by channeling the resulting anger and aspirations into social movements that challenge corporate globalization and local governments’ idea that everything is fine, that it is ‘business as usual’.
What will make these movements most effective is if they make it clear to elites that they:
will grow continuously
become steadily more active
diversify in focus from the WTO to international trade more broadly, to international relations, and finally to domestic economic policies and arrangements as well