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<nettime> Growing Up and Getting Practical Since Seattle
nettime's roving reporter on 26 Sep 2000 15:41:50 -0000


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<nettime> Growing Up and Getting Practical Since Seattle


Growing Up and Getting Practical Since Seattle
http://www.nytimes.com/2000/09/24/weekinreview/24COHE.html

September 24, 2000 MOVEMENT By ROGER COHEN

PRAGUE -- With her Danish mother, her Syrian father, her French passport
and her Oxford education, Annie-Christine Habbard, 31, seems every inch
the global citizen equipped to succeed in a shrinking world. Yet here she
is, chic in black, articulate in several tongues, at the annual meeting of
the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, protesting the state
of the globe. What she wants is more social justice, respect for human
rights, a "counterpower" to high finance and, for good measure, a more
equitable distribution of the spoils from a new Chad-Cameroon oil
pipeline.

 Say "anti-globalization" and stormy images come to mind: ransackers of
McDonald's restaurants in France, smashers of Seattle storefront windows.
The police on every corner here, and the shuttered shops, confirm the
power of such specters, and indeed some protesters say they want a repeat
of Seattle. But the specter of violence can deceive. The deeper reality is
more significant: that of an increasingly sophisticated, intellectually
robust protest movement, mixing idealism with pragmatism, that is fast
playing catch-up with the forces of multinational capital.

 It is time to change icons: replace the angry visage of Jose Bove, the
French farmer recently imprisoned for storming a McDonald's, with the cool
features and articulate aplomb of Ms. Habbard.

 "Ours is a new planetary citizenship, reflecting the fact that decisions
have migrated from state level," Ms. Habbard, the deputy secretary general
of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights, said. "Voting
for national representatives, an old expression of citizenship, achieves
nothing, because they have scant power. We have to be here to fight the
political battles that will ensure globalization does not continue to
accentuate inequities."

 She is not alone. More than 350 citizens' organizations are here
debt-reliefers, save-the-Earthers, human-dignity-firsters, and everything
in between, representing lands from Mauritius to Mexico. Forget right and
left and the stale duels of national politics: the battle of universal
principles against universal capital now unfurls.

 It might be argued that the lines are being drawn in the wrong place. The
$1.2 trillion traded daily on world money markets equals the entire
lending of the World Bank over its 55 years of existence. But all that
fast-moving money has no identifiable face. By contrast, the altar of
market liberalization, privatization and public spending cuts is
identifiable, and the protesters are sure such orthodoxy has run its
course.

 Ms. Habbard is determined to change the world through international
human-rights law where her predecessors deployed Marxist revolution or
flower power. She is intensely pragmatic. She has lawyers behind her,
ready to use the body of international law to compel the World Bank to
avoid loans to any projects that might compromise human rights.
Multinational corporations are more difficult to control, she concedes,
but they are the next target. The Internet links her to other groups like
Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth, with their own batteries of lawyers.
Nothing dreamy here: this fight to shape globalization has all the romance
of a corporate takeover battle.

 Organizations like Attac in France, whose membership has increased in two
years to 26,000, including more than 20 members of Parliament, argue for
taxes on international capital flows, codes of conduct obliging
multinationals to respect human rights and restraints on the activities of
United States pension funds that pursue returns in Europe in ways that cut
back jobs. For Bruno Jetin, a French economist, such measures are
essential to "put equality and human beings back at the center of economic
debate."

 Such ideas have a particular resonance in France, where equality is a
founding principle of the republic and rapid Americanization in recent
years has stirred uneasiness. But everywhere in Europe, where the state's
heavy role in balancing the excesses of the market had been widely
accepted, the triumph of the private sector causes some unease. One
challenge before these Europeans and all the anti-globalists is to make
the case that their concern for equity will not hobble growth in the
developing world, as it sometimes has done on this continent. On the other
hand, the intellectual ammunition of the anti-globalists has also been
reinforced by the spread of poverty in places that include Eastern Europe
a trend that has led James D. Wolfensohn, the World Bank president, to use
some very strong language here.

 "Today you have 20 percent of the world controlling 80 percent of the
gross domestic product," he said. "You've got a $30 trillion economy and
$24 trillion of it in developed countries. The income of the top 20 is 37
times the income of the bottom 20, and it has doubled in the last decade.
These inequities cannot exist. So if you are looking for systemic
breakdown, I believe you have to think today in terms of social
breakdown."

 Dramatic words. But another side to the story clearly exists. Open
markets and free trade have slashed poverty in East Asia, and a few
countries in Africa have also begun to respond to this recipe of economic
opening. As Daniel Bachman, chief economist at The Globalist.com, an
online magazine, pointed out: "Globalization can also improve conditions
by forcing a race to the top." In states like Argentina, the dismantling
of local oligarchies caused by open markets has had a tremendous
liberating effect. In a place like Haiti, subsistence wages may be
undignified, but they are better than starvation.

 Globalization can also be a very fertile process. Much has been made of
the Americanization of the world, but cultural currents are more mixed
than that, and the United States has also been Europeanized, from its
coffee to its eating habits. In some areas, such as data privacy, stricter
European standards seem likely to prevail, to Ameridcans' benefit.

 Yet the president of the World Bank warns of a social breakdown because
of the very global economic system he is deemed to personify. So there is
clearly a problem, and a growing one. Its nature is economic and
political. Some basic statistics are not encouraging about 1.2 billion
people still living on less than $1 a day, another 1.3 billion people on
$2 and the diverse protests stirred by such numbers are now so vigorous
that dialogue and compromise have become essential.

 "If we do not succeed in making clear to citizens that globalization is
to their benefit, we run a big political risk," said Caio Koch-Weser, a
senior German economic official. "There's a feeling in the population that
nobody's in charge. People are afraid of losing jobs to the whims of
multinationals. We need to bring Wall Street to Main Street."

 This sharpening of official concern reflects the fact that a decade of
globalization has allowed a keener dissection of its characteristics. The
wild denunciations of the inhuman scourge of rampaging global capital in
the French author Viviane Forrestier's immensely popular "The Economic
Horror" (one million copies sold worldwide, but unpublished in the United
States), have given way to subtler analysis. Often this has concentrated
on the way a global economy can prompt a "race to the bottom," as the
cheapest labor and lowest taxes are relentlessly sought out. The net
effect has been described by the German sociologist Ernest Beck as "the
Brazilianization of the West"  the progressive recourse to uninsured,
temporary workers and the slow dismantlement of the welfare state.

 John D. Clark, a development specialist on leave from the World Bank, has
argued that globalization was always a highly selective thing. Advocates
of free trade really wanted only an unrestrained market for capital. The
result has been to maximize returns on capital, while minimizing returns
to labor. "The world over, gaps between rich and poor have widened as
richer populations and countries raced ahead of poorer," Mr. Clark wrote
recently.

 Many economists dispute that view. But officials seem convinced that
beyond debt relief, an enormous effort must now be made to give more
people the basic tools to benefit from a global economy: education,
lifetime training, access to technology, encouragement for the stock
ownership that alone will spread America's brand of popular capitalism, in
which even blue-collar workers benefit from investing. Without such
measures, the distorting effects of the wild premium placed by modern
markets on talent and technology seem likely to grow, miring a third of
humanity in abject poverty.

 The other new priority seems to be dialogue. Mr. Wolfensohn spent time
Friday with non-governmental organizations including the Bolivian
Episcopal Conference, the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society of the
Kyrgyz Republic, and a representative of something called World Vision
from Uganda. Questions ranged from corruption to control of multinationals
to that Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline. The meeting, in such a setting,
amounted to a first. But the evolution is natural enough: world politics,
however cumbersome, for a global economy.




 

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