Soenke Zehle on Sun, 7 Jul 2002 23:35:50 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Stiglitz is not the Answer

Stiglitz is not the Answer
by Soenke Zehle

Joseph Stiglitz, nobel laureate and ex-World Bank economist, has become one
in a series of official dissidents whose criticism of the "Washington
Consensus" of trade-liberalization attracts the attention of the so-called
"anti-globalization movement." With all the credentials of a convert,
Stiglitz has entered the spotlight of mainstream as well as movement media.
The story he tells, however, is yet another variety of the "market failure"
argument. Given proper information and the internalization of whatever we
deem problematic (cost of environmental "remediation", for instance - this
is where market theorists see the role of the public), self-regulation and
self-optimization will run their course. Ah yes, the Global South: let's
open our markets so their restructured, export-oriented economies can
finally sell their products to us. Access for all, if you will.

This vision of self-organization is based on the assumption that markets are
essentially rational. But once you break down the "world market" into its
components, it becomes pretty confusing. Trying to map the constituent
elements of the arms trade, I think of national security, the politics of
military supranationalism (NATO-expansion), the indispensability of
organized crime, corruption, double standards, competition for subsidies
among political reps and their constituencies - no way to extricate the
rational from the irrational. Same with tourism, waste, and any number of

But along with "reformers" like Stiglitz, a great deal of NGOs seek
redemption in "open" institutions, transparency, accountability and have
become major advocates of free trade. They will find it difficult to
extricate themselves from the embrace by ex-WB-Stiglitz, IMF-Köhler, even
the World Economic Forum. Hey, Bono thought they were nice people once he'd
joined them on stage. But then, Greenpeace did pull out at the last minute
because the economic elite wasn't quite ready to commit to new standards of
automotive emissions. You have to draw the line somewhere.

On the other hand, many NGOs have been reluctant to criticize corrupt
ethnocracies in part because that'll sound quite a bit like the discourse of
"good governance" at the heart of G8 paternalism toward Africa. One
consequence has been that their is plenty of homogenization in the
"movement" analyses of "globalization. So the language of Third Worldism and
tricontinental solidarity survived, first the emergence of OPEC and the
Newly Industrializing Countries, then the disintegration of the
Non-Alignment Movement and the inability of the G77 to accomplish anything
substantial to cover up its own heterogeneity, and now seems to go into a
third round at the World Social Forum. Even Negri, who doesn't generally
have a problem with his own generalizing/homogenizing concepts, finds this

In the academy, postcolonialism has become an acceptable conceptual
substitute for Third Worldism. I am not sure if observers of the
geopolitical crisis of "Third Worldism" have found a comparable solution.
But at least someone ought to write a an obituary so we can move on. The
2001 UN World Conference on Racism, Xenopobia, and Related Intolerance would
be a good date, I think. If we accept the 1955 Bandung Conference as the
date of birth, the Third World would have died in her mid-40s, way above the
average life-expectancy in the Global South but still before the mid-life
crisis that has given us the post-political populism of middle-age
parliamentarism. At the end of Bandung, five pages sufficed to give birth to
the political identity of a "Third World" modeled on the Third Estate of the
French Revolution. In Durban, in the country that barely buried apartheid,
almost 200 pages spelled out the global paralysis of identity politics.

But things get too complicated, so maybe the "Third World" is alive and well
after all, at least in the movement imagination. In India, for instance, the
"movement" chooses to focus on the KRRS (known for their spectacular
anti-biotech actions) and Vandana Shiva to make the case against Bio-IPR
etc. - but the KRRS is but one of the major farmers' organizations and
actually the only one to resist green-revolution-type agricultural
modernization. Needless to say, "they" don't want what "we" want. But then
the "people of Seattle" are mostly white and middle-class anyway. They were
taken by surprise, for instance, when a global rift within the movement for
debt cancellation appeared. Maybe it's time to rethink movement agendas from
the color line.

So how do you shift the controversy to a new terrain? What are the terms? Is
it really a matter of sovereignty and self-determination for all, as parts
of the NG0-Declaration at the World Social Forum seem to suggest? That's how
Europe dismantled Yugoslavia, yet another ethnocratic state is about to
emerge from the NATO/EU-protectorate Kosovo. Is it the language of
transnationalism, along with a simultaneous acknowledgement of cultural
diversity? The Golden Arches already rose over the Falafel Burger. Is it the
language of a human rights universalism? Just make sure you're white before
you ask CNN to organize an intervention. And then there were Michael
Chossudovksy, Noam Chomsky, Walden Bello, Susan George who continue to
"expose" the "contradictions" of all the market rhetoric. Well, once again
we are OUTRAGED to hear that capitalism is just that - capitalism.

The glue of anti-neoliberalism will not hold much longer. Not only because
Stiglitz, Köhler, even Tom "Free Trade" Friedman are ready to concede that
the market - as a mechanisms for resource allocation, as a model of
socio-political organization - has its limitations. Also because
neoliberalism is not what it used to be when Reagan was still riding off
into the sunset. Keynes returned to office. The stock market Keynesianism of
drastic interest-rate reductions is alive and well, National Missile Defense
announces a parallel return to military Keynesianism. The level of private
and corporate debt is too high, however, for a rerun of the
reaganomics-cum-speculative-bubble-economy experience, dollar inflation
already looms on the horizon - the Euro/Dollar parity might just be the
first stage. That is to say, transnational capital will not be able to
replace the state, restructuring is on everyone's agenda.

This includes most quarters of resistance, neo-Keynesian recipes all over
the place. The Tobin-Tax is only its most prominent example. Some say it's
because of the dominance of an older leftist expertocracy which continues to
monopolize macroecenomic controversy, so the demand for a renewal of the
regulatory state appears to unite the heterogeneous bunch that moves from
summit to summit. Leftist-Keynesian recipes will make protesters a mere
junior partner in the process of capitalist restructuration. States are
already resorting to Keynesian recipies which serve only to socialize the
tremendous losses of the corporate sector. And you don't need Keynes to
argue your case against the WTO or in favor of debt cancellation, and the
incommensurability of positions within the movement is certain to surface
before too long. 

This is not to rain on anyone's social forum. But maybe we should simply
admit that "globalization" - including theorizations of a global "movement
agenda" - is actually not the best point of departure for that kind of
discussion. I'm just wondering whether the official "critique" is not
already losing some of its steam.

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