Symposium on Globalization
Hard Questions for the Left*


Joanne Landy

[from New Politics, vol. 8, no. 1 (new series), whole no. 29, Summer 2000]

JOANNE LANDY is a member of the NEW POLITICS Editorial Board.


THE STUNNING PROTESTS IN SEATTLE LAST NOVEMBER and Washington D.C. this spring expressed the growing opposition of environmentalists, trade unionists, and millions of others to a global economy dominated by corporations and unelected, unaccountable trade bureaucrats. The protests inspired progressives to hope that we might be at the beginning of a rebirth of radicalism, both in the United States and on an international scale.

Not so long ago, Margaret Thatcher tried to deflate social movements by telling us that we simply had to accept a world run by giant corporations: "There Is No Alternative," she proclaimed. The global resistance emerging against the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization both in the Third World and in wealthier countries shows that this conservative message is rapidly losing its power. Testimony to the tremendous growth of the opposition movement is that officials of the World Bank are already finding themselves confronted by the threat of major demonstrations if they speak on campuses around the United States (shades of the Vietnam War!), and it looks like every meeting of the international financial institutions, no matter the country in which it is held, will be met by explosive protests as well.

However, the globalization issue raises many crucial questions that the Left has not yet fully thought through, but that we will need to answer as the national and international debate unfolds. It was clear to me as I joined in the spirited protests in Washington, D.C. that it will take time for this new movement to develop its own alternatives to the existing system; in my view, this task is made particularly difficult by the success conservatives have had so far in equating socialism and the public ownership of key economic sectors with the tyranny and inefficiency of Communism.

But with the collapse of Communism, the corporate-capitalist global order stands alone, to be judged on its own merits, and people around the world -- most vocally the young -- are more and more finding that it wreaks unacceptable damage on humanity and the environment. This destruction offers a strong incentive for activists to think through a democratic model of globalization that takes power away from economic and bureaucratic elites and gives it to ordinary people.

In the following symposium, New Politics hopes to stimulate discussion of the kind of alternative globalization the emerging movement stands for, and how to get there. Participants were asked the questions below -- some answering them directly and individually, others weaving their responses into an integrated essay.

This is only the beginning of a critical discussion of positive alternatives to today's realpolitik globalization. We look forward to continuing the discussion in future issues of New Politics.

  1. In Seattle, some Third World governments argued that proposed labor and environmental standards would have the effect of denying their countries needed foreign investment. Are they right? Are there ways to insure public, social investment in poorer countries if they reduce their "comparative advantage" in substandard wages, working conditions, and environmental regulation, and thus lose private investment? Do aid and debt relief offer sufficient answers?

  2. Workers in wealthier countries fear that they are losing jobs to workers in countries with lower wages and labor standards, and will lose further ground as globalization continues. Are these concerns grounded in reality? If so, are there ways to have full employment and high wages in more affluent countries without hindering the economic development of poorer countries? What is the relationship between the economic well- being of workers in wealthier countries and the living standards of workers in the Third World?

  3. Is "protectionism" sometimes justified? By richer countries? Poorer countries?

  4. How can economic growth and development be pursued without further damage to the environment? Can existing environmental damage be reversed in ways that are compatible with economic expansion?

  5. How realistic is it to envision effective international regulation of corporations and investors to ensure protection of labor and the environment? Even if you think it is unrealistic, is it politically useful to demand such regulation as a way to raise consciousness and project a long-term progressive alternative to the status quo? Are there any dangers to making demands on corporate-dominated governments to involve themselves, even in economic support, for Third World countries? Are there ways to raise demands for support to the Third World that avoid those dangers?

  6. Should progressives and the left campaign for the reform of the IMF, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization, or fight for their abolition?

* Thanks to Stephen Shalom and Thomas Harrison for their help with this symposium. return

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Contents of No. 29

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