ASEM4People Conference, Copenhagen, 19 September 2002
Johan Galtung, Director TRANSCEND: A Peace and Development Network
We are meeting under the signs of globalization, in principle a process whereby all genders, generations (also future), races, classes, nations and countries and regions pull together and cooperate, in a participatory and equitable way, to produce a world with better livelihood for all. In Europe, Asia, all over.
The problem is that no such project exists in the world of today. We have a male-middleaged-white-upper class-Western project particularly from the OECD countries, and then even more particularly from the USA, running the world. A more descriptive term than "globalization" would be "Americanization"; a somewhat more generous term would be "Westernization". But even those terms only locate the process nationally/geographically; they do not touch the other dimensions, of gender/generation/race/class. The whole process is dominated by a small group of people, in a small group of countries, using the term "globalization" as a cover-up. Uncritical use of the term a part of that cover-up.
Nor is there any neo-liberalism. Liberalism connotes liber, free, freedom, freedom of choice. That choice, of course, will include choice of economic system. But what happens in the world is the promotion of only one of the many economic systems: the free, meaning unfettered, unregulated by anything, market system. There is no denial that this system offers an enormous range of choice for those with the purchasing power to enter the market. And never in history have so many had that access.
But never in history have so many been excluded in a world economy where the 20/20 gap in purchasing power is increasing 3.10% annually, while the world economic growth is only 2.8%. Increasing misery at the bottom, and at the very bottom: death.
We live in a world where half of humanity has less than $2 per day, 1.7 billion people have less than $1, and 100,000 die every day because they cannot buy the minimum needed for survival. And there is no alternative. To refer to this in the rarefied air of the academe as "neo-liberal", mindless of how "the other half" lives, insults not only that half, but also the superb English philosophers behind the idea of liberalism. But that cynical neglect of life at the bottom of a killing economy is not the only reason to prefer the term "neo-fascism" to "neo-liberalism". In the real world globalization is run by an axis World Bank-IMF-WTO these days. But to that has to be added a US State Department-Pentagon-CIA solid political and military power axis, to enforce that single economic system all over the world. Supporting "free market"-oriented parties till they win the elections (Bulgaria); bombing state, not private factories (Serbia); using NATO forces to conquer and privatize (to foreign capital) state mines (Trebca in Kosovo),promising enough aid to overcome the problems of excessive rain and land-slides if they change the system (North Korea)--all of this goes far beyond the presumed automatism of the free market. And to that add the keynesian use of the military economic sector as force motrice.
This is the use of political/military force for political ends, killing human beings and letting them be killed by a cruel structure for political purposes. That is called "fascism"; not the fascism that springs from faith in a superior race or a nation with a strong state, but a fascism that flows from the faith in an economic system to end all systems and run the world. Hence "neo-fascism". like in neo-liberalism. Or "geo-fascism", democratic on the inside, fascist on the outside;like UK colonialism used to be.
There is also much talk about "democracy" these days. Under globalization this means world rule, with the rulers ruling with the consent of the ruled, according to generally accepted rules. A world system against the will of the majority is undemocratic. But if the key system actors are World Bank/IMF/WTO backed by State Department/Pentagon/CIA, then the problem of their democratization arises. Of these six actors three are major intergovernmental organizations in the field of banking, financing and trade; and three are the fists of "the only superpower", not even controlled by US voters, let alone by a world electorate. On the other hand, if the USA is "a global nation with global interests" (former head of the JCS John Shilakasvhili) then the key to democratization would be a world electorate participating in US elections. But that project is evidently not on; nor for the three global economic actors run by a priesthood of "economists".
A market is an expression of zillions buyer-seller deals; in the market, not of, about the market. In principle all the three could develop NGO fora for the governmental meetings, and inside the buildings rather than on the streets outside fighting the police in encounters reminiscent of the Bastille day. Those fora could then gradually become more representative, even based on direct elections (not on selected parliamentarians). They could learn from the UN, and chances are that they would need less police to protect their secluded, non-dialogical "politicians".
But the USA is dead against any such development. The market forces should not be tampered with, as if the market is an articulation of transhuman, divine will, properly understood only by neo-classical/liberal economist priests. And only in their language, the modern Latin, mathematics.
Such arguments reveal severe deficits in the understanding of democracy. The essence of democracy is linked to the concept of decision-making, and amounts to this: anybody affected should have a say. But decision-makers have always jealously protected their decision-making monopolies, with arguments ranging from the incompetence of common people, to the delicate nature of the market and security negotiations behind their closed doors.
Few decisions affect so many so deeply as those of the major economic organizations. Opaque to the public eye, inaccessible to articulations of the volonté générale, they are not only authoritarian, but totalitarian. That they fit into what has been referred to as "neo-fascism" above is obvious. It does not help that governmental delegations may pretend to be accountable to national assemblies at home. The system does not work the democratic way at the national level either, domestically by the logic of state more than capital divinity.
This system of self-proclaimed "globalization" is too absurd to stand the test of time. In a Sarkar cycle with power running Military-Intellectuals-Merchants-People-Military we are now in the Age of the Merchant. The Age of the Military was the Second world war-Cold War and of the Intellectuals the 1970s till Thatcher-Reagan identified a merchant wave on which they could ride. Widespread revolts point to an Age of the People, of types the two iron fists cannot handle, soon dwarfing the November 30 and April 15 demonstrations against WTO and World Bank/IMF. Nonviolently.
But state reactions to such struggles may also easily be highly autocratic military state- centered regimes ushering in a new Sarkar cycle. Revolts against autocracy do not necessarily lead to democracy; they could also lead to a different autocracy.
What we have seen so far can certainly be referred to as globalization from above; economically, militarily, politically, and also culturally. The culture of the West, and particularly of the USA is found all over. The flow of counter-culture from below is minuscule, and mainly limited to music and food. With that extreme top-heaviness small wonder there are reactions, however misguided they may be in the details. Almost all meetings of the World Bank/IMF/WHO have been accompanied by demonstrations, in some of them violence has evidently gotten out of hands.
But that demonstration violence is so triflish relative to decisions by a small number of non-elected government officials! For such monumental decisions affecting so many, more direct links to the world's population are needed. As mentioned, the UN, not the Washington-based caricatures, have managed this much better. The three should learn, like the World Economic Forum, Davos may be learning something from the World Social Forum, Porto Alegre.
In a world (UNDP) where 358 billionaires have more assets than half of humanity, the metaphor "market" as something all-embracing is ridiculous. The billionaires (and others) are not only buying and selling. They also decide products and factor profiles, changing the life of billions of people (like downsizing through automation). They are no only operating in the market, they have power over the parameters of the market.
Globalization means global sharing of the positive and negative externalities, side-effects, of economic growth. Not only the wealth generated but also the side-effects are very unevenly distributed, with most positive side-effects landing high up and the negative side-effects low down. At the feet of the poor. The "science" of economics is blind to side-effects. Unintended?
With increasing disappearance of national markets, and more importantly, local markets; with increasing world-wide disparity and above all increasing displacement of people as ecological, economic, political, military and cultural refugees (1 billion on the move by the year 2030?) with hardened borders around rich countries and security villages for rich people this will all become increasingly visible . With the mobility (out-placing) of entire companies in search of cheap labor, and lower or negative taxes (incentives), state and local revenues will decrease in many countries. Privatization takes this even further, depriving the state of revenue-creating companies. Ever-increasing productivity leads to downsizing (unemployment) or reduction of working hours (contract). If 1.7 billion earn less than $1 per day and 3 billion less than $2 we get oversupply-overproduction relative to demand-consumption (80 million cars chasing 60 million buyers). Ever-increasing top-bottom disparity then leads to more short-term portfolio investment in search of profit on the top, and more basic needs in search of satisfaction at the bottom, in turn leading to underconsumption for basic needs, misery. And death. The IMF functions like physicians with only one medicine: increase company autonomy, of the state (privatization, lower taxes, devaluation), of the workers (labor flexibility, contract work), of the country (repatriation of profit), of the public (no subsidies for basic needs, no taxes on luxury products). Credit is made available to such unscrupulous companies, leading to more disparity, misery, free speculation capital and dependence. The net result is not a "war on poverty", but a war on poor people. The problem to be explained in this sad picture is not that people demonstrate, but that the reactions are not even stronger. Still. As a result of this the crises become self-sustaining. The system will move from one crisis to the other, showing up where the system is weakest, with attention to symptom therapy: preventing crashes on the stock exchanges by building in delays to prevent panics, by bailing out foreign firms. A major crash, with recession and even depression is indeed highly likely. So much for globalization from above; except for a personal remark from this particular author. I love it, from a purely egocentric cost-benefit point of view. I move like a strong fish in globalized waters without any borders. I am globalized and also privatized and do my thing, mediation, education, training and research for peace and development accountable to nobody but to the users of my skills. But I know that billions are not that privileged. And I find the smithian idea, the basis of neo-liberal economics, that one zillion egoisms adds up to altruism, one of the most poisonous lies ever invented by the human mind. In the name of solidarity with humans all over I extend my cost-benefit analysis to humankind, and the disaster becomes visible.
What, then, would globalization from below look like?
The 1990s saw the demise of the Soviet style economic system. Localized traditional systems with production and consumption within the perimeters of the horizon, contradicting the material and mental mobility of the transportation/communication revolution were also badly hit. But maybe historians will argue that this was also the beginning of the end of globalized capitalism? Anyone who can tolerate its consequences without feeling revolt in the heart may be accused of having none. The capitalist system contradicts the basic material needs of the most needy like the Soviet system the spiritual needs for freedom and for identity.
Massive failures call for massive innovation, and massive conflicts call for massive remedies. Here are some crucial possibilities to be included in a globalization from below:
The reinvention of local authorities: a major task of a local authority would be to coordinate production for basic needs on a local basis (or in a confederation of LAs), to see to it that they are met, internalize externalities (side-effects), and reduce pollution due to transportation and other factors, all of this accountable to local democracy;
The reinvention of the state: a major task of the state is to coordinate the production of normal goods on a state basis (or in a confederation of states), to internalize externalities, to reduce pollution and to be a redistributive agent. But this has to be accessible to all, with good quality at affordable prices, efficient/effective, and accountable to national democracy;
The reinvention of the company: companies have to assume ecological and social responsibility, and be rewarded and punished accordingly by their customers. This presupposes accurate information about all major companies to know which companies to punish through boycott. And which companies to prefer, probably not because the side-effects of the production, distribution and consumption of their goods and services are perfect, but because they are better than the average. In imperfect economies.
Nobody will force anyone not to buy from blacklisted companies. Market behavior should be free. But freedom will have to based on relevant information. Nobody in a democratic information society can possibly want to withhold information relevant for informed opinion about anything so important as buying and selling. Company-customer dialogues are badly needed.
The idea, cherished by mainstream economists, that the only relevant information is quality to you as an individual, and the price, also to you as an individual, is sickening in its egocentric limitation. Other types of economists are needed.
The reinvention of civil society: consumer consciousness must lead to collection of data as a basis for the organized preference for, and organized boycott of, companies, as argued above. This means more power to the LAs over the country's finances, a ecentralization, devolution downwards with the LAs deciding over, say, at least 50% of public budgets. They know better where the shoes (plural) are pinching. But the may also engage in localist "municipocentrism" - so don't given them 100%! And strong NGOs, among them the political parties, must be there to supervise the resource allocation from a basic needs angle.
But these are mainly tasks in the field of economics. Then there is the political task of exercising political pressure on the national governments, from below - and of relating to other NGOs in other countries--like the LAs which also will have to internationalize and cooperate--in order to gradually eliminate inter-governmental organizations like the three suspects above.
But they should aim higher than a life as pressure groups and lobbies. The global civil society, LA-rooted, NGO-rooted, is already today in a position to take matters in their own hand rather than waiting for slow, lazy, semi-conscious governments. The general experience is that where the civil society leads the way after thorough work and negotiation, governments will sooner or later follow, if for no other reason not to be left behind. Recent examples--land mine, debt forgiveness and international criminal court treaties--are numerous and compelling.
The reinvention of the media: liberating the media from corporate and state interests, and direct and indirect censorship. The national and world civil societies would be better at running decent media being closer to real people and their real needs, not only "life-styles". Media should make State, Capital and Civil Society, and the elites and people in all three transparent to each other. All of this at the local, national and global levels. A tall bill indeed. A fine challenge for journalists to take on!
The invention of global governance would include massive taxation of speculation, and basic needs guarantees for humankind as global human rights for global citizens. Two ideas dear to the "globalization from above"-discourse, "globalization" itself, and "democracy", combine into global democracy: more than the sum of countries calling themselves democracies regardless of disrespect for people outside their own borders (and often inside, too).
To get there takes some time. But the image will as usual precede reality: a United Nations immensely strengthened by having a UN Peoples Assembly in addition to, and gradually over and above the General Assembly, of course with that feudal institution of veto power for big powers abolished. Democracy is such a good idea that it is worth practicing, at all levels! So, do it!
Like in the European Union and the Indian Union (the Soviet Union might even have survived had they added democracy). And with dialogues between companies and consumers practicing the power of "to buy or not to buy". And with media living up to these tasks.
The civil society will have to be the driving force. European and Asian governments meeting behind closed doors and driven by corporate interests will not do it. People will have to lead the way for anything basic. They always did. They will do so again. But let me add to this some non-economic themes.
The European Union, particularly in its early phase as a six states European Community, and ASEAN, have a very positive achievement to their credit: peace among the member countries. A very troubled part of the world, the Middle East, could learn from this. Five neighbors accommodated Germany after 1945 as a member of a family; how about Syria-Lebanon-(fully recognized) Palestine-Jordan-Egypt doing the same to a peaceful Israel? EU and ASEAN have important experience to share. Material support in building a Middle East Community(MEC) would also be welcome.
Europe-Asia stretches from the Atlantic way into the Pacific. Soon there will be a train running, from Japan, then on a ferry to Pusan in South Korea, then across the terrible divide splitting the Korean nation caused by Japanese colonialism and superpower, mainly US dictate, and through the vastness of Russia into any part of Western Europe. There will also be a southern link through South and West Asia. Make it a peace train with thousands of youth traveling at affordable fares, weaving the world together.
And let us overcome the colonial pattern of taking it for granted that Asian youth has to learn European languages and not vice versa. That train could also be a rolling language laboratory. Let command not only of a foreign language, but of a language from another continent, become a sign of culture!
Human rights: Europeans see them as individual, in a cultural tradition Europeans think is universal; Asians add such collective rights as the right of villages not to be swallowed by expanding cities, of traditional crafts not to be killed by "modernization" and of extended families to be juridical persons. Fascinating themes, as key topics in an evolving dialogue of civilizations.
Put on the internet by M. Reichl 13.01.03