Globalization — more than meets the eye

In academic circles, the current vogue word used to describe the world is the infuriatingly fuzzy “globalization.”

And if you’re not sure you know what this word means, you should get to know it.

For those of you who might be unsure as to what the process of globalization actually is, I thought writing a quick primer might help you on your way.

Before we start, it is worth noting that globalization, as a term, has taken over for another misused and infinitely flexible term, “post-modernism,” as the all-encompassing word that people can throw at any question they’re asked.

Why did Argentina have an economic collapse in 1999? Ah, that’s all globalization. Why did the United States and United Kingdom attack Iraq in 2003? Well, you see, that’s globalization. Why don’t they serve bagels in Hedrick Hall anymore? Oh, that’s all to do with that globalization stuff, stupid!

Superficially, the term describes an increasingly interconnected world where we can talk on Finnish mobile phones and play on Japanese computer consoles while eating French food.

But this hides the devastating economic policies that are being pushed by Western governments and transnational corporations against developing nations.

Referring to this, Martin Khor, director of the Third World Network, has said, “Globalization is what we in the Third World have for several centuries called colonization.”

And there is undoubtedly some truth to this observation. Globalization, in its economic manifestation, revolves around what is often called “neo-liberalism.” This is exported by a few unaccountable and undemocratic institutions based in the United States — primarily, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

These institutions spread a crude form of turbo-capitalism through what they call “structural adjustment programs,” and a variety of other schemes under similar euphemisms. Put simply, they give countries that are deep in insolvency massive, multi-billion-dollar loans.

This sounds innocent enough, but attached to these loans are a number of stipulations that must be followed if the countries are to qualify for the money. These are — and this is quite openly written about in their literature — privatizing their key state-owned industries, such as water purification and oil production, and “opening up” their economies to foreign (Western) capital.

The side effects of this program? Looser environmental regulations and a weakening of any rudimentary protection for working people, like unions.

It is kind of like asking your roommate if you can borrow $20, and him or her responding, “I’ll lend it to you if you let me wear all your clothes, use your computer whenever I want, sleep in your bed, and you pay me 10 cents extra every week until you pay it all back.”

The countries that are forced to follow this market fundamentalism not surprisingly see it result in massive inequality because progressive taxation and public tax-supported amenities are torn apart.

Also, workers tend to labor in terrible conditions since the multi-nationals who run the businesses look for places where they can spend the least on labor and environmental restrictions.

These suicidal policies then become priorities for governments of developing nations attempting to attract investment. In the cold language of economics, this is called “the race to the bottom.” In the language of moral human beings, it’s called “exploitation.”

But you cannot be anti-globalization, per se. Globalization is not a choice, it’s a reality. When you hear about the anti-globalization movement, it’s not a group of people chatting about uninventing the Internet or fighting against cheap fares from Sydney to New York. These people are arguing against the exploitative nature of the economic policies that — for whatever reason — fall under the same title.

So take some courses in this exciting new program. Hopefully what you learn will make you join forces with those who are fighting the worldwide exportation of “neo-liberalism.”

Nelson Mandela said during a recent mass rally in London, “Massive poverty and obscene inequality are such terrible scourges of our times … that they have to rank alongside slavery and apartheid as social evils.”

Globalization is not the problem, and our task is not to overthrow it. Instead, we should harness it to help the poor and helpless, rather than contribute to what Mandela correctly calls the 21st century’s new form of slavery.