Globalization/Anti-globalization: what are the arguments?

Another World Bank/IMF meeting, another riot (presumably).

What are the issues and arguments here? (Aside from the let’s-all-live-in-hovels and Flat Earth proponents.)

Well, if you take out all the let’s-all-live-in-hovels and Flat Earth proponents, there’s no issue. :smiley:

Political science major chiming in:

Among alternative theories of international relations is the idea that wars are caused by nations, and nations originally sprang from the development of agriculture. Some anti-globalization leaders, such as John Cerzak, believe that instead of globalization, the way to ensure peace is to return to anarchy and a hunter-gatherer way of life. While few antiglobalization protestors support this idea (as many don’t know a thing about what they are protesting), many of the movement’s leaders are followers of Cerzak.

Incidentally, whenever you see reports of rioting caused by “antigloblization” protestors, try to understand that the troublemakers were only a tiny fraction of the protestors present. Seattle had thousands of protestors on a wide array of issues, but a couple hundred idiots made the world think that all protestors at summits are anarchists and criminals.


The funny thing about Cerzak is that it’s like he’s never lived in the real world. There were several hunter-gatherer societies that enjoyed a good war. The only thing that Cerzak would do would be to lower the scale of the fighting. And even that is no guarantee anymore as the environment has changed dramatically from when the last time hunter-gatherer societies were predominant. For one thing, there are far more people living now as there were even 500 years ago. This means far less space for hunting and gathering which will mean more competition. And since we are doing away with huge farms, it means a lot of starvation and famines as the population dwindles back down to what could be supported using small-scale agriculture and hunting/gathering. Anyway…Cerzak is a lunatic, and its fortunate that he’s not given too much sway.

The main thing the protestors are protesting is how the IMF and World Bank go about their business. Particularly, austerity and free trade measures which are seen as crippling to those countries that institute them. And for the most part, they are right. States accepting IMF money must institute free trade and austerity measures as conditions of the loan. Many of the protestors argue that its somewhat hypocritical of the US and the EU to say that these countries will only develop if they slash their subsidies and trade barriers, while the subsidies that the developed states give their own industry doesn’t seem to be hurting them. In fact, it was precisely these barriers and subsidies which allowed the developed countries to develop in the fist place.

Plus, the loans lock these countries into a nasty spiral, it is argued. The state accepts the loans but the austerity measures cripple the economy and make it difficult to develop and protect emerging domestic industry who are then picked off by US and EU companies in a form of economic colonization, relegating them to permanent economic dependence and instability, as the money needed to pay back loans prevents them from further investing in domestic infrastructure without taking out more loans and continuing the descent.

Your first paragraph seems to contradict part of your second.

The world may be wrong in believing all the protestors to be criminals, but you seem to be saying that most of them are anarchists.

Therefore, the world would be right in thinking that most of them are talking nonsense.

Are there really “thousands” of people who believe in something as stupid as what you describe Cerzak as thinking?

Or, as I suspect, most of them don’t agree on anything except that the West is bad, music and flowers are good, and somebody else should pay for everything?


Sorry, I was unclear on that. I was trying to say the protestors that are totally against “globalization” in any fashion are always a minority of protestors, and the violent ones are a minority of a minority. In Seattle and Genoa there were many many organizations protesting which did not oppose globalization per se, but wanted decision-making to be more conscientious and pay attention to certain issues (European federalism not centralism, reform of the IMF, etc). Unfortunately, the anarchists get the most attention because their beliefs are most provocative.


Getting away from the behavior of the so-called anti-globalization protestors:

AFAICT, there is only a lunatic fringe that is actually opposed to globalization. The debate, as I understand it, is about the terms of globalization. I’m not the person to speak to the many issues encompassed by that debate; I’m really shamefully ignorant with respect to the specifics of the globalization debate. But one issue, just to give an example, is one of sovereignty: to what extent will nation-states be able to regulate multinational corporations’ activity within their borders, and still be accepted as part of the international economic community?

Makes your eyes glaze over, doesn’t it? And that’s just one for-instance. I’m a very intelligent, well-read 48 year old, and I’m having trouble absorbing a lot of this stuff; I don’t blame the 19 year olds on the streets of DC today for being a little vague as to what they want. It’s a lot easier to say what’s wrong (e.g. sweatshops not paying a living wage) than figuring out how things should really work - and these issues are a lot more complicated than my generation’s issues: Vietnam, segregation, pervasive discrimination against women and gays, fouling of our air and waters. And the anti-Vietnam protesters were frequently unclear about how they wanted the war resolved.

So oppose hooliganism, but cut the kids some slack if they aren’t able to articulate how they want the world to work. This issue isn’t easy.

One of thing’s they’re protesting is “corporate greed.”

While I agree “greed” is a trait to be generally frowned upon, these folks are looking for a government solution. We should not seek a government solution to fix “greed,” as any such “solution” would be much worse than the problem it’s claiming to fix.

Greed is not a problem with a government solution; it is a problem that can only be addressed with religion.

Yeah, listen to RTFirefly. Most protestors with any common sense realize that globalisation and trade are necessary. Anti-globalisation should really just be thought of as a shorthand for disagreements about how globalisation is implemented.

It is difficult for people to articulate all the issues because there are so many.

For example, type in malawi and imf into google and you will find articles about the difficulty Malawi is facing with their famine. A famine which would not have been so serious if the IMF had not pressured them to sell their emergency food supply to pay down debts. There is some debate on what actually happened though.

The issue of structural adjustment with the IMF and World Bank. This means the IMF will loan money to a poor country only if the country will make certain economic policy changes. For example, it is sometimes required that the borrowing country make drastic budget cuts in things like health care. For a poor country that is suffering through an AIDS epidemic, cutting what little health care they have is disastrous.

I’ve been in contact with a few people who do protests like these, and the one thing I’ve noticed is that they* hate corporations. If it comes from a corporation, it’s Very Bad and to be avoided.

*The people I’ve talked to, not everyone who protests.

I do. Let’s face it. Anti-globalization protests are fun. They’re not about a coherent set of ideas. The message of the vast majority of anti-globalization protesters can be summarized as “We have no idea what we are talking about! You must listen to us!!!”

What’s worse is that because they remain blissfully clueless as to the actual issues, many of these protesters are unpaid dupes of some of the forces they abhor. “Globalization exploits poor workers! We demand that all countries mandate a Western minimum wage and social benefit package!” Rich country labor unions and even many corporations would love this because it would prevent many poor countries from ever getting significant outside investment and the jobs, infrastructure and technology transfer that investment would generate.

Of course, it’s not nearly so much fun to wonk your way through the actual issues as it is to march around in a big crowd and party for a cause.

Globalization is the peaceful alternative to imperialism.
Now, you make your choice.

With all due respect, Truth Seeker, the vast majority of voters frequently have no better idea of the issues they’re voting on. Yet we have to live with the people they put in office on the basis of their usually superficial look at the issues.

We could withhold the franchise from ignorant voters, I suppose, or blame the mass of voters for being so ignorant. My feeling is that you’ve got to work with the reality of large numbers of people acting the way they act. You can either introduce macro-level cultural forces to change the way people act, or live with people the way they are.

That’s extremely unclear, Crafter_Man. Nothing can ‘fix’ greed; people are the way they are. (I’m not even sure that religion, on balance, has been much help here; American Protestantism has frequently justified greed.) But can government reduce the consequences of greed? Sure - every day it does. Just one for-instance: greed would have factories polluting our air and water to a far greater degree than they do. Government regulation keeps that in check.

I wonder if they weave their own cloth for their clothing? :rolleyes:

Unofortunately, it’s part of the oversimplification that seems to dominate American politics as a whole. Yeah, it’s stupid. But why should we expect a typical college-age protester to have a more nuanced view of corporations than the President of the United States has of tax cuts?

I would disagree. In terms of the movement, large numbers seem to be opposed to globalization, although the word, like “emmerging markets” verges on the meaningless for its breadth and almost inconsistent subject matter.

Well, that is part of it, but only part – however in a real sense those utterly against any global trade (except on fantastical, impractical terms) are the core of this.

That is an important question, but ultimately you will note that this is one that is unanswerable in most any coherent policy sense.

What are we really talking about:
WTO standards? They require equal treatment. As written I don’t see a problem, and indeed my professional experience says that equal treatment is good for economies, both domestic actors and international.

However, I also recognize that multinationals have leverage and the less scrupulous wield it in unhelpful ways. However, I don’t see this changing under any free market regime per se. (and I add directed economic regimes would be substituting a bad solution for a real problem embedded in an overall good solution). I see the issue of buying influence etc. as existing seperate from that of WTO framework, for example.

Where else? Expropriation? Eh, I think again this is a good point in international pressure, that expropriation not be an easy path to take. the experience of the 1960s and 1970s showed that whatever the moral argument for it. I am not unsympathetic to the observation that something had to be done about the post-Colonial overhang in terms of Euro-American multinationals having control of large swaths of the newly indedependent developing world’s export/modern economic sectors. This was bad, positions achieved through Imperial military/political leverage rather than real market competition. It had to be solved. Expropriating to government or gov’t crony control turned out to be a shitty way to do it.

Why should I cut them slack? It is not so terribly hard to see their calls for shutting down the IMF and World Bank are stupid. WB and IMF are not perfect by any means, often subject to Washington’s whims, but when one protests one should have some idea of what is really going on.

Asking the simple question, what does the IMF do and what would the alternative to it be really clarifies matters. The IMF, its core function of course, is to lend to countries in monetary crisis, who by definition can’t borrow anywhere else. Now, one can critique IMF conditionalities on lending, but it strikes me that there are no clear answers as to how to do it differently.

Simply observing that the big mean old IMF requires the government to scale back is not the point, a government gets to the point where going to IMF hat in hand means it is deeply indebted and can’t get out of the whole without painful adjustment, period. If spending was the way out, in general the country would not be in such deep doodoo.

And sovereignty gets in the way: the IMF has to negotiate its conditions with the sovereign entity, the nation. It can’t literally force anybody to do anything. So, if to get short term finances on something approaching an evel-keel IMF asks for x% cutbacks, and the subject counrtry ministers find this to be a great excuse to blame IMF for “causing” them to cut back on sacred cows (or worse, stick it to the little guy while still protecting the fat cats) there is only limited leverage.

Who gets the blame here, why the IMF, big baddies. Not the corrupt developing world ministers, who sell these fucking morons protesting in DC a load of crap about IMF. [I confess my (indirect) observation of these issues has been in an Arab context where the hypocrisy is so rife that it still sometimes stuns me.]

So, take away IMF and what do you have.

Citibank. Deutsche Bank. UBS Warburg. etc.

Oh, and I am sure they are going to be nicer than IMF. (With all due regards to mes amis at UBS and Citi, I love them dearly but they’ll fuck me any chance they get. Wonderful drinking partners though.)

Or IMF just loans and loans with no conditionality.

I am sure RTF is familiar with the phrase “moral hazard” – meaning if you don’t think you’re going to be responsible for consequences, you tend to take on large risks, play cowboy as it were. That is clearly what has happened many times in the past.

In short, there are some good complaints to be made, and I do recognize it is useful to have pressure – my industry got a nice black eye (not my area I rush to note) in re HIV drugs and licensing to 3rd world through stupid inflexibility. Not that I don’t think the folks on my side of the fence, so to speak, did not have very valid points in re protecting our IP, worries about developed world AIDS folks smuggling the drugs back to the developed countries or engaging in distortive drug tourism (sucking resources away from the intended beneficiaries of low cost licencing) but on the other hand the stonewalling lawyerly approach was just immoral and stupid. I saw the same bloody thing in the plant sciences area up close during the mid-90s and it continues to drive me nuts. Bad strategy.

However, most of the sloganeering I have seen and heard from the anti-Trade and anti-globalization folks have been infected with not even a vague understanding of this.

I have NO IDEA where that 9999 came from.


It’s the IMF conspiracy!

To answer the OP, IMHO, there is no one issue at “anti-globalization” riots. It’s more of a cultural thing, a process that’s fun to be a part of.

If you want to see some of this, head on over to the Michael Moore message board; the general gist of it is “Globalization and the IMF and WTO are bad and corporations are evil.” There’s no rhyme or reason to it, and nobody actually knows what they’re talking about, but they’re very emotional about it.

The problem, RTF, is that we aren’t really talking about subjective choices, we’re talking about objective reality.

What you seem to be suggesting is the equivalent of putting creationists and new age medical practitioners on the editorial board of Nature simply because there are a lot of them and they make a lot of noise. The vast majority of those involved in anti-globalization protests are utterly innocent of even the most passing acquaintance with basic economic theory. There is no point in listening to them for the good and sufficient reason that they have absolutely nothing relevant to say.

The few that do have some understanding of the issues are usually manipulating these protests to advance their own cynical agendas. American labour unions couldn’t care less about the living standards of foreign workers. Their demands for things like international minimum wages and environmental standards are simply an attempt to prevent foreign workers from competing with their membership.

If there were a huge student protest demanding that Pi become exactly 3 so that it would be easier to do homework, we would, rightfully, laugh ourselves silly at their stupidity. We ought to do the same thing here. Perhaps we ought to try and educate people spouting fuzzy claptrap about “incorporating the world” but we shouldn’t take them seriously.

There’s certainly an interesting, though complex debate to be had about how developing countries ought to respond to the world economy. But these people aren’t talking about how best to tweak global capital flows. They’re advocating things that are either economic gibberish or that are based on a complete misunderstanding of the facts, sometimes both.

As Collounsbury points out, the IMF doesn’t force anybody to do anything. If you’re a developing country and you don’t like the IMF, you’re free to to tell them to sod off. Would developing countries be better off if the IMF disappeared as many protesters want? Of course not.

I’d bet you, however, that not one in a hundred of these protesters realize that the entire system is voluntary. Nor do they realize that the alternative to IMF participation is generally total economic collapse.

The bottom line is that it is all very well for western, middle-class, university students to get up in arms about the plight of the developing world. If they actually bothered to look into the issues, they could probably do a lot of good. As it is, however, anti-globalization protests are pretty much indistinguishable from spring break in Fort Lauderdale both in form and content.

But part of the problem is that the people in government making these decisions stand to receive most of the benefit of the loans. Do you really think some substinence farmer in Malawi really gives a rat’s ass about the IMF? Who does that loan money go to?

I have to disagree with this. OXFAM has been a participant in the protests, but I hardly think their agenda is cynical. In fact, they are constantly calling for an end to the hypocritical subsidies (especially agricultural) in the west, so that 3rd world farmers have a chance to sell their products.

OXFAM home page


Thanks to all who have participated so far; I may post a few specific questions when I get a chance.

Don’t get me started. One of the biggest problems facing many developing countries is corruption. This is hardly the IMF’s fault, however. If anything, the IMF ought to be faulted for being too forgiving in this area, not too strict.

The IMF works best when it is working to stabilize an economy. When there is little or no economic infrastructure to stabilize, IMF intervention is relatively ineffective. The IMF can do a lot in Argentina but it hasn’t got very much to offer Afghanistan.

Remember that most countries only turn to the IMF as a last resort after the bottom has fallen out of their economies. The “draconian” conditions imposed by the IMF in return for its help often boil down to things like, “You know, you really can’t run a permanent 30% budget deficit and make up the shortfall by taking out loans or printing money.” The steps necessary to correct problems like this can be painful, to be sure. However, you can’t blame the IMF for pointing out the blindingly obvious and refusing to throw good money after bad unless some progress is made to stabilize the situation.

As for Oxfam, I completely agree with their position on agricultural subsidies. I don’t really agree with their position on coffee prices and I am all in favor of debt relief so long as it is coupled with extremely stringent, even, perhaps, paternalistic enforceable conditions that will bring about real change in HIPC societies. Debt relief is not about the inalienable right of a new generation of third-world kleptocrats to loot the public purse.

In any case, at least with respect to agricultural subsidies, Oxfam is actually arguing for more globalization, not less. Discussing things like the mechanics of agricultural subsidies or even the impact of European squeamishness regarding GM food on third world poverty is, however, far beyond the ablities or interests of the vast majority of protesters.