Global Health Summer School, Charité Berlin
When I was asked to open this conference with a keynote speech “What is globalisation”, I first hesitated. I mean, of course you can give a kind of Wikipedia explanation, but this is not what you want from me. You want a political interpretation, an explanation of the many aspects of that complex phenomenon called globalization, their impact, and the perspectives for the future. However, that is not an easy task. I am often asking myself, what actually is this moving target called globalization. Let me try it anyway.
Before going into details, let me make a general remark. Globalization is a process that the mainstream discourse has always been calling inevitable, a kind of natural course of history. Britain’s late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher coined a phrase that she used as a kind of standard justification for her policies: TINA. There Is No Alternative. People criticizing globalization or its impacts often are confronted with the same phrase: TINA. Please remember this phrase TINA.
There is a pervasive public notion that there is not only no alternative to globalization as such, but no alternative to the kind of globalization that we experience today. But globalization is not something like a natural phenomenon that somehow affected humanity, like an earthquake or a tsunami. Globalization is man-made, it is politically driven, and there are many different ways to approach it. You can have more or less globalization, and you can have many different ways of globalization. The corporate-driven way of globalization is clearly not something to which there are no alternatives. Politicians always want you to believe that there are no alternatives to what they do. The reality is, there are many alternatives. Globalization is a process that can be shaped politically in many ways, and that includes the extent to which we want it. Maybe we want not so much globalization, maybe we want more regionalization.
Let’s have a closer look at this economic globalization, or corporate-driven globalization.
You can call it free trade, but trade is only one aspect. Corporate-driven globalization is also about investment flows, financial markets, economic governance, deregulation – ultimately it is about making multinational corporations as independent as possible from the nation state, from democratic regulation. This process was initiated by Western governments since the 1980’s, in a long negotiation process called the Uruguay Round, and it culminated in the establishment of the World Trade Organization, WTO, in 1995. Economic globalization has sharply increased world trade and financial flows across the globe. Trade has been growing much, much faster than the actual production of goods and services. It has transformed national and regional economic structures into global ones, for good or bad. Like every economic transformation, there are winners and losers in this process.
Let’s talk about the winners first. Globalization has opened opportunities for export-led development strategies, for the so-called tiger economies of East and Southeast Asia, for emerging economies such as China or India to establish themselves as production or service hubs for the world markets. These export-oriented growth strategies depend on open markets in the OECD countries. They have created and vastly expanded a middle class, or consumer class, in many developing countries. Some 120m people in India are part of this global consumer class, with homes filled with refrigerators, computers, a car parked in front, people that you meet as tourists in Venice, New York or here in Berlin. These 120m are more than the population of Germany, and the other one billion Indians strive to join this consumer class. And that is why the ruling elites in most developing countries are in favor of globalization, however, on their own terms, not on the terms of the OECD countries. The development impact of this process in countries like China, Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, India and so on has dwarfed anything development aid ever could have achieved. It has been the single most powerful development machine in history, in fact in countries like China the most powerful poverty eradication strategy ever.
We have to recognize that, yet at the same time we also have to see the enormous costs: the unbelievable amount of exploitation, of workers, of the natural environment. The consumer classes of India, of China, of Vietnam and so on depend on the exploitation of their fellow citizens, the migrant workers in the smartphone factories, the textile sweatshops, the assembly lines – and on the massive exploitation of their natural resources. Some scholars in southern countries have called it development aggression. All that has come along with the rapid development of these emerging economies. This development has come at enormous costs, true, but many millions of people have seen their life standard improve, and that is something that matters a lot.
The rise of successful export economies particularly in Asia has corresponded with a massive surge of imports in OECD nations, and in fact it has wiped out many industries in what used to be the rich world, from textiles to electronics. This does not necessarily mean it has wiped out the companies – in many cases they simply relocated their production to these emerging economies to take advantage of lower production costs and the open markets to export the products back to their home markets.
The social cost for unskilled workers in Europe, in the US has been tremendous.
Let’s have a look at the NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico – the first of these »modern« free trade agreements, in force since 1993, so we can look at more than 20 years of real experience.
NAFTA was sold to the American public at that time with grandiose promises. It would create hundreds of thousands of good jobs, US farmers would export their way to wealth. NAFTA would bring Mexico to a first world level of economic prosperity and stability, providing new economic opportunities that would reduce immigration to the United States. Environmental standards would improve. That’s what was promised by the same people that today promise similar things for TTIP, for TPP and other such agreements.
The reality is starkly different. Rather than creating the promised hundreds of thousands of jobs in the US, NAFTA has contributed to an enormous new US trade deficit with Mexico and Canada, and an estimated net loss of one million jobs in the US by 2004. According to the US government, it was only 845,000. What’s even more important, NAFTA has contributed to downward pressure on wages and increased the income inequality in the US. The majority of Americans today has lower wages in real terms than twenty years ago. NAFTA has fundamentally transformed the types of jobs and wages available for the 63 percent of American workers without a college degree. Most of those who lose manufacturing jobs find reemployment in lower-wage jobs in service sectors that can not be relocated abroad. McJob, an apt description for these jobs where you need three of them to survive.
Similar lofty promises were made for other free trade agreements, even the EU Single Market – and always these promises did not materialize and were quickly forgotten after the deal was rammed through. Germans are particularly hesitant to look at such analyses, because unlike most other countries this country has an enormous, almost structural export surplus – which of course translates into trade deficits in other countries.
So an important feature of globalization is: as the consumer class is becoming a global phenomenon, so is poverty, and with poverty I refer to people that are essentially out of the formal economy. More and more it seems this divide is no longer between North and South, but between a global consumer class in the North and the South, and those that have not (yet) managed to join this consumer class, or could no longer be part of it – again, in the North and in the South.
We’re now getting closer to the question, what is globalization.
I am not saying globalization is by definition bad or is good. The public controversy about globalization is essentially not a controversy whether globalization as such is good or bad. It has many aspects, and not all of them are simply good or bad. It has winners and losers, and the political question is, do the gains for the winners outweigh the losses for the losers, and are gains and losses distributed in a socially just way.
Globalization often comes along with these naïve slogans like it creates one world, the global village and so on. However, neoliberal globalization does not contribute to peaceful cooperation between nations. Like multinationals are competing against each other, the neoliberal model of globalization has also put countries as competitors against each other. It has put nations in fierce competition against each other on the global marketplace for investors. Germany’s restrictive wage policy puts pressure on the French not to let their wages rise too far, or the country becomes »uncompetitive«. . If you lower corporate taxes, you attract foreign investors and you put pressure on your neighbors to do likewise – or they risk losing out against you.
It is interesting to read publications like the World Bank’s »Doing Business« ranking nations according to how investor-friendly they are. If a country deregulates its labor market, or anything else, it goes up in the Bank’s rating, even if it violates human rights conventions. In a world where we need cooperation more than ever to solve the common challenges of humanity, this model makes you as a citizen of your country a competitor to citizens of your neighboring country. Don’t ask for a too high salary. Don’t ask for too high environmental standards. A race to the bottom – the logical end of that race is that corporate taxes are zero in every country. Ultimately nobody benefits from this race, obviously, except the offshored elites that have long ago shaken off any loyalty to a functioning society. Their only loyalty is to their shareholders, a global anonymous force. Multinational corporations no longer have any loyalty to a nation. How German is Deutsche Bank or Mercedes Benz? How American is Goldman Sachs? How Italian is Fiat? Not anymore. Their shareholders are from all over the world, their markets are all over the world, they owe no allegiance to any country. The back side, however, is: they become alien to every nation, no nation feels any allegiance to them anymore.
We are talking about the kind of globalization that we see now, corporate-driven globalization, that is politically promoted by governments, in short: a biased globalization that puts corporate interests before people and the planet. It is not that globalization is unregulated, no way. It is very well regulated – in the interests of multinational companies and capital owners. We are experiencing a process of globalization policies with the wrong priorities, by politicians with the wrong values. And clearly, that is not something that is inevitable or without alternatives.
However, this is not an accident – this is the intention and it is in line with predominant neoliberal policies that have been deregulating economies in essentially all OECD countries, in Germany, in the US, in the whole of the EU. Looking closer, you will find that it is not just economies that are being globalized. It is a particular model, a liberal economic model that has been globalized, driven by an ideology that binds the elites in the US and Europe together and that has never fully been accepted anywhere else in the world. Anglo-Saxon market liberalism has conveniently allied with the German export model. The ruling elites in China, in Japan, in other countries go along with this kind of globalization, because it serves their interests, primarily open markets for their exports, but they are far from adopting this neoliberalism in their national, in their domestic policies.
So we’re now in the area of domestic policies.
If we want to understand globalization, we have to look into the economic policies of the main protagonists of this kind of globalization, the governments of the major Western economies and the multinational corporations that used to be based in these countries. Since the neoliberal revolution of the 1980’s that has now become the political mainstream of the major political parties all across Europe and North America, deregulation and liberalization has been the mantra. What US president Ronald Reagan and British prime minister Margaret Thatcher promoted in the 1980s was privatization of public services, reducing taxes particularly for the rich, deregulating the economy particularly in the area of social standards, labor standards, environmental standards – and deregulating the financial markets. Something that was not necessarily popular outside the US and Britain. In Continental Europe, Conservatives such as Germany’s Chancellor Helmut Kohl or French President Chirac looked at it as a kind of Anglo-Saxon oddity. Surely those Conservatives were also pushing for open markets, crucial for an export-led economy such as Germany, but you can have that without domestic deregulation and all that. In the 1990s and the first decade of the new century, these formerly extreme Anglo-Saxon policies became the political mainstream in Europe. Social Democrats and Socialists, Greens and other political parties since the days of Clinton, Blair and Schröder have joined the neoliberal camp.
And that means, it has become difficult to change these policies. The usual concept of a democracy is, there is a government and there is an opposition with different policies. They are opposition because they want different policies and not only different ministers. In democracies there always used to be the risk that you lose an election and everything you did is being reversed by the next government. In terms of economic policy, these days are over in Europe and North America. The neoliberal transformation has taken root. Governments may change, but not policies.
Even then, you never know.
Britain’s Labour Party has just elected an old-style Socialist as party chairman, can you believe it. The party of Tony Blair, what a change. So it’s better you bind the hands of future governments should they want to break out of the neoliberal straightjacket, try to do things like the Greek Syriza government. That is one of the major objectives of international agreements on trade, but also the EU’s Lisbon treaty: bind the hands of future governments, bind the hands of the democratic electorate, bind YOUR hands. You may win an election, but you cannot change economic policies.
The web of trade agreements has been designed to make it as difficult as possible for you and me, for our elected parliamentarians to regulate in the public interest, to interfere with multinational companies to make money as they please. In the name of free trade, it reduces the political options for a nation state, or even a major trading bloc such as the EU, to re-regulate, to an extent that is becomes very, very difficult – unless most other countries also agree, like if people like Jeremy Corbyn win elections in the US and the major EU countries simultaneously. Which, however, is not very likely.
This is the core of the WTO treaties, the bilateral free trade agreements etc currently being negotiated – they are designed to make the neoliberal economic model a kind of transnational economic constitution that binds countries, independently of what voters want. A model that serves the interests of transnational corporations, at the expense of social and environmental concerns. At YOUR expense, ladies and gentlemen.
So the current form of globalization is basically a replica of an ideology that has permeated domestic policies in the last 20-30 years in the major economies of the world. Free corporations from public control, from democratic control, from political control.
Not much of a surprise: why should trade policies really differ from domestic economic policies?
In the WTO, most developing countries want market access to the OECD, open markets and low tariffs, but for them the WTO and other trade agreements should not cover much more. Investment protection, okay, maybe, but what has public procurement, public services, patent rights and so on to do with trade? And that is why they block the EU-US agenda in the WTO. According to Western governments, the consequence is paralysis in the WTO. However, that is nonsense. The WTO is not paralyzed at all. It is a well-functioning organization overseeing and enforcing functioning treaties. What is paralyzed is the EU-US agenda to drive neoliberal deregulation and liberalization further and further, to expand the reach of trade agreements deeper and deeper into the domestic policies of every country. The powerful ideological spin of the free trade lobby has told us, the WTO is paralyzed, that is why we need now bilateral free trade agreements.
The EU is pretty open about that: in 2005 they agreed on their »Global Europe« strategy, where they outlined how they want to deal with the prolonged resistance of developing countries in the WTO. That is why we have such a proliferation of bilateral, regional, sectoral trade agreements, or in fact mostly negotiations about these agreements: most of these agreements are highly complicated and negotiations usually take a very long time.
If they get what they want, this would be the neoliberal dream come true. They have achieved a lot, but it is not completed yet. Many countries, many governments still balk at these »disciplines«, as the trade diplomats call these obligations and restrictions, this straightjacket that they would like to impose on all countries. There are even setbacks. Last week, Uruguay even quit the negotiations about a far-reaching liberalization agreement in the service sector called TISA. So they try again and again.
Corporate globalization is characterized by the attempt to free multinationals as much as possible from the reach of national governments, from democratic lawmaking to interfere with their freedom to make money as they please.
Imagine that. Unlimited market access for foreign transnational corporations. Never ever increase tariffs again. No protection for regional and local businesses, for small and medium-sized enterprises. Public procurement must not favor local businesses, local jobs, it must be open to any transnational bidder. Public services must be open to private providers, you cannot return public services to public non-profit companies. Foreign investors are protected from regulation that affects their profits. Transnational companies pay essentially no taxes anymore because they are structured in a way that they are always based abroad, they are a foreign company for tax authorities everywhere. Governments cannot regulate in the public interest, for instance by banning or taxing harmful substances or production processes, or by increasing minimum wages, unless they compensate corporations for the lost profits. Knowledge is monopolized because more and more is declared an intellectual property right, even life forms are patented by Monsanto and the likes. And if all that still doesn’t work and governments do things a transnational corporation disagrees with – there is a special system of jurisdiction called Investor-State Dispute Settlement – you may have heard the acronym ISDS – where the corporation can sue a state in private arbitration tribunals for compensation for regulations that »affect their legitimate profit expectations«, indirectly expropriates their investment« etc., so that it doesn’t have to deal with these biased public courts in nation states.
This is the neoliberal dream – and for the vast majority of people it is a nightmare.
And it is the ultimate aim of the trade negotiators. Not only that. All these agreements are designed to be irreversible. Trade diplomats call that the standstill clause – any step towards lowering or abolishing a tariff, toward liberalizing a sector, toward deregulation cannot be reversed. And they have the ratchet clause, meaning: any future step towards liberalization can also not be reversed. That is what the TISA agreement is supposed to bring.
The fundamentally undemocratic nature of this ideology is obvious. You can have twenty years of a local government in your city that wants your water or public transport system to be provided by a public non-profit entity, and then they lose one single election. A new liberal mayor privatizes everything, loses the next election – and his successors can never re-municipalize anything. Ratchet clause. Bye bye democracy.
Thirty years ago in this part of Berlin, we already had a government that firmly believed history is a one-way street, that history will inevitably develop towards communism.
You know what happened. And the same will happen to the neoliberal ideology. History is not a one-way street and will never be a one-way street.
And by the way, talking about democracy, maybe now you understand why there is such an excessive secrecy around all these trade negotiations. There are good reasons why they don’t want you to know what’s happening – and there are good reasons why parliamentarians allow governments to keep all that secret, so that they can claim ignorance and avoid being held accountable.
But they are still working to complete their neoliberal dream. The web of these trade treaties governing globalization essentially functions as a constitution for the global economy, a constitution that no single country can change for itself, even with a popular referendum or a two-thirds majority in parliament. These treaties are ties that bind, mutually reinforcing each other. The latest trade agreement, the EU-Canada FTA called CETA, an agreement that so far has not been ratified, is an example. In its chapter on regulation it says, they »commit themselves to ensuring high levels of protection for human, animal and plant life or health, and the environment in accordance with« WTO rules. This means, only in accordance with the WTO. They don’t refer to human rights treaties, to environmental agreements, to the ILO conventions – except that they say they »value« these agreements. How nice. You can violate these agreements, but not the WTO treaties.
What does that mean practically?
Canada is a good example of what happens when the agreements governing globalization set the wrong priorities, when the rights and interests of corporations are more important than anything else.
In 2011, the Canadian government declared that they would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, a climate protection agreement where Canada committed itself to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. They simply said, no, we actually won’t do that, even if we signed that treaty. Consequences: none.
In 2007, the Canadian province of Ontario passed a law promoting renewable energy generation in Ontario by giving fixed feed-in tariffs for Ontario’s wind or solar energy producers, provided their systems had a certain share of local production. Later, the WTO declared this law unlawful, because this mandatory local production share discriminates against foreign manufacturers, and Ontario had to repeal it.
When Canada refuses to honor its climate obligations, fine, it’s okay. When a Canadian province spends public money for a global benefit, climate protection, and wants to justify that with some local economic benefit, this is not okay. The WTO treaties outlaw most regulation in the public interest – or in the national interest. Antidumping measures are possible, but not when the dumping stems from violation of labor standards or environmental standards. When Canada simply quit the Kyoto Protocol, that was environmental dumping. That is okay, according to the WTO.
See what’s going on? Such are the priorities of corporate-driven globalization. No surprise we don’t get any closer to sustainability, despite twenty years of United Nations resolutions.
The consequences of these misguided priorities are clear. Regulation of transnational companies has become very, very difficult – it’s not only their tax evasion schemes, it’s much more. We are talking about a system where not only governments, even multinational corporation themselves or any company are locked in. Supply chains have become increasingly global, and they are not exclusively made up of multinational corporations. Multinationals often outsource major production steps to smaller companies, often totally dependent on these multinationals but formally not part of them. A textile sweatshop in Bangladesh, a chip factory in China may be a nominally independent small enterprise, but without their participation in global supply chains they would disappear tomorrow. This outsourcing happens because it reduces costs – and because it blurs responsibility. If you want to have a clean and nice corporate image for your consumers, if you want to publish these wonderful sustainability and corporate social responsibility reports, it helps if the dirtiest production steps are outsourced and you can claim you have nothing to do with it.
Sure, not all these corporations are just irresponsibly exploiting people and the planet. But if they really want to make their operations more sustainable, they quickly face limits. In the race for lower prices, they lose out. Investors want shareholder value. Consumers want cheaper products. They all pay lip service to sustainability, but on the market that is quickly forgotten without regulation. Actually, it has to be forgotten. Your competitors benefit when you drive up your costs. So there is no alternative to mandatory regulation, if you really want to stop these irresponsible practices. The world trade system, the treaties governing globalization, they have made exactly this regulation of global supply chains as difficult as possible. Not only because globalized value chains are extremely complex and intransparent, and therefore inherently difficult to regulate. This is intentional.
So if you want to do something about it, you need first of all more transparency.
At this year’s G7 summit, the German presidency put sustainability of global supply chains on the agenda, but even proposals for mandatory steps toward more transparency in globalized supply chains were not accepted. All they agreed remains voluntary. That is a problem even for well-meaning companies who want to do something, because they often lack the transparency in their own supply chains – and if they implement meaningful steps toward more social justice and environmental sustainability, it drives up their costs and that puts them at a competitive disadvantage against their competitors. If you don’t force their competitors to do something as well, then you make sure the companies that are ready to improve the situation can’t go very far. Imagine taxpaying were voluntary, would you do it? When governments leave something to voluntary action by companies, it shows that they don’t really care.
Let me explain that using an example. The situation in the textile sector in Bangla Desh is well known, massive exploitation of workers to produce textiles as cheap as possible, for globalized supply chains where the multinationals finally selling the stuff in rich countries do not even know, and actually don’t need to know and don’t want to know, who originally started the production process and how they did it. Fashion today is no longer a seasonal spring and fall/winter business, today there is a constant flow of new editions, and the cheap and ultra-cheap textiles that you can buy at retailers like Primark increasingly are just thrown away after wearing them several times. The quality is low, soon they will be out of fashion anyway, so why bother washing them at all. Throwaway fashion. Cheap because labor in the factories is cheap, labor on the cotton fields is cheap, water for the thirsty cotton plants is cheap, or to be precise – was made cheap by governments.
This is scandalous and the exact opposite of sustainable economics. Yet governments in importing countries, should they want to, can hardly do anything about it. They have made sure that this is so, so that you as a voter cannot bother them anymore. The WTO agreements expressly prohibit differentiation of products according to the production process, so a T-shirt is a T-shirt, no matter whether the workers were paid well or not, no matter how sustainable the production was. So you have to allow cheap trash fashion into your market, even it is socially offensive and environmentally scandalous. There are very, very strict rules in the WTO. All governments agree in this respect, North and South alike. We have a system that inherently favors and rewards environmental and social dumping, and that explains a lot why it is so difficult to change something for better. The world trade agreements are designed that way.
But if we continue with this kind of throwaway economy, we are going to ruin the planet. It is not only environmentally unsustainable, it is an offense to human rights and dignity. In order to really change the situation, you can’t wait until everybody agrees. Some countries or companies have to go ahead. The question is, what can they do. Essentially the trade agreements have to be changed – and that so far is anathema to every government. So why don’t we just ignore them, break the straightjacket.
How could all that happen?
Of course, only a small minority of parliamentarians is really ideologically committed to neoliberalism and would fully support this ideology. How come that this ideology has become so powerful?
First of all, if a minority is determined to dominate the public discourse, the first condition for success is the lack of an alternative vision. This clearly has been the case for the last 20 years. Market-liberalism has become the trend since Social Democrats, Socialists, Greens have sold out, embraced neoliberalism and became part of the problem. Being pro-market is modern and fashionable – and sticking to the old European values of a social market economy has become so old-fashioned, at least among politicians, but also among large parts of the population. Most opposition parties don’t challenge that, until today, they don’t do their job any more, the job they are elected and paid for. Maybe times are changing, Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide election in the British Labour Party indicates that the tide is turning and market liberalism becomes a dirty word?
But one thing is clear: It is civil society, not dysfunctional political parties that has formed the movement against neoliberal globalization since the days of the WTO protests in Seattle almost 20 years ago. However, civil society is a rather diverse set of people, mostly they know what they don’t want, and that does not necessarily mean they all agree what they want instead. Even then, time and again civil society protests have stopped major and minor projects of the neoliberal transformation of society and we’re about to do that again with TTIP.
Secondly, there is never a single vote in a parliament, do you want the neoliberal dream to come true, please vote yes or no. It is a mosaic of a million votes in city councils, regional and provincial parliaments, national parliaments all over the world that forms the big picture. And even if there is only a small minority of ideologically committed neoliberals, the big picture shows they’ve been getting their way, how successful they are. Politicians always find a reason why they vote for one of these small steps towards neoliberalism. The TINA feeling. What can you do. You know, we really need more investors, so let’s cut corporate taxes. And then you have cut corporate taxes, your budget is squeezed, and you have the next problem. Then they say, you know, our city is really bankrupt, we have to balance the budget, so we need to privatize our waterworks. Or they say, you know, there’s really too much regulation, it stifles growth, so let’s abolish this or that regulation that businesses don’t like. You know, this free trade agreement opens new export markets for our companies, that will create jobs, according to the Commission, so let’s vote for it. And the most powerful reason perhaps is, no politician really likes trouble with the party leadership, so let’s just follow their line. From a Machiavellian point of view, the neoliberal ideologues in politics, in corporations and academia surely are a minority but they are really extremely well organized and well-funded, while their opponents are an incoherent bunch of losers.
Thirdly, while local and national politics have strong civil societies, there is no comparable civil society on the international level. All the secrecy around international trade negotiations has served their protagonists very well, if all these agreements would have been debated publicly with all information available, they would never have passed. So when nobody really understands what happens, it was comparably easy to establish this neoliberal constitution of the global economy. Politicians who would not have voted for such a massive wave of deregulation and corporate rights for their home country easily agreed with all these international agreements, because they either did not understand their consequences, or refuse to see the big picture or simply and foolishly believed a more social economy in their country could actually benefit from a deregulated global market, a notion particularly popular in this country.
So, what are the perspectives for the future?
Today, corporate-driven globalization is in crisis. The global economy is in the midst of a prolonged growth crisis: to stimulate growth, everything has been tried, from debt-financed economic stimulus programs to extremely low interest rates to massive austerity programs to deregulation to »cut red tape for business«. Wages in the OECD countries have essentially stagnated, in many countries unemployment and particularly youth unemployment is at levels that are incompatible with a peaceful democracy. The welfare state has been cut back, universities have been transformed into learning machines and so on. But growth rates stagnate or decline further. All these political instruments don’t work anymore, so the neoliberal model has a legitimacy crisis: it just doesn’t deliver. The current model of globalization produces more and more losers and not enough winners.
There are growing popular movements for more social justice, the losers are beginning to resist. This is not always pleasant, the losers don’t resist in a way that progressive academics would like them to do it. Right-wing populism is as much a way to resist as progressive movements are – when in a country like France the progressive left has sold out completely, it comes as no surprise that Front National fills the vacuum.
More and more people refuse to buy the TINA slogans. They want alternatives and they will create them. In my view, we do not only need a completely different kind of globalization, driven by completely different values than today. We also need less globalization, more regional and local production structures because only that will give the many people a perspective that are left behind by the current system. Not everything must be globalized. The notion of a global market for smartphones makes sense, the notion of a global market for milk is insane.
Even governments talk about alternatives. Ecuador launched an initiative in the UN for a Treaty on Business and Human Rights, supported now by 85 countries, that would put obligations on multinational corporations and establish some kind of international control over them. No surprise that Germany and the EU countries, the US, Canada, Japan are massively against this initiative, but they could not stop the negotiation process entirely.
We need to wean ourselves out of the straitjacket of the neoliberal globalization model. Globalization needs to be regulated, needs to be better regulated, differently regulated, by different political priorities, and I dare to say by different people, not by the trade bureaucrats any more. There is no reason why we should not be able to regulate globalization in a different way, so that it benefits the majority and does not make minorities richer at the expense of others, respects the ecological limits of the planet, and that means very strict rules against social or environmental dumping.
Now you may ask, isn’t this U-turn, this re-reregulation for sustainability, return to a social welfare state, more redistribution to reduce social inequality and so on an almost impossible task for a single country in globalized markets? Maybe. But when you wait for international agreement, you can wait forever, you face almost insurmountable obstacles. It will happen when the people force the powers that be to do it. They won’t ask whether governments and corporations like it or not, and they also won’t ask intellectuals like you or me whether we agree with it. If it happens in a small, vulnerable country like Greece, it can be crushed – particularly if in the rest of Europe, not only in Germany, there is so little solidarity with the Greek people. If it happens in France, in Britain, it can’t be crushed anymore.
The political struggle between neoliberal policies of deregulation and those that want a social and sustainable economy has become a global one. The 99% no longer accept that the 1% becomes richer and richer, the 90% no longer accept that the 10% become richer and richer and wreck our planet. The last 20 years have seen the globalization of anti-globalization movements. This is not a contradiction in terms at all – we are talking about movements that oppose the current corporate-driven globalization, to be precise, and want global cooperation for the vision that was so nicely described in one slogan: Another world is possible. If we want to win this struggle, we have to change the policies in our home countries, put corporations back under democratic and political control, reclaim the political sphere, rollback much of what the neoliberal revolution has done in the last 20-30 years. More and more people believe we can do it. The days of TINA are over. Thank you.
von Jürgen Maier