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Unbridled Globalization

By Gary Girdhari

In the February 2000 issue of the Guyana Journal Rev. Seopaul Singh introduced the subject of globalization in a preamble, and Dr. Salvatore Pelluda expounded on globalization and its adverse effect on cultural diversity.

It is quite apparent that the subject of globalization draws support from those on opposite sides of the camp. Fervent advocates include those who control the high powered World Trade Organization, i.e., big business, multinationals, huge corporations, and the very rich and powerful nations. These champions of unbridled globalization are cold and ruthless, and believe (as evidenced by practice) that progress must inevitably frustrate some, marginalize many, destroy traditional cultures, crumble social values and institutions – all in the name of development and free trade. There is no room for emotionalism or concerns for the traditional way of life of peoples and their environment. You take it or leave it (under coercive bullyism). This is the hard reality of their economic calculus. As the saying goes: Tough luck!

Those, who oppose, argue that the playing field is uneven, and the outcomes are weighted heavily against them in terms of trade, and cultural and economic development. They include many organizations and grassroots activists that stubbornly campaign against the so-called ‘progress’ that is destroying their environment and means of livelihood, claiming that globalization is a "hemorrhage [from the poor] that fattens the powerful". The "structural adjustments" are "painful" with little reward. Their grievance is supported by the fact that the income of the richest twenty-percent of people is seventy-four times that of the poorest twenty-percent. In addition, more that 850 million adults remain illiterate and more that 850 million are malnourished.

Both groups are adamant and resolute in their approaches and concerns. And the world has witnessed the extent of contraposition during the 1999 WTO meeting in Seattle, Washington.

The latter group includes such personages as the American consumer advocate Ralph Nader, Guyanese political scientist, writer and politician President Cheddi Jagan (deceased), Italian scientist and humanist Salvatore Pelluda, Indian economist and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen of international acclaim, and the inimitable and remarkable Jim Hightower.

Ralph Nader is an American icon and a household name in the United States. Jim Hightower down to earth writings expose government’s insidious deals. His best known works are: "There is Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and dead Armadillos" and "If the Gods had Meant us to Vote They would have given us Candidates". Salvatore Pelluda’s thoughts are summarized in his aforementioned article, as well as in his outstanding treatise: "On Being Human". Cheddi Jagan has written extensively on politics, economics and culture. Coming from a Third World country and upholding the political and ideological philosophy discordant with those that are rich and powerful, his ideas and views did not receive much deserved attention internationally. Amaryta Sen, scholar of international repute, only attracted the initiated in the solemn walls of Academe.

I shall present some of the more salient ideas of the latter two, primarily because the power structures and power brokers have hitherto not spotlighted them, although they seem to offer practical ways to get humanity out of the prevailing madness. Both individuals started their careers during the crucial period of the Cold War, and both saw the end of the Cold War with its attendant consequences.

It so happens that soon after the Cold War two important developments worldwide took (are taking) place: ‘globalization’ and ‘tribalism’. In global historiography the Cold War is epochal, and was beset with all things that were bad in global human relationship. Super-power social, political and economic contradictions bred antagonism, distrust, fear, insecurity and wars. The end of the Cold War, which was presumed to enhance democracy according to Western advocacy, however, made room for affected and entrenched unbridled globalization and tribalism, the former due to raw undisguised greed, the latter ironically due (at least in part) to the ‘new freedom’ and the revival of individual and group spirituality. Though these two fundamentals may embody antithetical philosophical bearings, they are, in an antagonistic synergy, evoking the kind of backlash that can destroy the very democratic freedoms that were fought for and are so much desired.

The hard-line and unbending positions of the both advocates and critics of globalization obviously do not behoove well for humanity. Enters Amartya Sen with a new economic paradigm (well, not really new), kind of middle-of-the-road approach, that is, that globalization can benefit the world, but that there must be an "ethical dimension" to the ‘GNP’ and ‘free-market approach’; that national policies must guard against social and environmental disintegration, ensuring proper healthcare, adequate education and equality of opportunity – to level the playing field. To do otherwise would be foolhardy and would create the kind of counteraction (as seen in the Zapatista movement, the Chipko movement, the Jubilee 2000 Coalition, and the recent Seattle protest) that would destroy the democratic institutions of governments.

Amaryta Sen, a Bengali by birth, was a student of Rabindranath Tagore, the famous Indian poet and teacher of Santiniketan. He grew up among the Bengali intellectuals, the ‘bhadralok’ (literally ‘gentlemen’), who addressed and questioned some Indian cultural practices that were anachronistic and evil – practices such as ‘sati’ (burning of widow), and removal of the evil practice of the casteism against the ‘untouchables’. The ‘bhadraloks’ came from diverse backgrounds and were proud of their culture and heritage; but they were quick to condemn those aspects of Indian life that were unjust and caused unfair suffering to the poor and downtrodden. Thus, they were prepared to break away from the past when necessary; they were eclectic, in that they drew knowledge and wisdom from differing sources to create a new social consciousness in a society rooted in rigid traditions; they would not continue to remain a ‘prisoner of the past’. They were outward looking, rather than slavishly insular.

All of this helped Amartya Sen to become the towering academic that the world has seen fit to honor (albeit in the secluded domain of the centers of higher learning). Sen would discuss, with the same ease, topics in mathematics, economics, religion, philosophy and world affairs.

My daughter Shanti and her husband Tom wrote "there is a road for everybody to find freedom, maybe this is part of the process, and will help" in the book they gave me as a gift – titled Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen. How apropos! "Development as Freedom" synopsizes Sen’s lifetime work in relatively easy-to-read technical language for even the educated layman. During his years as an academic at the University of Delhi, University of London, Oxford University, Harvard University, Cornell University, Cambridge University, and many others, he conducted detailed and painstaking research and wrote extensively on hunger, welfare and socially-related economics. In 1998 he won the prestigious Nobel Prize in Economics for his contributions to welfare economics, primarily concentrated in his "Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation" (1981) and "Collective Choice and Social Welfare" (1970), et seq.

Cheddi Jagan served his country for most of his life as a politician. He was kept out of the leadership in the government of Guyana by deliberate and forceful intervention of the US and Britain because of his leftist philosophy. He dedicated his life with the primary purpose to remove the scourge of poverty, illiteracy and backwardness that plagued the mass of the working people of Guyana. He spent endless hours researching, writing and educating people. His classic "The West on Trial" is still a masterpiece resource, and a motivator. When the Cold War ended Jagan became the President of Guyana consequent upon the restoration of democracy after 28 years of de facto totalitarian government.

By this time Cheddi Jagan was well in the autumn of his life. But his years of experience and active mind sustained a well-tuned, formidable, articulate and mellow icon in the Guyana landscape, and indeed the Caribbean. Cheddi Jagan recognized the hurdle between the rich North and the poor South, and he sought a reasonable and workable mechanism for the international community to solve (at least in some measure) the dilemma.

Cheddi Jagan, the well-respected, knowledgeable and venerable politician, sought to influence world leaders and educate people with regards to "the environment of intense economic and social crisis". During a World Summit on Social Development held in Copenhagen, Denmark, March 6-12, 1995, Cheddi Jagan put forward his vision, mandates and proposals in his "New Global Human Order: The Fight Against Poverty".

He observed, "The spread of poverty, unchecked across geographical frontiers but particularly so in the poorest countries of the world, the continuous swelling of the ranks of the unemployed and those that are underemployed, even in situations of reasonably sustained economic growth, and the impact of these and other pressures on our societies, as a result of on-going political, economic, ideological, ecological, social and cultural crisis, has led to increasing social tensions, the undermining of traditional values and to the loss of direction." And he was quick to point out: "Regrettably, modernization and globalization have led to widening gaps between the rich, the ‘haves’, and the ‘included’ and the poor, the ‘have-nots’ and the ‘excluded’ in both the North and South, and between the North and South. The globalization of poverty is a reflection of underdevelopment, mounting population pressures, relentless environmental degradation, injustice and intolerance." Jagan agrees with Sen when he says "there is a need to twin economic growth with social justice. Without the latter, the former will only benefit those who have traditionally benefited–those who already have –while those living on and below the poverty line will continue to suffer more and more." Because of theexcessively disproportionate amountsof monies spent merely to service debts, poor countries can never pay off debts which will continue to remain a maelstrom for these countries. Poverty (and ‘development’) will forever be elusive.

He noted, "The Latin American and Caribbean Commission on Development and Environ -ment, sponsored by the IDB and the UNDP, concluded that ‘more than half a century of flawed development has produced total stagnation’ and called for a strategy of sustainable human development, based not on any universal strategy but ‘on an analysis of our own regional institutional, economic and social peculiarities and of our environmental problems’."

Cheddi Jagan reminded world leaders that:

1. According to the UNDP, "if only a small percentage of the money spent annually on the arms race was diverted to
causes of peace and development, if only a tiny percentage of national budgets in developed countries was diverted towards developmental assistance to developing countries, the world could have been a better place to live, as we would have seen a definite improvement in the state of being of people in several countries." This need still stands.
2. The British Chancellor of the Exchequer proposal that "the IMF should sell US$50 billion of its gold reserves for debt relief and poverty alleviation particularly in the Least Developed Countries like Guyana.
3. IMF Managing Director, Michel Camdessus, also called at the IMF/World Bank meeting in Spain for an aid package of US$50 billion.
4. The UNDP has pointed out repeatedly that if military
expenditure in the 1990’s [were] reduced by only 3% per year, this would yield a ‘Peace Dividend’ of US$1.5 trillion. This approach, which was argued against a few years ago by the North in the name of security, is even more practical now, in light of recent world developments. A three-percent cut in global military expenditure can yield US$410 billion in the [then] 1995 - 2000 period.
5. Additional funds can be raised by:

*A global tax on energy. A tax of US$1 on each barrel of oil (and its equivalent in coal) would yield around of US$66 billion annually.
*Pollution taxes.
*Taxing global speculative foreign exchange movements. A tax of 0.05% on the value of each transaction can yield US$150 billion annually. Nobel Prize Winner, economist James Tobin recommended a 0.5 percent tax which would yield a much greater sum– US$1500 billion annually.

Payments for services by poor countries can also be made to ensure global human security. This could be for environmental controls, destruction of nuclear weapons and controlling communicable diseases and narcotics. Compensation should also be paid for brain drain, exclusion of unskilled labor and restriction on trade."

He emphasized: "The [lending institutions] need to concentrate on human development as distinct from the means of development. They have to be more concerned with social and human factors than with statistics of growth. We need structural adjustment with a human face… [they] must return to [the] original mandate to mediate between capital markets and the developing countries…. We need economic growth with equity, with social justice and ecological justice."

He called upon world leaders and the "United Nations [to] recognize that crucial to sustainable human development is the attainment of peace and political stability, economic growth with equity, healthy social conditions and environmental protection and democracy in all its aspects–political, consultative and participatory. We must also take account of the need to place people at the center of our actions, through education and training, through the provision of social safety-nets and by their empowerment and participation in the processes that affect their lives. It must also be linked to our efforts at preserving democracy, good governance and human rights, including civil and political as well as economic, social and cultural, and freedom from fear and freedom from want, and at promoting development while ensuring the rational use of the environment. Such efforts must be underpinned by firm decisions at this level to address the critical debt and resource problems affecting our countries of the South."

Any keen and objective observer would not deny that although the world has seen ‘growth’ and ‘development’ beyond most people’s dreams, there has been, at the same time, a wider gap between the ‘poor’ and the ‘rich’. This disparity in living standards continues to grow bigger and bigger as time rolls on – and is not accidental. For many in the rich nations of the capitalist West (including the World Bank, IMF and other loan institutions) progress can only be obtained by ‘development’, interposed of course by ‘structural adjustments’. But it is precisely this kind of relationship that undergirds the mechanism by which the donor countries and institutions exploit the poor, and restrict real meaningful progress that can flow to the mass of the people.

Amartya Sen has also challenged the view that starvation and famine are a consequence of food shortage, noting that famines occurred even when food supply was greater than in prior years. A classic example was the Bangladesh famine where flooding caused higher food prices. With a simultaneous dwindling of jobs and lowering of real wages the people’s inability to purchase food (which was available, but in storage) led to starvation.

His work has serious implication for governments to become interested in the distribution of resources, obviously to the poorest in society, and suggests a redefinition of the indexes of poverty, with the practical challenges of preventing starvation and famine. In his own words, "I happen to be concerned primarily with people who seem to have a worse time than others." Why is it that this noble new paradigm not embraced generally and debated in public policy? The answer seems to lie in the intransigence of the West and North, the ‘permanent government’ (the lobbyist) in Washington, the corporate welfare fat-cats, and the neo-colonialism of globalization.

Critics of globalization believe that ‘development’ does not address humanist issues, such as gender rights, child labor, universal health care, culture, ecology and democracy. In fact, poverty is more severe today in many countries, and there are inadequate or no social safety nets. In his books "Deschooling Society" and "Tools for Conviviality" Ivan Illich made similar observations many years before: that ‘development’ is "planned poverty" and the system of education is preparing pupils for failure. Sen believes in an integrative approach, having the safety nets to ward against down times, to have peaceful co-existence of ‘development’ with local cultures and environmental friendliness.

Basically, people (the poor) are not stupid or "lazy". Give them democracy and freedom and they will manage their own life. Give them land reform and land rights and they will provide for their families. Give them fair opportunity and they will learn. Give them micro-credit and they will have business startups, and augment their economic and social uplift.

Heed therefore the words of Cheddi Jagan: "It is time that we, in our collective wisdom, recognize that a key source of political and social instability, which plagues the world, has its origins in the structural crisis of modernization, fierce trade confrontation and an unfair system of international economics, by which net resources are transferred from the South to the North in service of external indebtedness and other financial obligations. We must treat not only symptoms but also the root causes of absolute poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy."

And thus the need for "a balanced and integrated set of economic, financial and social policies…. an interconnection and interaction between the economic, political, institutional, ideological, ecological, social and cultural spheres." The proposals of Amartya Sen and Cheddi Jagan can only lead to a win-win situation. Unbridled globalization would otherwise change the desired ‘new global order’ into a ‘new global disorder’.

Dedicated in Memory of Cheddi Jagan.

Gary Girdhari is the Editor of Guyana Journal.
GuyanaJournal March 2000
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