Monday, May 18, 2009

Debating Globalization: Some Things Don't Want To Be Owned

Fences And Windows: Dispatches From The Front Lines of The Globalization Debate by Naomi Klein. 268 pp. Picador. $14.00 (paperback)

Does a book of essays on globalization from the beginning of the decade have any relevance today? Yes, if one considers the protests that met the recent meeting of the Group of 20 (G-20) industrialized nations in London. Demonstrations against the G-20, as well as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Trade Organization (WTO) and World Bank, are not so much against world trade per se as the denial of labor and environmental standards and the conditions imposed by such bodies: "...the IMF's structural adjustment policies...are overt in their demands for governments to cut social spending and privatize resources in exchange for loans."

Klein, whose "No Logo" is the most prominent study ever written on the anti-globalization protest movement, here depicts "fences" as symbols of exclusionary policies that benefit multi-national corporations: "The invading of the public by the private has reached into categories such as health and education, of course, but also ideas, genes, seeds, now patented and fenced off, as well as traditional aboriginal remedies, plants, water and even human stem cells." 

Globalization, which was supposed to represent an opening up–or a "window"–has all too often revealed itself as a "fence": "Opposition to free trade has grown, and grown more vocal, precisely because private wealth has soared without translating into anything that can be clearly identified as a public good. ...The labour and environmental side agreements tacked onto the North American Free Trade Agreement have a spectacularly poor track record. Today 75 percent of Mexico's population lives in poverty, up from 49 percent in 1981." One is reminded of the electoral success of Latin America's left following frustration with free market policies.

Lest one conclude that Klein is just railing at the "fences," she depicts the "windows" as alternative visions that have arisen in response: "Maybe it's students kicking ads out of their classrooms ...Maybe it's Thai peasants planting organic vegetables on over-irrigated golf courses ...Maybe it's Bolivian workers reversing the privatization of their water supply ...Despite all the attempts at privatization, it turns out that there are some things that don't want to be owned. Music, water, seeds, electricity, ideas–they keep bursting out of the confines erected around them."

"Fences And Windows," appropriately enough, takes a world-wide perspective on the globalization debate, from Mexico to Prague to London to South Africa and beyond. As the recent London demonstrations showed us, however, this is a debate that is far from over.

No comments: