SpruceRoots Magazine - September 2001
COMMON SENSE ON GLOBALIZTION by Ian Lordon
A good friend of mine has taken to reading MacLean's magazine a little fervently. This is unusual, given that in the early years of our acquaintance she tended to ignore mainstream media, the events and the persons it portrayed, almost entirely.
I too regularly read the magazine. Not because I consider the rag especially enlightening, but because I tend to read everything set in front of me, and I can't escape its bright and glossy perspective thanks to the subscription my dear mother has generously and customarily renewed on my behalf every year since I left the shelter of the family abode. Here on Haida Gwaii, far from the maddening crowd, I confess I've grown fond of the sunny nationalism, the shallow and perfunctory recitation of events on the mainland and overseas, the rises and falls of people, places, things, the tidy encapsulations and editorial edicts contained within its pages. Most of all I enjoy the columnists and their columns, if only for the harsh and dismissive reactions they provoke in me.
I only mention this because of the change that's come over my friend since she adopted her new reading regime. Suddenly, she's worried Canada is going to hell in a handbasket, or to be more precise, that the handbasket is being delivered free of charge to the United States of America.
I can understand how MacLean's has fostered this concern. Every issue spins a riff on brain drain, corporate takeover, NAFTA, softwood lumber, salmon wars, cultural imperialism, the demise of Canadian currency-never mind US interest in and appetite for our water, our resources, and most of all, our energy. And like most of the information presented in the magazine, there is always at least a kernel of truth to it.Look no further than Juskatla Before I move on, there is one more thing I'd like to mention about MacLean's: the cartoons are getting better.
Until very recently I also fretted about the American takeover. I railed and raged at every arrogant flex of Yankee muscle above the 49th and the world over. It pissed me off to watch the imperialist bully always get its way, or pound the snot out of anyone who dared stand up for themselves. For a long time I figured Canadians were better and smarter than Americans (I listen to CBC a lot too) and in the long run we'd outwit the thugs. The facts made me think twice
The struggle for Canadian sovereignty was dealt a heavy blow when Brian Mulroney's federal Conservative government signed the Free Trade Agreement with the United States in 1985. Jean Chretien, rather than undo the deal, sealed our doom when his Liberals expanded it to include Mexico with the NAFTA agreement eight years later. Free trade was supposed to make us more prosperous. Today, all but the top 20 percent of income earners in Canada are poorer than they were when these deals were inked. Our currency is weaker while our government sacrificed a good deal of its ability to decide our international economic policy, and now we're beginning to discover, our internal economic, social, and environmental affairs as well.
Like the public sector, private enterprise has also gone multinational. Free trade was sold on the claim that it would create jobs by luring foreign investment to Canada. The money showed up, but the jobs didn't. In the twelve years following the Free Trade Agreement, $183.6-billion in foreign capital was spent in Canada. Of it, 93.4 percent came in the form of foreign takeovers, while only 6.6 percent represented new investment. To add insult to injury, 65 percent of all foreign takeovers were financed by Canadian banks. Although takeovers customarily spark a tidy return for shareholders, they also tend to reduce domestic employment because of unnecessary or redundant operations shared by the purchasing and acquired companies. Head office is the first to go. At the moment, 40 percent of Canada's top 500 companies are foreign-owned. And counting.
These figures are not going to reverse themselves. If anything, as the global economy continues its determined course towards deregulation, they are going to become even more alarming for Canadians who hope to maintain the fading delusion that we have some measure of control over our collective destiny. For myself, any visions of a bolder, less subservient country were dashed for good when I evaluated the leadership hopefuls from the last federal election. Hmmm, Jean Chretien or Stockwell Day?
There are no George Washing-tons, Thomas Jeffersons, or Ben Franklins in Canada today, and none on the horizon. No one with the integrity and revolutionary spirit essential to liberate us from the profitable tyranny which characterizes the latest of the world's empire-builders. No Paul Revere rode frantically to warn us: 'The Yankees are coming, the Yankees are coming!' Or perhaps there was, we just didn't care. We never resisted, instead we whined a little and changed the channel. We opened the door, invited them in, set them at the table, and asked 'are you comfortable enough, or would you like a pillow?'
Once I realized we lacked the leaders, the desire, and the capacity to withstand the Americans, I decided a change in tactics was the answer.
Rather than worry about the takeover, I was going to embrace it, encourage it, aid and abet it. Resigned to the fact that Canada's sovereignty was waning, that it was being superceded by United States policy and interests, I was now convinced that the only way to restore democracy in Canada was to participate in the one which was ruling us already. The one we have no say in. My motto became 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em,' and my ironic mantra a play on the rallying cry from the American War of Independence: 'No exploitation without representation!'
Just think. We'd get half a dozen senators, a score of congressmen or women, and a bundle of electoral votes. I know it sounds like chump change, but compared to the status quo-nothing-it's a formidable amount of clout. Our relatively left-leaning policies, environmental conscience, and wacky socialist ideas would represent a swing vote in the most powerful nation on earth. We'd be the yin to the yang of the diehard rebel rednecks in the American south. Florida would never have happened. Al Gore, a democrat (snort), would be President. There would be no Star Wars, the States would sign Kyoto, and the Arctic Wildlife Refuge would not become an oil field. And that's only the beginning.
The Loonie would be put out of its misery. No more sixty cents to the dollar (incidentally, a lot like the conversion from kilometres to miles which would also be tossed out with the bathwater). Queen Elizabeth II dethroned by the almighty greenback and Canadians could travel again. Our sports franchises would become viable. The Grizzlies could stay in Vancouver and the Canucks would sign Burnaby Joe Sakic and win the Cup. Air Canada's monopoly would be over. B-1 bombers would grace the skies above the Grey Cup party. MuchMusic would die a deserved death and we'd all watch MTV and sing along. Sure, sure. I can hear the cries of the MacLean's faithful: 'Sacrilege!' 'Heresy!' 'Traitor!' 'You mean, we'd have to read Time?'
No. MacLean's would still be around. And it would still 'tut, tut' over the dismantling of our health care, education, social programs and safety net. These fading tributes to the 'just society' which the magazine proudly brandishes as proof of our superiority over the American savage are all on the outs anyway. Have a chat with Ralph Klein or Mike Harris, the two gents with the star-spangled undies who rule Canada's wealthiest and most powerful provinces.
Of course there would be drawbacks. Our taxes would fall, and we'd have to plan to holiday on the fourth of July instead of the first. The beer would go bad. It would hurt to see the Stars and Stripes flying over Parliament Hill and the rest of our public buildings, but like those southern Confederates with the General Lee flapping from the antennae of their hotrods, we'd defiantly fly the forlorn and tattered Maple Leaf from our canoes, our snowmobiles, in our front yards and basement windows, and remember the good old days.
Too bad it'll never happen.
I mean, Uncle Sam would have to be out of his mind to concede democratic rights to Canada when he already has everything he wants from us. Military cooperation? NATO and NORAD. Economics? NAFTA will ensure America's multinationals continue to gobble up our homegrown corporate successes at bargain basement prices. Ever wonder if pot will be legalized in Canada? Well, the US Drug Enforcement Agency just opened an office in Vancouver Okay, okay, so we still have culture and heritage, but the Yanks made their sentiments clear on those counts when they got rid of the Brits a long time ago, and nobody wants to deal with Quebec.
Even if Sammy were foolish enough to welcome us with open arms it wouldn't make any real difference. Nowadays, the people of the United States themselves are pathetically detached from their government. As freshly-minted Americans we would have no more say over what's happening in Canada than we do today. True, technically the people choose who will lead them, but that choice is limited to individuals who are already pledged to their true masters, the corporate interests, international trade organizations, and financiers who rule the global economy. That sounds corny and cliché, I know. It's corny because we've been encouraged to dismiss this idea as readily as claims of a UFO conspiracy, and it's cliché because growing numbers of people are echoing this claim as they begin to understand it.
* * *
Take the wildly popular Survivor series from television. Thanks to producers determined to avoid all things unattractive or tedious, this so-called 'reality TV' series failed miserably as an accurate or revealing portrait of human melodrama. But because the show opted out of a sincere attempt at presenting a 'real' product, it kicked ass in the battle for ratings, and, viewed from another perspective, the series does succeed brilliantly as a metaphor for the sort of society and political systems contemporary western democracies everywhere continue to grapple with.
In Survivor, sixteen contestants are assembled in some remote location to compete with one another for a million bucks. Over the course of something better than a month, the contestants confront a number of challenges designed to weed out the weaker or less adaptable members of the group (a.k.a. Darwinian natural selection). Those who lack the inborn talents required to win these challenges outright are left to cajole, dupe, forge and betray alliances with their fellow contestants, all in an effort to stay in the hunt for the money (a.k.a. human ingenuity defying the law of the jungle).
There's plenty of manufactured reverence, pomp, and ceremony surrounding the competitions, the 'tribe,' the struggle with the elements and so forth, but it all amounts to little more than window dressing for the key moments of judgement when the next victim gets turfed. After an un-bearably long prelude, the field is eventually reduced to two contestants, usually the most mercenary, insincere, corrupt, and manipulative elements in the group, and roughly half of the inadequates are invited back to TV land where they vote for one of the two finalists.
The choice of the voters is influenced by any number of factors-revenge for remembered misdeeds, sexual attraction, belief in merit, what the candidate's claimed intentions for the money may be, or nothing more than fancy. Whatever. Ultimately, only one thing is certain: one of the least worthy characters from the original group is an anointed millionaire, the runner-up gets a hundred grand. Or, the morally bankrupt are financially rewarded.
This scenario shares many of the characteristics fundamental to western democratic processes and the distribution of wealth within the societies they pretend to represent. As constituents in western society, we are like Survivor's disgruntled runner-ups-invited to have a very insignificant say in which candidate will enjoy power and its rewards. And after the vote, when the time comes to exercise the power we've vested in our representative, we lose even the small measure of influence we enjoyed at election time.
To make matters worse, we aren't given much choice to begin with. Since the demise of the Conservative Party in Canada the Liberals haven't had to face a legitimate contender-a heavyweight champion against a pimply highschool featherweight. These days, the Canadian reality is the 'benign dictatorship.' While in the past, like Great Britain or the US, we had two choices: Red or Blue, Left or Right, Coke or Pepsi-same shit, different pile. No matter who wins, when the election's over the politicians get down to the real business of government, the platform is forgotten, the promises broken, and the voters ignored until the expiring mandate necessitates a return to the motions of the marketing campaign.
Don't believe it? Before his first term as Prime Minister Chretien promised no GST and no Free Trade, a couple of whoppers anyone who voted should remember, and those are only the tip of the iceberg.
Despite this, I much prefer Canada's current political situation-it doesn't tolerate illusions which I hope may inspire greater recognition among the governed. The truth is, whatever the party and its professed ideology, the candidates are compromised long before they stand for office. Nomination meetings, back-room deals in exchange for support, patronage, lobbyists, unions, and, most of all, campaign financing all conspire to ensure that by the time you read the name on the ballot your so-called representative comes with more strings attached than any ordinary marionette
* * *
I'm not positive exactly where or when the ideal of democracy once vividly reflected in the American Constitution, now thoroughly subverted, left the rails (compared to the US political system, undermining a parliamentary democracy like ours is child's play). What I do know is that the Cold War, which began before my birth and ended in my time, was not fought over any political ideology. It was never a noble war between democracy and totalitarian-ism, freedom and subjugation. That angle was propaganda spun along in the media for the benefit of taxpayers who were footing the bill for spies and bloated defence budgets. The real war was one of economic systems, it was capitalism versus communism, private interests protecting themselves from the threat of the common good, money against a proletariat hungry for a piece of the action. The proof lies in the fact that the Soviet nation-state did not sign a treaty to end the conflict, the Stars and Stripes never flew over Moscow. No shots were required to vanquish the mighty red menace, the second superpower. The war was over when the Golden Arches were raised a short walk from Red Square and the commies started buying Big Macs.
The corporate future was secured, and the US military-industrial complex turned its attention to the next greatest potential threat, China, where it won another mighty victory when GMC set up shop and the former Marxists started building Buicks (I'm ashamed to admit I find the image of nasty autocrats rounding up Falun Gong practitioners and carting them off to jail in brand-new Buicks a little comic). In exchange for this groundbreaking shift in economic policy the Chinese did not get democracy, human rights, or relief from the totalitarian regime as our elected leaders assure us is inevitable through the miracle of trade (just before they fly off on another junket in a jumbo jet busting at the seams with eager entrepreneurs). The Chinese did, however, land the Olympics and all the corporate sponsorship and exposure it implies (Coca-Cola, inevitably the 'official' soft drink of the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, will unveil a glitzy television campaign featuring digitally-doctored footage of Chairman Mao slaking his thirst with an ice cold Coke over the subtitled caption 'I love the red can.')
Meanwhile, the 'inefficient' managed economy of the former Soviet Union which once miraculously fed, clothed, and employed 300-million people is now a free-market disaster which produces poverty, hunger, crime, oil, gas, electricity and little else. Naomi Campbell doesn't model Russian panties, and nobody wants to smoke their cigarettes. Unlike the Chinese, the Russians did get the modern version of democracy and now the people have the right to choose which puppet goes to meet behind closed doors at the G8 Summit.
Capitalist indoctrination has taken hold so completely everywhere that most ordinary people can't even imagine living any other way. When they do engage their imaginations, it's only to picture themselves as millionaires. It never used to be this way. A century ago the people joined philosophers, politicians, economists, even religious leaders, in the debate over the merits of capitalism and explored alternatives to it. Change was a possibility and governments had the power to implement it, they weren't supplicants to any corporate agenda. Back then the idea of a corporation successfully suing governments was an absurdity-the marketplace was subject to policy, not the other way around.
To return to Survivor, what if at the outset the contestants all agreed to share the proceeds regardless of who won? Instead of fourteen people getting screwed while two got rich, everyone would walk away with nearly $70,000. They could sit back, relax, enjoy a wilderness vacation and eat their rice and grubs without any worries, comfortable in the knowledge that the mortgage was getting paid (some might argue this is similar to what happened to people under communism, but at least they managed to put monkeys in space and assemble a nuclear arsenal capable of wiping out the planet several times over along the way). Granted this approach would take some fun out of the show, but it stinks anyway. Ratings would decline, CBS would lose money, the show would get cancelled, and television programming would improve. The world would be a slightly better place and sixteen people would get help with their mortgages from a media conglomerate simply by ignoring their corporate programming. Yeah, right
This isn't to say that capitalism, or for that matter globalization, in and of itself is such a bad thing. Once upon a time, in the early years of the modern global economy, capitalism could authentically claim to be good for everyone, or at least it was relative to the footloose and autonomous global capitalism of today. For the first twenty-five years after the cornerstones of the global economy were shaped and set in place at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in the mid-forties (i.e. the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) world trade jumped from $50-billion to $300-billion. Adjusted wages for individuals increased by an average 150 percent worldwide with developing countries leading the way.
This was the fruit of capitalism at its best where 'the rising tide lifts all boats,' a sentiment captured in an address delivered by the US Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, at the conclusion of the Bretton Woods conference:
What we have done here in Bretton Woods is to devise machinery by which men and women everywhere can exchange freely, on a fair and stable basis, the goods which they produce through fair labour. And we have taken the initial step through which the nations of the world will be able to help one another in economic development to their mutual advantage and for the enrichment of all."
This era of cooperation and mutual advantage ended abruptly in 1970 when the US could no longer guarantee its dollars with gold because of rising inflation and the cost of financing the Vietnam War. The world economy switched to a currency trading system based on floating exchange rates dictated by market supply and demand. Then things really got screwy.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) sent oil prices skyrocketing when it imposed restrictions on world production in 1973. OPEC member-states, mostly in the Middle East, became fabulously rich while the prices played havoc on the economies of oil importing countries, especially developing nations, which were forced to borrow large sums of money to meet energy demands. By the early eighties industrialized nations desperate to temper the wild inflation unleashed by the oil crisis responded with rising interest rates which dramatically increased the cost of servicing debt and brought many of the borrowing countries to the brink of financial ruin. Faced with the prospect of dozens of governments defaulting, the IMF and World Bank were transformed from post-war referee and rebuilder of the global economy to prescribers of economic and development policy to national governments.
The IMF, which in its earlier incarnation had monitored and adjusted exchange rates, began using its accumulated funds to refinance and restructure the debts of countries struggling with credit problems. In return for this financial aid, the IMF typically required the country in question to reduce government spending, increase taxes, and encourage exports through currency devaluation and other means. This formula is similar to the agenda pursued by the IMF today, except it's been refined to include demands for fewer financial restrictions, labour and environmental standards, trade barriers, and the adoption of new legislation promoting investor security.
The World Bank, which originally financed the reconstruction of war-torn Europe, now ostensibly promotes economic development in poorer countries. This usually consists of investing in energy or pollution producing mega-projects led by multinational corporations in developing nations where the IMF has often already established a cheap, unregulated labour force, low corporate taxes, and duty-free export to world markets.
The change in philosophy at the World Bank and the IMF is delightfully illustrated by remarks taken from a 1992 internal memo written by then vice-president of the World Bank, Lawrence H. Summers, entitled Shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to Less Developed Countries:
"The measurements of the costs of health-impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view, a given amount of health-impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that. I've always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly under-polluted."
In case you suspect this might be one quack in an otherwise sound organization, you should know that Summers went on to become US Secretary of the Treasury (quite a switch from good old Morgenthau) under President Clinton, and now enjoys the post of president at Harvard University.
Around the time the IMF and World Bank changed direction, a new world order began quietly establishing itself. A trend, a movement, we are told an irresistible force compelling us to drop our borders and any insidious attempts at protecting domestic industry or labour standards. It's a new era of global competition and anyone foolish enough to indulge in those protectionist shenanigans will be left behind in poverty and isolation. The watchwords are 'bigger is better' and 'merge, merge, merge!'
This movement culminated with the evolution of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, circa 1948, into the World Trade Organization in 1995. A further attempt at global economic consolidation failed in 1997 when the Multilateral Agreement on Investment was scrapped in the face of stern opposition from swarms of angry non-governmental organizations, politicians, and ordinary folks.
People around the world had finally woken up to the fact that globalization was not the rewarding and propitious answer to the world's problems it had been billed as. The most telling indictment one can level at the movement is that since 1973, while the world has continued to grow economically with substantial increases in production in most countries, the majority of people are earning less. Where the earnings of people in the developing world once led the way in growth, they now lead the world in decline while working longer hours in unregulated multinational corporate sweatshops paying higher taxes to governments which in turn slash social programs so they can pay bankers the cost of servicing their debts.
Matters in the western world, though always better than in the Third World, are also getting worse. Globalization, which encourages countries to abandon subsidized or otherwise sheltered domestic industries in favour of leaner, meaner ones which can compete internationally, essentially eliminates much of the diversity in local or regional economies. The argument for it is that nations will focus on economic activities where they enjoy a 'comparative advantage' over the rest of the world. The money they make exporting their efficiently produced local goods they can then use to buy similarly efficiently produced imports. This policy has several unpleasant side effects, many of which are neatly summed-up by Herman Daly, a distinguished economist who now teaches at the University of Maryland, and who had this to say when he left his job as a senior economist at the World Bank in 1995:
"Global competitiveness usually reflects not so much a real increase in resource productivity as a standard-lowering competition to reduce wages, externalize environmental and social costs, and export natural capital at low prices while calling it income. Cosmopolitan globalism weakens national boundaries and the power of national and subnational communities while strengthening the relative power of transnational corporations."
Globalization, according to Daly, far from contributing to the general well-being of people worldwide, instead results in unemployment for many, and poor remuneration and working conditions for those who do manage to find a job. The mass unemployment and inflation experienced by eastern European and other nations when they opened their borders to international markets and investment testifies to the often devastating effects these policies can wreak upon what were once worthy and productive, if somewhat inefficient, national economies.
Daly reasons that rather than pursuing customers for their products abroad, national governments should instead focus on selling their goods at home:
"Move away from the ideology of global economic integration by free trade, free capital mobility, and export-led growth to a more nationalist orientation that seeks to develop domestic production for internal markets as the first option. Having recourse to international trade only when clearly much more efficient."
Which of course is what many people have argued for some time now.
Unfortunately, those organizations which have the means and the mandate to change the international economic agenda and slow, if not reverse, the process of globalization have nothing to do with the public at large. The IMF, World Bank, and WTO are all led by directors who are appointed by member states and not elected by the public. They meet behind closed doors and unlike politicians, are completely unaccountable to the people. No one has the satisfaction of throwing a lousy IMF economist out of office when the organization's policy has forced the family farm out of business.
The disengagement between these international organizations and the public has led to massive and much-publicized protests wherever and whenever they meet. As popular opposition to globalization grows, concerned people who don't know what these organizations are up to, don't even enjoy the pseudo-participation of a modern election, are forced to demonstrate their displeasure in the only venue left available to them: the streets.
This tendency has led to ever larger and more vicious confrontations with police and security personnel who are employing increasingly severe and ominous tactics in the mounting battle to prevent the public from minding its business.
At the recent Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, the people were treated to several unprecedented limits upon their freedom to express themselves publicly. These limits ranged from the offensive, like the barricade and attendant security measures the police imposed upon residents, to the ridiculous, like the attempt to criminalize scarf-wearing in one of the world's most frigid provincial capitals. Nothing the police did in any way prevented the demonstrations, vandalism, and violence that was the inevitable accompaniment to the Summit. And in the end everyone-the delegates whose meetings were fouled by the record volumes of tear-gas deployed by security officials, the demonstrators who were ignored when they weren't charging police or burning cars, and the locals whose homes, businesses, and lives were disrupted-likely felt some dissatisfaction at the conclusion of the whole affair.
As bad as it was for Canadians who take these things for granted, the infringement of human rights in Quebec paled in comparison to the out and out stomping they were subjected to in Genoa, Italy. For starters, police there shot dead some angry kid wielding nothing more menacing than a fire extinguisher. To prove it was no accident, the distinguished officer who shot the kid nailed him not once, but twice in the side of head, before the driver of the jeep he was riding in backed over the victim for good measure.
The Italians, maybe because they were faced with as many as 150,000 protesters, or maybe because they have a flair for this business, pulled out all the stops and indulged in some of the most draconian suppression tactics employed by a so-called western democracy in years. Protesters, from the marauding anarchists to the most benign peaceful demonstrator, were routinely beaten and later hauled to prison where they were beaten some more. The highlight of the weekend was not, however, the shooting of the would-be firefighter, but rather the raid on the Genoa Social Forum (GSF) by security forces.
Well away from the barricades, the GSF was set up in a local school so that out of town protesters could congregate for scheduled peaceful rallies, exchange information, and find a little floor to crash on after a long day running from security forces. The Saturday of the G8 Summit, a large contingent of security personnel raided the school and savagely beat everyone they found there, including those who were sleeping. An eye-witness account provides the gory details:
"They had come in to the rooms where people were sleeping. Everyone had raised up their hands, calling out 'pacifisti! Pacifist!' And they beat the shit out of every person there. There's no pretty way to say it. We went into the other building: there was blood at every sleeping spot, pools of it in some places, stuff thrown around, computers and equipment trashed. We all wandered around in shock, not wanting to think about what is happening to those they arrested, to those they took to the hospital. We know that they have arrested everyone they take to the hospital, taken people to jail and tortured them. One young Frenchman, Vincent, had his head badly beaten on Friday in the street. In jail, they took him into a room, twisted his arms behind his back and banged his head on the table. Another man was taken into a room covered with pictures of Mussolini and pornography, and alternately slapped around and then stroked with affection in a weird psychological torture. Others were forced to shout, "Viva El Duce!"!! Just in case it isn't clear that this is Fascism. Italian variety, but it is coming your way. It is the lengths they will go to to defend their power. It's the lie that globalization means democracy. I can tell you, right now, tonight, this is not what democracy looks like."
I'm afraid that right now this is exactly what democracy looks like. Sure, bowing to public pressure when news of what happened at the GSF came to light the Italian government launched an inquiry into the conduct of police and security forces in Genoa. Official word is that the government put prison guards from the country's nastiest institutions in riot gear and the poor blokes confused the demonstrators with rioting convicts. Shit happens. I'm sure that when all is said and done the inquiry will conclude in much the same way as the one into allegations of police misconduct at the APEC summit in Vancouver: a few stern words, no charges, no dismissals.
The hilarious part of the G8 fiasco was the peevish reaction from participating world leaders in response to the protests, especially British PM Tony Blair and our own Jean Chretien. Neither one could understand why anyone would have a problem with 'democratically elected leaders' meeting in absolute secrecy.
They do have a point. The G8 is better than most meetings of international monetary and trade organizations in that the representatives are elected. However, the G8 also controls 45 percent of the votes at the IMF while essentially dictating policy to the WTO and World Bank under the direction of the US. Furthermore, it isn't only elected officials meeting at the G8 Summit, the Japanese alone brought 1000 delegates to the Summit, and the land of the rising sun wasn't the only one with an impressive entourage. It's no wonder Chretien wants a smaller event in Kananaskis.
The question, of course, is what the hell are all these people doing? And the answer, of course, is we don't have a clue. That is one big reason for the protests. The other is that even if we knew what was going on, right now there isn't a thing we can do about it.
* * *
Here on Haida Gwaii, far from the maddening crowd, what does it all mean? Is the transfer of power from governments to multinationals going to affect my neighbours in Sandspit and Tlell? It already does. The loaded log-barges, clearcuts, and logging roads, these familiar features of the local landscape, are all homespun manifestations of the global economy. So are the jobs our forest-workers enjoy when they aren't shut down because of weak market prices. The harbours in Queen Charlotte and Masset no longer service the same fleet they did before the Department of Fisheries and Oceans bought out what was left of the small-time operators a few years ago. Now, with fewer and fewer exceptions, most of the industry is in the hands of large corporate licence-holders. Everybody knows the fishing lodges are real 'ma and pop' outfits and their clients are just like you and me. And don't think for a second that globalization island-style is going to end with fish and forests, if our MLA Belsey gets his way we'll see more examples on the horizon
The question I'd put to my Haida friends is, who would you rather negotiate title with-the government or Weyer-haeuser? Before you rush to answer, consider that if Weyerhaeuser were writing the laws, you wouldn't have a legal leg to stand on. The idea of Weyerhaeuser, or any coproation, independently recongnizing aboriginal rights is nothing short of ludicrous (unless, somehow, there was money to be made in it). Aboriginal title as we know it owes its existence to democratic government, its institutions, and judicial process. All three can also be blamed for ignoring it in the first place, along with a host of other misdeeds committed upon aboriginal people over the centuries, but the fact remains that in a world governed by corporations any possibility of restitution would be extinguished. This is precisely the world globalization is shaping for us.
Corporations are not humanist organizations like governments. They have no ideals, no conscience, they cannot be corrupted. They are things, objects with one sole objective: profit. Kept on a short leash by a higher authority with human interest at heart, these objects are harmless enough, and often beneficial. They provide food, clothing, homes, and jobs for people everywhere. But take away that leash, cut them loose and allow them to act entirely in their own interest, and they will exploit their new freedom ruthlessly. It's not their fault, it's their nature. Because globalization undermines the ability of national governments to regulate corporations, it grants them more freedom to be themselves.
Like rats in a maze, corporations seek to circumvent the barriers to hefty profits governments surround them with. Loopholes in tax laws, environmental regulations, product safety guidelines, and labour standards, are constantly discovered and ingeniously exploited by clever companies. Eventually if the government is worth its salt, the hole discovered, closed, and the rat goes back in the maze. Globalization is an enormous, monumental loophole that a large number of corporate interests are exploiting together to escape the maze once and for all. By going international, corporations and financiers can avoid pesky governments almost entirely. Worse, they can play governments against each other to their own advantage. It's a situation where the leash is changing hands, and the dog becomes the master.
This means people in democratic countries are losing the hard-won ability to improve their own lot, to decide their own fate. There is no international democracy-and international economic regulators, unelected and unaccountable, are more concerned with securing rights and opportunities for corporations and ivestors than for people. These rights frequently come at the expense of people and will continue to do so until international organizations are developed which are directly accountable to human constituents, rather than exploitative objects built to generate profit.
For now at least, governments will not act on behalf of the public in this matter. People are left to demand these changes themselves. The ballot box isn't working, all of the legitimate avenues traditionally open to people who want to influence the decisions and policies which affect their lives have been exhausted. All but one, and recent responses from governments in Quebec and Genoa to people speaking and assembling exhibit a disturbing intolerance towards what we once were told are inalienable rights. At the moment the only legal way to alter the course of globalization and create a sense of urgency about it is through more and larger demonstrations until governments are forced to finally address the issue. As long as the people continue to be denied their say in the workings of the global economy governments will encounter swelling resistance to it, and be forced to adopt more sinister and malevolent means of protecting it. They can't keep gassing, beating, and killing protesters indefinitely.
See you in Kananaskis.
SpruceRoots Magazine - September 2001