A Proper Global Agenda

by Robert B. Reich

The American Prospect magazine,Sept 24-Oct 8, 2001


Instead of opposing globalization, progressives should pressure the wealthiest nations into sharing the benefits.

These days, any official organization with the word "International," "World," or "Global" in its title has to worry about where it meets, check in with the riot police, and pray for rain. Washington is already girding itself for the International Monetary Fund's next gathering.

Global protesters haven't communicated clearly to the rest of the world exactly what they're against. As a result, the protests are seen by many as part of a growing revulsion toward globalization in general.

George W. Bush, meanwhile, is mounting his own protest against globalization- trashing the Kyoto treaty on climate change, junking the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, indefinitely deferring Senate ratification of the 1996 nuclear test-ban treaty and the 1993 nuclear weapons-reduction treaty, diluting a United Nations agreement to reduce illegal trafficking of small arms, and taking a decidedly low profile in Israel and other settings of ethnic violence.

Since the United States is the biggest and strongest country, Bush figures, why should we be constrained in any way? He tells Russian President Vladimir Putin that he's happy to negotiate an end to the ABM treaty as long as the Russians agree with us. The State Department dubs this sort of America-first unilateralism "a la carte multilateralism"-we choose, and other nations agree.

Superficially, there's an eerie overlapping of the antiglobal forces inside and outside the White House. Some of the troops on the street appear to share Bush's disdain for international entanglements and institutions of whatever kind. So does the Republican Party's small-town Main Street wing-which doesn't trust Wall Street, doesn't particularly like global corporations, and doesn't want to mix with too many foreigners.

After World War II, U.S. foreign policy was shaped by a coalition of big corporations and fierce anticommunists that wanted America to play an assertive role in the world. These folks were behind the creation of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, United Nations, General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and North Atlantic Treaty Organization. They fought global communism, made the world safe for U.S. companies, propped up right-wing dictatorships, and enhanced living standards in many parts of the world. Even the AFL-ClO of that era spent more energy berating communism and encouraging free-trade unions abroad than it did organizing here at home.

But global communism is no longer a threat, and the large corporations that spread American capitalism have morphed into global behemoths that have no special affiliation with the United States other than their mailing address. One of

America's "big three" automakers is German, and the fourth-largest is Japanese. Global capital sloshes wherever the return is highest. In economic terms, it's harder than ever to tell who "us" is.

So no one should be surprised that the Republican isolationists are back on the ascent and the White House is preaching America-first unilateralism. But the left mustn't side with them-or even appear to do so. Instead of being opposed to globalization, progressives should pressure the world's wealthiest nations into sharing the benefits. While the global economy has grown at an average rate of z.3 percent a year during the past three decades, the gap between the best-off and worst-off countries (as measured in per capita gross national product) is 1o times wider now than it was 30 years ago. And with poverty comes disease-AIDS already has claimed the lives of 1o million Africans and is projected to kill 25 million more over the next decade-as well as the continued destruction of the global environment.

Rather than advocate for less trade, progressives should seek to remove barriers that make it difficult for poorer countries to export to richer ones. That means fewer subsidies to farmers in advanced nations, combined with lower tariffs on farm products from the third world and fewer barriers (including "voluntary restraint agreements") to textile and steel imports from poor nations.

Instead of seeking less global investment, we should demand that more of it- especially in manufacturing plants and equipment-be directed toward countries that need help. And by international agreement, capital flight should be prevented or slowed by means of a small transaction tax.

Rather than try to weaken international institutions, we should push them in a different direction. We need a World Bank that coordinates real debt relief for third world nations; an IMF that conditions loans on investments in education and strong social safety nets rather than on fiscal austerity, a global patent office that forces drug manufacturers to slash prices on pharmaceuticals needed by poor nations; a global health institution capable of attacking AIDS and cracking down on the trafficking of women and children for prostitution; a world environmental agency that imposes strict emissions rules; and an international peacekeeping force that responds immediately to tribal genocide.

This is no time to retreat from globalization. The left should visibly and vocally engage in the world on behalf of a more vigorous and humane system of international governance.

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