A Proper Global Agenda
by Robert B. Reich
The American Prospect magazine,Sept 24-Oct 8,
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
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
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
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
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.