Friday, July 26, 2002
: . Inside Information:
I've just placed an order for Joseph Stiglitz's Globalization and Its Discontents. Based on a recent review of the book in the New Yorker, Stiglitz seems to have a few astonishing things to say about the global economy -- astonishing not because of the sheer originality of his observations but because never before has globalization been critiqued from so high as perch as the one he currently occupies. As the former chief economist of the World Bank (for his work on 'assymetric information'), a professor at Columbia Business School, and one of the recipients of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics one would think that Stiglitz would be cheering for globalization with the same reckless abandon and blind faith as, say, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman for whom globalization is without question the cure for all the world's ills. Unlike Friedman, Stiglitz isn't completely sold on the idea of chopping down all the gnarled olive trees of tradition to make way for the sleek Lexus of modernity. Instead, Stiglitz seems more like an unlikely ally of the protesters who have stormed the streets of Seattle, Washington, and Genoa calling for the reform or outright abolition of the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank.
Those widely ridiculed and much-maligned protesters will never get a fair hearing despite the supposed liberal bias of the American mainstream media. Their cries are almost always construed as naive ramblings, as violent noise rather than as serious discourse. In pomo/poco speak they are always already spoken for, not quite subaltern but close. Stiglitz, though hardly a radical, but ever the insider, may just help their struggle along:
- Globalization today is not working for many of the world's poor," Stiglitz declares. "It is not working for much of the environment. It is not working for the stability of the global economy.
Why not? According to Stiglitz, the rich countries have hijacked globalization, using as weapons the I.M.F., the World Trade Organization, and other international bodies that are supposed to act in the interests of all countries. These institutions are "all too often closely aligned with the commercial and financial interests of those in the advanced industrial countries," Stiglitz writes, and the net effect of the policies they promote is "to benefit the few at the expense of the many, the well-off at the expense of the poor." The governments of the rich countries have pushed developing nations to open their borders to computers and banking services but continued to protect their own farmers and textile workers from the cheap food and clothes that poor countries produce. They have supported the extension of patent agreements that guarantee high profits for Western pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Merck while depriving African governments of the drugs they need to fight an AIDS epidemic. "The critics of globalization accuse Western countries of hypocrisy," Stiglitz writes, "and the critics are right."
If this argument brings to mind the young protesters who have made a business of disrupting international summits, Stiglitz is unapologetic. Until the anti-globalization movement came along, "there was little hope for change and no outlets for complaint," he writes. "Some of the protestors went to excesses; some of the protestors were arguing for higher protectionist barriers against the developing countries, which would have made their plight even worse. But despite these problems, it is the trade unionists, students, environmentalists—ordinary citizens—marching in the streets of Prague, Seattle, Washington, and Genoa who have put the need for reform on the agenda of the developed world."