Economic globalization, and the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), are homogenizing global cultures and values; soon every place may be just like every place else. Supposedly, this brings efficiency and growth: the rising tide lifts all boats. Alas, it's only lifting yachts.
A few decades ago, it was still possible to leave home and go somewhere else: the architecture was different, the landscape was different, the language, lifestyle, dress, and values were different. That was a time when we could speak of cultural diversity. But with economic globalization, diversity is fast disappearing. The goal of the global economy is that all countries should be homogenized. When global hotel chains advertise to tourists that all their rooms in every city of the world are identical, they don't mention that the cities are becoming identical too: cars, noise, smog, corporate high-rises, violence, fast food, McDonalds, Nikes, Levis, Barbie Dolls, American TV and film. What's the point of leaving home?
There are many causes for this dreary turn of events, but one is central: economic globalization and institutions like the World Bank and the WTO promote a specific kind of homogenizing development that frees the largest corporations in the world to invest and operate in every market, everywhere. For these agencies and corporations, diversity is not a primary value: efficiency is. Diversity is an enemy because it requires differentiated sales appeal. What corporations love is creating the same values, the same tastes, using the same advertising, selling the same products, and driving out small local competitors. Mass marketers prefer homogenized consumers. They also prefer places with low wages, cheap resources, and the least restrictive environmental and labor laws.
The new rules of global trade are primarily set by the ultra-secretive World Trade Organization (WTO), which now rivals the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the most powerful, yet undemocratic body in the world. Its rules are specifically designed to serve global corporate expansion and the homogenization process. They make it nearly impossible for nation-states to prevent certain harmful forms of corporate development, no matter what problems they bring. So we find that European bankers can dominate Third World economies; Asian companies can cut down Canadian and Brazilian forests; American corporations can dominate the whole world's farmers and food supply; Disney can homogenize consciousness and McDonalds can homogenize tastes, globally. Every country loses while global corporations win.
Corporate invasions into diverse cultures often occur over vigorous protests by local governments and populations that try to protect local business, culture, health, food safety, and local livelihoods. Not everyone wants to become like everyone else. (More than one million of India's small farmers protested against the entry of industrial agriculture, specifically Cargill Corporation and Kentucky Fried Chicken.) Millions of others have protested against the invasion and promotion of genetically engineered foods which are destroying local livelihoods and threatening public health. But when countries try to slow down these corporate invasions or create laws that protect local resources, or jobs, or health standards they may find the laws challenged at the WTO as illegal restrictions against foreign investment. In fact, a recently proposed addition to the WTO would make it nearly impossible for any country to prevent imports of biotech food products franken-foods despite public concern over health aspects.
Meanwhile, all places are starting to merge. In rural France, local cheese farms are sucked up by giant agribusiness. In England, small towns in the countryside have high-speed freeways and trucks jamming through them despite mass opposition. Rice paddies in Bali are turned into hotel resorts. Small farms in Japan become executive golf courses. Small businesses and retail shops everywhere, including the U.S., are being driven under by untaxed e-commerce, which the WTO may soon codify. Nepalese villages have Sylvester Stallone on their billboards, Barbie in their stores, and Jay Leno on their TV sets.
Every place is becoming everyplace else: monoculture. Get there before it's ruined. Is this a familiar phrase? Is this a system you want?
If globalization homogenizes cultures, its effect on Nature is just as bad. With every country pressured to open up its forests, minerals, water, and land to global corporations, the few pristine places are disappearing fast. So are the native people who live in them. So are the animals, plants and biota...the biodiversity of the planet. (Brazil, for example, recently suspended its environmental laws, so that Amazon forests can be cut down faster to help the country pay off IMF debts.)
Meanwhile, industrial forestry practices, like clearcutting, produce landscapes so barren that it's hard to know if it's the Amazon or Oregon; landscapes of tree stumps look alike wherever they are. This is monoculture too. Biodiversity is disappearing as fast as cultural diversity.
Here's the rationale for all this: By serving the needs of global business, everyone benefits. A rising tide lifts all boats. Is this true? While CEO salaries for global corporations are rising some make $50-500 million annually worldwide, real wages for most people are falling. According to the U.N., the gaps between rich and poor within countries and among countries, has grown because of the inequities of global trade. Even in the U.S., the median wage of factory workers has fallen by 10% in the last two decades. And, England now advertises that its workers are the lowest paid in Europe. Low wages are suddenly virtuous. Apparently, the rising tide lifts mainly yachts.
The global economy is designed to benefit the largest corporations in the world, who are getting rapidly larger and more dominant. Already some corporations are bigger in economic terms than most nation states. Mitsubishi is the 22nd largest economy in the world. General Motors is 26th. Ford is 31st. They are larger than Denmark, Thailand, Turkey, Norway, Greece, Chile, Brazil, New Zealand and dozens of others.
What can we do?
Dozens of good organizations are working on these issues. This year, most are focused on the World Trade Organization Ministerial Meeting in Seattle, Washington, two weeks from now. Most groups are demanding a halt to all WTO expansion and a full public reassessment of its activities. For information about public events, and publications relating to globalization and the WTO, please contact us.
Friends of the Earth
Rainforest Action Network
Earth Island Institute
International Forum on Globalization
International Society for Ecology and Culture
50 Years Is Enough: U.S. Network for Global Economic Justice
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Food First / Institute for Food and Development Policy
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Institute for Policy Studies Global Economy Project
International Center for Technology Assessment
People Centered Development Forum
The Council of Canadians
Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology
Signers are all part of a coalition of more than 50 non-profit organizations that favor democratic, localized, ecologically sound alternatives to current practices and policies. This advertisement is #1 in the Economic Globalization series. Other ad series discuss extinction crisis, genetic engineering, industrial agriculture and megatechnology. For more information, please contact:
1-800-249-8712 www.turnpoint.org email: firstname.lastname@example.org