The Impact Of Globalism

This most recent historical phase of ecocide corresponds to the formal ending of the imperial era of capitalism. The rich countries of the global North have embarked on the neo-liberal project of global deregulation and marketiza-tion. This gigantic ideological effort at "liberalizing" global markets has been termed by political theorist Manfred B. Steger "globalism."3 It coincides with the social process of "neo-liberal globalization" - a phenomenon characterized by transnationalization of production, output fostering, the permeability of national boundaries, the compression of time and space fueled by the revolution in communications and transport technologies, and the appearance of transnational corporations (TNCs) as the central engines of economic power.4

Global markets are now dominated by global mega-corporations which are among the most undemocratic and unaccountable of human institutions. By its nature, the corporation creates a legal concentration of power while shielding those who wield that power from accountability for the consequences of its use. Many mega-corporations command more economic power than do the majority of states, and they dominate the political processes of nearly all states. Their growing power, along with their lack of accountability, poses a serious threat to the basic economic and political rights of people everywhere.5 Their international sales often dwarf the gross domestic product (GDP) of entire nations. Of the world's 100 largest economic systems, 47 are corporations, each with more wealth than any of 130 countries. Indeed, only 17 countries can boast a higher GDP than General Motors.6 The GDP of Israel in 1992 was US $69.8 billion; the sales of Exxon during the same year were US $103.5 billion. The GDP of Egypt in 1992 was US $33.6 billion; the sales of Philip Morris during the same year were US $50.2 billion.7 Some 200 companies that own over a quarter of the world's productive assets exert enormous political pressure on relatively weak states.

Corporations clearly are an integral part of the late modern ecocidal juggernaut. In many ways, TNCs define our progressively ecocidal world, and they do so by effectively silencing, trivializing, or legitimizing their exceedingly damaging social and ecological practices. The deeply antidemocratic organizational nature of TNCs plays a key role in the contemporary course of action and policy of global capitalism that has brought our planet to the brink of social and ecological collapse.

TNCs today thrive within today's philosophical and economic framework of neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism is a variation on the classical liberalism of the nineteenth century, when Great Britain and other imperialist powers relied on the ideology of market competition and "free trade" to justify both capitalism at home and colonialism abroad.8 The labor movements in the global North and the anti-imperialist movements in the global South ended classical liberalism and colonialism in the 1950s. Keynesianism - a form of "controlled capitalism" named after economist John Maynard Keynes -emerged as the dominant post-war social arrangement. Its main features included the construction of the welfare state, state subsidies to industry, and the state management of many collective bargaining processes. In the 1980s, however, Keynesianism was replaced by neo-liberal arrangements championed by conservative politicians like British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan. Corporate globalization is an extension of this neo-liberal revolution known as the "Washington Consensus." Its principal spokespeople are the CEOs and management personnel of huge corporations that control much of the international economy and have the means to dominate policy formation as well as to structure thought and opinion.9

These corporations not only pursue profits in low-wage markets but also seek to escape the tighter regulatory frameworks of the global North, thus greatly accelerating the destruction of ecosystems and biodiversity in the global South.10 In addition, twenty-first century agribusiness has opted for unprecedentedly manipulative techniques of genetic food engineering and development of new synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.11 Ever larger areas of the global landscape are drawn into the exclusive orbit of corporate globalization, accelerating 500 years of ecological degradation and progressive ecocide.12 In short, neo-liberal globalization constitutes the last and most destructive phase of global industrialization, an era that the economist Ernest Mandel calls "late capitalism," or "global capitalism."13

A striking illustration of the detrimental social and ecological consequences of neo-liberalism since the 1980s is the experience of the majority of people in the global South, who have been subjected to the neo-liberal structural adjustment programs imposed on them by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The long-term social and ecological consequences of these programs appear to be irreparably damaging. Most people in the global South remember the 1980s not as a decade of progress but as a decade of regression. By 2000, per capita income in Africa was down to the level of the 1960s, when many African countries achieved their independence. In Latin America, as well, per capita income in 2000 had not exceeded its 1980 level. In addition, the total Third World debt increased from US $500 billion in 1980 to US $965 billion in 1985, and then exploded to almost US $1.3 trillion by the end of the decade. By 2000, the debt burden of developing countries surpassed US $2 trillion.14 While foreign aid fell from US $69 billion in 1992 to US $53 billion in 2000, the developing world's debt has risen by 34 per cent since the Rio Earth Summit.15 In order to earn the money necessary to service this enormous debt, developing countries have had to increase their export revenues. Since their natural resources constitute the bulk of their export revenues, Third World governments from Brazil to Bangladesh to Cameroon have been forced to mine for even more minerals, harvest more trees, and drill for more oil in the remotest corners of their respective regions.16

Since the late 1970s, the top 15 Third World debtor nations have tripled the rate of exploitation of their forests - a phenomenon undoubtedly related to their pressing need to gain foreign exchange to make interest payments. Indonesia and Brazil, two heavily indebted countries of the world that also happened to contain much of the planet's remaining virgin tropical forests, saw their rates of deforestation increase by 82 per cent and 245 per cent respectively.17 Hence, it should come as no surprise that the speed of destruction of the world's centers of biodiversity has greatly accelerated since the onslaught of neo-liberal forces starting in the 1980s.

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