Unrealisable dreams and diminished expectations
May 10, 2000
EARLIER in this decade when the leading industrial societies were fine-tuning their economies to meet the demands of global capitalism, much was touted about the coming age of economic prosperity and the unlimited potential for gaining wealth under this new world order.
Thousands of skilled workers in those societies were the first casualties of this new system since they were made redundant when multi-national corporations and industrial powerhouses formalised mergers. Many of the monster mergers with total assets of billions of dollars were able to give their CEOs handsome pay hikes and bonuses worth millions while sending huge sections of their workforce on the breadline.
The formula for participating in the global market included becoming a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), having high quality goods and services at competitive prices, and the capacity to transmit and receive information at state-of-the-art levels. Of course, many Third World countries were not qualified for membership of the WTO and this situation was blamed for the perceived lagging pace of globalisation.
These countries were lectured to very strongly about putting their economies in order so that they too could participate in the global movement as quickly as possible. Preparations for this process which will link millions of consumers worldwide with millions of manufactured items, include the modernisation of transportation and telecommunications systems to facilitate the swift movement of information and manufactured goods; the removal of all barriers and limits to trade; the re-training and education of workers in specific areas; the implementation of attractive investor-friendly policies; and the recalibration of social policies as a central theme of national programmes on competitiveness.
The experts of the World Trade Organisation warned repeatedly that those countries which failed to implement these reforms would not reap the benefits of a global economy, and worse, would be marginalised. Now with the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) just five years away, it is quite obvious that many economies will not be ready for this process.
Will poor countries with vulnerable economies be condemned to social oblivion?
As Michael Elliott wrote in the issue of NEWSWEEK dated February 1, 1999: "But globalisation will always be controversial. It will always offer unrealisable dreams; it will always disappoint expectations...economic inequality and a skewed distribution of wealth is a fact of life; in times of diminished expectations, it is one that can distort politics and lead to real instability."
What hope is there then for vulnerable countries?
We will turn to the words of Mexican author Carlos Fuentes, who, in addressing a gathering at the World Bank headquarters in Washington last October, pointed out that globalisation can benefit Latin America once the free market system does a better job of meeting the needs of society. "The people will be enemies of the free market only if the market is an enemy of the people....Private enterprise is interested in investing, producing, employing and making profits.
"But in today's world we also have to understand that the market is not an end in itself, but a means to achieve the shared welfare of a growing number of consumers. The market is an instrument, not a dogma."