February 16, 2001
In a series of articles [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] in the Sunday Stabroek Professor Clive Thomas has been explaining in the most lucid way the many facets of the complex issue of globalisation ranging from the enormous power of the transnational corporations to the financial markets, in which currency speculation plays a considerable role. Clearly, one of the issues he is posing is can everything be left to the markets and the big corporations, as pure advocates of the system would suggest.
As we all know, many of the rich countries don't play by the rules. They spend huge amounts on subsidies for their farmers, a basic contradiction of the idea of free trade and something the global financial institutions don't allow for poor countries involved in structural adjustment programmes. Do as I say, not as I do.
Last week, Professor Thomas examined the architecture of the global financial system. This includes the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank with which we are all familiar as they have played an important role in Guyana for over a decade, lending money and helping to design economic policy. The loans have certain conditions attached, and the broad parameters of their prescriptions are well known and include low inflation and balancing your books. In other words, financial orthodoxy, the kind of requirements bankers impose on their customers who owe them a lot of money.
According to a report in the Guardian Weekly, at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos many speakers accepted that things weren't working out as they were expected to when the grand design of globalisation was outlined at the start of the 90s. "There's a bit more humility and a greater willingness to accept that those who have been warning about the nasty side-effects of one-size-fits-all integration might have a point". Klaus Schwab, a key organiser of the forum, referred to seven main challenges, the need to create conditions for faster growth, the need of environmental and social sustainability, followed by effective international peace keeping, a narrowing of the technological and social gulf between rich and poor, the need for higher standards of health and nutrition, a common understanding of human rights and values, and the safeguarding of cultural identity is an increasingly homogenised world. As the writer points out, many of these concerns did not exist at the outset so the concept is clearly evolving. However, as he also notes, "getting the rhetoric right is one thing, changing behaviour is quite another".
Like all `grand ideas' globalisation is having to deal with reality. Yashwant Sinha, India's finance minister, told the forum that while nobody in developing countries challenged the inevitability or the potential benefits of globalisation the rich countries must understand that it could not be achieved in an unequal world, that environmental pollution was caused by the lifestyles in the north and developing countries were unwilling to listen to sermons about sustainability from those doing most of the polluting, and that the West's approach to immigration was harmful to developing countries as it involved poaching the brightest and the best. He said 38% of all the doctors in the United States are Indian and 34% of the scientists at NASA.
How will the `system' change, how will it react to all these problems? Developing countries have to make themselves heard through such fora as are available, but perhaps more importantly they need to work together to develop a strategy that seeks to address some of the main problems that now affect them.
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