The Case Against the Global Economy - Jerry Mander & Edward Goldsmith (eds) (Sierra Club Books, 1996)

Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith have put together an impressive collection of essays looking at all aspects of the global economy, not just the narrow economic aspects.

The collection of essays was put together before the global meltdown and partial recovery in the spring, summer and winter of 1998, an economy that was still extremely jittery by the end of 1998, with stock markets showing violent swings both up and down within a single day. This instability was merely a foretaste of what the authors anticipate from our interlocking and greed driven economies.

Globalisation takes many forms. The globalisation of culture and of education to create a mass market for the purveyors of junk food and junk ideas. The destruction of the environment on a global scale. Distortion in the world's food supply as Third World countries move to supply the West with cash crops to pay ever growing debts, the West dumps its heavily subsidised food surpluses on the Third World, small family farmers in the West and subsistence farmers in the Third World are squeezed out. The patenting of life and the control of agricultural resources by a handful of global corporations is destroying global biodiversity. As James Goldsmith points out, the transfer of jobs to the Third World has huge social costs in the West as we experience social disintegration on a global scale.

In the introduction Jerry Mander shows how when not ignoring the globalisation that is taking place at breath taking speed, the opponents are slurred. To counter the lack of debate in the US on GATT and NAFTA, a coalition of environmental organisations and consumer groups including Friends of the Earth, Rainforest Action Network, placed a series of newspaper adverts highlighting the dangers. When the series of advertisements had run their course in the New York Times a scurrilous report in Newsweek claimed it was a front for labour unions (which is about the same as claiming it to be a dastardly Communist plot to destroy Mom's apple pie, Capitalism and the world as we now know it). Newsweek were eventually forced to print a belated apology, but by then it was too late, the damage had been done.

The level of ignorance of GATT and its successor (especially its implications), not just by the public, who have been deliberately kept in the dark, but the legislators who should know better, is amazing. When Ralph Nader offered to donate $10,000 to a nominated charity on behalf of any congressman or woman who would sign a sworn affidavit that he or she had read the 500-page agreement that established the WTO (successor to GATT) and answer 10 simple questions about its contents, there was not a single taker. Members of the same US Congress that ratified the agreement to establish WTO.

Ted Halstead and Clifford Cobb discuss the need for a measure of progress other than the widely discredited GNP. GNP is primarily a measure of consumption. Consumption translates to resource depletion and waste. At a time of increasing GNP, but much faster growing unemployment and social deprivation, GNP can not be considered as a meaningful measure of well-being.

Richard L Grossman and Frank T Adams put forward a novel idea. Corporations exist as legal entities under the law, quasi-legal people. They only exist by means of incorporation and corporate charters. There is nothing to prevent the relevant legislative authority to amend the rules of incorporation to make these corporations more accountable to the communities in which and from which they operate.

As legal entities corporations can be prosecuted, heavy fines imposed, though the actual level of fine is more often than not puny. Corporations expect to be treated as citizens in the eyes of the law, to have the same rights. Citizens also have responsibilities. If a citizen breaks the law he or she are punished, not only are they fined, they also lose their political rights and may lose their freedom. William Greider suggest these punishments should be equally applied to companies. Whilst a company can not be imprisoned (though its senior executives can) it can be disbarred from political activity, have preferential tax breaks removed. When a company sheds its workforce (ie behaves in an antisocial manner) and imposes huge social costs on a community there is no reason why it should not pick up he bill.

The latter part of the book moves away from analysis of the problems and towards solutions - a move towards the local. Schemes such as community supported agriculture (where local farms supply their local community), LETS (and alternatives such as Ithaca Hours). Methods of decoupling the local economy from the global economy and recycling wealth within the local economy rather than siphoning it off.

The book has sold more than 30,000 copies in the US, mainly in Washington, which must say something, though I'm not sure what.

Winner of the American Political Science Association book of the year for 'ecological and transformational politics'.

Highly recommended.

Books Worth Reading
(c) Keith Parkins 1999 -- September 1999 rev 0