Globalization Brings Lower Quality of Life

In less than a month, the chiefs of government of the seven most industrialized countries in the world along with Russia’s Vladimir Putin – the so-called G8 group – will meet in Genoa, Italy, to talk about the state and future direction of the international economy.

At the same time, a number of antiglobalization organizations have announced massive anti-G8 demonstrations. The Italian police expect that around a million people will show up.

The Genoa demonstration will be a good occasion to evaluate the evolving agenda and the political strength of the movement that the European press has already baptized the “”Seattle people,”” after the demonstrations at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle two years ago.

The Seattle movement is, by its own admission, a loose connection of parts with widely different orientations, but a few general trends are starting to emerge.

First of all, one should understand what is meant by globalization, since the term has several connotations with different economic, political and ethical implications.

On one hand, there is what one might call the “”globalization of awareness.”” More and more people are becoming aware of the existence of other cultures, of their habits and differences. This form of globalization is a positive cultural force, even in light of some embarrassing outcomes, like the naive syncretism of most New Age philosophy.

The “”global village,”” to rely on an overused and profoundly misunderstood expression, entails at least that the villagers know each other.

The corruption of cultures by the action of other cultures is also unavoidable and, to some extent, desirable. Cultures can only grow in symbiosis with other cultures, and without such contamination, works such as Spain’s Alhambra Palace would not exist, and the majority of humanity would have never known the number zero and the principles of democracy, to name but a few.

The Seattle movement, or at least its most intelligent portion, is not against any of these things.

There is, to be honest, a neo-Luddite fringe component in the antiglobalization movement, but the movement as a whole knows very well that any such position is self-defeating. So much, in fact, that antiglobalization activists make great use of certain new technologies, such as the Internet and cellular phones.

So, what is the essence of the antiglobalization message of the Seattle movement? My interpretation (personal but, I venture, well-founded) is that it is the opposition to the modalities in which globalization is imposed on us, in particular to the corporate control of it, and of the consequent primacy of economy over other areas of human life.

The forces against which these groups are revolting are the arrogant globalization efforts of multinational corporations, and the reduction of all human values to the search for profit. Is the globalization of Nike, which paid endorser Michael Jordan a salary equivalent to that of 22,000 of its Asian workers, not the global cultural horizon by which we know and care about the plight of the Asian workers?

It is a protest against the rhythms and values that corporate globalization is imposing.

The global economy is forcing us — even we who live in rich countries — to work longer hours and have less and less of a personal and social life. To guarantee an average income, last year American families had to work the equivalent of seven weeks more than they did in 1990.

The global economy is also convincing us of the unavoidability of this model, and of the need to sacrifice everything to the supreme good of the economy: Only 8 percent of Americans would accept working fewer hours for less pay. Nobody bothered to ask what the good of a strong economy is if our quality of life suffers.

Corporate globalization is also forcing us to look and think the same but, at the same time, to be more alone.

Our jobs look the same wherever we are, and our free time looks the same too: The entertainment industry is also global, and is pushing us toward uniform models of behavior that invariably involve being more and more alone and surrounded by expensive gadgets. Invaluable social skills are lost in the process.

The protest of the Seattle movement is a protest against the trivialization of politics. Crucial decisions about our lives are no longer made by governments of international organisms accountable to voters, but by boards of directors accountable only to shareholders.

In the process, an important pillar of all democracies is lost: the principle that every individual has the same political power (that is, one vote). This principle is being replaced by the principle of concentration of wealth: Political power is directly proportional to the amount of stock owned.

All other human values have to bow to the supremacy of wealth and consumption; those who do not own stock and do not consume are nonentities.

The global economy is convincing us to accept a society in which a few hundred people control half the wealth of the planet, while one-third of the population lives on less than a dollar per day.

In essence, the message of the Seattle movement is more ethical than economic. Its protests go deeper than simple issues of economic strategy, to question the ethical bases of the global economy. It reminds us that economy — be it global or not — is just an instrument whose foundations must be ethical.

Maybe the essence of a fair and rational opposition to this brand of globalization is better summarized by the words that the American economist Jeremy Rifkin used to address his Italian audience at a recent pre-G8 debate:

“”You Italians have been the first to develop the concept of commerce and were able to sell your culture in the international arena: furniture, silk, glass. Centuries of success, and your culture has never been strangled by commerce. The main reason is that no Italian ever believed that the market was more important than culture.””

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