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Sep 2, 2005 11:27 am

America, Welcome to the Global Era

For years friends and colleagues around the world have been telling me that we "just don't get it." The it they've been referring to is the real meaning and experience of what Americans--a few pesky tree huggers and unionists aside--celebrate as globalization.

But now, with the confluence of news of increasing poverty and inequality, an immense natural disaster that needlessly laid waste to entire cities, a president who uses war-talk and cheery bravado to distract an overworked public from how much good the money from tax cuts for the wealthy and the untold billions spent on the war in Iraq could have done at home--better levees, perhaps? Universal health insurance? More fuel efficient cars?--we can start to appreciate how the rest of the world understands globalization.

That's because globalization--more accurately, the neoliberal "Washington Consensus" policies that have created a corporate-ruled world were maximizing profits takes unquestioned precedence over human values and sustainable development--has always brought with it war, increasing poverty and inequality, environmental devastation, and cultural conflicts between the societies of the haves and those of the have nots. In the first era of true globalization, the 19th and early 20th century age of "High Imperialism" the rapid expansion of European control over the globe brought with it disease, death, war and immiseration to hundreds of millions of people in Africa and Asia.

This feat was accomplished through colonial wars, the "Late Victorian holocausts" (as historian Mike Davis terms them) caused by man-made natural disasters such as drought and epidemics, and the replacement of long-standing and complex economic systems with the supposedly "flattened" global economy. And this process was only a repeat of the death and destruction caused by the first global era, after 1492, when Europeans rampaged across the "New World" killing and enslaving tens of millions of its indigenous peoples (to be replaced by Africans once they mostly died off).

So it's nice to see that the home of Thomas Friedman, the New York Times, finally understands (as its lead editorial on September 1, describes it:, that "when President Bush talks about the economy, he invariably boasts about good economic growth. But he doesn't acknowledge what is apparent from the census figures: as the very rich get even richer, their gains can mask the stagnation and deterioration at less lofty income levels…. Only the top 5 percent of households experienced real income gains in 2004. Incomes for the other 95 percent of households were flat or falling."

But the rest of the world has known this for years. Indeed, contemporary globalization is in many ways a repeat of its 19th century predecessor. It's clear to everyone outside the Republican Party that man-made global warming is taking an increasingly heavy toll on world's fragile ecosystems (of which New Orleans, like the tsunami-ridden Indian Ocean basin, is a prime example). The West might be able to avoid catastrophes on the scale of the great Indian and Chinese famines of the 19th century, but the rest of the world won't (which is one reason why so many people aren't so thrilled with our policies). And the overwhelming majority of blacks constituting the refugees finally being evacuated attests to the racialization of globalization, whether in Africa or the US. Indeed, the unfathomable destruction of last Christmas's Asian tsunami is just the first exemplar of what "disaster capitalism" and the militarized globalization that makes it possible will bring across the globe.

As for the increasing poverty and inequality the Times rightly condemns here at home, it is a constant feature of the neoliberal policies abroad. Indeed, in 1960 the balance between rich and poor countries was pretty even, at 64 and 65 in each category. Forty years of globalization later the balance had shifted to 40 rich and 97 poor, with upwards of 3 billion people living on $2 per day or less.

The Middle East has largely avoided the poverty and inequality levels of Africa and southeast Asia in good measure because the countries of the region have refused to buy into the mythical panacea of the World Bank and IMF's economic growth discourse (and so-called "radical Islam" is one of the methods that have been adopted to ensure governments won't enact such privatization and liberalizing reforms, even when they've signed agreements to do so). Yet as America, with five percent of the world's population, continues to consume twenty-five percent of its resources, India and China, with forty percent of the world's population are racing to consume apace with us. The problem is, that would mean using 200 percent of the earth's resources. Can world war three--a mad scramble for the remaining petroleum, fresh water and other irreplaceable resources of the earth--be far behind?

The Times argues that politicians "should be ashamed of themselves" for the policies that have gotten us into this mess. The truth is, we should all be ashamed, and we better change our ways soon, or the news is only going to get worse.

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