Keeping Capitalism's Excesses In Check
In "A sophisticated assault on global capitalism" (Economic Viewpoint, Nov. 8), Jeffrey Garten complains that the efforts by the Sierra Club and citizen organizations to influence the forthcoming debate in Seattle on the ground rules for international trade constitute an "assault on global capitalism."
He complains that as a result of the work of the Sierra Club and Amnesty International, Shell Oil put pressure on the Nigerian government to clean up its human-rights act and the Nigerian environment; that the anti-sweatshop movement got Nike Inc. to raise the wages it pays to workers in the Third World making pennies an hour; that a broad coalition of consumer and environmental groups got Monsanto Co. to abandon its "terminator" technology, which would have prevented farmers from storing seed from one season to another.
If this is an assault on global capitalism, then global capitalism is in trouble. Perhaps, just as we need fair trade, not just free trade, we need responsible capitalism, not just global capitalism.
Garten points with alarm to the alleged power of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and their threat to global capitalism. How surreal--as if the NGOs had the power, the money, the control of the media, and can therefore wreak havoc on international capital. The only reason that thousands of people and scores of NGOs are planning to demonstrate against the presently existing World Trade Organization and globalization's palpable deficiencies is precisely because they, the citizens, have so little direct political or media power.
It is conceivable that "a global market can promote not only growth but individual freedom as well as a cleaner environment," as Garten writes, but only if that "market"--that is, those powerful corporations and institutions--is brought under democratic political supervision and direction and into the full light of democratic transparency.
Garten seems to have problems with free speech. He uses terms like "assault," "disrupt," and "hijack," which imply that the NGOs are some kind of terrorists. He assumes that, as far as trade is concerned, only governments and businesses should decide what is best for countries and their citizens. He assumes that unfettered free trade and global capitalism are the only way to a global nirvana. He encourages creation of "enemies lists" to rein in the NGOs.
I don't know about an "open world economy," but one thing the world needs is open political processes. The U.S. has in most cases stopped supporting countries run by tyrants who would suppress open government. I assume Garten would protest if I were to say that businesses have no right to participate in political processes. NGOs have just as much right as a business to advance their mission. If he wants NGOs to open their finances and members if they participate in political processes, then businesses should have to disclose what political parties, political action committees, and candidates are supported by their executives.
Castro Valley, Calif.