BUENOS AIRES: Ceaseless change seems to be at the heart of today’s global civilization. Because of this, countries that consider their domestic realities as sacrosanct find themselves unable to assimilate change or foresee its direction. To them, change appears as something irrational, even as a catastrophe.
As we saw in the anti-IMF protests in Prague recently, and last year’s street protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, such fears are spreading far and wide. People increasingly see change not as something that enhances their freedom and dignity but as a force encouraging avarice and unfairness. By concentrating wealth narrowly, globalization produces more threats than opportunities. The difficulty in transferring knowledge and new technologies from the center to the periphery, for example, widens economic disparity and subjugates some countries to a new form of colonialism. Seeing this, many people fear a new dominant class intolerably manipulating globalization for its betterment.
By limiting prospects for growth for many people, today’s international economic order is inconsistent with the ideals of the great democratic revolution of our century, which says that no inhabitant of the world should be left behind. For those peoples and countries now marginalized from the process of technological development, production, and exchange I believe that only one viable option exists: a new assertion of themselves as independent states, regionally integrated in as many ways as possible.
Only with independence does the confidence for greater participation come, and greater participation means improved governance, both in the international order and domestically. Ungovernablity arises from attempts to maintain control over people and places who are marginalized from participating in decisions that determine their daily lives. Citizens and countries alike become “ungovernable” when they see themselves as passive instruments of decisions taken by a closed elite that rules by transforming them into a mute “mass”.
For free individuals – free citizens, free states – are the real protagonists of governance. Without full and equal responsibility there can be no lasting governance. This is what market fundamentalists, management consultants, and technocrats fail to understand. Countries, citizens, users, consumers, producers, workers, entrepreneurs, professionals cannot be left out of the decisions that hold significant consequences for their lives and goals, indeed for the very values of society.
People in the United States and Western Europe recognize how continuity in their democratic systems enhanced their prosperity. By contrast, we in Latin America and Eastern Europe know that democracy has trouble surviving in times of crisis, poverty, and isolation. Preserving democratic values is hard when large sectors cannot integrate with the global market, when misery obliterates human dignity and a lack of options makes freedom meaningless. It is a bitter paradox, indeed, that the developed democracies use the power of globalization to punish us commercially by discriminating against our citizens and exports.
In individual states protection of the weak is attained by equal application of the rule of law. This must also be made true in international relations. But to create an international order based on law and not force – economic force having replaced military might – it is necessary to strengthen and spread multilateralism into political fields as well in economic ones. Only the cooperation of free and equal nations can bring this about.
Related to this is the fact that nowadays economic development depends less on a particular country and more on regional integration, which can serve to avoid the negative effects of those financial speculations boosted by globalization. So the world needs, in its regions, to facilitate integration on the basis of a general economic democratization: currency compatibility, free trade, shared legal rules and most of all a common will to fix the rules of the game according to a region’s entire interests. Only such equal cooperation can secure the solid political basis for integration.
So long as a country is subordinated to the uncontrollable force of globalization, its future is in foreign hands. But in agreeing to open regional economies to imports, poor and developing countries must be allowed some means to protect their new industries. There is justice in this, particularly given the hypocrisy of those countries who proclaim their faith in free trade while every day praying at the altar of protectionism.
Everyone acknowledges that the market requires rules in order to avoid deformations such as monopolies and oligopolies. But monopolies of wealth are just as pernicious. The State should not abandon its redistributive role; neither can the State surrender to the market its role in development. Indeed, quality housing and schooling, pensions and unemployment insurance, a modern health system and family social services must not be the fruits of an established democracy but a condition for democracy’s consolidation and survival.
For any program based on selfishness and injustice must generate strong forces of social dissolution and instability. The great challenge is to increase equality, and for this the State, which globalization claims to have overthrown, is vital. Only it can establish progressive taxes, adequate regulation of privatized public services, support to small and medium size companies, more efficiency in the public spending and a significant improvement in the education and health systems. It is the State’s undeniable obligation to guarantee the benefits of social security to all the inhabitants of a country.
Marxists used to agitate that the workers of the world unite. They never did, but we are now seeing a globalization of solidarity, of support for cooperative regional patterns and the need to rethink international agencies, and the impracticality of isolation. Without such solidarity, we are marching towards a world with no center, no authority, no order; a world ruled by a globalized Mafia “where what is official and what is clandestine will meet”. The logic of power in that future world will be unforgiving toward those who give up on their will to self-determination. To maintain that will, we must fight the fear of going against the prevailing political orthodoxy of an inevitable globalization. The only fish that always swims with the current is a dead fish.