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corporate dominance | economic justice | genetic engineering

Globalization without a Human Face

"GATT and TRIPs are also deadly for small farmers and consumers in the North. However people seem hardly aware of these dangers implicit in liberalization of the agricultural market... Biotechnology is propagated as future techynology and a job creator. Social Darwinism, the survival of the most brutal, should prevail." Maria Mies is an emeritus professor of sociology in Koln, Germany and a spokesperson for subsistence economics.
Globalization without a "Human Face"

By Maria Mies

[This article is translated from the German on the World Wide Web. Maria Mies is an emeritus professor of sociology in Koln, Germany.]

The present phase of global restructuring began with the recession around 1990. On one hand, this phase is marked by the continuance and expansion of the policy of export-oriented production in industry, agriculture and the informal sector. On the other side, there are also quantitative and qualitative differences to the previous restructuring phases. The shift of production sites to low-wage countries refers today not only to the "Third World" but also to the de-industrialized countries of the East and China. While the first phase of the shift occurred above all in the labor-intensive areas of light industry, it is also occurring today in heavy industry in the areas of the coal-, steel-, auto- industries and ship-building.

Today men in Europe and the US are affected by plant closings. Lax environmental laws and high wages drive the MNCs (multinational corporations) to low-wage countries. Therefore unions in the northern industrial countries speak of a "social and environmental dumping". As in the first phase, the current process of the restructuring of the world to increasing export-oriented goods production in the so-called South and East is driven by the mammoth MNCs. More and more capital concentrates in their hands. The 15 mammoth MNCs including General Motors, Exxon, IBM and Royal Dutch Shell have a net income greater than the combined GNP of 120 countries including all Third World countries. The MNCs control the world market for consumer goods like computers, cars, household appliances, textiles and also the world market for food. Cargill, one of the largest MNCs, possesses 60 percent of the world trade of seed. A similar capital concentration exists in the area of telecommunications. Half of the MNCs are in the US; the other half are in Europe and Japan. The "Third World" is excluded from this concentration of money and power and is exploited by this power block.

This neocolonial structure of the global economy is ideologically and politically maintained by several global institutions like the World Bank, the IMF and since 1995 by the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) - today the WTO (World Trade Organization). The present phase of restructuring the world economy is defined by these institutions. In addition there are massive new economic blocks like the EU, NAFTA and APEC which set favorable conditions for the MNCs. Those blocks are propagated with the slogan of removing unemployment and many persons fall into this propaganda as for example Sweden and Austria.

The GATT was invented to revive the free trade philosophy of the 19th century. This means firstly removing all trade barriers established by the states (tariffs, import restrictions etc) to protect certain sectors of their economy and opening their markets for importing goods from the whole world. The multinationals everywhere adopt their standpoints. While they had to limit themselves in the first phase to enclaves, now practically the whole world belongs to them. The last remnant of the national sovereignty of individual states ends. Free trade policy starts from ideas that

1. trade is the foundation of life,
2. all trading partners are equal,
3. everyone will profit from this "free" trade through the principle of the so-called "comparative advantage".

In practice, however, the weaker partners, for example the countries of the "Third World", are forced to accept regulations that not only erode their sovereignty but also open up their agriculture to the multinationals, abandon their policy of self-sufficiency, above all in the food sector and allow toxic industrial waste from the North to be "disposed" in their territory. "Dirty" industries from the North are transferred into their territory. On top of that, they must allow banks and insurance companies of the North. "Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights" (TRIPs) permitting foreign firms and scientists to patent, monopolize and commercialize the biological diversity and cultural inheritance of the countries of the "Third World" are the most dangerous elements of the free trade pact.

GATT and TRIPs are obviously also deadly for small farmers and consumers in the North. However people seem hardly aware of these dangers implicit in the liberalization of the agricultural market. Who is worried about the dying of farmers when only three percent of the population works in agriculture and our food is cooked up genetically by the multinationals? This is different in the "Third World" where GATT, TRIPs and SAPs (structural adjustment programs) destroy the immediate foundations of human life. Vandava Shiva has shown the consequences of GATT and TRIPs for Indian agriculture, above all in connection with bio-engineering. Chemical- and food multinationals like Cargill, Monsanto, W.R. Grace and others have joined biotechnology on a large scale and try with the help of TRIPs to gain control over all life forms, plants, animals and ultimately people and their genes, especially in the tropical South where the diversity of species is not destroyed as much as in the developed North. Farmers in India are robbed of their traditional knowledge about growing plants by the patentees and made dependent on multinational seed firms. Every farmer who uses and reapplies patented seed must then pay license fees or royalties to the patentees. What was the collective cultural property of the people, above all women, for thousands of years, namely knowledge about the regeneration and cultivation of plants , is now robbed, patented, privatized and commercialized as at the time of early capitalism. The multinationals urge "harmonizing" all patent laws, that is adjusting to the American patent law.

In the North, bioengineering is propagated by politicians and above all by the chemical multinationals (like Hoechst) as a future technology or job creator while disastrous consequences are only seen by a few. The Brussels EU commission has now given free rein for all possible bio-engineered or genetically manipulated food. Since most people in industrial countries already totally depend on buying goods from the supermarket, they are practically made into forced consumers of genetically engineered food. They lose the freedom to choose what they eat.

What is true for the food- and health sectors is also true for the area of reproduction. The new reproduction technologies - propagated as aids for individual women for conceiving or not conceiving a child - prevent a handicapped child through prenatal diagnostics, genetic therapy on fetuses and sex selection.

These technologies not only open the door for racist, eugenic, sexist selection but also prevent the somewhat normal conduct of all women in pregnancy and birth. All these life processes are medicalized and industrialized. In addition, women are increasingly instrumentalized worldwide as merely producers of biological raw material, for example of "fetal material" for research goals and organ transplants.

The access to all living things entices multinationals all over the world for the purpose of capital accumulation. What is involved is the totalitarian claim of this capitalist economic mode intent on transforming everything into goods or commodities.

One of the greatest problems of this economic mode is the dilemma that those who are exploited, marginalized, pauperized and made into housewives corresponding to the law of (continuing) accumulation are not potential buyers for all these goods produced globally. The markets in the rich countries do not expand so quickly, at least not for conventional goods. The IMF has created the disciplining program of structural adjustment for these eroded, drained or washed-out indebted areas. These SAPs should bring the indebted countries under the regime of the "free market" by dismantling all measures recalling distributive justice and Keynesianism. All state subsidies for farmers, women, health, social projects and food for the poor are cut. Social Darwinism, "the survival of the most brutal", should prevail.

During the second period of globalization, the poor still nursed the illusion that the state would develop in the direction of Sweden, Germany or other welfare states. This illusion is finally over after the SAPs combined with GATT, TRIPs and the new economic blocks. One of the problems in restructuring the world economy is the fact that those who produce for low wages in low-wage countries cannot simultaneously be customers for these products. Women are particularly affected by this development. To survive, they must find new/old ways of subsistence. For capital, they are superfluous both as producers and consumers. This is the reason why they have become targets for the population controllers. This is true in Africa to a large extent although there is hardly discussion about this continent.

The Cairo population conference in September 1994 created the ideological acceptance for stylizing these poor, especially women, as responsible for poverty and environmental destruction. The "superfluous people" should disappear and be decimated.

The present globalization leads to the unscrupulous elimination of persons uninteresting for the market, to a further polarization between rich and poor countries and a greater gulf between the rich and poor within these countries, both in the North and the South, despite the rhetoric about "one world" or "one global village". The lifestyle of the elites in the South has adjusted more and more to the elites in the North. Together these represent an enormous market. In fact, economists expect the necessary growth impulse for a further round of capital accumulation from these elites or middle classes in South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia and above all China and India. As Pam Woods wrote in the "Economist", they should "draw the rich countries out of the recession of the early nineties". According to an estimate of the OECD, there will be 700 million consumers in India, China and Indonesia for modern consumer goods in the year 2010. This "equalizing consumption" will not exist for the majority of the population of these countries. They will be more impoverished as workers and farmers made into housewives in the informal sector anxious that goods needed daily like food and clothing do not become too expensive.

This polarization between the rich and the poor will also increase in the North. The transfer of whole industries into low-wage countries increases unemployment. Real wages fall. The strategies of coping with crises are the same as the strategies in the "Third World", namely deregulation, informalization of working conditions, the "housewife phenomenon", the creation of low-wage sectors a la Rexrodt in the midst of rich countries in which mainly women work, a gradual dismantling of the welfare state, the elimination of farmers and the industrialization of agriculture and life.

The "third-worldization" of the "First World" shows that the globalization of the economy seems to temporarily solve the crisis for capital but in no way brings prosperity for everyone. Continual capital accumulation is only possible as long as there are external and internal colonies, areas and people that can be treated and robbed as non-equals. Pam Woods clearly explained that the comparative cost advantages of the poor countries are their cheap workers and their lax environmental legislation and that the economy has no interest in equality.

"The advantages of international trade are that the comparative cost advantages of the South are exploited without the South becoming equal to the rich countries. Many of the comparative advantages of the Third World lie in the fact of their poverty: in their cheap workers and their tolerance for pollution of the environment."

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