December 11, 2017

Corporate power and free trade

Amy Goodman and Larry Bensky interview Edward Goldsmith and Jerry Mander for “Democracy Now!” on Pacifica Radio (California, USA).

This edition of “Democracy Now!” was produced by Julie Drizzen, and the engineer was Kenneth Mason.

Broadcast 29 October 1996, duration 62 minutes.

The original audio can be found here.

Amy Goodman (presenter): From Pacifica Radio, this is “Democracy Now!” The Parental Rights Amendment in Colorado, USA, is the latest item on the Christian-Conservative agenda. We will have a debate. Today is also an International Day of Action to End Corporate Dominance.

This is a letter from a pre-school student involved in the campaign to try and make the corporations responsible. It says: “Dear Managers of The Gap, please don’t buy from sweatshops. I hope you know what they do. They lock little girls up and make them work. These children are just like me. They should go to school instead of sweatshops. I like your clothes but I’ll stop buying from you until you stop buying from sweatshops. From Susanne Pope. PS: I told my class on you.”

A speech on sweatshop labour and a discussion on the case against globalization. All that and more coming up on Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now!”, public broadcasting’s only daily election show. I’m Amy Goodman.

A 15 minute discussion on The Parental Rights Amendment (cut).

Amy Goodman: In Boulder, Colorado today, Earth First! is holding an action against Syntex Chemicals; students at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota are protesting Pepsico; Direct Action in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is demonstrating against Walmart; and Earth First! in San Francisco, hopes to shut down the Pacific Stock Exchange. These events are part of an International Day of Action to End Corporate Dominance. With the exclusion of Ralph Nader and Ross Perot from national presidential debates, the subjects of corporate power and free trade have not emerged as issues in the 1996 elections.

But some activists are still trying to inject these issues into the political debate. Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith are co-founders of the International Forum on Globalization, an organization of grassroots democracy environmental, labor, and consumer activists, who are beginning to name a common enemy: globalization. Mander and Goldsmith have just published a collection of essays on corporate power called The Case Against the Global Economy and for a Turn toward the Local, published by Sierra Club Books. Larry Bensky and I spoke with the authors when they were recently in Washington. I asked Jerry Mander what has contributed to this unprecedented concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few.

Jerry Mander: Well, I think that it has been going for some time, but I think that most recently, the reason it has accelerated so much lately is due to the new technologies which enable them to exercise control, centrally and globally, using the new technologies of communication that enable them to keep their multi-armed presences together as never before: to instantaneously move capital and resources anywhere on the globe through the use of computer technology, to speed up the scale of development. So that has been a tremendous aid. The trade regimes, of course, have enabled them to essentially wipe out the ability of nation states to control their laws or exercise any control over these corporations – so that the corporations are not completely free of any national control or any community control.

Citizen sovereignty movements are much less effective because of this, and that combination has revved up the speed and scale of development, as it never has been before. Some people say that globalization has been going on for some time, and that is of course, undeniably true. But now we are facing a tremendous acceleration, and with the new technology and the new trade instruments, and the loss of power of national companies to stop them, there is really nothing to stop them going for the gold – for the last resources, and for the last land – it is just ‘go for it right now’, and I think that citizens have lost a tremendous amount of power, and so have nations lost a tremendous amount of power.

Larry Bensky (co-presenter): Edward Goldsmith, when Jerry Mander talks about they have done this and it is being done by them, what do you understand to be they and them.

Edward Goldsmith: Well, this global economy was created largely by large corporations, to obtain bigger and bigger markets, and bigger freedoms to exploit these markets, and corporations have been trying to do this for a very long time. You may remember the free trade arrangements we had, going back a long, long way. We had free trade in the 1850s when Britain dominated the world, very much as America dominated the world in 1944 at Bretton Woods, and now corporations are imposing a similar, but weaker, regime on the world, not for any other reason, than to really maximize the interests of corporations, who dominate everything. Corporations did it, it is their work.

Of course, they work through governments, but they control governments, more and more. In my journal, The Ecologist, we documented in great detail how the European Commission is dominated by the European Roundtable. The European Roundtable represents the big businessmen of Europe. We took two subjects, education and transport, and looked at the reports written by the European Roundtable on these subjects. We found that everything they said, was faithfully reflected, often word-for-word, in the reports established by the European Commission, which serve as policy documents. So it is perfectly clear that European Policy is determined by these corporations.

They have got a monopoly of money, and as Jerry Mander will tell you, they are in a position today (largely as a result of the signature of the GATT Agreements, and the setting up of the World Trade Organization, which they control) in which they do what they like. We have had a global economy. We have reduced tariffs on trade, since World War Two, from an average of 40 percent to about 5 percent. But there is something completely new. Now we have discovered ‘non-tariff barriers’, which means that we now classify as barriers to trade, all the fundamental laws that we have established over the last 40 or 50 years – to protect local economies, to protect our society, to protect labour and to protect the environment. All these laws can now be eliminated. All you have to do is decree that they are ‘non-tariff barriers to trade’ and they can be declared ‘GATT illegal’. So . . .

Larry Bensky: Who are ‘they’ and who are ‘them’, who is doing this? Is it all corporations? Jerry Mander, you make the argument that all corporations are by their structure immoral, impersonal and bad.

Jerry Mander: My understanding and appreciation of it right now, is that it is the corporations who are driving this global economic experiment, for their own self-interests – for short-run interests. And the people who are acting to control it, are of course, their representatives in organizations like the World Trade Organization and those behind the GATT. Basically, the tribunals of these organizations are run by corporate people, or corporate supporters, and these are non-transparent institutions. The public does not know what goes on in these tribunals when laws are considered for essentially, reversal.

We have already had, in the United States alone, just in the environmental area, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, directly threatened, the Clean Air Act, the Delaney Clause, the Raw Log Export Clause, the Café Standards etc. These are all up for challenge in the GATT Agreements, right now, and these are some of our most fundamental environmental laws.

Edward Goldsmith: We all know that it is absolutely accepted that the erosion of the ozone layer is one of the more serious problems we face today. We know it is caused by a certain number of chlorinated chemicals that we have put into the atmosphere – in particular, CFCs, and now we have phased them out in the USA, and we have phased them out in Europe, but what are the companies who produce them doing? They are getting the CFCs made in the Third World, instead. I am told that after cocaine, the second biggest article of contraband into America today is CFCs.

Now how can you possibly defend this sort of action? How can these corporations collaborate with Third World countries, or establish themselves on the sly in Third World countries, to produce something, which we know is going to make life, very, very difficult on this planet; which will massively increase skin cancer; and cause a host of other problems. How can that possibly be justified on moral grounds? It is almost impossible to find a more immoral attitude. Yet this is typical, and it is the same with oil. We know that we have to do something about global warming, which is by far, the most serious problem we face on this planet, and which could make this planet uninhabitable, in a matter of decades.

Now there is almost total unanimity among climatologists on this issue, except for 4 or 5 scientists, whose names I know – and the names of the oil companies who pay them have been published. We know what they receive for lying to the public, these ‘experts’. Yet here we find, that the oil companies are doing everything they can to prevent any action being taken to remove the emission of greenhouse gases. Now is it possible to imagine more immoral behaviour? I don’t know how you can do it. Is it worse than anything that the Mafia does? I ask you that question. My opinion is that what the Mafia does is probably not as bad. The Mafia are into prostitution, whereas these people, in order to make a little bit of money, are into transforming this planet, so as to make it literally uninhabitable to complex forms of life.

Amy Goodman: We are talking to Edward Goldsmith and Jerry Mander. They have both edited a book called The Case Against the Global Economy and for a Turn toward the Local, published by Sierra Club Books. At the top level, with the corporations, capital knows no borders – it moves back and forth, and of course power is being more and more concentrated, that is, up there. Down here are the people, and yet you see borders increasing. You see the passage of the Immigration Bill in this country, which is sending people back and making it less possible for people to come into this country. You see the Welfare Appeal Law passed, where at the top, corporations are making more money while the people at the bottom are getting poorer and poorer. How can that be countered?

Jerry Mander: It can only be countered by first understanding the causes of these problems. The immigration problem is a really good example of the tremendous distortions of reporting, or the failure to connect all the dots, by the mass media on subjects like that. The press has allowed the immigration issue to be fought out on this kind of xenophobic level, by people like Pat Buchanan. Yet the cause of this immigration is in many places, even in the United States – certainly in relationship to Mexico, but also many parts of Europe, and elsewhere, because global institutions and global corporations have gone into places like Mexico, and destroyed the indigenous economy – very often quite on purpose.

The World Bank even articulates the virtue of destroying the indigenous economy and the self-sufficient small scale farming that might be going on in each of these locales; putting it under corporate control; turning it into pesticide-and-mechanized-agriculture; driving people off their lands into cities where they can’t find jobs; and then compelling the people to go to some other country to seek that same kind of job.

Jerry Mander: But very often, it is us which has caused that situation, and when they are coming here to try and find a job we then have racist reactions to their coming here.

Edward Goldsmith: Exactly.

Amy Goodman: When you say it is ‘us’ that caused that, explain what you mean. How did the US government facilitate these corporations going into Mexico?

Jerry Mander: Well, corporations have been going into Mexico for some time. But under NAFTA and the US – Canada Free Trade Agreement, it is almost impossible for a nation to keep out foreign investment. So that now, Mexico is completely subject to the power of the giant financial institutions of the United States who are free to not only invest in Mexico, but no longer have to own a maximum of just 49 percent of a corporation. Now they can buy 100 percent of the so-called ‘Mexican corporation’ and then set up control of the Mexican economy, very, very, very directly. So when I say ‘we’, I do not mean me or you, I really mean the corporate structure and the United States government’s participation in that corporate structure, as a subordinate to that corporate structure, which has created the conditions that drive the people off their own lands, leading them up here, looking for jobs. But then we send them back again.

Edward Goldsmith: Exactly. However, this trend is going to be accentuated massively, by the global economy, because the global economy is going to kill small farmers, artisans, small shop-keepers etc. Small people are going to be wiped out, as they have been, throughout the world, where we have set up ‘Structural Adjustment Programmes’. They’ve gone. Now take a case like India where there are probably 600 million people who live off the land, or live off the farmers as small artisans. Most of those people, perhaps as many as 500 million, are going to be pushed off the land. It is inevitable. It cannot be avoided. In China, it will be 1 billion. What is going to happen to all these people? They are going to flood into the slums. They are going to be pushed off the land, to accommodate vast plantations – mechanized plantations geared to the export trade. That is what it is all about. That is what has happened everywhere else. So you can predict in advance that millions of marginalized people are going to be created.

Amy Goodman: Presumably, some of these people get jobs?
Edward Goldsmith: A very, very small number get jobs, but there is no way in which we can provide enough jobs. If you look at Jeremy Rifkin’s book on the end of jobs (and we’ve got a chapter on this subject in our book), both he and we believe you can probably run the global economy on 20 percent of the world’s population. So an enormous proportion of the world’s population are going to be marginalized. It’s inevitable if you think of all the small people who are going to be put out of business by this global economy. So there is no way these people will get jobs. An enormous proportion of the world’s population is actually going to be marginalized, which is something that has never happened before in human history.

Jerry Mander: John Cavanagh of the Institute of Policy Studies has a very good figure on this. I am sure he has been on your show many times. He is also in the book, and he points out that the 200 largest corporations, who are acting on the global stage very very aggressively, actually account for 25 percent of global economic activity – and yet at the same time provide something like 0.0001 percent of the jobs because when the global economic activity is more mechanistic, it is not labour intensive. They desperately seek to not hire people, although they have to hire a certain minimum to do certain tasks. But for the most part, they are not interested in hiring. There is a mechanization drive that goes right along with globalization. So we cannot look at the formal economy for an expansion in the job market.

Larry Bensky: But you go further than that, don’t you Jerry? You say that people should not really be looking to jobs for their sustenance – their material sustenance, and also, their role on Earth, but instead, they should be looking to their community and towards their family, and a renewed sense of producing things themselves. When I think about this interview and it being broadcast, I visualize – something I do in radio – “who is listening to this?”.

And I think, people on jammed, traffic-choked freeways in Los Angeles at the end of drive time when this is being broadcast, who are thinking to themselves “Well this is all very well and good, but I’ve got to get to my job, and this freeway is driving me nuts, and I’ve got to get my paycheck or I can’t feed my family, and I’ve go to do this and I’ve got to do that.” Yet you are basically trying to tell them, in some of the writings in this book, “Wait a minute! Stop! It should not be about that, at all.”

Jerry Mander: Well, first of all there are 44 authors in this book so everyone has a slightly different angle on the subject. I don’t really tell people that they should give up their job, and go operate a farm. However, I think there is a fundamental assumption among all the authors in the book, that it is a corporate utopian fantasy to believe that globalization economics is going to satisfy any of the ultimate needs of the vast majority of the citizens anywhere on the planet. The authors also believe that the solutions lie in bringing real power back to where people can exercise it in some manner – which means in the direction of smaller communities, local communities, regional controls, and watershed communities in some cases. It means bringing power back to where democracy is operable, and minimizing or eliminating the power of centralized, corporate, global control.

Larry Bensky: I was recently in France – I go there a lot – and in Western Brittany some friends of mine have started a non-cash ‘Culture Labour and Service Exchange’ because these are mostly poor people.

Jerry Mander: It’s a LETTS system.

Larry Bensky: Exactly. You write about that in the book, and I think that it would be good to bring that to our listeners’ attention now – to describe exactly what it is, and how it might begin, to help people on a local level, disconnect from the corporate capitalist economy. Why don’t one of you describe a LETTS system?

Edward Goldsmith: In France, it was only set up about 2 years ago, and now it is spreading like lightning. There are about 50 schemes already, especially in the poorer areas of South West France. It is becoming very important, because people simply have no other means of living. It simply means that you create your own currency, and once you have got your own currency, you exchange things using this currency. I will come and fix your electricity, and I will get a credit, in the local currency; and you fix somebody elses plumbing and you get a credit; and we all get credits by doing fulfilling functions and selling things to people; and eventually, even shops come into the deal – small shops are joining in.

So you cultivate the basis of a new local economy, using your own currency among people, who would otherwise have no money – and many of whom will be seriously suffering from malnutrition – because let us not fool ourselves – this malnutrition is already beginning to occur. We have reached a situation in England, in which a large proportion of the population can no longer feed their families. It is a situation where long term contracts are reduced to short term contracts, full-time jobs to part-time jobs, salaries are falling, and the Welfare State is being dismantled – so people can no longer feed their families.

Jerry Mander: It is worth adding that there is a chapter in the American edition of our book by Susan Micolari on the local currency systems in the United States, which are gaining tremendous popularity. There are also systems like community-supported agriculture, which basically operate outside the market system, where people can directly buy from organic farmers, and these things are growing tremendously. In one of the chapters in the book, about 40 ideas are proposed by Helena Norberg-Hodge of the International Society for Ecology and Culture on new economic schemes, tax structures and so on.

But also, there is a chapter on what is called the New Protectionism, which is basically saying, what is wrong with Protectionism? Protectionism has really gotten a bad name but what on Earth is wrong with acting in the interests of your community by enforcing labour and environmental standards, developing local economies and advocating self-sufficiency rather than producing for export? This has great promise I think, and there are many, many other ideas, but nobody has the complete package put together yet.

Larry Bensky: I will try to make you feel good by telling you that when this interview is over, I am going to bicycle home, and on my way, I’m stopping by the Berkeley (California) Farmers Market, and I am going to buy almost all of what my household consumes this week, right there.

Amy Goodman: On that note, we do have to wrap up. I want to thank Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith for joining us – editors of quite a tome: The Case Against The Global Economy: And For A Turn Toward The Local (Sierra Club Books). I’m Amy Goodman, with Larry Bensky. Thanks for being with us.

Jerry Mander & Edward Goldsmith: Thank you.

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