The Rebel Road…

I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, coward, you’re only going to kill a man. – Ernesto Che Guevara

Globalisation: claims and reality.

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There is no doubt that the world is following the neoliberal ideology today, just as there is no doubt that the US is seen as the bastion of neoliberal progress. The 1980s marked the beginning of this trend, and the post-USSR 1990s saw an expansion of ‘globalisation’ and ‘world markets’ on an unprecedented level. However, this is not a story with a happy ending. I would like to present what I have learnt as a critique of the now (in)famous claims of neoliberals – the reality behind their boasts of the victory of global capitalism.

Claim number 1: “The percentage of people in developing countries living below US $ 1 (adjusted for inflation and purchasing power) per day has halved in only twenty years.”

It is an interesting statement, to say the least. However, it is just as ‘doctored’ as it is interesting. As Michel Chossudovsky explains in his article, ‘Global Falsehoods: How the World Bank and the UNDP Distort the Figures on Global Poverty’, the institutions of ‘development’ have a totally arbitrary method of selecting the thresholds that later define poverty. For example, the ‘$ 1 a day line’ has almost no relevance to most developing countries in that local conditions of the economy may produce a type of person who might be earning as much as $ 10 a day, but might still be defined as poor, whereas the same conditions may create a person who may be earning as little as 10 cents a day, but still would not fall within the defining criteria of ‘poor’. In other words, the fluidity of market mechanisms and the inherent conditions of a society, its political set up, its economic policies, etc., conspire to create different social and economic ‘niches’ for different individuals. For this reason the arbitrary nature of grouping individuals without recourse to such in-depth study of local conditions is not just incorrect, it is potentially disastrous.

Thomas Pogge and Sanjay G. Reddy of the Department of Political Sciences, Columbia University state the following in the abstract to their paper:

“The estimates of the extent, distribution and trend of global income poverty provided in the World Bank’s World Development Reports for 1990 and 2000/01 are neither meaningful nor reliable. The Bank uses an arbitrary international poverty line unrelated to any clear conception of what poverty is. It employs a misleading and inaccurate measure of purchasing power ‘equivalence’ that vitiates international and intertemporal comparisons of income poverty. It extrapolates incorrectly from limited data and thereby creates an appearance of precision that masks the high probable error of its estimates. The systematic distortion introduced by these three flaws likely leads to a large understatement of the extent of global income poverty and to an incorrect inference that it has declined.”

Claim number 2: “Life expectancy has almost doubled in the developing world since WW II and is starting to close the gap to the developed world where the improvement has been smaller. Infant mortality has decreased in every developing region of the world.”

According to the proponents of globalisation the general rise in life expectancy is only attributable to globalisation. Furthermore, the decrease in infant mortality is also a product of neoliberal reforms. In this regard, it is interesting to mention a country that is not only not neoliberal, but utterly anti-capitalist – a country called Cuba. Cuba’s contention with the US is not a new one – nor is the inherent ideological contention between the two states.

There are genuine and proven reports of US interference in the country’s internal matters and many attempts to derail the state-working of the country through covert operations or assasination attempts on Fidel Castro – attempts that numbered at least 638 at last count!!

What is interesting, however, is that Cuba – at best a developing third world country – has a better medical and educational system than most first world states. According to the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI) rankings of 2007-2008, Cuba has a ranking of 51 – compared to China’s ranking of 81, Sri Lanka at 99, Indonesia at 107, South Africa at 121, India at 128 and Pakistan coming in at 136. Clearly, Cuba has better human development indicators than most countries that are considered the economic power houses of the world today. This is a rather formidable slap in the face of any economist or neoliberal who would say that ‘globalisation is the only way to achieve universal suffrage’.

Claim number 3: “Democracy has increased dramatically from almost no nation with universal suffrage in 1900 to 62.5 percent of all nations in 2000.”

According to neoliberal analysts, democracy is a by-product of globalisation. However, let us look at the case of Pakistan. Considering that globalisation was initiated in the 1980s within the world – and that Pakistan was being ruled by a military dictator at the time – it is interesting that the US (aforementioned bastion of neoliberalism) chose to shake hands and support a military dictatorship at the time. Apparently, globalisation has no problem accepting and supporting a military dictator as long as globalisation gets to grow – apparently globalisation has, on occasion, grown at the expense of democracy, at the expense of the developing world. What a ‘great’ heritage for a policy that advocates universal suffrage.

Furthermore, it is interesting that these very advocates of globalisation have no trouble violating the sanctity of sovereign states when it comes to bringing countries within the fold of the ‘globalisers’; case in point – Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, North Korea, etc.

Claim number 4: “Income inequality for the world as a whole is diminishing.”

A very interesting statement made by the proponents of neoliberal globalisation, this aims to present the fact that globalisation, which as mentioned before follows a neoliberal framework, works to lessen income inequality. The question that needs to be asked is, if this is so, then why is the country with the most neoliberal reforms suffering from income inequality of epidemic proportions?

I am talking about the US. A recent report compiled by the Census Bureau of the US says, “Since 1968, however, this trend has reversed. Income inequality for families, measured by the Gini coefficient, increased between 1968 and 1998. The net effect over the entire 1947-1998 period is an increase in family income inequality.”

As is evident, globalisation could not deliver on any of its claims. It can be clearly and demonstrably proved that globalisation, as a world economic imperative, seeks to diminish the economic vitality of developing nations rather than bring them up on par with the developed nations of the world. Clearly this is a policy of neo-colonialism – a policy enforced (read: shoved down our throats) by the world’s leading imperial powers. The question that now becomes relevant is: are we, as a people, so naïve and so blind that we would trust our future to any such phenomena which exist and work through smoke and mirrors?

I hope not.

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