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Will our global obligations survive the anti-globalisation movement?

By Trevor Rogers - posted Wednesday, 15 August 2001

Globalisation brings us cheaper burgers, CDs and travel. Business people are confident that free trade and rationalist economics are not only good for business but promote the rational allocation of resources, generating growth and more taxes for welfare, in all nations, including developing countries. Many business people see the march of global capitalism as an integral part of the advance of freedom and democracy.

Why, then, is there this widespread but seemingly irrational opposition, not only among the loony left and right, but also in middle Australia, in the educated elite and the affluent who benefit most and who should be able to make informed decisions?

Much of the virulent anti-globalisation seen since Seattle is self-serving or parochial - unionists or local business objecting to foreign competition. But some is altruistic – environmentalists and the peace movement. It's also partly driven by baser emotions: fear of new technology, ignorance of history and economics, and selfish desires to preserve the status quo.


Although business has in general been reluctant to acknowledge the adverse effects of globalisation, real problems are admitted by such luminaries as the chiefs of the World Bank and the World Economic Forum, and even Peter Costello (in his youth!).

Part of the negativity is due to our loss of faith in leading institutions – national, international and non-government organisations. The decline of religious faith in the West in the 20th century was partly compensated by the rise of democratic socialism, which after a brief flowering is now perceived to be too costly and to encourage moral degeneration. The victory of capitalism is seen to increase pollution, high-tech weaponry and mindless consumerism. The idealism of the 60s anti war movement has faded as the spin-doctors multiply, and modern communications enable corporations to centralise creativity and control while facilitating global marketing and American cultural imperialism.

The solutions proposed for this political, economic and cultural wasteland have not been widely persuasive.

Obviously, corporations should act ethically, in employment practices, product development, marketing, and environmental impact – it's good business, anyway.

Both the right (eg Claude Smadja, MD of the WEF) and left (eg Tom Morton, commenting on the ALP), advocate that national governments should control global corporations, but this may be a vain hope. Even the best modern democracies are subject to money politics as much as the whims of the electorate.

The UN, WTO, WEF, World Bank and other institutions have in the past offered too little, too late. They are constrained by the sectional interests of the dominant national governments. Reform proceeds at a snail's pace, and even without the mass rallies, is still limited by the developed world at the expense of the poorer nations.


The multinational NGOs provide many valuable services. Some, like Greenpeace, are seen as single-issue, undemocratic saboteurs. Others like the Red Cross or Amnesty are well respected, but have limited political impact. All are undercapitalised, most are toothless, limited in scope, and neither donors nor aid recipients control the resources.

A web site has been set up to explore these ideas and outlines some key principles such an institution may need to follow. This aims to create a new institution that comprehensively addresses the political and cultural malaise as well as inequity, ignorance and ill health, but there aren't many useful suggestions for an integrated solution.

The proposed institution must be a voluntary, legally and financially viable, non-profit organisation, which can thrive in a global environment. It must not require majority political support to begin. The institution should provide, only to members, human rights support services (civil, political, economic and cultural) as defined in a policy document, like an insurance policy, with a legal, commitment on both sides to comply with the contract. It must be focussed on a core of people issues rather than a spread of dubious causes.

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About the Author

Trevor J. Rogers is Trustee of the Global Obligations Establishment Trust.

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