IMF, WTO: "I Can Change, I Can Change!"
"On the Left" Preamble Center.
"People say that I am evil -- they may be right. But it's not as if I don't try -- I just screw up, try as I might. But I can change, I can change!" So says the "Saddam Hussein" character in the movie "South Park."
This sounds a lot like the rhetoric coming from Washington about globalization. Activists have called for a halt to plans for expanding the World Trade Organization, which has consistently ruled in favor of corporate interests at the expense of developing countries. WTO and Clinton Administration officials respond by saying the new round will be a "development round," which will in some unexplained way redress the devastation caused by forced trade liberalization.
Now, in a brazen display of "doublespeak," we are being told that the International Monetary Fund, an institution whose economic policies kill thousands of poor children in the developing world each day, has suddenly been transformed into an anti-poverty organization. The IMF's "Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility," infamous for imposing brutal economic austerity policies on the poorest countries in the world, is being renamed the "Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility." Last week IMF Deputy Managing Director Stanley Fischer, in what may have been a Freudian slip, referred to the new program as the "Poverty and Growth Reduction Facility." And with a number of "advocacy groups" cheering them on, the Administration and Congress are poised to pass a bill sponsored by Representative Leach which would give the IMF more US tax dollars and expand its power, under the guise of "debt relief for the poorest countries."
Of course we should all support reforming unjust institutions, unless they're incapable of being reformed. What we have to be on our guard against, though, is attempts to put "old wine in new bottles" by dressing up the same old unjust policies in fancy new rhetoric. There's never a shortage of policy wonks to spin proposals about "new global financial architecture," "civil society" and other globaloney. Indeed, this is the sort of thing that foundations love to give money for, because they can claim they're doing something about an issue without actually challenging the privileges of the powerful.
And the word "reform" itself has become more than a little debased. When the IMF and the World Bank force a country to cut wages, lay off workers, produce for export instead of the needs of their own people, and sell off public property to cronies for less than its value, that's called "economic reform."
We need a reality check. What's the likelihood that policymakers who pursue policies that hurt workers and poor people at home are going to pursue policies that help workers and poor people abroad? Clinton abolished the New Deal guarantee that poor families would have income and called it "welfare reform," thus exacerbating poverty in the United States. Yet we're supposed to believe that Clinton's IMF is going to encourage other countries to pursue policies to reduce poverty.
You don't have to leave the United States to see that our government's efforts to "reform" globalization are a cruel joke. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a U.S. protectorate in the Pacific (closer to the Philippines than to Hawaii), is allowed to set its own minimum wage and immigration policies. As a result of the lack of federal government oversight, garment manufacturers have been able to set up sweatshops there in which indentured workers from China toil all day behind barbed wire. ABC News found that pregnant garment workers there are "forced to have abortions to keep their jobs." Yet garment manufacturers are allowed to sew "Made in the USA" labels into clothes produced by this slave labor. You might think that if you purchased a garment with a "Made in USA" label, you'd could assume that workers who produced it got paid the federal minimum wage and had their rights respected. You'd be wrong. Why should the same federal officials who won't enforce our own laws to protect workers who live under the American flag be trusted to protect the rights of workers overseas through the corporate-controlled WTO?
The next time you hear someone go on about "reforming globalization," "greening" the WTO, or turning the IMF into an anti-poverty organization, hang onto your wallet. Expanding the power of organizations controlled by multinational corporations isn't going to help workers in poor countries -- and it isn't going to help workers here, either.
Robert Naiman <email@example.com> Preamble Center 1737 21st NW
Washington, DC 20009 phone: 202-265-3263 x277 fax: 202-265-3647 http://www.preamble.org/