When speaking about globalisation government analysts usually refer to five main features: Growth and spread of investment across the world; expansion of trade; relocation and reorganisation of private business assisted by financial institutions and governments; the invention and diffusion of technology; and the spread of what America calls ‘democracy’ around the world.
At first sight some of these features might seem to indicate progress: supporters of globalisation argue that it leads to better conditions for poorer countries. ‘Only winners, no losers,’ as one American economist put it. But in fact the real object is to promote freedom for international (mainly US) big business – via the world Trade Organisation (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank – to do as it likes around the world.
There is no space here to go into the political and technological developments of the last fifty years which have led to the growth of globalisation, or the swingeing demands made on developing countries by the IMF as a condition of loans. Let us just consider the effect of globalisation on millions of people across the world today.
Let’s start with agriculture and natural resources. Many of the commodities and crops produced by Third World countries have dropped dramatically in price. This is in part because new technologies developed in Northern countries have reduced the demand for these goods. But also, in order to enhance their profits, the huge supermarket chains worldwide are paying less and less to their Third World suppliers, whose workers’ conditions then deteriorate still further. The fall in prices has made poor people poorer, causing misery for millions of people who labour in fields, forests and mines across the world for little return. In other areas, introduction of new technologies and industrial methods of farming in order to expand export crops has meant that many small farmers are no longer able to grow the small amounts of staple food crops that they traditionally used to eat to survive. The terrible irony is that increasing food supplies and gnawing hunger go hand in hand in the modern world.
Where multinationals take over from small individual farms or small factories there is inevitably a loss of jobs and livelihoods. This can lead to massive migration either within a country or to other countries in search of work, with all the misery that can go with it in the way of exploitation and abuses. In America itself the farming industry is in crisis. New technology and hybridised seeds have forced many small farmers off the land and into bankruptcy.
There are serious effects on the environment. The desire for quick profit, accelerated by globalisation, has led to pollution, deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats, which has had a profound effect on both animals and humans. The consequences of global warming, which flows from all this, are only now becoming clear. There is the plundering of plants by international pharmaceutical companies who then take out patents on their use, refusing to allow people to use their traditional remedies, without either compensation or payment.
There has been a great increase in prostitution, caused mainly by increased poverty but also by the spread of US military bases overseas, by the growth of the tourist and sex industries (both in the Third World and in the former Eastern bloc), and the rise in drug abuse. Women from farming areas, no longer able to live off the land, have migrated to these industries. HIV and Aids are spreading rapidly in the Third World.
There is the growth of drug trafficking and people trafficking. Unscrupulous criminals are conning the poor and dispossessed of many countries into thinking they can be smuggled across borders to seek a better life.
It is a depressing picture. But there are nevertheless some encouraging signs. The demonstrations and protests which now accompany the G8 summits show that people worldwide are realising that the future lies in their hands, and that the only weapon which can destroy the tyranny of naked capitalism is true socialism.