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We need to democratize globalization

Marketplace Staff Jun 19, 2007

We need to democratize globalization

Marketplace Staff Jun 19, 2007


Kai Ryssdal: What might turn out to be the last round of the Doha negotiations on global trade began today in Berlin. The U.S., the European Union, Brazil and India got things going. They’ll be joined later in the week by Japan and Australia.

They’re all trying to salvage five years’ of work that has boiled down to one issue: subsidies that developed countries still insist on paying their farmers.

Commentator Benjamin Barber says it’s time to rethink how we govern global trade.

Benjamin Barber: American business woos Mexican laborers to cross the border illegally and take “American” jobs — and American citizens feel the pain.

Another Doha round comes up and we get pressed again to stop subsidizing agriculture and protecting American workers. No one is applauding. China sends poisoned pet food and lead-painted toys to the United States, and American consumers scream foul play.

But wait a minute. Aren’t we champions of the global free market?

Well yes, because we’re the original capitalists who think the invisible hand works better than the heavy hand of government. But no, because our ideology aside, we’ve always looked to a partnership between government and the market. Think the New Deal, the Great Society.

The real American formula is a free market overseen by a free people through free democratic institutions. And that’s where the global marketplace goes wrong. The economy is globalized, but democratic oversight remains national.

So who can regulate the flow of workers across borders the marketplace doesn’t even recognize? Assure that trade negotiations don’t hurt Americans? That pet food doesn’t kill pets? That toys don’t kill children?

Ain’t nobody out there who can. So we have to figure out how to democratize globalization.

The World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and other organizations are state-based. They’re mere extensions of the sovereign systems they represent, and especially of the big powers. Think instead of some sort of minimalist, global democratic body with the real right to regulate trade in capital, goods and labor.

Too utopian? Well, it’s not like the states regulate much today as it is — it’s more or less a global free-for-all, where brute force competes with anarchy. In comparison, utopia, transnational regulation may end up the far better and more sensible alternative.

Ryssdal: Benjamin Barber runs the nonprofit Democracy Collaborative.

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