By Robert Kuttner, 12/05/99
(This has been excerpted from a larger story in the Boston Globe)
The emerging global regime, under the auspices of the WTO and its sister agency, the International Monetary Fund, has
worked to tailor global rules to serve Western investors and to neatly undercut most of the elements of the mixed economy.
The sovereignty of nation-states, and the capacity of each to devise its own brand of mixed economy, is undermined by a
single, global set of laissez-faire rules.
Nations that want the IMF seal of approval must open their markets
to speculative flows of Western capital. When these
flows sometimes prove destabilizing, nations are compelled to undergo austerity policies that cut wages, public investment,
and social safety net programs. If the United States had been subject to such global constraints during the Great Depression,
most of the New Deal would have been illegal under some provision of either the WTO or the IMF.
By the same token, many of the instruments of economic development
used by the rich countries at earlier stages of their own
history are now being denied to Third World nations as ''WTO-illegal.'' These include public investments, state partnerships
with infant industries, and explicit favoritism for national, as opposed to foreign-owned, enterprise. This is a classic case of do
as I say, not as I did.
Perhaps the most hypocritical stance of business and political
leaders in the advanced countries is the notion that ''imposing''
labor or environmental standards on poor countries is an unfair violation of their sovereignty. The rich countries have had no
hesitation whatsoever in trampling the sovereignty of the Third World to demand that poor countries respect Western patent,
trademark and copyright protections, allow Western investors free access to local stock markets, banks, and financial service
firms, and cut social outlay in order to reassure Western money markets.
If these violations of sovereignty can be imposed as a condition
of membership in the WTO/IMF club for the sake of
property rights, surely we can also impose conditions for human, labor, and environmental rights. Moreover, it is not the
citizens of the Third World who resist the right to organize unions or have safe workplaces. It is Third World governments,
often authoritarian and undemocratic.
Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect. His column appears regularly in the Globe.