What Alternative to Globalization?

By Wallis, Victor | Monthly Review, September 2002 | Go to article overview

What Alternative to Globalization?


Wallis, Victor, Monthly Review


Walden Bello, The Future in the Balance: Essays on Globalization and Resistance, Edited with Preface by Anuradha Mittal (Oakland, Calif.: Food First Books, 2001), xviii+264 pages; $13.95.

What kind of popular movement is coming into being at the present time? It is certainly one that has turned its sights on capital's leading exponents, and not just in response to specific issues. More impressively, it now routinely targets capital's periodic international gatherings. Already before September 11, presidents and financial leaders could no longer confer globally except under fortress conditions, deployed against tens of thousands of protesters.

But how do these protesters define themselves politically? What is their own understanding of the institutions they oppose--and of any possible alternatives? The answers to these questions are not only mixed, but are also very much in flux. To the extent, however, that we can single out any intellectual leaders of the movement, Walden Bello would certainly have to be counted among them. Raised in the Philippines, with a doctorate in sociology from Princeton, and currently based at a research center in Bangkok (as well as teaching at the University of the Philippines), he is widely respected as an authority on East Asia and, more broadly, as a voice for the global South.

This book brings together his essays, columns, and interviews from the last four years on globalization-related issues, from the World Trade Organization to the 1997 Asian financial crisis to debates on "sustainable development." As such, it is an important document of struggle. It bears the invigorating stamp of immediacy even if it lacks the definitive quality of sustained argumentation. Its descriptive parts provide a highly readable introduction to the major international financial organizations and, especially, to the devastating impact of speculative investment on third world economies. With particular regard to Asia's formerly touted "tiger" economies, Bello offers a damning account of their shaky foundations and of their eventual collapse, as orchestrated not only by the mega-money-changers but also by U.S. policy-makers. More generally, Bello shows the degree to which, despite official rhetoric about trade "helping the world's poor," exports from rich countries remain heavily subsidized while interna tional organizations have abandoned whatever countervailing support they might once have offered the third world--for example, by insisting on more equitable terms of trade--during the heyday of post-Second World War developmentalism.

Bello may be read as a reliable guide to the institutions of neoliberalism as they have taken shape over the last quarter-century. So long as he is addressing the mechanics of these institutions and their impact, he is on solid ground. Much of his discussion, however, goes beyond this to touch, even if lightly, on deeper structural questions. His positions here become more debatable, but are all the more important inasmuch as they underlie the policy proposals that he puts forward throughout the book. His prominence in the antiglobalization movement makes it vital for us to address these matters.

Bello is against the WTO; he is against the "Bretton Woods twins" (the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank); and he is against transnational corporations. His opposition to these entities reflects a thorough awareness of their systemic roles. As he puts it, "Multilateral structures entrench the power of the Northern superpowers under the guise of creating a set of global rules for all" (p. 31). Consequently, the interest of the South lies in weakening such structures. In the ongoing strategic debate over whether they should be reformed or abolished, Bello thus tends toward the more radical stance. At the same time, however, he is careful to distance himself from an anticapitalist position. …

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