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Book Review: Alternatives to Economic Globalization

Alternatives to Economic Globalization: A Report of the International Forum on Globalization

Edited by John Cavanagh and Jerry Mander

Barrett-Koehler, 2002, 268 pages, $15.95
Buy this book from Powell's, an independent bookstore

The world stands today where the nation state did 300 years ago. Nation-building was on the agenda then, world-building is on the agenda now. However, as there has not been just one way to build nations, there is not just one way to build a world society. National societies formed by reconfiguring smaller social units, such as cities, counties or tribes, have taken the form of dictatorships, monarchies or democracies. Likewise, the global society, reconfiguring smaller units, such as nation-states, civil society associations, and private companies, can take different forms as well. But the precise shape of the global society, its prevailing ideals, its winners and losers will evolve from innumerable debates, competing imaginations, and protracted power struggles.

Today, the battle is on. Names of places, such as Seattle, Porto Alegre, or Davos, have become symbols for the ongoing trial of strength between conflicting interests and visions. What kind of globalization is desirable? This is the key question that has moved center stage at the threshold of the 21st century. The book under review is an outstanding contribution to this worldwide argument.

Nineteen members of the San Francisco-based International Forum on Globalization, an internationally renowned group of activist intellec-tuals, have drafted what amounts to a platform of the worldwide alternative globalization movement. Weary of sneering inquiries from The Economist and the like as to what alternatives to the current system the movement is proposing, they have staked out a road map for putting globalization on a new course. What would democratic globalization, governed by justice and sustainability, as opposed to corporate globalization, dominated by power and profit, look like?

In reply to this question, the book offers a range of tools for charting a new course. Next to an analysis of the existing globalization system, it elaborates key principles for sustainable societies and sketches policy perspectives for a de-globalized world order, for corporate accountability, for resource-light production patterns, and for fair trade relations. No doubt the book will become a handbook for the intellectual anti-globalist.

Don't, however, expect an elegantly written, closely argued, well-illustrated or even entertaining book. Too many cooks may spoil the broth. Get ready for some heavy-handed prose, a nondescript cover, unverifiable sources, and uneven quality. Yet the reader's patience will be more than rewarded. He or she will find a wealth of proposals on all aspects of global governance, an arsenal of arguments to be used as arms in debate, bold propositions that cut through the fog of daily commonplaces, and provocative suggestions that make the unthinkable thinkable. Notions such as “corporate abolitionists” or “decommissioning the Bretton Woods institutions” may suffice to give the flavor.

Moreover, the book not only marks the open conflict between corporate and democratic globalization, but also the upcoming, yet still hidden, conflict between expert rule and democratic rule. After all, the opposition to corporate globalization is not unified, but living out com-peting aspirations. There are at least two different roads for overcoming the rule of the market as embodied in the WTO. On the one hand, there are planetary scientists (along with all kinds of certifiers) waiting in the wings to define universal rules for a rationally planned world order. On the other hand, there are peoples and cultures demanding self-government. “Global management” is the keyword of the former, while “democracy” is the keyword of the latter.

This book is a manifesto for the democratic option. It dreams of a world composed of a patchwork of semi-autonomous and diverse spaces, necessarily messy and heterogeneous. It dislikes a world organized by experts and scientists, streamlined and homogenized. In this sense, the book will be a catalyst for clarifying what the opposition stands for.

As 2003 begins, such a clarification is timely. In September, the WTO Ministerial Meeting, aka the Central Committee of the Imperial Market, will be held in Cancun, Mexico, contested by groups from near and far. “Sink it or shrink it” (the WTO), this was the battle cry that came out of Seattle. The book at hand goes for the more radical variant; it will serve as an indispensable travel guide to Cancun for all those who want to see the WTO sink into the blue waters of the Mexican Gulf.


Wolfgang Sachs is an author, teacher, and senior fellow at the Wuppertal Institute for Climate Change, Environment, and Energy, and the author of several books including Planet Dialectics: Explorations in Environment and Development.

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