The spectacular growth in the intensity, scope, and visibility of globalization (understood here as the increasing interconnectedness of individuals, groups, companies, and countries) since 1990 has been accompanied by a parallel growth in anti-globalization a broad term used to characterize a public debate over the shaping, slowing, or rejecting of globalization.
Driven by the growth of international economic integration and international institutional arrangements and the spread of ever-denser networks of global communications, a debate has arisen since the 1990s around concerns regarding the distributional benefits of globalization, the desirability and impact of different types of policy, and the nature and representativeness of thepolitical institutions that decide on global policy issues. The public face of this debate has been notable for the high-profile role of nonstate actors and for its focus on perceived shortcomings in current systems of global governance.
The terms most commonly used for this global debate, particularlywith the involvement of nonstate actors anti-globalization and the anti-globalization movement were used most frequently between the failed World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial in Seattle in 1999 and theGroup of Eight (G8) Summit held in Genoa in 2001 amidst violence by both police and demonstrators. These terms are misleading, as participants in this debate are neither solidly ‘‘anti-globalization,’’ nor a single movement. Under the umbrella of these labels is a wide variety of actors with often sharply differing philosophies, objectives, and assumptions. Yet since the late 1990s they have proved a useful if contested and in large part inaccurate shorthand to describe what many identify as a new and important force in global politics.
In order to understand the nature of the current debate about globalization as well as what might happen next to the ‘‘anti-globalization movement’’ and its actors there is a need for disaggregation and a reflection on the context in which it exists.
Although its political and social origins are diverse, anti-globalization in its broadest sense can be seen as a response to the economic and political events of the period since the early 1970s and their most visible symbols, the institutions of global economic governance. In the North, the oil crisis and the suspension of dollar convertibility in 1971 marked the end of the ‘‘long boom’’ of post-1945 Keynesianism. They also triggered the meteoric rise of global capital markets, which made earning and keeping ‘‘market confidence’’ an increasingly important determinant of government policies. In the South, theMexican government’s near-default on its foreign debt in 1982 marked the end of the postwar era of import-substituting industrialization and began a long and painful period for developing countries, characterized by the burden of massive foreign indebtedness and the rise in political influence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and international capital markets, all three of which ushered policymakers away from development policies focused on the domestic market and toward a strategy of export-led growth.
These developments helped drive the rapid expansion of trade and investment flows, as large parts of LatinAmerica and Asia adopted export-led growth strategies, and the countries of the former Soviet empire were rapidly, if partially, absorbed into an increasingly integrated global economy. The term globalization quickly became the shorthand for this model of expansion a heady and complex mix of technological, economic, political, and cultural change.
Globalization was accompanied and underpinned by a set of interlocking institutional developments at international and national levels. First, the existing structures of global economic governance were overhauled. The World Bank and the IMF redefined their roles, moving swiftly away from Keynesian operating principles to become bastions of neoliberalism. Aweb of bilateral, regional, and global international trade and investment agreements, culminating in the creationof the WTO in 1995, bound the new system in place. These economic and political trends unified in opposition a diverse array of actors, however. Downsizing and corporate restructuring, privatization, the erosion of workers’ rights, and the changing nature of production and supply chains activated opposition from the labor movement in both the North and the South. Global warming, unsustainable growth, and the depletion of resources created hostility from environmentalists, who were further outraged over the perceived threat to environmental legislation from trade rules in the WTO for example, when four Asian nations successfully challenged provisions of the U.S. Endangered Species Act forbidding the sale in the United States of prawns caught in ways that kill endangered sea turtles. The erosion of the nation-state and of democratic institutions antagonized proponents of state-led development, democrats, and some on the political right. Increasing corporate power and social inequality galvanized the traditional left and a whole host of other left-of-center actors. Structural adjustment programs and growing Southern marginalization and inequality radicalized civil society (the term for nonstate civic and social organizations) and some political parties in the developing world.
The changed international institutional landscape also aided the growth of this opposition. This shift of power to international institutions and the growth in the range and reach of their activities were not well linked into the traditional accountability mechanisms of states. These inadequacies in global governance have raised the profile of attempts by nonstate actors to make these institutions more accountable. The increasing global reach of the World Bank and the IMF has provided common rallying points for protest, and the founding of the WTO in 1995 in particular put an institutional face on what had previously been an amorphous process a gift to the protest movement.
At first glance, anti-globalization seems an incongruous political mix of contradictions, colors, and cultures, in part vocal and aggressive, in part quiet and conciliatory. Although it defies firm categorizations, the movement can be roughly divided into three strands: statists, alternatives, and reformists.
The statists believe the current process of globalization has been a disaster and seek to defend and rebuild the role of the state in economicmanagement after the neoliberal assault that began in the 1980s. This group is dominated by the traditional left, some sections of the labor movement, and a large proportion of Southern activists. Through this group runs a strong sense of rejectionism and even conservatism. Some, such as a few of the U.S. labor unions protesting at the WTO Ministerial in Seattle,want to retain the state’s ability to protect domestic industries from cheap imports. Others, such as the prominent Filipino activist Walden Bello, reject the terms of globalization outright, feeling that any alternative, including the abolition of the IMF and WTO, could not fail to be an improvement on present realities. Despite its focus on the nation-state, this group retains a strong sense of internationalism.
The alternatives are both highly visible and the hardest to define, though often labeled ‘‘anarchist.’’ This element of the movement is strongly driven by cultural concerns and best understood in cultural terms. Its members be they ecologists running organic businesses, followers of the Small Is Beautiful author E. F. Schumacher, activists seeking to ‘‘deconstruct’’ corporate power and global brands, or Zapatistaswhowish to gain rights and land andmake a statement about globalization’s marginalizing effects reject globalization in passing but concentrate more on building small-scale alternatives. These groups oppose the encroachment of themarket or the market’s power relations on their cultural or political spaces. Most are also small, decentralized, and strongly anticorporate.
The reformists make up the majority of formally structured groups involved in the movement, or at least dominate the thinking of the movement’s leadership. Their aim is partial change to offset current injustices and inequalities. The reformists act within current political systems and advocate gradualism and peaceful change. Most accept a role for themarket but believe itmust be better regulated and managed in order to achieve socially just and sustainable outcomes. This group includes some trade unions, faith groups, charities and development organizations (such as Oxfam), and most mainstream environmental groups (including Friends of the Earth), as well as issue-specific campaigns such as Drop the Debt and the Tobin tax.
The reformist current has also made strong inroads into global and national politics, going far beyond ‘‘the usual suspects.’’ The Financial Times, Gordon Brown, Nobel Prize winning economists such asAmartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz,KofiAnnan, the corporate social responsibilitymovement, Jeffrey Sachs, and George Soros could all be called reformists. As the economistMeghnad Desai puts it, ‘‘The reformists view themselves as the only true defenders of globalization. They believe that both isolationist calls to reverse the process and supporters’ insistence on‘ultra-liberal’ forms of global capitalismare bound to de-rail globalization, with tragic consequences’’ (Desai and Said 2001, 68).
This attempt to disaggregate the movement warrants several caveats, however. Many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and even individuals span more than one current: for example, Friends of the Earth is both reformist and alternative. Author Naomi Klein, one of the movement’s most prominent figures since the publication of her book No Logo, may base her critique of globalization primarily in cultural terms and is a source of inspiration to the anticorporate wing of the movement, but is herself essentially a progressive reformist. Within mainstream NGOs, supporters and Southern partners often espousemore radical options than the fulltime staff and leaders.
Nor does this picture do justice to the depth and breadth of the movement in the South. The largest protests against the WTO have been in India. Brazil is rapidly becoming a center of the movement, as evidenced by the huge gatherings of activists in Porto Alegre since January 2001 as part of theWorld Social Forum, held as a ‘‘people’s response’’ to the World Economic Forum business summits in Davos. The movement in the North draws inspiration and guidance from a number of prominent Southern intellectuals such as Vandana Shiva (India), Martin Kohr (Malaysia), and Walden Bello (Philippines, but based in Bangkok) and the work of the NGOs to which they belong. Finally, none of these categories describes the nihilist currents, few in number in Seattle but significant at the G8 summit in Genoa in 2001, which used the protests as a platformfor street violence rather than political debate.
Global institutions also play a key unifying role, both in providing focus to the movement and in creating the backdrop against which the movement has thrived. The movement is seen by some to be an important international player in its own right, helping to redefine public notions of democracy, accountability, and collective mobilization. The FinancialTimes identifies it as a ‘‘fifth estate,’’ a valuable global counterbalance in a world of aging and often inadequate global institutions. The movement’s reformist currents in particular have played an increasing role in what some academics have called ‘‘postsovereign governance.’’
But attitudes toward global institutions alsomark a significant cleavage in the anti-globalizationmovement. For reformists, engagement is vital if change is to be achieved. Engagement has provided a small measure of greater transparency, participation, and popular pressure as NGOs enter policymaking channels and new mechanisms are created in an attempt to bridge gapswithin highly imperfect existing structures. For rejectionists, by contrast, global institutions (in particular the WTO, IMF, and World Bank) are fundamentally illegitimate and unreformable, to be abolished rather than improved.
In general, the concerns of NGOs and civil society stem from an assertion that although globalization has led to benefits for some, it has not led to benefits for all. The benefits appear to have gone to those who already have the most, while many of the poorest have failed to benefit fully and some have even been made poorer. A linked concern of NGOs is that the drive for liberalization is based too much on dogma and ideology rather than on careful examination of the evidence and assessment of likely impact.
Equity and redistribution are seen as the missing link between globalization and poverty reduction. NGOs argue that improved equitywithin states leads not only to faster poverty reduction for a given amount of growth but also to faster growth. What is good for poor people is good for the economy as a whole. Yet up to now, globalization is seen to be frequently linked to increasing inequality, at both the national and the international levels. NGOs also argue for redistribution ofwealth between developed and developing countries through debt relief and increased aid flows.
NGOs highlight research that points to the importance of national differences. The same policy reforms have different outcomes in different countries, depending on the structure of the economy, the initial distribution of assets, and the nature of economic and political institutions. Policy responses to globalization should be appropriate to particular cases in terms of the instruments used, the sequencing of reforms, and the combination of policies implemented.
Even though the evidence points to the importance of diversity, however, developing country governments are pushed by international rule-making, whether under the auspices of the WTO, through the pressures exerted by structural adjustment packages, or by the need to reassure the markets, toward greater homogeneity of policy response. The challenge for policymakers is to find ways of ensuring that national and international rule-making accommodate appropriate diversity of policy rather than reduce diversity to a minimum.
One of the lessons of recent years is held to be that liberalization and deregulation have very different costs and benefits when applied to the three areas of financial flows, direct investment, and trade. There has been concern that the frequency and severity of financial crises in recent years demonstrate the need for serious reforms of the global financial architecture. Crises are seen to hurt the poor disproportionately and increase inequality, making the achievement of growth favorable to the poor harder thereafter.
One of the most high-profile areas of public concern (demonstrated by the impact andworldwide sales ofNaomi Klein’s No Logo) is that the increasing size and dominance of transnational corporations is making them more influential and less accountable. Public concern over excessive corporate power has led to calls for increased international regulation and has put pressure on companies to regulate themselves through the introduction of codes of conduct for themselves and their suppliers. In financial circles, this pressure has been accompanied by a greater awareness that successful companies must take into account a range of nonfinancial risks, including social, environmental, and ethical issues.
There are also fears that competition between countries wishing to attract foreign investment and technology could lead to a ‘‘race to the bottom’’ in terms of tax incentives and labormarket suppression, thereby minimizing the potential social benefits offered by the private sector. Critics argue that the impact of foreign direct investment on employment, export performance, and domestic industry is not guaranteed, and that governments must be able to provide a regulatory framework to maximize the benefits and minimize the costs.
Finally, although most mainstream NGOs believe strongly that it is essential to have rules governing international trade, they severely criticize the particular set of rules established in theWTO. They see a multilateral trading system as necessary to ensure that weaker nations are not discriminated against by the strong in both North-South and South-South relations, but they argue that rulemakingmust proceed at a pace that is appropriate for the weakest members of the system, and the rules made in the WTO must be the right rules for development and poverty reduction. Current rules expose Northern governments to well-founded accusations of double standards on issues such as protection for domestic industries and support for domestic farmers, and are seen to provide insufficient flexibility to enable Southern governments to pursue their development goals. The agenda being pushed by Northern countries is seen by many to militate against development and to be incompatible with the historical experience of the industrialized North.
In general terms, it is clear that significant changes have occurred in the thinking of policymakers since themid-1980s. In part this has been a response to some of the more catastrophic results of gung-ho liberalization: the debacle of free market reforms in Russia, the Mexican crisis of 1994, and the Asian financial crisis of 1997 98 led to some serious soul-searching and admissions of mistakes, deflating the excessive self-confidence of the 1980s.
The growth of the anti-globalization movement fed off and accelerated this rethinking. Politicians recognized a need to respond to public disquiet, for example in the G8’s decision to put debt on the agenda at its 1998 Birmingham summit, or when British prime minister Tony Blair used the 2005 Gleneagles G8 summit as a platform to gain further commitments for increased aid flows to Africa.
The emergence of a group of more economically powerful developing countries has also increased the political pressure for greater reform. For example, the creation of the G20 alliance of developing countries (including China, India, Brazil, and South Africa) at the WTO has shifted the balance of power within global trade relations and put greater pressure on the members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development to reform their agricultural sectors.
In recent years the movement has achieved some notable successes:
Jubilee 2000: This largely church-based coalition was credited by the British government with putting debt back on the international agenda. Initially started in the United Kingdom, Jubilee groups were set up in dozens of countries, North and South. Many, especially in the South, rapidly moved to campaign on wider globalization-related issues such as the impact of transnational corporations and structural adjustment programs.
Attac: This French-based network of intellectuals and activists has taken the lead in promoting the introduction of the Tobin tax (a small tax on currency transactions designed to curb speculative capital flows) and was influential in persuading the French government to support a study of the tax and oppose the Multilateral Agreement on Investment.
Corporate social responsibility: Public criticism and campaigning directed at corporatemisconduct for example, pollution or abusive labor practices backed by increasing pressure from institutional investors, have prompted numerous initiatives to improve corporations’ social and environmental performance. In the United States, student-led, grassroots, antisweatshop campaigns galvanized political life on campuses to a degree not seen since the Vietnam War.
These partial successes have strengthened the reformists within the movement and endangered its unityby heightening the points of difference between them and the rejectionists. The difficulties posed by partial victories were most clearly demonstrated in the Jubilee 2000 movement,when at the height of its policy successes at the Cologne G8 summit in 1999 the more radical ‘‘Jubilee South’’ wing, based in countries such as South Africa and Nicaragua, condemned theNorthern Jubilee organizations for their reformist acceptance of the status quo.
Underlying the political debate has been a steady shift in public opinion, with messages on several fronts press expose´s of poor working conditions, public protest, and the growing availability and prominence of ‘‘fair trade’’ products combining to make the public increasingly aware of the social impact of globalization.
It is easy to lose sight of how much has changed since the early 1980s in policy debates about globalization. There is now a much more nuanced understanding among decision-makers of the differences between liberalization of finance, direct investment, and trade; at the very least,most wings of the private sector pay lip service to notions of corporate social responsibility, and some of the most notorious excesses of free market zeal have been curbed.
The Future of Anti-globalization
Understanding what may happen to this movement means exploring deeper questions about its political and social origins, the economic issues that it addresses, and the future of the international system to which it is a response. It also means looking at its component parts and their likely, and possibly differing, reactions to changing circumstances.
This brief overview suggests that much of this movement’s coherence is contingent on external conditions. The strongest force in shaping its future development is therefore likely to be external, notably stemming from the pace and depth of change in the institutions of global governance and of the international system in which these institutions are based.
The success of the movement and in particular its reformist current in achieving change has been helped greatly by the multilateralism of the current international system. It has provided focus and coherence to otherwise disparate groups and allowed small gains in attempts to create a more balanced form of international governance.
Threats tomultilateralism, however either from a turn toward unilateralism by the most powerful states or from the increased strain put on the longterm effectiveness of global governance by the exclusion of the world’s weakest nations would strengthen the rejectionists and undermine the reformists, as well as the unity of the movement as a whole, and possibly the usefulness of the term itself. See also fair trade; globalization; Group of Seven/Eight (G7/G8); Tobin tax; Washington consensus; World Economic Forum; World Trade Organization