Make Them Live on 50 Cents a Day

Perhaps you have noticed? Lots of US auto workers lost their jobs in 2006, lots of workers in other industries as well, farmers, well we don’t expect much anymore and even high-tech workers are feeling the pinch. The minimum wage hasn’t gone up since 1997 and according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently 6.8 million unemployed (over 8 million if you count those who have given up trying to find a job). Am I missing something here? I thought that globalization and the founding of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 was supposed to raise everyones ship. Instead it seems most of us are losing ground.

Auto manufacturing, or more correctly US manufacturing in general, is steadily outsourcing to countries with large, low wage work forces, weak environmental standards and dismal worker safety protections; this is globalization. A job on the assembly line at Ford or GM used to mean a secure future with good pay and benefits, now the pink slip could come at any time.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, advocates of the new globalized economy promised as the economies of the developing world grew they would buy even more US made products (especially after the WTO eradicated tariffs and trade barriers) and everyone’s income would rise. But instead of sending them cars, we sent them the jobs, they worked cheaper.

Even Henry Ford, a guy who loved a good profit margin, knew he had to pay his workers wages that enabled them to buy the products they were producing. That thinking seems to have been trampled by the globalization bandwagon. Wages stagnate, benefits are cut, blue collar workers and farmers are forced to join the unemployed to collect food stamps.

While globalization has inflicted job loss, poverty and loss of self respect on US workers, is effects on the people in developing countries has, in many cases been even more devastating. According to Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics and former chief economist of the World Bank, the number of people living in poverty has increased by almost 100 million over the last decade. This occurred while world income increased an average of 2.5%!

And still, the division between the rich and the poor continues to grow. An estimated 1 billion people live on less than a dollar a day, half of the worlds population on less than two dollars, while the corporations, the chief proponents and beneficiaries of globalization, continue to push for even more trade liberalization and the opening of developing economies to foreign investment. Isn’t this a bit absurd, or criminal? While 1 billion people live on less than a dollar a day and the promise of poverty reduction has utterly failed, the captains of industry and investment who championed globalization are rewarded for their promotion of world poverty with multi-million dollar bonuses.

Much like the colonial empires of Europe who sought natural riches and the indigenous labor to extract it from their colonies, todays corporate globalizers seek that same cheap labor, those same natural resources and the support and protection of their industrialized governments and financial institutions.

It’s quite clear that globalization as we know it, was never about lifting anyone out of poverty, it was about corporate profit. While world trade has helped many countries lift their standard of living, that was the case only, if the course of development and economic growth was determined by those countries, not corporations, not the industrialized countries of the North, and certainly not the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Stiglitz is highly critical of rapid trade liberalization that is forced upon developing countries by international economic institutions that are dominated by wealthy industrialized nations and the commercial and financial interests in those countries. “They are not representative of the nations they serve.” Forcing developing countries to open their economies to foreign competition before they are fully ready to do so is a recipe for disaster. “Jobs have systematically been destroyed—poor farmers in developing countries simply couldn’t compete with the highly subsidized goods from Europe and America. IMF policies in developing countries have lead to interest rates that would make job creation impossible, even in the best of circumstances. Since no safety nets were in place, those that lost their jobs were forced into poverty”.

Muhammad Yunis, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2006 also criticized globalization as being a profit driven force that unfairly benefited the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor. Globalization can bring benefits to the poor, but to do so it must have rules, “rules that ensure that the poorest have a place and piece of the action, without being elbowed out by the strong. Globalization must not become financial imperialism.”

Well, that is exactly what it has become, that was the intent of the neo-conservative movement all along. Because the rich apparently know how to handle money and the poor don’t, are we supposed to finalize this class division thing and impoverish everyone for the benefit of the top one or two percent?

Globalization needs rules, strong rules. Here in the United States, we assume everyone wants to be like us, well, they don’t. They may want some of the economic security and safety nets we and other industrialized countries have, but plopping a few Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises down here and there in developing countries, or making sure stores have Levis and Nike on their shelves does not mean globalization is working or those countries have pulled themselves out of poverty. Consumerism is not a measure of success just because we say it is, our consumer society has more than it’s share of economic inequality.

Global trade agreements must provide for a living wage and social justice for workers, so far it has been little more than a spiral to the bottom pulling wages down to the lowest level. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, denied to the sweatshop workers and poor of the world, and perhaps only memory to all but America’s elite.

Environmental protection and worker safety cannot be compromised. Developing countries are not “throw away societies”. They cannot be used as toxic waste dumps for our outdated consumer goods, nor can their farmers and workers be expected to use chemicals banned in the industrialized world.

We must let the developing world make their own choices based on their culture and the political process they aspire to. They should not be forced to accept development plans based on the economic wishes of the industrialized world and its economic institutions.

Food is a basic human right. The food sovereignty of developing nations cannot be compromised by the subsidized agriculture of industrialized nations, further more, food has no place in international trade agreements. All nations have a right to decide what they will eat, how it will be grown and who will control it. No one should be allowed to patent indigenous people, plants or animals, or force them to accept seed or food they do not want.

Having viewed globalization from the top, Joseph Stiglitz perhaps says it best, ”Development is about transforming societies, improving the lives of the poor, enabling everyone to have a chance at success and access to health care and education”.

We have a responsibility to make new rules for globalization, we owe it to ourselves, the workers and the poor of the industrialized world, but perhaps more so to the poor of the developing world, they have been exploited long enough.

JIM GOODMAN is a dairy farmer from Wonewoc, Wisconsin. He can be reached at





Jim Goodman is a dairy farmer from Wonewoc, Wisconsin.