FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

How the Battle of Seattle Made the Truth About Globalization True

The Battle of Seattle in late November 1999 is, for me, memorable in many ways.

For one, I still remember being given a good beating by a policewoman when I tried to prevent her buddies from hauling off the irrepressible Medea Benjamin, then the director of Global Exchange, from a sit-in at the entrance to the Seattle Convention Center. I was lucky to escape serious injury.

But for me the main takeaway from Seattle was that it takes action to make the truth true.

In the decade prior to Seattle, there were a lot of studies, including United Nations reports, that questioned the claim that globalization and free market policies were leading to sustained growth and prosperity. Instead, the data showed that globalization and pro-market policies were promoting more inequality and more poverty and consolidating economic stagnation, especially in the Global South.

However, these figures remained “factoids” rather than “facts” in the eyes of academics, the press, and policymakers, who dutifully repeated the neoliberal mantra that economic liberalization promoted growth and prosperity. The orthodox view, repeated ad nauseam in the classroom, the media, and policy circles, was that the critics of globalization like me were Luddites — modern versions of the people who smashed machines at the advent of the Industrial Revolution.

Then we had Seattle.

It was not just a World Trade Organization ministerial that collapsed, but also a creed that had been widely believed to be true. After Seattle, the press began to talk about the “dark side of globalization” — about the inequalities and poverty being created by globalization.

After that, we had the spectacular defections from the globalist camp, such as financier George Soros, Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, and “Dr. Shock Therapy” himself, the economist Jeffrey Sachs.

Then came the widely publicized findings of two independent studies — one by American University Professor Robin Broad in the Review of International Political Economy and the other by a panel of neoclassical economists headed by Princeton’s Angus Deaton and former IMF chief economist Ken Rogoff — showing that the World Bank Research Department, the source of most assertions that globalization and trade liberalization were leading to lower rates of poverty and inequality, had been deliberately distorting its data and making unwarranted claims.

Way before the financial crisis broke out in 2008, the credibility of neoliberalism and the promise of globalization had been severely eroded. What made the difference? Not so much research or debate, but action.

It took the militant mobilization of masses of people and the spectacular collapse of a WTO ministerial to translate factoids into facts — into truth. What proved decisive was the conjunction of the massive protests with the refusal of developing country delegates at the Sheraton Convention Center to accept any more forced liberalization of their economies.

Truth is not just ‘”there.” Truth is completed, made real, and ratified by action.

I hate having to bring up the name of Magellan, but allow me in this instance. Like Magellan’s circumnavigation of the earth in relation to the theory of the earth as a sphere, Seattle was a world-historic event that made the truth true — and consigned to the dustbin of history flat earthers like Thomas Friedman and a whole generation of neoliberal economists and policymakers.

Of course, neoliberalism continues to be the economic and elite policy preference of choice, but it’s because economists and technocrats know nothing else. Their careers are vested in it. To borrow from Yeats, they are without conviction — but they are dangerous. Neoliberalism is like the engineer who’s been shot dead by the outlaws but his dead hand remains on the throttle of the train, speeding it towards destruction.

This article first appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

More articles by:

Walden Bello, a columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus,  is the author or co-author of 19 books, the latest of which are Capitalism’s Last Stand? (London: Zed, 2013) and State of Fragmentation: the Philippines in Transition (Quezon City: Focus on the Global South and FES, 2014).

Weekend Edition
August 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Lights! Camera! Kill! Hollywood, the Pentagon and Imperial Ambitions.
Joseph Grosso
Bloody Chicken: Inside the American Poultry Industry During the Time of COVID
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: It Had to be You
H. Bruce Franklin
August 12-22, 1945: Washington Starts the Korean and Vietnam Wars
Pete Dolack
Business as Usual Equals Many Extra Deaths from Global Warming
Paul Street
Whispers in the Asylum (Seven Days in August)
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Predatory Capitalism and the Nuclear Threat in the Age of Trump
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
‘Magical Thinking’ has Always Guided the US Role in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
The Politics of War: What is Israel’s Endgame in Lebanon and Syria?
Ron Jacobs
It’s a Sick Country
Eve Ottenberg
Trump’s Plan: Gut Social Security, Bankrupt the States
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s Fake News
Jonathan Cook
How the Guardian Betrayed Not Only Corbyn But the Last Vestiges of British Democracy
Joseph Natoli
What Trump and the Republican Party Teach Us
Robert Fisk
Can Lebanon be Saved?
Brian Cloughley
Will Biden be Less Belligerent Than Trump?
Kenn Orphan
We Do Not Live in the World of Before
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Compromise & the Status Quo
Andrew Bacevich
Biden Wins, Then What?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
The Criminology of Global Warming
Michael Welton
Toppled Monuments and the Struggle For Symbolic Space
Prabir Purkayastha
Why 5G is the First Stage of a Tech War Between the U.S. and China
Daniel Beaumont
The Reign of Error
Adrian Treves – John Laundré
Science Does Not Support the Claims About Grizzly Hunting, Lethal Removal
David Rosen
A Moment of Social Crisis: Recalling the 1970s
Maximilian Werner
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf: Textual Manipulations in Anti-wolf Rhetoric
Pritha Chandra
Online Education and the Struggle over Disposable Time
Robert Koehler
Learning from the Hibakushas
Seth Sandronsky
Teaching in a Pandemic: an Interview With Mercedes K. Schneider
Dean Baker
Financing Drug Development: What the Pandemic Has Taught Us
Greta Anderson
Blaming Mexican Wolves for Livestock Kills
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Meaning of the Battle of Salamis
Mel Gurtov
The World Bank’s Poverty Illusion
Paul Gilk
The Great Question
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
Trump Doesn’t Want Law and Order
Martin Cherniack
Neo-conservatism: The Seductive Lure of Lying About History
Nicky Reid
Pick a Cold War, Any Cold War!
George Wuerthner
Zombie Legislation: the Latest Misguided Wildfire Bill
Lee Camp
The Execution of Elephants and Americans
Christopher Brauchli
I Read the News Today, Oh Boy…
Tony McKenna
The Truth About Prince Philip
Louis Proyect
MarxMail 2.0
Sidney Miralao
Get Military Recruiters Out of Our High Schools
Jon Hochschartner
Okra of Time
David Yearsley
Bringing Landscapes to Life: the Music of Johann Christian Bach
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail