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Globalization Update
Alex Steffen, 21 Mar 05

The giant institutions of our global economy -- the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank -- are not the subject of daily attention for most of us. I thought it would be interesting to find out what activists and others working on the effects of globalization were paying attention to these days, so I sent out email to some friends, asking for recommendations on stories about which to post. Here's what came back. It's not really a fully-fleshed out essay, but rather a compilation of links old and new. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section.

George W. Bush's nomination of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank has drawn sharp criticism from nearly every involved party. Particularly troubling is the notion that Wolfowitz would undo recent progress (however halting) towards making the Bank an effective and accountable poverty-fighting institution and roll back the clock on lending practices:

Under Wolfowitz, the Bush administration may now try to narrow the focus of the World Bank, returning the international lending institution to its roots of primarily financing large infrastructure projects and limiting the practice of handing out zero-interest loans... The lender, the largest financier of projects in developing nations, broadened its scope under [outgoing president James] Wolfensohn, who sought a more "humanizing'' role for the bank, according to Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning professor at Columbia University and former chief economist of the World Bank. Since taking over in 1995, Wolfensohn cut by 40 percent financing for dams, bridges and infrastructure projects, and shifted that money to programs promoting climate change and development.

While we always hope for the best, it must be noted that the kinds of large infrastructure projects and lending programs the Bush administration seems ready to re-emphasize are widely thought to have wasted billions of dollars, impoverished developing nations while lining the pockets of multinational corporations and their local proxies, and propped up some truly viscious regimes. Big dams and giant slushy loans are just not worldchanging. That way, Nauru lies.

Much better would be a Bank ready to take on the real challenges of ending poverty by embracing more distributed, microlending-oriented programs (also frequently known as "livelihood-based development") and reforming banking practices to make possible more access to financial services for the poor, even underwriting community banking and helping to provide microinsurance. Finally, the Bank could also embrace models of socially-responsible venture capital for larger projects in the developing world, like our allies at the Acumen Fund (whose success with anti-malaria bednets we discussed here).

Debt relief, meanwhile, continues to be a major issue, with a serious debate emerging about just what is, and isn't, legal debt, and what ought to be done about the crushing debt-loads of developing world nations. The International Monetary Fund has come under particular scruitiny in the wake of its disasterous policies in Argentina

It's been over five years since protesters and police clashed in the streets of Seattle, and several since the Cancun "round" and Miami FTAA meetings, when the G20 first made its presence felt, but the WTO is now effectively subject to the veto of the developing world. Top of the agenda for them is the elimination of agricultural tariffs and subsidies. Expect no progress at the Hong Kong "round" of the WTO unless what the G20 calls a more balanced approach is embraced.

Ally Cory Doctorow's been blogging quite a bit about the scandalous latest round of WIPO meetings, while Lawrence Lessig chips in this telling graphic:

Dave particularly recommends Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

(Thanks Luis, Dave, Kevin, Jacqueline, Tani, and Amanda for these leads and recent help)

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