Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Left's Loony Obsession vs "Globalization" - part II

Actually, I am going to deliver a one-two punch to the left and a kick to the right.

I have to. There are too many kicks stored up. I have to spread em out.

First, proof that conscience does not always translate into common sense. It is all well and good to sympathize with Third World poor folks and with a planet being raped by uncaring commerce. (My eco-credentials are so far beyond reproach, it's laughable.)

But it's quite another to explore what steps would actually help poor people around the world and the environment. And here, the left is completely wretched. Must we be stuck between socialist fanatics and pro-aristocrat market fanatics?

Let's take apart one of these sides. (Continued from part I)


The 'anti-globalization movement' is currently a transfixing focus for what used to be called the Activist Left. Young people follow world leaders around, creating urban theater neat World Bank & other meetings, decrying abuse of the environment, of labor, of children, etc.

Don't get me wrong. These concerns are genuine and laudable and based on real excesses that, if left unchecked, would wreak profound injustice and pain upon generations. By all means, shine light on scandals in Addidas factories! Force revelation of the ownership paths of supertankers! Document deforestation and track those conflict diamonds.

But the irony and - yes - hypocrisy that's generated by dogmatism can be profound. These activists seem incapable of noticing one paramount fact. That both labor and environmental abuse were addressed in their home (western) countries by the very last method they think people in the Third World capable of using -- politics and law.

They want to protect these people and lands by cutting off links between those lands and major international corporations... presumably so those "rapacious" corporations will stop exploiting both workers and the environment. But this approach has no track record of accomplishing a single thing, either for the poor or for the Earth.

How did labor, children, and the environment all benefit in the activists' own homelands? In fact, these things benefied from INCREASES in interconnectivity, along with development of political and legal structure.

In other words, their reflex revulsion toward 'globalization' is ill-considered. The decreases in interconnectivity and structure that they demand can only succor local bullies and oligarchies and kleptocracies that currently are far worse enemies of the environment, labor and children! At least the global conglomerates, when they move into a country, try to foster actual civil law, if only for their own protection and for predictability.

And, as shown in the recent works of Hernando de Soto, it is LAW, even imperfect, but predictable, systematic, that (so long as it is not corrupt) ultimately favors the poor even more than the rich, by allowing them to keep and leverage their small but growing earnings. Recent studies of micro-lending have shown that Mom & Pop mini-capitalists are the most powerful force for economic development, far more potent than any multinational, per capita. Give them jobs and a little capital... and above all civil law... and things really happen.

(I emphasize that the true enemy of all this is corruption, generally a tool of local aristocracies that fosters kleptocracy. Law, in this case, must be at least evenhanded in PROCESS, even if it is unfair on paper.)

Ask poor people in, say, Sumatra etc whether they would prefer being temporarily exploited by Addidas (while saving real wages to put in real banks and using cash to buy their kids schoolbooks, so those kids can become lawyers and organize unions or sue Addidas....) Or whether they would prefer to continue under abusive feudal landlords, slaving and sharecropping and accumulating nothing, not even title to the home they built. At least under globalization, electricity and water arrive, sewers get dug. And schools. And yes, none of this guarantees democracy. That's why I urge everybody to also support Project Witness!

But when uncorrupt and reliable civil law allows people to accumulate savings and educate their kids, major oppression cannot last more than another generation. It has a built in time limit.

So no, the Left is simply not making any sense. It is not even helping a little bit. Because by spouting nonsense versions of reform economics, they only encourage people to turn away from more pragmatic forms of liberalism and listen, instead, to nonsense exaggerations on the right...

...such as the equally loony notion that markets are self-regulating. And aristocracies don't conspire to cheat and exploit unfair advantages. Or that the rich are somehow friendlier to genuine markets because they are rich. (The diametric opposite to what is shown by history.)

But stop. For the kick to the right, let me turn to our own Stefan, who provided the following excerpt from a really rich rant, You can find the whole thing at

I don't go as far as this ranter. Indeed, by September I hope to start my episodic essay on religion and you may all be VERY surprised!

Still, this choice rant really is worth the price of admission. Enjoy.

"Here you are, Tsui or Sanjay, looking at a new century. A century in which the exponential curve of technology's rise becomes a sheer cliff. In which only the most intellectually nimble countries, best able to master new information technologies and couple them with manufacturing bases with high levels of technical training, will survive.

"And you're looking at that big bastard across the ocean, the US of A. First to build the Bomb. First to master the secrets of the atom. First to build the semiconductor. First and only tribe of humans who actually put men on the GODDAM MOON, to have stepped on another rock in space. Decoders of the human genome, the VERY BOOK OF LIFE !!! How will we ever stop --

"Wow, they forfeit. Cool.

"Even if your kids aren't directly taught ID or aren't in one of the new Bible Class districts, the overarching cultural damage has already been done. Through this group of RadicalRighties' constant rhetoric, they consistently strip away the idea that there is indeed a rigorous scientific process through which certain non-negotiable physical truths can be ascertained. They have suffused the county with an intellectual laziness and a terrifying narcissism. Opinion has been enshrined as superior to fact. No longer need a person take into account the way the world works when forming their worldview -- they can instead hunt down "facts" and "theories" which support their own comfort zone, and what's worse, we can NO LONGER CALL BULLSHIT. Because if our leaders -- pardon me, your leaders -- don't call bullshit, who will? They have undermined the very process by which we know WHEN to call bullshit!"

Har! That is, it would be funny... if I weren't crying....

==Continue to Part III


Anonymous said...

It's amusing when anyone uses Hernando de Soto as proof of anything. Does de Soto PROVE it, or just argue it?

fpoole said...

No one deserves either the fate of oppressive companies or backwards warlords (oddly enough, we approach both at the same time, in subtle ways...). I'm not asking to stop what little economic progress can be made in these countries. I know people in these countries who appreciate that their homeland is abused by these companies in terms of unfair pay and working environment, but they also appreciate the value of cold, hard cash and its benefit to private citizens and the public sector. I feel it is our duty, as home to these companies, that we make them accountable to their crimes, without making irrational punishments that would impede progress both at home and abroad. You spoke of rule-of-law. Well, we saw in the way the American West came to be that federal law preceding local law never hurt in the end, so long as both were respected. So now, I think it's time for both sides to quit bickering over stupid things, and so-called "social issues" (there are very few of them, really just Ameri-Euro xenophobia that stops our economies from growing because of immigration...) and start forming a respected, empowered, international legal system. The ICC doesn't have the power to chase people down, that's why all the Bush Administration must do to avoid appearing, is avoid the Netherland. Bush and Co. have made countless trips to France, Germany, Russia, and Belgium to patch up relations, yet have always managed to skirt around the greatest cosmopolitan haven of freedom... Given some authority, international bodies like the UN and ICC could become more than just bureaucratic bogeymen, and could help us accomplish things, rather than pay Crazy Man Bolton's salaries and (terrible) barber.

Anonymous said...

On the ID thing, have you seen the "Wedge Document" the Discoverey Institute put out, years ago? To quote a summary of it, it is
A broad attack on “scientific materialism,” the paper asserts that modern science has had “devastating” cultural consequences, such as the denial of objective moral standards and the undermining of religious belief. In contrast, the document states that ID “promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.” In order to achieve this objective, the ID movement will “function as a ‘wedge’” that will “split the trunk [of scientific materialism] … at its weakest points.” (quote from here) The actual Wedge document is here and many other places online. But the comments there are worthwhile.

It's quite specific about using "Intelligent Design" to attack the basis of science, like the rant you quoted.

Okay, that's the easy shot. Now on to globalization.

Most of the activists I know or have read about who are involved in "anti-globalization protests" aren't isolationists saying we should't trade with other countries. Oh, there's some, and there's the usual cast of isolationists and "threatened" workers who don't want to trade with anybody. But that's not most of them. Most people don't want us not to trade, they just want us not to trade with scum. They want environmental and labor guarantees in our trade treaties. Not requiring minimum wage of $5.69 an hour like we have here, but paying people enough to do more than just barely not starve. $.37, rather than $.21 an hour for example. Dealing with the actual factories, rather than corrupt middlemen. Etc.

I should link, here, an article in the Washington Post about Charles Kernaghan, who's documented abuse and sweatshops around the world. He talks about people who have so little they take sweatshop jobs just to move "from misery to poverty." And the sweatshop jobs, while bad, are almost universally better than the rural farming jobs people would otherwise have. Which still doesn't justify the sweatshops.

I agree, one of the most important factors to let a country move out of abject poverty is to enforce the rule of law and deal with corruption, so the money can actually get beyond Der Commisar and his cronies. But none of that's enforced in most of the WTO treaties. Most of those are written by governments and corporations, labor, environmentalists, and the people are locked out. Literally, by riot police and chain link fences, in many cases. In secret meetings that offer plenty of chances for the aristocrats to conspire against everyone else. If we want to enforce the rule of law, and transparency, and fight corruption, we as first world residents, have more influence and opportunity to affect our elected representatives than we do some tin pot dictator. In theory anyway, not that they lsiten to us much either.

Ouranosaurus said...

I'd like to second Nate's comments on how the left usually isn't specifically anti-globalization. That's a label that's been slapped on them by their opponents. The entire fair trade movement has been built up by largely the same people who attend those protests against the World Bank and the IMF.

I'd be perfectly happy to buy sneakers from a southeast Asian country if it had a) a functional democracy and b) the unimpeded right for workers to organize. And so would the vast majority on the left.

I'd also note that shipping work overseas to people who do the labour in exactly the same way but for less money is a way to avoid innovation and "creative destruction," which could ultimately make everyone richer. A cheap, downtrodden labour supply is, in essence, screwing us out of the greater economic gains of real advancements in technology and manufacturing.

Anonymous said...

Stefan hits on something important in the passage quoted by Brin, something that I think marks a sea change in right-wing thought. They've developed a whole alternative epistemology for their most devoted followers. It extends to news media as well as science, and in a lot of ways it seems impregnable. Whenever some fact or news report contradicts their world view, they just offer their own, opposing "facts" in the name of letting the reader/viewer decide. Of course they'll pick the "facts" that fit with their pre-existing opinions.

When your news comes from O'Reilly and Joe Scarborough, and your science from these creationists, how can you be blamed for unquestioning conservatism?

David Brin said...

Lucian - I did not cite de Soto as proof of anything, only to elicit interest in people looking him up - or at least read summaries on Amazon - in order to become familiar with his arguments.

Interesting, you accuse me of what boils down to "scholasticism"... the scholarly use of reason and citation to reach academic conclusions. You clearly dislike this, in favor of the later - scientific - approach of conjecture plus offering clearly falsifiable statements subject to experimental verification and/or disproof. How ironic that you accuse me - of all people - of not understanding this distinction!

In fact, I am one of the few who have baldly declared that scholasticism and "scholarship" are simply more articulate incantatory systems of magic. The whole European wing of the Enlightenment veered down this path, showing just how hard it is to avoid the age-old draw of magical thinking. If we (and I do mean "we") cannot save the inherently pragmatic heart of the Anglo-American Enlightenment, I doubt it will ever be tried again.

(Note, all three of the legs of today's ruling troika are mystical, including the well-educated and supposedly brilliant neoconservatives, who were taught their anti-American, euro-Platonic mysticism at the feet of Leo Strauss, at the faux-Euro University of Chicago.)

Fpoole, thanks for opening an actual conversation about what it would take for there to be genuine international law.

Alas, any actual international law that is created under present circumstances will benefit those who draw up the law... states, megacorporations, aristocrats and 3rd World Kleptos. The best we can hope for is gradual consensus to eliminate the fourth group, and to make relations among the 1st three more orderly.

... and maybe insert some utopian/altruistic NGOs into the forth slot. That has actually happened, a bit. (Some of these NGOs speak up for the little guy.) That would result in SOME checks and balances and maybe even a little decent governance.

But the one thing that would utterly transform everything is what I portray in my novel EARTH. A genuine, groundswell, grassroots, worldwide war against secrecy.
Imagine if all property on Earth had to have clear title, leading to real human owners. Say allowing only four or five shareholder intermediaries in between. No, I am not calling for an end to limited liability corporations! (Tho some reform is needed.) No I am not calling for confiscation! Socialism sucks! (Though bank accounts illegally but secretly held by kleptocrats who stole billions from poor countries could help those countries more than any foreign aid.)

No, all I ask is that capitalism actually be allowed to function on a basis of open-eyed negotiation among all parties - exactly according to theory. ALL mainstream economists agree with this goal, by the way. It is the only way that the free market boosters could ever prove their contention that markets eventually solve problems like resource allocation and environmental protection.

(When that supertanker went down near Brittany, the ownership was so sheltered that local fishermen could find no one to sue. You call THAT capitalism? No, it's a predictable case of gaming the system to avoid accountability. Human nature.)

SO no. I am NOT asking for us to trust the megacorps and aristos to do the right thing. What I am asking is that the left stop their loony oversimplifying and strawman building, and instead start looking at where the real issues are... and where the kleptos are really vulnerable.

Good discussion

Anonymous said...

Correcting Dave Baker:

I pointed DB (um, the other DB) to that quote, but didn't write it.

It, and other good stuff, may be found on a Blogger blog called "Kung Fu Monkey."

"Whenever some fact or news report contradicts their world view, they just offer their own, opposing 'facts' in the name of letting the reader/viewer decide."

Delivered, of course, with just enough indignant bile to get the listener all het up and ornery.

It has been fun, the last ten years or so, watch the Useful Idiot Brigade change their position on global warming to fit the latest round of talking points from Exxon-Mobil and the Cato Institute.

If you dig deep enough, past the echo chamber chumps, you find folks who probably fully realize that global warming is happening and that humans are responsible . . . they just don't want to have to deal with the financial consequences.

Anonymous said...

What I would like to see is more support of NGO’s like transparency international to fight corruption, and fair trade USA to even the playing field. However I see neither side lending them their support so many people believe the only thing to do is stop the WTO from doing anything. In my opinion the problem with the left started in 1960’s when Kennedy and Johnson took us into Vietnam and forced the creation of the new left that was more into grand media statements than grass roots organizing. FDR was so good at it, and I see no reason that the left is failing other than incompetence. The last election was a good example, the Democratic Party failed to put out a platform like Nader’s that would have drawn the middle class into supporting him. Instead Kerry talked about mandatory national service and points more suited to an economics classroom. Plus their was no talk at on how to realistically get out of Iraq or fix our broken electoral system.

Anonymous said...

David Brin:
(Note, all three of the legs of today's ruling troika are mystical, including the well-educated and supposedly brilliant neoconservatives, who were taught their anti-American, euro-Platonic mysticism at the feet of Leo Strauss, at the faux-Euro University of Chicago.)

And now by Leon Kass, chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics and notorious Aristotelian, at that very same university.

Kass, by the way, is a very strange thinker and one of the few public conservatives who actually takes notice of transhumanist utopian thought.

But David, I think you may be romanticizing (gasp!) Anglo-American empiricism and pragmatism. Pragmatism itself can lead to a form of relativism that can sometimes hamper the creativity of American scientists. Look at physics: many Americans are involved in the grunt-work research, but the ones who've drawn interesting conclusions from the work have almost always been Europeans. Feynman was a great researcher and very clever, but he never made the kind of conceptual strides that we associate with Bohr, Heisenberg, Schroedinger and Einstein.

In fact, many practicing American scientists will dismiss as meaningless questions that clearly have a meaning. (e.g., are there laws of nature?) They will tell you that science isn't about describing the world at all, but only about predicting experiments.

And this sort of relativism is not such a far cry from the kind that permits "intelligent design" theories to exist. In fact, I've heard it cited myself by proponents of such "science."

A bit off-topic, perhaps, but hopefully still interesting.

(Sorry about the misunderstanding wrt kung fu monkey.)

Anonymous said...

I think Matthew summed up my own thoughts on the matter rather succinctly. The 'left' per se has indeed been demonised by its opponents for radicalising the anti-globalisation debate. Interestingly, it's a radical right doing so. No great surprises there.

I like your style, David. I was referred to your blog by a fellow 'leftie'. Consider yourself linked to.

David Brin said...

Dave Baker... speaking as a guy who is both a licensed (Caltech & UCSD) physicist and an intellectual-romantic-magician-author... I grok your meaning!

Indeed, I have found many American scientists to be very weirdly stodgy. Cosmologists who refuse to discuss origins. Seti researchers who abjure any mention of alien motives other than altruism.

But of course, this is mere color. Modernism contains inherent solutions by encouraging grad students to gain repute by betraying their profs!


fpoole said...

D. Brin: Thanks for the response. I think transparency is what all modernists hope for in the changing European Union and other organisations. We need the African Union to get its act together on democracy, though...

(as if)

There are a lot of obstacles along this winding road, but the truly altruistic things, like GNU, will be what finally forces some power back into the individual's hands.

Tony Fisk said...

quoth Dave Baker:
They've developed a whole alternative epistemology for their most devoted followers.

Indeed they have! It's an oratorical technique called 'framing the debate', or more simply 'framing'. I've been referring to this increasingly over the last few months (when I first learnt of it: instant expert!) because I'm coming to be of the opinion that it's going to be a useful tool in the years ahead!
Rather than bore you with the details here, I've posted an article on my blog ('suse the self promotion)

... It extends to news media as well as science, and in a lot of ways it seems impregnable.

So they'd have you think... literally!
Because, in a framed debate, your opposition has managed to seize control of the way you view the issue, so you find it difficult to think in terms that weaken your opponent's stance.

One way to get out of this bind is to 'reframe the debate'. New Matilda had a public article on this topic, and refers to a book by George Lakoff: Don't think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate

Tony Fisk said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tony Fisk said...

The correct link to my blog.