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Tucson Weekly Money Troubles

The threat of global capitalism.

By Gregory McNamee

NOVEMBER 24, 1997:  HOW IS IT that Mexico, once a breadbasket to the world, now imports nearly a third of the grain it consumes? Why is it that the neo-liberal development strategy for Third World nations so warmly espoused by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank results almost always in failure? Why do the rich get richer and the poor get poorer?

In his catastrophist look at the world economy, Rolling Stone political columnist William Greider proposes a few answers, none of them comforting.

The new breed of robber-baron capitalism, he writes, cares nothing for the welfare of workers, the health of nations, the devastation of local economies and ecologies; in the global quest for profit, what matters is short-term success and the ability to move quickly from one colony to another when market conditions dictate. (Thus, if workers in El Salvador begin to demand a living wage, a company like Nike can relocate its plant to, say, Burundi overnight. When the Burundians get antsy, it's off to the Andamans--or maybe Tucson, in the fleeting case of Microsoft.) In such a rapidly changing scenario, following the money and claiming a share of it becomes a difficult proposition: Multinational companies shift and hide assets, national banks become laundering enterprises, and resources march away from developing countries, never to return.

All this, Greider writes, can lead only to increasing inequalities between have and have-not nations, as wealth concentrates in the hands of the already wealthy. "As greater surpluses accumulate in industry," he continues, "the optimistic assumptions of finance capital become visibly more tenuous, with widening gyrations of market prices leading to the occasional financial disorders." Disorders, that is, like perpetual unemployment, depression, wage slavery, and economic collapse.

Greider's book has come under attack in a few quarters--notably The Wall Street Journal, that bastion of free-market orthodoxy--for its reliance on allegedly fallacious, even "Marxian" economic models. Whether or not his assumptions are correct to the letter, he paints a disturbing picture of a global economic machine grown too big and too unaccountable to be anything but a danger.

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