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Tucson Weekly Trade Marks

The global economy is nothing new.

By Emil Franzi

DECEMBER 29, 1997:  There's a myth that we're moving into a "new" global economy. There always was a global economy.

What was Columbus looking for when he bumped into the Bahamas? New trade routes to Asia. The result of that blunder was a massive influx of gold via Spain to European coffers mined by the slave labor of people living on a couple of continents. The Brits later found enough codfish off Newfoundland to give them centuries worth of fish and chips. We've had a "global economy" since everybody figured out the world was round.

Ah, but we're moving to "free trade" with treaties like NAFTA. Really?

In his fine book Border Visions, Carlos Velez-Ibanez tells us that at the beginning of this century, his grandfather made wagons in Magdalena and sold them to Don Carlos Ronstadt in Tucson. Then the international border consisted of some paint on a rock. Goods and people moved freely and you could even bring your gun if you were worried about bandits. Now too many of the real bandits are wearing uniforms.

Couldn't do that now because of narcotics, right? A hundred years ago most of those drugs we now war against were legal.

When Congress passed NAFTA, my wife asked, "Does this mean we can bring back all the Kahlua we want now?" No, and you still can't take any appliances or bourbon south, illustrating that this isn't anywhere near the free trade we once had.

We have yet to equal the percentage figures for 1910, when Germany and Great Britain were principal trading partners and no one believed war between them was possible. After two world wars and a cold one, we're not even back to where we were.

But now we have "multinational corporations." Anybody ever hear of the British East India Company? Or United Fruit? That's why whole countries were called "Banana Republics."

The difference between this global economy and the old one is the lack of overt imperialism. The old imperialism was often more benign for the locals. Kipling's dictum to America to "take up the white man's burden" after our conquest of the Philippines may have been racist, but it carried with it a responsibility to the conquered to provide schools, roads, health clinics and ultimate self-government. Nike has no such obligations today.

The new economic imperialism is that old game in a different form. NAFTA, GATT and a host of other covers are simply the modern equivalent of the privileges governments granted select private interests in the past, when some oppressed peoples at least had the advantage of living in what was often a safer, better administered and more orderly society.

Today's global economy has replaced direct imperialism with a more corrupt form that keeps the exploitation but dumps the responsibility. Haiti now has a government as rotten as the one we kicked out. The difference is the current thugs can hide behind a phony rigged election, get proclaimed a "democracy" and American business interests can get their cheap labor back. Minus an occasional assassination, the Somalian warlords are still in control. Saddam continues to commit genocide against his own citizens and all the world really cares about is oil reserves.

You wouldn't have seen the Victorian British or Teddy Roosevelt acting this way. Their global economy and imperial exploitation was based on stability and the will to enforce it, a will no longer present with the faceless suits that replaced yesterday's warriors.

The "new global economy" isn't new at all. It's just a shabbier and more hypocritical version of the old imperialism with a few new players.

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