The Globalisation Debate - Naomi Klein, George Monbiot, John Burnside & Alan Rugman

The visible leaders of the world met in Genoa a month ago at the G8 summit. From his column in The Guardian, George Monbiot observed that: "One seized the presidency of his country after losing the election. Another is pursuing a genocidal war in an annexed republic. A third is facing allegations of corruption. A fourth, the summit's host, has been convicted of illegal party financing, bribery and false accounting, while his righthand man is on trial for consorting with the mafia. Needless to say, the major theme of [the summit was] 'promoting democracy'." Two of the real fighters for democracy were at the book festival in Edinburgh this week in a sell-out debate on globalisation.

Globalisation for Dummies
the largest most complex political issue of the day laid bare in only 30 seconds
  • Economic liberalisation (i.e. removing the powers of individual countries) is altering the balance of power in favour of companies over countries.
  • The numbers are too big. The resources required to compete at a national or global level favours mass-marketing over small businesses.
  • Companies are becoming bigger through mergers and international expansion. The largest companies now have more economic clout than most countries.
  • Hence the large multi-nationals now hold power without responsibility.
  • Simultaneously, the large brands are becoming increasingly sophisticated at manipulating people and consolidating their power.
  • For a variety of reasons (keeping the media barons on their side, short term policies, fear - often justified - of a backlash from business, old-fashioned corruption, etc.) politicians rarely stand up to the multi-nationals. George Bush - supposedly the powerful leader of the free world - is showing himself to be the dutiful employee of the companies that put him there; only a powerful tool. If you think that's an American problem then think again - Captive State documents how democracy is being eroded here in Britain.

Bottom line: Our democratic systems are being eroded and individual choice limited by mass-marketed 'mono-culture'. Meanwhile low skilled workers are kept poor and unempowered.
Naomi Klein shot to prominence with the highly acclaimed bestseller No Logo, which documents corporate globalisation and the opposition to it. George Monbiot's book Captive State covers the same theme, but focuses on events in Britain. They are two of the most important books on current politics, and essential reading for anyone who wants to be informed on globalisation. Fortunately they are also both very readable, with a good mix of analysis and anecdotes. Klein and Monbiot write clearly, explaining complex issues well without overly simplifying. Klein's writing is quite restrained, but Monbiot has a tendency to get carried away with revolutionary rhetoric - I half expected him to lead an angry mob of book festival-goers out into the streets. Some find his rants hard to swallow, however his research is impeccable.

Their books are well researched indictments of the way things are going. They make chilling reading, but Klein and Monbiot are not doom-sayers. They also report on the rising opposition to the corporate/brand take-over, including some inspiring David v Goliath battles. They argue that an alternative - some form og global democracy - is possible if we will it. This opposition is being labelled 'the Pro-Democracy movement', although Klein describes it as not so much a movement but a "mass coincidence", on account of it's unstructured grass-roots nature. The big brands seem to be taking it seriously - but so far their response has largely been to pump more money into PR instead of changing their ways.

Also on the panel were Scottish poet John Burnside and academic Alan Rugman. An hour is really too short for four people to give talks and hold a debate. Whilst it kept the speakers to the point, it also prevented proper discussion. Burnside spoke on the cultural cost of losing languages and added an artistic angle to the debate. Rugman's inclusion as devil's advocate didn't work so well. Klein and Monbiot were allowed to dominate the event.

Naomi Klein and George Monbiot make a strong case that democracy is in trouble, threatened by subtle and insidious forces. The overall effect of their books is somewhere between a horror story and a call to arms. A grass-roots defence is needed - & this means you.

Daniel Winterstein, 21st August 2001