Monday, June 25, 2007

A 21st Century fable

"You like eating, don't you Timmy?" I sure do! "And you wouldn't want some nasty old commie to requisition your dinner, would you?" Gosh no! "Well, see here, Timmy, these here communists say mean things about globalisation - but that's what gets the food from Kenya to your plate!" And I'm hungry! "That's why we need to integrate world markets, share our goods across the planet, and make sure everyone gets to eat. It's called globalisation, Timmy." I like globalisation! "You certainly do!"

Thus, the voice of the master explains neoliberalism to the world's starving children. This fanciful deviation was inspired by the latest World Opinion Poll which, while containing some interesting findings, is custom-designed to produce a big thumbs up for 'globalisation'. It construes globalisation as "the increasing connections of our economy with others around the world", and is thus able to conclude that "Support for globalisation is remarkably strong throughout the world". It also finds that most people, shockingly, support the idea of transporting goods from one end of the planet to the other. Have we only thought up this astonishingly simple transaction in the last few years? And what must the pollsters think of those substantial minorities in places like Russia and Mexico who actually think that it's a bad idea? Retrograde, superstitious peasants, surely? And why is that in all countries, those with higher incomes tended to be ten points more supportive than others?

To tarry with the obvious for a moment, what exactly international trade means depends on the context, on what mechanisms for trade are promulgated, on what you're trading, on what the supporting political institutions are, on the global balance of power, on the environmental circumstances, and so on. It can bring you diamonds, coltan, t-shirts, soft drinks, cars and cotton, but it can also bring you slavery, the White Plague, the Black Death, genocide, eco-death, coup d'etat, slum corridors and Toby Keith. Unless you're a flat-earth, free-marketeer, ultra-riche dunce like Thomas Friedman, you are unlikely to simply assume that 'globalisation' only means the interpenetration of markets and growing international trade. That is something that the pollsters had to slot into the heads of their respondents in order to get the requisite response. In common political parlance, by contrast, it is used as a synonym for neoliberal policies, or at the very least as a quasi-natural phenomenon that can only be met with such policies.

For the use of polling organisations, here is a primer on neoliberalism. And while they're at it, they might ponder on the meaning of the term loaded question.