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Neoliberalism and Globalization
Globalization may be an overused word, although the new version of international capitalism is still so recent that the actual system on the ground has outrun the scientific and theoretical vocabulary that describes it. As a system, international capitalism is rapidly eliminating geographical and political boundaries, as Marx predicted in the 19th Century. In the global, postmodern economy, branding also involves relentless synergy and tie-ins between various diverse lines of products. Films and cartoons market their images to toy companies, fast-food restaurants and cereal manufacturers, generating billions of dollars of revenue annually, as does the commerce in seeds, genetic materials and even human body parts. Western science and technology have been synonymous with modernization and development in India and other Asian nations, even though this paradigm ignores the historical and cultural that has existed in many civilizations over the centuries. Marx also maintained that capitalism would become a global system that would eventually absorb the labor and resources of the entire planet into itself, and indeed that this process was already well underway in his lifetime. Traditional and tribal societies, old customs, religions and social arrangements, would give way to a capitalist system that broke down all barriers in its search for profits. Contemporary Marxist theorists like Immanuel Wallterstein and Leslie Sklair have also noted that this has been occurring for centuries and is accelerating today, as an international capitalist class, culture and corporate system now dominate the world, just as Marx predicted long ago.
In recent times, Marxist theorists like Immanuel Wallterstein and Leslie Sklair have taken the position that capitalism has now been transformed into a global or transnational system, due to continuing changes in technology, communications and transportation. A global capitalist class has come into existence, and a global culture and political system is also emerging. Western corporations, culture and images now pervade the planet, in a system characterized by "increasing connectivity and interdependency" (Appelrouth and Edles, 2011, p. 558). Wallerstein agreed with Marx that the process of globalization began with European colonization in the 16th and 17th Centuries and the development of modern capitalism in the 'core' Western nation-states. Today, through global organizations like the European Union, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) it has established a form of capital control over most of the world. He and Sklair also maintain that Western capitalism is homogenizing the world, although quite clearly there has been considerable resistance from nationalists, traditionalists and religious fundamentalists to this 'McWorld' or 'Coco-colonization' (Appekrouth and Edles, 2011, p. 563). As in the past, the peripheral and semi-peripheral areas of the world are still being exploited for their cheap labor and raw materials, while history is being driven forward by capitalism's "never-ending drive for profit" (Appelrouth and Edles, 2011, p. 569).
In No Logo, Naomi Klein was highly critical of globalized capitalism and the consolidation of giant corporations and highly standardized brands and chain stores like Wal-Mart, the Gap and Starbucks. All of these companies are not attempting to become that "one overarching brand under which we consume, make art, [and] even build our homes" (Klein 1999, 2009, p. 130). Even the retail outlets are completely uniform and clone-like, with one Kinko's, Blockbuster or McDonald's looking basically like any of the others. By 1998, Wal-Mart had become the biggest retailer in the world by following these policies, with over $137 billion in sales. It always builds stores two or three times larger than its competitors and they buys its products in bulk from low-wage countries like China, reselling at prices with rich smaller retailers cannot match. Suburban malls and discount centers have now drained "community life and small businesses out of the town centers," and smaller retailers cannot even buy their products wholesale for the same price that Wal-Mart sells them retail (Klein, p. 134).
In his book The Information Bomb, Paul Virilio provides a more general and theoretical description of the technological underpinnings of global capitalism. He describes "extreme science" as a danger to all science as it has been known up to this point since it is in danger of becoming detached from reality (Virilio, 2005, p. 3). This has created new problems for governments and military and police organizations as well, since the new technology is rapidly abolishing specific political and social geographies. Just as the modern nation-state replaced the older feudal and monarchic states, so the new global, high technology version of capitalism is going to abolish the nation-state. For example, mobile phones have made drug dealing, terrorism and other illegal activities far more difficult to control than ever in the past. Cable and satellite TV, along with the Internet, have also made worldwide surveillance in real-time possible for the first time in history, all of which reflect the "extreme reduction of distances" that is one of Virilio's central themes (Virilio, p. 13). Advertising, as Klein points out, is no longer like its 19th Century ancestor that simply informed consumers about the existence of a product but a kind of "universal comparative advertising" that goes far beyond promoting single products or brands (Virilio, p. 60).
In "Biotechnological Development" and "Piracy by Patent," Vandana Shiva described the effect that Western corporations and trade patent rules on peasant agriculture in developing nations. In India, the modern British textile industries were an early example of how advanced technology could displace traditional spinners, weavers and village artisans, while creating a new working class of low-paid wage slaves. Mahatma Gandhi firmly believed that only the revival of traditional spinning and handicrafts could overcome the immense poverty of the cities and countryside in India, where even today 400 million people do not even know how to read and write. .Even so, the modernizing elites of India and other Asian countries rejected Gandhi's concepts and backward and reactionary, and instead adopted Western ideas of modernization (Shiva, 2004, p. 33). In the contemporary system of global capitalism, large multinational corporations use far more advanced technology to genetically modify the seeds and plants used in agriculture and profit from them though the acquisition of patent rights. New biotechnologies continue to displace and impoverish traditional subsistence farmers and "the relocation of "seed production from the farm to the corporate laboratory relocates power and value between the North and South" and increases the dependence of farmers on Western corporations (Shiva, p. 36). Once again, Gandhi's alternatives to commercialized and mechanized scientific agriculture were never seriously considered, except perhaps in various Green and back-to-the-land movements. These would have been "based on conserving nature and people's livelihoods, while improving yields" (Shiva, p. 37).
Biodiversity was never an important issue in India until the 1960s and 1970s since traditionally the rights to use seeds, plants and other biological resources were controlled by rural communities. By custom, plants and forest products were simply "understood to be part of the cultural, spiritual, and biological commons," and could not be owned by individuals or capitalistic enterprises and large corporations (Shiva and Hulla Bhar, 2004, p. 146). Only in the era of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and its successor the World Trade Organization (WTO), did the power to control and exploit these resources become a major source of conflict and controversy. Western corporate interests, particularly those that control the United States, have also insisted on new regulations of Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) that apply American patent laws to developing countries. According to these laws, all the traditional and customary rights to seeds and other biological products are now considered a "form of piracy" if international corporations have bought up the patent and trademark rights (Shiva and Hulla-Bhar, p. 147).
According to Nancy Scheper-Hughes in "The Last Commodity," global capitalism has combined with the latest advances in technology to create an international black and gray market has developed for transplants in kidneys, eyes and other tissues and organs. She interviewed donors, recipients, gangsters and physicians, often going undercover in dangerous conditions from Manila to Istanbul in order to obtain a detailed anthropological description of this practice. This traffic is illegal and often under the control of organized crime groups in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia, although the donor recipients are thoroughly 'respectable' middle and upper class persons, desperate to save their lives at any cost. Those who sell their organs are often extremely poor residents of developing nations like India, Pakistan, Moldova and the Philippines who receive only a few thousand dollars, while the surgeons and gangsters involved make millions. In short, human beings and their bodily materials truly have become marketable commodities and human life does indeed have a price -- and often it is very cheap indeed. Certainly the advances in modern medicine have prolonged life, at least for the privileged few in the Western world -- and the elites in developing nations -- but always within a ruthlessly for-profit context.
Kenichi Ohmae's 2005 book, The Next Global Stage: Challenges and Opportunities in our Borderless World, was one of many that trumpeted the…[continue]
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