In response to the massive popular protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in Quebec City on April 20-21, the mainstream media has adopted as one of its favorite lines that the protesters, while frequently well meaning, are ignorant of basic economics. What this means is that the protesters are refusing to bow down before the alleged virtues of unregulated free trade. In his column on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times (April 24, 2001), Thomas Friedman quoted Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs as saying, “There is not a single example in modern history of a country successfully developing without trading and integrating with the global economy.” Sachs’ statement, although highly ambiguous since it says nothing about cause and effect, is taken by Friedman as authoritative evidence for the neoliberal myth that free trade is the basis of development, and that all attempts to regulate trade are therefore responsible for slowing down growth and perpetuating underdevelopment. On this basis, Friedman contends that the anti-globalization protesters in Quebec, “by inhibiting global trade expansion are choking the only route out of poverty for the world’s poor.” What is phony in all such arguments about the benefits of free trade is that they are contradicted by history. England did not become a vigorous advocate of free trade until it had a marked advantage as the leader of the industrial revolution. Tariff walls then stood in the way of Britain’s road to hegemony in industry, finance, and empire.
The rising rival empire builders and industrializers—Germany, the United States, and Japan—thumbed their noses at the ideology of free trade They built high tariff walls to protect their infant industries. Today’s enormous pressure by the rich countries to impose free trade on the poor has a clear aim, consistent with history: to increase the wealth of the rich and impose chains on those countries that hope to develop and protect their own industries. That would open the way for economic independence from the imperial powers.
This point has been effectively argued by Arthur MacEwan in his book, Neoliberalism or Democracy (Zed Press, 1999). After examining the historical evidence MacEwan concludes that “there is no substance to the neo-liberal claim that ‘free trade’ has been the foundation, historically and in the current era, of successful economic growth.” For those seeking a critique of contemporary neoliberal myths, we heartily recommend MacEwan’s book.
In this issue we are publishing an article by Samir Amin, based on a talk that he gave at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in January 2001. Each year since 1971 the political and economic leaders of world capitalism have gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to work out strategies for the global expansion of the capitalist system and the imperialist domination of the periphery by the core. This year, however, while the meeting in Davos was taking place—and while thousands of anti-Davos protesters were being arrested in Switzerland—a rival World Social Forum was being held in Porto Alegre, Brazil at the instigation of the Brazilian Workers Party (PT), which controls the municipal government of Porto Alegre, capital of the state of Rio Grande do Sul—also controlled by the PT. The World Social Forum drew tens of thousands of anti-globalization protesters and over one hundred countries were represented. Speakers included, in addition to Amin, such important figures as Lula da Silva, the leader of the Workers Party; Eduardo Galeano, author of Open Veins of Latin America; Joao Pedro Stedile, one of the principle leaders of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil (see the article by Michael Löwy in this issue); and José Bové, the French farmer who became famous for destroying a McDonalds restaurant and for uprooting genetically modified plants. One of the leading slogans of the World Social Forum was “Globalize the struggle.”
Those MR readers who have access to research libraries may wish to look for (or recommend the purchase of) the second edition of A Biographical Dictionary of Dissenting Economists (Edward Elgar, 2000), edited by Philip Arestis and Malcolm Sawyer. This resource contains extensive biographies (and in some cases autobiographies) of numerous left economists, and is a useful guide to the entire body of literature on radical economics. MR authors who are subjects of articles in this volume include: Samir Amin, Paul Baran, Harry Braverman, Andre Gunder Frank, Stephen Hymer, Makoto Itoh, Michael Kalecki, Harry Magdoff, Ernest Mandel, Prabhat Patnaik, Joan Robinson, Howard Sherman, Josef Steindl, and Paul Sweezy.
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