As French demonstrations against new labor laws turn violent, and British Prime Minister David Cameron is caught in off-shore shenanigans, it’s time to examine the words ‘globalization’ and ‘privatization’.
The privatization of resources and services that has been pursued relentlessly by the World Bank and the IMF for decades, resulting in bigger lower classes and richer upper classes across the world, is usually seen in the context of a given country’s economic situation. But the division of the world into some 200 sovereign national states corresponds ever less to reality: the image of a king in his castle that has morphed into one of Presidents in their ‘white’ houses, is a modern fairy tale: kings fought over terrestrial boundaries, while presidents safeguard the cross-border investments of their financiers.
“Globalization” and “privatization” are viewed as distinct phenomena having nothing to do with one another. In reality, they are dependent upon each other: only a privately owned company can enter into negotiations with another privately owned company, as nations do amongst themselves on the diplomatic front: if your town owns its gasworks, or its electrical grid, it may cooperate with its twins in other towns, but it is unlikely to try to take over the electrical grid of its state or region. A privately-owned electric company, however, will try to acquire the assets of other privately-owner electric companies - or automobile companies, or battery manufacturers.
Privatization of a nation’s assets such as coal and oil - or agricultural land - benefits the so-called national one percent, who gradually fold their possessions into those of a global one percent. We have gone from the king in his castle as ultimate ruler of lands administered by princes, to boards of directors as ultimate rulers of nations administered by their respective local one percents.
There is increasing talk currently of decentralization and direct democracy, and the 150th anniversary issue of The Nation includes a fascinating article by Joel Rogers on just how such a system could work at the national level. However, there appears to be a gap between the focus on national participatory democracy and the reality of globalization as it is being practiced with increasing efficacy. No thought is given to the necessary link between national participatory democracy and the international system. Yet a pre-existing international political architecture makes national participatory democracy more doable. Since its founding, the UN has interacted solely with national governments. The revamping of the United Nations as part of a future secretary general’s remit should include its transformation into a body capable of interacting with national representative entities, which is turn would interact with participatory entities on the local level.
The up-coming election of a new UN Secretary General offers a unique opportunity to participatory democracy activists to move their campaign to a new level. An article to follow will discuss the major international figures they could recruit.