It’s a Small World

If international bodies keep leaning on the US to do the right thing, liberals might learn to love globalization after all

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We’re all familiar with the enormous pitfalls of free trade agreements, corporate consolidation and the trend generically known as globalization: declining wages, increasing pollution, cultural homogenization, corporate hegemony. But what you may have overlooked is the plus side of economic and political globalization. Who’d’ve thunk it? The Euros whose asses we saved during World War II (or, in the case of our former enemies, afterwards with foreign aid) are now trying to bully us into doing the right thing.

The Council of Europe (an association of 43 governments that promotes human rights) deplored Timothy McVeigh’s sending-off as “sad, pathetic and wrong.” Spat Germany’s tageszeitung: “The most fundamentalist Christian country of the Western world, if not in the world, is showing that killing is part of human co-existence.”

Both the Council and the European Union deny membership to countries that practice capital punishment, and they have the economic juice to get their way. Turkey, a long-time fan of legalized vigilantism, and Russia, a nation in name only, are poised to discard the practice in order to join the EU.

American liberals, ignored by a right-wing government back home, are appealing for European help to end their nation’s barbarism, just as apartheid-era South African activists used to plead for economic intervention from more “civilized” countries. Death penalty opponents cheered when the world court condemned the execution of the LaGrand brothers this week. And at a conference sponsored by the Council of Europe recently, Steven Hawkins of the US National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty asked Europe to impose an economic boycott on American states that carry out executions. Texas, he noted, might clean up its act if it lost the $44.8 billion in European investment it scored in 1997.

The Euros are also beating up the US on global warming. The EU now “leads the world on climate change [policy],” said Michel Racquet, spokesperson for Greenpeace International, in response to an EU pledge to move ahead with the Kyoto Protocol without the US. The Bush administration, worried that cutting greenhouse emissions would reduce its business buddies’ profits, is watching the environmental parade leave without us.

Maybe it’s hard to imagine Europressure coercing the US into eliminating the death penalty and cleaning the air. But it gets better: On June 22, the WTO cleared the way for the European Union to impose $4 billion in trade sanctions on the US, finding that tax breaks to huge corporations like Boeing and Microsoft constitute illegal subsidies. If this keeps up, we may end up with socialized medicine and free college tuition!

As globalization marches on, the trend toward One Little World will result in ever more economic chaos, particularly in Third World nations crushed by oppressive structural adjustment policies (see Russia and former Soviet bloc nations, 1991 to present). But at the same time, huge nations like the US may find it harder to act unilaterally, especially when our policies are anathema to other nations — powerful, unified European nations for now, but perhaps others later.

The question is whether lefties can pick and choose. Can we keep the positive socializing influence of globalization while taming the unfettered capitalism that currently goes with it? Or, conversely, could we withdraw from and discourage free trade agreements while keeping the world on our backs about state-sanctioned murder of the mentally handicapped? If someone comes up with way out of this conundrum, I’d love to hear it.

And whoever does have the answer probably lives in Brussels.

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