Monday, November 30, 2009

My Battle In Seattle

I've got a bunch of articles about brain drain and a Burgh Energy Report update. I'll get to those, and more, later this week. Today's the last day of my blog homage to Richard Herman's new book, "Immigrant, Inc." I'll remind you that the book launch party is next Monday. I wish I could be there. Also, Richard would appreciate your vote for his book (takes just 30 seconds to do).

During November, I think I've focused more on the globalization theme than international migration. For a variety of reasons, I've got globalization on the brain. Today is the 10th-year anniversary of the shutdown of the WTO Ministerial in Seattle. There are a lot of stories in the press commemorating the event and I had a hard time finding one that could serve as a good sounding board for my own reflections. I settled on this celebration of US Senator Sherrod Brown because both of us were there during the riots and both us are working to address brain drain concerns in Ohio:

Fair Trade is vital to our nation's economic future.

Trade can create new jobs in exporting industries, but trade can destroy jobs when imports replace the output of domestic firms. Because current trade policy has accelerated the trade deficit, eliminated manufacturing jobs, and stagnated wages, more jobs have been displaced by imports than created by exports. The United States has lost more than 3 million manufacturing jobs since 2000 – that's one in six good paying jobs.

Trade deals like NAFTA, CAFTA and China PNTR were written and negotiated by multinational corporations and lack protections for workers, the environment, and food and product safety.

Those are Brown's words. He was part of the union march against the WTO and he has seen how globalization can ravage a community. In 1999, I shared the same sentiments. I was about two years removed from a lobbyist internship with Amnesty International in Washington, DC. A friend of mine from my stint at the University of Vermont was a staffer for "Socialist Congressman" Bernie Sanders. You can get a sense of his pro-labor activism here. He made enough of an impression upon me that I tried to push Amnesty International to back the anti-globalization movement. Ironically, AI would eventually join the cause and I've come to think that the expansion of their mission was a mistake. That's another story for another time.

As a graduate trainee in the Globalization and Democratization program at the University of Colorado, I intended to go to Seattle to study international civil society. My impressions of economic globalization were beginning to moderate, but I was mainly interested in how citizens could engage in the debate about global policy. Globalization from below resonated with me and my experience in DC. I felt that people had a great deal of power to influence governments. The conversation about trade was too exclusive, all the way up to developing countries such as India. I understood how the United States was dictating the terms (see hegemonic stability theory or Washington Consensus). The political forum of the WTO struck me as grossly unfair.

Whatever romantic view I had of the anti-globalization movement, the Battle in Seattle dispelled them. I went over completely to the dark side. As I'm sure my more regular readers can tell, I'm pro-globalization.

Like Senator Brown, I'm from a community run over by globalization: Erie, PA. My father managed to stay employed as an engineer for General Electric until retirement (albeit a premature one), but we couldn't stay in our hometown. Erie is one of the many communities that globalization has left behind. But I'm not nostalgic for the way of life that was razed. I merely regret that most of the warriors equipped to benefit from globalization had left the Rust Belt.

That perspective was forged in Seattle. I looked at and analyzed all the documents various protest groups and NGOs had published. There wasn't any coherent narrative. Instead, the world views were highly polarized. The only thing these strange bedfellows (e.g. labor and environmentalists) had in common was an enemy: The World Trade Organization. Take away the object of all the anger and international civil society would quickly Balkanize. At least, that was the conclusion of my research.

Few people I interviewed had any idea how to define globalization or knew what the WTO was charged to do. There was a dramatic democratic deficit (something the India-based NGOs barked unheeded). The opaque bureaucracy fueled wild conspiracy theories. I started to think about the glaring need for global civics education and a better understanding of geopolitics and international political economy. That became my crusade once I returned to university and resumed teaching.

Ultimately, that proved to be unsatisfying. As much as I enjoy lecturing about globalization, my students didn't need my help. I started thinking about more disadvantaged populations such as those still trapped inside of the Rust Belt. I did get a chance to get in front of community college students and teach my unique take on world regional geography. I loved it.

Thus, I'm greatly encouraged by Richard Longworth, the blogger and the work of the Global Midwest Initiative. Through that lens, we might begin to better grapple with Fair Trade policy and how to best revive Ohio. Along those lines, I would suggest the model developed by a University of Michigan undergraduate exploring the brain drain problem in that state. The latest guest essay blew me away with its frank discussion of workforce development issues. (More about that tomorrow) I can easily ascertain the information and knowledge gaps while taking note of some innovative thinking that could attract more talent to Rust Belt communities.

In other words, the shortcomings of various policy options on the table are obvious and open to more people for debate. I'm hoping that Richard Longworth's baby is the kind of political space that was so obviously lacking during the Battle in Seattle. If we can learn anything from the riots, I hope it is the need for an inclusive forum concerning globalization which I consider to be the great debate of our time.

No comments: