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<nettime> RE: form
Hengdorn_Maedford_Sumatra-Bang on Tue, 18 Feb 2003 20:53:38 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> RE: form

Dear Jeffrey,

Yes, it is quite a dialogue we are having! It is a kind of "dialoguing
with power," perhaps, or at least with potential! In any case, I as well
must admit being forced into examination--not of views so much as of the
decency I like to attribute myself.

But let us proceed to the questions in question.

I. The first concerns "Asia." In this case, when you speak of "Asia's"
benefitting from freedom of trade, you are considering the following
countries: South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

These so-called "Asian tigers" are often held up by the likes of Milton
Friedman as examples of how international trade freedom is a boon to the
middling, not just the rich. There are, however, some pieces missing from
this picture of those beautiful lands.

For one thing, the lands in question allowed their national industries to
develop in a sheltered, protected environment for a great many years. When
the restrictions were at long last removed, the industries were capable of
competing in the worldwide marketplace, at least for a few pleasant years.  
This is just like England, which also removed its market protections only
at the point when its industry was ready to compete and conquer and rule.

The picture for these four "winners" was decently rosy till the mid-'90s
crisis--which fairly pulverized the "tigers," but left nearly intact those
Asian countries that had not liberalized, but had chosen instead to
maintain all their market controls and develop as they saw fit. Today, in
fact, we find Chinese companies purchasing Japanese ones! (Please see

Much more unfortunately, many other countries that liberalized to the same
degree as South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand--usually at the
insistence of the IMF, the WTO's sister organization--suffered an entirely
more violent fate when flung into the global marketplace: their economies
could simply not stand the competition, and great misery has ensued for
the populace.

For as it turns out, the real aim behind the liberalization of Third-World
economies is not mainly to benefit those economies. Rather, it is to allow
First World companies to exploit them with as little fuss or muss as
possible; this aim is hidden behind a Marxoid "false shield" of theory.

(This may sound cynical, but I do think it's accurate. For example, the
WTO enables First-World countries to maintain strong protections for their
own industries, while insisting that developing countries lower theirs.  
How can this be seen as anything but criminal profiteering? In any case it
is is quite rude, given the damage to life and limb that most often

II. As for the interesting question of the WTO's history, it originated
neither in a primal conflict between rich and poor, nor as an outgrowth of
the East-West Conflict that lasted from 1945-1990.

The WTO's predecessor, the GATT, emerged as a "concept" organization just
after WWII: it would prevent nasty and powerful governments from
interfering with struggling private enterprises, thus encouraging peace.

The Cold War came to an end around 1990. Five years later, with the enemy
gone, the American "master plan" for the GATT was finally put into action:
it acquired enforcement abilities (the Dispute Settlement Body), dealt
with services as well as with goods (the GATS--loosening government
control over health, education, and energy rather than just shoes, ball
bearings, and cups), and in various other ways became much better able to
stop governments from regulating what corporations can do. The GATT thus
turned into the WTO.

Meanwhile, however, those same corporations that the GATT had intended to
help had grown dozens of times more powerful than they'd been in the '40s.
Today we are faced with a situation in which it is corporations that prey
on weak countries--and the WTO prevents their governments from reacting.

As for the effect of the Europe-U.S. split on the thriving of the WTO,
this is not such a big issue.  The cohesion of Europe and the U.S. is of
only minor importance to the WTO, as the commercial interests within those
entities can plow ahead regardless of politics. The WTO is strictly the
tool of those corporate entities, not of any national governments--and the
shift of power from the latter to the former is a trend that, as Karl
Polanyi predicted, is bursting asunder the seams of government
institutions or, in the case of the U.S., turning them wholesale into
appanages of the wealth drive.

III. What to do, what to do? Work in miasma, not work in miasma? Steer the
flow, work at the pivot? There are many other pivots, fortunately, as the
numerous World Bank officials who have resigned in disgust have found out.  
Why not work directly for something believably useful--some fine NGO, for
example--rather than something (WTO) whose track record has been proven

In any case, here we are deposited, at this point in our dialogue, at an
interesting juncture. On the one side there is you, postulant to the
corridors of might; on the other myself, having seen that that might is
corrupt, dissuading you from said postulance.

It is like a special movie in which there are two parties, one an eager
city youth, the other a sun-wizened cowboy, and between them an
interesting exchange of opinions, in which the cowboy says that
neoliberalism is bad for the world and, for that matter, for cowboys.

It is perhaps even more like a special movie in which a Soviet war hero
approaches a Thai fisherman and the fisherman explains to the hero that
neoliberalism is bad for the world and, for that matter, for fishermen.

Etc. In any case, I do hope that information has been or is being
conveyed! I do quite feel that it is.

With fervent hope bursting asunder all seams,

On Sun, 16 Feb 2003, Wolf, Jeffrey wrote:

> Hengdorn:
> Thank you for another installment in a dialogue that, I must confess, forces
> me to examine my own views quite rigorously. Let us begin with the two
> studies you cite (the first actually being a lecture), and the propositions
> you intend them to support. (I must confess that, due to time constraints, I
> skimmed rather than read them.) My principal objection to them would be that
> they fail to address counterfactual specutlations regarding the absence of
> the conditions they oppose. For example, how is one to measure the
> opportunity costs of lost productivity, and the corresponding decrease in
> standard of living, were tariffs and barriers to trade not reduced? Several
> years ago I saw Milton Friedman speak, where he claimed (albeit in an
> admittedly far from superb lecture) that Hong Kong enjoyed a far greater
> standard of living than Israel because it was more receptive to free trade
> policies. 
> More generally, can I state that something - in this case, reducing tariffs
> and barriers - is always a positive thing? Hopefully by now I have
> established myself as the type of person who shies away from unqualified
> statements devoid of qualication such as that. I'm not even sure if they are
> usually or sometimes a good thing. The better questions are, "for whom," and
> "to what degree?"  It would seem folly not to note that the comparative
> regime - that of the protectionist state - need not be a utopia, either.
> Once more, many are going to suffer under either regime. The appropriate
> question might be: given the imperfect state of the world and the problems
> of either "ideal"-type regime, which is least iniquitable? For one thing, at
> least, it seems that under the liberalizing state plugged into the
> free-trade system, though, that middle-classes arise, and some improvements
> seem to occur (here my reference point is, of course, principally Asia).
> The more interesting question is that, heretofore, we have seemed to
> consider the WTO in terms of North-South conflict or interaction, of that
> between the rich and the poor. The more accurate depiction might be as an
> outgrowth in the East-West Conflict that lasted from 1945-1990. As the
> current UN run-arounds illustrate, and as the article whose cite follows
> predicted, the Conflict's end also means an end to the alliance that
> endured. (http://www.nationalinterest.org/issues/54/Walt.html). If the WTO
> is an outgrowth of that alliance, then perhaps the WTO's time has come as
> well? Of course, the opposite could transpire, too: the WTO could serve as
> another UN, a forum in which competing parties would adjudicate and settle
> disputes. 
> Given that we seem to have referenced Marx a fair deal, it bears making a
> side-note that this would represent an inversion of Marx: rather than
> politics being an addendum or false shield (false consciousness or Gramscian
> hegemony?) for economics, here economics serves merely as an adjunct to
> politics. And in this context it may be useful to bring in the concept of
> politics, heretofore lacking for the most part in our discussion, in another
> context: free trade helps create more liberal states. How many military
> autocracies or oligarchies eventually transitioned to some form of
> democracy, fragile as they may be, when exposed to free trade?
> "is it better for a young person to work within a corrupt and putrefying
> miasma of once-good intentions rather than outside of same? just because it
> (miasma) exists" This is a great question. First, one must specify that the
> miasma is not some excessive, extreme case, such as the Nazis or the Khmer
> Rouge. Clearly, the WTO does not qualify as such. From there, it seems, once
> more Bismarck's quote about paddling on the river of time comes into play.
> Positioning onceself at the point in the water where one's paddle will gain
> the most leverage, and one can gain the most headway, in whichever direction
> one views as most desirable, given some appreciation (rough-hewn as it may
> be) of the various parties and their interests, seems to be the best one can
> do in an imperfect world.
> Thank you for the links to the HR materials. I will send those off in the
> next day or so.
> Jeff
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Hengdorn Mford Sumatra-Bang [mailto:hengy {AT} gatt.org] 
> Sent: Friday, February 14, 2003 6:56 PM
> To: Wolf, Jeffrey
> Subject: RE: form
> Dear Jeffrey,
> Well, this is quite a discussion, this discussion of ours. And now we have
> come to a question. There seems to be an uncertainty: is reducing tariffs
> and barriers always a positive thing? usually? sometimes? Is it true, as you
> say, that doing so "enables the world to be more productive and for all to
> live more comfortably"?
> I would like to suggest two sources of information which will help us to
> generate a response.
> First is the following lecture on detariffication regimes as applied to
> Third World countries by far wealthier ones:
> http://www.gatt.org/resources/agri-e.pdf. Although you will note that this
> text is by no means in class-A condition, it may be sufficiently ripe to
> transmit the urgency felt by the specialists.
> As you can see, "comfortable" is not in the cards for some hapless
> Third-Worlders!
> But what of "productive"? A second document may give us a clue: the partial
> list of statistics at http://www.gatt.org/trastat_e.html. It emerges, sadly,
> that many barrier-lowering schemas--because they are de facto imposed by the
> wealthiest countries upon the least wealthy--have as beneficiaries only the
> former. "Productive" finds itself so oddly defined--raw materials yes,
> manufactured materials no, etc.--that it becomes tantamount to "best for the
> rich," and a mechanism for extracting the most for the least from the
> poorest.
> Protectionism (we can simply call it "sovereignty") then emerges as the only
> possible line of defense against predation masquerading as free-market
> theory.
> But of course that (theory) is what we (WTO) exist to enforce.
> This brings us to the second point of discussion to which we've been
> brought: is it better for a young person to work within a corrupt and
> putrefying miasma of once-good intentions rather than outside of same? just
> because it (miasma) exists? "Men make history, but not in circumstances of
> their own choosing," said Marx, as you note. But one should not necessarily
> count on the production of positive history when choosing to engage with
> miasma.
> As Marx also said, "Military justice is to justice what military music is to
> music" (especially germane in these days of free-market flex-fest, don't you
> think?). Similarly, neoliberal thinking is to thinking what torture is to
> compassion. Unfortunately, many universities today prefer torture, and that
> is the greater pity in preparing the next generation of leaders for a world
> of increasing inequality, more desperate poverty, and new dangers of every
> last stripe.
> As Marx didn't say, "Wagner's music is better than it sounds." And perhaps
> the only thing one can lead a horse to is water, so if you insist on joining
> in our cacophony, here is what you should do:
> * download the form at http://www.gatt.org/resources/i_form_e.doc
> * fill it out
> * e-mail it to humanresources {AT} wto.org.
> Please keep me apprised of your progress.
> With very best wishes,
> Hengy
> On Wed, 12 Feb 2003, Wolf, Jeffrey wrote:
> > Hengdorn:
> > 
> > I: I shall start with your conclusion. There are three reasons I wish 
> > to work for the WTO/GATT:

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