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The New World Order: Self-destruction? Self-restraint? Better not count on it as long as corporate rule remains unknown, unchallenged

By Ed Finn, The CCPA Monitor, November 1996.

Self-destruction? Self-restraint? Better not count on it as long as corporate rule remains unknown, unchallenged

By Ed Finn

The big question now is whether the newly globalized capitalist system is consolidating its supremacy, or whether it is careening out of control and doomed to self-destruction.

Those wishful thinkers who favour the latter scenario are not impressed by the awesome and unchallenged power now wielded by the transnational corporations (TNCs). They argue that any machine lacking both internal and external controls will eventually tear itself apart.

The basic instability of unfettered capitalism, they say, is that it is activated solely by greed. And greed unleashed can lead to horrendous social upheaval. Up to the mid-1970s, that greed was held in check by democratic national governments and strong unions. Big Business was forced by legislation, regulations and labour contracts to share its profits on some minimally equitable basis with workers, consumers, and the state.

Over the past 15 years, all these external constraints have been thrown off. Globalization, free trade, deregulation, the new communications technologies, and the conversion of nearly all political parties to the free market agenda have combined to subvert governments and disempower unions. Nothing has since stood in the way of corporate domination. In a frighteningly short time, it has spread around the globe, undermining democracy and causing disparities and inequities on a massive scale.

One-quarter of the world's people are now starving. One in three of the world's children are being denied adequate food, education, and health care. Nearly one-third of the world's 2.2 billion workers are unemployed as corporations automate and "shed" staff. Child labour, slave labour, and prison labour have been re-established. Non-productive financial speculation and interest payments suck up most of the capital needed to maintain social programs and infrastructure. Poverty, crime, violence, urban rot and ethnic conflict escalate. Corporate opposition to effective environmental protection poisons the planet's air and water.

The right-wing ideologues who defend and rationalize this system see nothing wrong with it. For them, it is a process of weeding out the weak and the unfit. They have no compunction or compassion. In their view, those who can't cope or compete don't deserve to live well--or even live at all.

Their model of the ideal society is one in which a minority composed the most skilled, the most callous, the most fortunate and the most avaricious amass most of the wealth, and are protected from the impoverished majority by servile governments, walled estates, security guards, the riot squads, and if necessary, the armed forces.

That's a good description of most Third World dictatorships. No wonder former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was praised so effusively by the Canadian CEO of Horsham Corp., Peter Munk, at that company's last shareholders' meeting. Munk said he admired Pinochet for having turned Chile into one of the highest "profit per capita" countries in the world.

There have been signs recently of some uneasiness among the corporate elite. They fret about the continuing drop in consumer spending. The festering social malaise makes them nervous. So do the street protests that have erupted in some countries. Some CEOs have even publicly voiced concerns about a possible backlash against their downsizing frenzy.

But these expressions of disquietude by our corporate rulers are still exceptional. Most CEOs remain confident that "the market" must and will prevail, and that any socioeconomic problems spawned by their profiteering are either temporary or manageable.

If they're right, globalization early in the 21st century will create a feudal world ruled by the kings and queens of commerce, safely ensconced in their modern palaces with their courtiers and hangers-on, wallowing in luxury with nine-tenths of the world's wealth. The survival of the financially fittest will be ensured, while the vast majority of people are mired in poverty and serfdom.

Most Canadians can't envisage such a brutal and inequitable system being set up without opposition--or without crashing first from its own excesses. Even if it could be, they would not see it being sustainable for very long. Surely, they reason, if the masses of people were so abused and exploited, they would rise up against their oppressors.

I wish I could share that optimism. But I think a new corporate feudalism could indeed be established, and in fact is already in the process of being established. It may even be achieved without any effective resistance, and could possibly last for hundreds of years, just as its feudal precursor prevailed during the Middle Ages.

This is because our corporate overlords have been able to persuade the masses to acquiesce in their own subjection. If most people can be persuaded that the New World Order and all its adverse effects are being caused by natural and unstoppable forces, they will not try to defend themselves. If they can be convinced that the law of the jungle is the right and proper law to govern human activity, they will fight among themselves instead of against the economic jungle's powerful predators.

During the Middle Ages, it was the Church that provided the propaganda needed to keep the serfs resigned to their misery. Told by their bishops and priests that the aristocrats were ordained by God to rule over them and that they would be rewarded in the "next life" for their suffering in this one, they remained docile for centuries.

Today, it's the corporate-controlled media that preach the inevitability--even the desirability--of the new global feudalism. Newspaper editors and columnists, radio and TV commentators and talk-show hosts, academic pundits and right-wing apologists play the role of high priests in this Malthusian free-market religion. It is their function to delude the victims of globalization into thinking it is futile (even sinful) to try to oppose it.

"It's your own fault," they're told, "that you are among the many losers instead of the few winners in the global economy. If you worked harder, became more ruthless and competitive, you too could join the ruling class."

This insidious message, endlessly repeated, erodes the will to resist. Encouraged to squabble among themselves for their corporate masters' leftover scraps, the majority of people are easy prey to this sort of mental manipulation. If their brainwashing can be maintained, it is indeed possible that a global corporate empire (the Fourth Reich?) can be created that will endure for generations--and without the need for legions of armed guards or other overt forms of oppression. After a generation or two, even the most deprived and mistreated of serfs tend to accept their lowly state without a murmur.

There are only three ways to avert the creation of such a corporate feudal system.

The first is to have a reimposition of the constraints that formerly kept private enterprise within relatively civilized bounds. This in turn, however, would require the politicians to defy their corporate masters, and therefore must be considered highly improbable. (It is made even more daunting now by the globalized scope of corporate power, which effectively rules out such an initiative by any one country. It would take all the G-7 countries acting in concert--at the very least--and what are the chances of that happening? Zilch.)

The second way to stop the corporate juggernaut would be for the TNCs themselves to voluntarily pull back from the goal of absolute global domination, even though it is clearly within their grasp. This will happen only if they doubt their ability to avert or overcome possible opposition and to keep the system from self-destructing. Although such doubts have been expressed, it seems that most CEOs remain committed to their global strategy. (In any case, it would be necessary for all the large TNCs in each industrial sector to agree jointly to limit their profit-seeking--for all the corporate lions, in other words, to become lambs. So scratch that option, too.)

The third and last way to forestall the Global Corporate Empire is therefore the only one that is practically achieveable. It consists of an all-out effort by the organizations and individuals who oppose the TNCs to de-brainwash their fellow citizens--to expose the corporate agenda, refute its inevitability, and show that there are better and viable alternatives to the New World Order.

There's no guarantee, of course, that, even if people are thus enlightened, their new awareness will translate into a mass rejection of the corporate agenda. But one thing is certain: as long as they remain the mental prisoners of that agenda, they will never resist it or even question it.

What is required is a massive education and communications counteroffensive, conducted on many fronts. It would not be easy to mount. It would be expensive. It would require a lot of effort by a lot of people. It would be hampered by its limited access to the commercial print and broadcast media. But it could be accomplished if those with the resources and the decision-making authority were to make it their No. 1 priority.

Whether the leaders of the left will even try to wage and win the propaganda war is open to question. It is much easier, after all, to mobilize their minority of activists for useless marches and demonstrations, and to deliver fiery speeches at conventions.

To concentrate instead on changing public opinion--or even edifying the 90% of their own members who have also swallowed the right-wing propaganda--would be a much more difficult task, and one offering far fewer photo-ops. However, if they believe that results rather than appearances are what really count, they will make some effort to expand and improve their communications/education/ research staff and resources.

It would be tragic enough if corporate rule were to become entrenched despite the staunchest efforts to challenge it. Even more tragic would be to lose the struggle because it was not fought with the right weapons.

The only effectual weapons are the facts, figures and arguments that discredit the corporate agenda and reveal progressive alternatives. If they--and the means of disseminating them--continue to lie rusting from disuse while time and money is wasted organizing futile marches on the Parliament Hill servants' quarters, it won't be long before the New World Order is here to stay.