Print More

(HOST) Commentator Olin Robison says that although the labor demonstrations in Paris and the immigration marches in Los Angeles were in response to different policy issues – he thinks they have something fundamental in common.

(ROBISON) Who could possibly have predicted that we would see tens of thousands of French young people rioting in the streets of Paris – not in the name of revolution but for retaining the status quo. But that is exactly what we have just witnessed.

Meanwhile, at about the same time in the United States, hundreds of thousands poured into the streets in cities all across the country to try to stop a congressional initiative that, had it been passed and signed by the President, would have turned millions of illegal immigrants into instant criminals in the eyes of the law. The prospect of the passage of the law which would even have criminalized aid and assistance to those same immigrants provoked Roman Catholic Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles to call upon priests and others under his leadership to defy the law saying it was their Christian duty to give assistance to “anyone” in need regardless of their legal status.

Globalization is basically an economic phenomenon. “Reactions” to the costs of globalization, however, are primarily political.

In an odd twist of the times, globalization was first sold here and everywhere as a claim of economic liberalism. It was trumpeted as the inevitable result of the free movement of capital, ideas, information and people across international boundaries…..all made possible by the end of the Cold War. It was touted both as good for us and as inevitable. We were told by really smart people that we faced a simple choice: either embrace globalization or get left behind. Then the same idea was adopted by the neo-conservatives with a heavy emphasis on the inevitability part. Adapt or become irrelevant, we were told.

Well, dear friends, what is a theologically minded humanist to do in the face of such certainty? Besides, how can one argue with modern day economists, armed with all those charts and graphs, and things that can be counted and measured?

Those Young People in the streets of Paris were protesting lest they lose part of the good life they so clearly now have. Back here in the United States something else was happening: The immigration issue had managed to bring together a most unlikely political alliance: corporate America which benefits from the cheap labor of the immigrants and social liberals who plead guilty to idealism which in this case meant that they were against demonizing people who come to the U.S. to work. The common thread is dislocation; fear of it (as in Paris) or the fact of it (legal immigration in America).

My discomfort is centered in the way globalization reduces people to commodities. Oh, I am well aware that economists tell us that globalization has reduced poverty in many distant places. Maybe so, but the economic underpinning is not humanistic. It celebrates cheap labor. It has brought about a new corporate ethic which seems to say that it is OK to exploit people as long as you can maintain that the people you are exploiting are better off now than they were before.

A second source of discomfort for me has to do with the broadly held assumption of globalization’s inevitability. Thomas Friedman, the author and New York Times columnist, has contributed much to the popularization of this idea.

I remain skeptical.

It all comes a little too close to that infamous quote from the late Charlie Wilson, sometime CEO of General Motors. It was Charlie who said that what was good for General Motors was good for America.

And the inevitability bit really does smack of Marxism. Marx was a big one for inevitability and look what happened to that.

This is Olin Robison.

Olin Robison is past president of both the Salzburg Seminar and of Middlebury College. He now lives in Shelburne.

Comments are closed.