A growing network of labor and human rights activists, women’s and indigenous people’s groups and grassroots movements is shaping a transnational consensus on global economic reform that challenges the ideological and programmatic triumph of neoliberalism over the last two decades. These activists reject liberal economists’ claims that unregulated private markets and free trade will inevitably guarantee prosperity for all. Rather, they maintain that market-led globalization has exacerbated global inequalities and poverty, heightened economic volatility and fostered local dependence on global corporations and financial markets. Neoliberal principles and practices can threaten actual or potential democratic processes by transferring economic and regulatory powers from state and local governments to unaccountable corporations, international financial institutions and financial speculators seeking short-term profits. Governments throughout the world have lost much of their ability to enact socialist or even Keynesian policies in pursuit of development, full employment and other national economic goals. Globalization also pits states and localities against one another in the attempt to attract foreign capital and gain investor confidence by lowering health and safety standards, limiting workers’ rights protection and loosening environmental regulations.

Critics of global neoliberalism are not offering a single economic model to replace neoliberalism, nor should we expect to see one, since activists call into question the very idea of imposing a single economic system on the entire world, an assumption at the root of IMF- and World Bank-supported structural adjustment programs. Advocates of this alternative view call for a break with both old-style, state-assisted capitalism and neoliberal free-market zealotry, yet resist throwing out the activist state. They demand greater transparency and accountability from the public as well as the private sectors. What distinguishes this view from moderate critics of globalization, however, is its insistence on a drastic reform of global economic institutions and policies. Activists call for a democratically negotiated and selective integration into the global economy, thus allowing localities to set their own rules of economic engagement and resist the corporate colonization of markets and resources.

The reform movement calls for the following:

Abandoning Neoliberalism. Reform requires a shift away from the globalization model of unregulated free trade and investments and a halt to the imposition of export-oriented, foreign-capital dependent development models through IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programs. Restructuring must include affected communities in the formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of macroeconomic policy. Reforms should encourage development geared toward the domestic market rather than depending solely on exports and external investment. Domestic markets can be enlarged through public investment coupled with a social justice agenda that includes progressive taxation, strong labor rights, social welfare programs and land reform.

Reforming Global Trade and Investment Institutions. The General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs and the World Trade Organization should be drastically reformed or replaced by UN agencies. New international legislation should encourage democratic controls and a serious commitment to human and labor rights as well as environmental sustainability. The Multilateral Agreement on Investment should be completely abandoned because it grants unprecedented freedom to capital to travel across international borders.

Reforming the World Bank and the IMF. The role of the Bank and the IMF in directing overall economic policy and restructuring should be downsized and brought under UN Development Program supervision in order to limit the influence of the US and other wealthy states. Thorough reforms of both agencies would prohibit secrecy and require the participation of those most directly impacted by IMF and Bank policies in decision making.

Reducing and Forgiving Debts. Lightening the debts of low-income countries would release them from the crushing debt bondage that currently siphons off wealth and resources for debt servicing instead of encouraging local development. Debt relief, or ceilings on debt repayment, would enable low-income countries to invest resources in productive sectors while lessening their dependency on exports and outside investment.

Establishing Codes of Conduct for Transnational Corporations. Reform would require transnational corporations to adopt codes that respect human rights, children’s rights, workers’ rights and environmental protection.

Discouraging Movement of Short-Term Speculative Capital. The globalization of financial markets has happened far too quickly and erratically, with devastating results throughout the developing world. Controls are badly needed to regulate the inflow and outflow of foreign capital.

Resources for Activists and Educators

Organizations and websites providing alternatives to neoliberal ideas and models include the following:

International Forum on Globalization http://www.ifg.org
Third World Network http://www.twnside.org.sg
50 Years Is Enough Network http://www.50years.org
Preamble Center for Public Policy http://www.rtk.net/
Public Citizen/Global Trade Watch http://www.citizen.org/gtw
Jubilee 2000 Campaign for Debt Relief and Forgiveness http://www.oneworld.org/jubilee2000/
Friends of the Earth http://www.foe.org/FOE
Global Exchange http://www.globalexchange.org
Corporation Watch http://www.corpwatch.org
Development Group for Alternative Policies http://www.igc.apc.org/dgap
Focus on the Global South http://www.focusweb.org
One World Online http://www.oneworld.org

How to cite this article:

Steve Niva "Alternatives to Neoliberalism," Middle East Report 210 (Spring 1999).

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