By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Already, the moral claim of the working poor to decent wages and benefits has compelled the same legislatures that are dismantling the old liberalism to grant concessions to the new. It was in the same two-month period, in 1996, that Congress both repealed welfare and raised the minimum wage. In another two-month period in 1997, the Los Angeles City Council banned aggressive panhandling and unanimously enacted the city's living-wage ordinance. And in its own support for living-wage ordinances and minimum-wage hikes, and for the UPS strikers, the public has identified itself with the cause of low-wage workers. It is on this foundation that the new liberalism will rise.
AND WHAT OF GLOBALIZATION, THAT OTHER PILLAR OF the New Economy? In polite society -- among centrist New Democrats, investment bankers, fuzz-faced brokers, garden-variety economists and, in a lower circle of hell, the editorial writers of America -- the liberal opposition to free trade is viewed as something out of the Flat Earth Almanac. No serious person could question the benefits of open markets.
Problem is, much of the rest of the world has begun to question at least the issue of unrestricted capital flows since last year's near-meltdown of the global economy. Things grew so serious that even Bill Clinton began to alter his mantra. Last September, he addressed a New York conference on the Third Way and proclaimed that we should try to build into the global economy some structures, protections and standards analogous to those that Franklin Roosevelt and his contemporaries built into national economies a half-century ago. (Clinton's rhetoric has had absolutely no effect on Bob Rubin's global policies, but such is life within the administration.)
Polite society always labeled liberalism's opposition to free trade as protectionist, nationalist, even racist -- as if Pat Buchanan defined the entire anti-NAFTA movement. Since John Sweeney arrived at the AFL-CIO, however, American labor has begun aiding Mexican maquiladora workers in their drives to form unions, and has worked in tandem with environmental groups and Naderites to formulate a joint list of transnational ecological and labor standards. House Democratic leader Gephardt, once the party's leading liberal nationalist, has done an about-face, now placing global labor standards at the center of his agenda. And an entire movement has arisen on American campuses protesting the return of sweatshop work in this country and the abuse of workers in distant lands by subcontractors for our leading retail chains. The new liberals are every bit as globalist as their free-trade adversaries.
Critics of international labor standards characteristically argue that we can't impose our standards and our laws on other sovereign nations. Yet the same critics demand that these nations change their laws to guarantee the inviolability of foreign investment, to conform their banking and accounting practices to ours, to grant "intellectual property" protections to American software companies and film studios and songwriters. The central tenet of the new liberal globalism is to extend the same protection to workers that we do to capital and intellectual property.
This progression within the global economy -- expanding a body of rights from capital to intellectual property to labor -- mirrors the progression within our national economy. Soon after the Civil War, the first truly national institutions arose in America -- railroads, oil companies, banking houses -- which were able to bend the national and state and local governments to their every whim. By 1910, America's professionals had organized themselves into national societies -- the American Bar and American Medical associations most prominently -- and thus arrayed, prodded governments to set standards for credentialing. Finally, in the 1930s, America's workers organized themselves into industrial unions, prevailing upon government to set standards for wages and working conditions.
Today, the global economy is at roughly the stage that the national economy reached in 1910. Transnational corporations and global finance bend national governments to their will much as Standard Oil or the Southern Pacific dictated to the statehouses of their day. The new intellectual property provisions in the trade treaties of the past decade provide the kind of protections for professionals in the world market that the standards of 90 years ago provided for doctors, lawyers and academics.
And as for global labor protections -- and the creation of the kind of semi-, or quasi- or pseudo-global government required to enforce them -- they're a ways off yet. They can be glimpsed, in embryonic form, in Europe, where the Monetary Union, having already fostered the creation of cross-border currencies and banks and stock exchanges, is now prodding political parties and governments of the left to call for the establishment of a cross-border government, and unions of one country to set strike and negotiating strategies with their fellow unions in other countries. These are the kinds of perspectives toward which the new American liberalism is moving, too.
Now, there's no better way to articulate this kind of vision than through the vehicle of a presidential campaign. The campaigns of Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 and his cousin Franklin two decades later crystallized for millions of Americans the changes in the nation's economic order necessary to reduce the extreme disparities in power and wealth. In the campaign about to begin, alas, Al Gore and Bill Bradley and George W. Bush and Elizabeth Dole will all speak for a free-trade order, while Pat Buchanan will bellow for a nationalist-populist protectionism. The new liberal case for standards that would reduce the disparities in the world's balance of power and wealth will not, this time, be made.