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Buddhist-Christian Studies 22 (2002) 31-46

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Remedying Globalization and Consumerism:
Joining the Inner and Outer Journeys in "Perfect Balance"

Judith Simmer-Brown
Naropa University

One hundred forty years ago, Abraham Lincoln wrote in a prophetic voice:

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. 1

As the global economy has grown and the economic gap between the poor nations and the rich nations has become enormous, we are realizing Lincoln's nightmare.

Globalization has effects more devastating than Lincoln could have imagined. What do we mean by globalization? The president of Nabisco once defined it as "a world of homogeneous consumption." 2 It is a world in which everyone, no matter what latitude or longitude, eats the same food, wears the same clothing, and derives pleasure from the same entertainment. It is the world of McDonald's, Holiday Inn, James Bond movies, Nike shoes, and Coca-Cola. Noam Chomsky, in a lecture at Boston College, described globalization as the "new face of capitalism." 3 It is a network of power centered in corporate interests and financial institutions that controls the flow of capital in order to promote the financial interests of those in power to the detriment of all others. The strategies of globalization have to do with centralizing all power in financial interest, reducing all value to money, and subsuming governments to the interests of the corporations. According to Chomsky, the strategies employed by the transnational network are designed to consolidate this control:

  1. Buy the executive branch of the states involved;
  2. Own the legislative branch through lobbyists, campaign contributions, and term extensions, or whatever else may work; [End Page 31]
  3. Set the conditions in which policy is determined, asserting the power of global capital;
  4. Control the doctrine and information systems, especially to invent new needs in order to bolster a culture of fashionable consumption. 4

The players in this transnational network reside in the wealthy countries of the world, especially the governments of the G8, and most especially the United States. The global dominance of the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization is funded by U.S. dollars funneled to them by the network. Yet this capital is not really exchange of cash; instead, it is speculation. Chomsky commented:

In the last twenty-five years, there has been a huge explosion of financial institutions and financial capital, most of it speculative, with little actual capital in the economy. The flow of capital is $1.5 trillion per day, very little of it productive. Ninety-five percent of it is destructive and speculative. The return time on investments is very rapid; eighty percent has a return time of a week, and often it is less than a day. This daily flow of capital in international markets is twice the total foreign exchange of all states together. This concentrated power is interlinked, determining states' decisions. 5

States are no longer autonomous agents; transnational economic interests have taken precedence over national sovereignty, regional power, and military concerns.

The impact on developing countries and rural economies is devastating. The global monoculture is eradicating cultural diversity, replacing locally adapted forms of production with industrial systems divorced from natural cycles. Agriculture has become centrally managed and chemically dependent, delivering a narrower range of transportable foods to the international market. This, of course, robs the vitality of local communities and moves a greater proportion of villagers into urban life, creating megalopolises. Because everyone becomes dependent upon the same resources, "globalization creates efficiency for corporations, but it also creates artificial scarcity for consumers, thus heightening competitive pressures. . . . Globalization means the undermining of the livelihoods and cultural identities of the majority of the world's peoples." 6...