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Globaloney or Globalonely?

Is there time for the forces of pro-globalization to organize before the World Bank/IMF Spring meeting?

February 24, 2000

Is there time for the forces of pro-globalization to organize before the World Bank/IMF Spring meeting?

What was so striking about the failure of the Seattle WTO meeting was not the success of the anti-trade coalition. Realists expected that. And it was not really surprising that opposition groups relied heavily on the Internet as a communications medium to make their case and to rally their troops.

No, the real surprise was that pro-integration forces — often businesses with billion-dollar technology and advertising budgets — were not employing the same medium to plead their case, and with at least as much imagination, creativity and zest.

Preaching to the converted

Unfortunately, that finding is fully in line with the assessment that, for years, the business “establishment” has essentially limited itself to preaching to the converted. Rallying forces inside the “ghetto” of the global information elite may temporarily validate one’s sense of self-importance. But it grossly fails to reach the core audience — which, in our view, is the global middle class.

What that implies is the need to think much harder about global economic education — including imaginative, web-based communications strategies to reach the public-at-large. For starters, the establishment would do well to acknowledge that the debate about the dynamic integration of the global economy is not happening in a vacuum. It is full of psychological overtones. Two key phrases describe the reasons for the difficulty of the forces promoting integration in arguing their case.

The globaloney syndrome

First, there is what we call the globaloney syndrome. By this we mean the frequently dubious economic analyses advanced by members of the anti-integration coalition. The tricky task here is to dissuade people from accepting specious economic theories and warped facts as a reality. To be precise, the difficulty lies in correcting these arguments in a non-professorial, non-officious manner that does not leave people with the feeling of “We insiders are oh-so-smart, but you’re not.”

Feeling globalonely?

The second phrase which ought to guide re-positioning efforts for this debate is the globalonely syndrome. In essence, the pro-integration coalition needs to accept the basic fact that many people are left feeling isolated and powerless in light of the momentous technology-induced changes we are witnessing. Understanding this mindset ought to guide the success or failure of any attempt to educate the global middle class on the benefits of globalization.

However, most of the communications efforts we have witnessed fail to accept this psychological premise. Instead, they amount to empty, Churchillian appeals for “staying the course.” That, in essence, amounts to denying what is a profound psychological reality.

Enlightened self-interest

To overcome the globaloney/globalonely hurdle, new forms of narrating economic content must be developed which focus on the individual — and a healthy dose of humor to get key points of insight across. After all, unless one has found a way for people to open their minds, it is futile to “dump stuff” on them. So, the most important questions we tend to ask ourselves are: How does this nugget of information relate to the fortunes of a person? What’s in it for them, the people? Why should they care about this issue?

War of words

Finally, the biggest mistake committed by business was that it conceded defeat to the WTO opponents early on in the language wars. Being branded as “pro-trade” painted advocates of global integration into a corner. Instead, they should have seized the initiative and labeled WTO opponents as “anti-integration.” That, after all, would hint at the real problem of the “anti-trade” forces.

Political labeling standards

If the “anti” forces succeed in their initiatives, they will inoculate the Western world against the competitive forces from the emerging market economies, effectively shutting out the populations of these latter countries — and depressing their living standards over the long term. The relevance of labeling language in political debates, believe it or not, is the one lesson to be heeded from the otherwise happily passé times of the Newt Gingrich legacy in the U.S. Congress.

Losing control of the debate

In preparing the trade agenda for 2000, trade policy makers — especially in the United States — feel exceedingly nervous. In the run-up to the Seattle fiasco, they could still boast that they were tough as nails on foreign nations — and that the American people were always willing to follow their lead. That old assumption has gone out the window.

Choosing their battles

Now trade negotiators around the world must wonder just how much domestic support their U.S. counterparts enjoy. Worse still, following their success at Seattle, and as a “warm-up” for defeating the China accession agreement, WTO opponents want to go after what they consider easy prey — the U.S. trade bill providing easier access for African nations.

Increasingly, the U.S. policy establishment must worry. Without mobilizing more widespread support, U.S. trade policy runs the serious risk of being hollowed out at home by an ever-hesitant Congress that believes integration is simply not a winning issue with the folks at home.