Will Free Trade Make Us All Rich, Happy and Good-Looking, Too?

Free trade and globalization are supposed to help everyone. How does a concept that sounds so uniting become so dividing? If there are more jobs in Third World countries, if electricity goes privat

Free trade and globalization are supposed to help everyone. How does a concept that sounds so uniting become so dividing?

If there are more jobs in Third World countries, if electricity goes private, if we can peddle our wares wherever we please, won't we move closer to being a more united human race?

Not exactly. People opposed to globalization of the economy say exploitation is still the driving force; it just has a friendlier title. In the end, people with the cash and the resources are calling the shots, according to Clinton Hewan, a former Jamaican diplomat who teaches at Northern Kentucky University.

"Let us ask ourselves," Hewan says. "Where did those resources come from?"

In a May 30 program at the Main Public Library, Hewan said the West got its resources by exploiting Africa. Now the West wants to use those resources to convince the countries they came from that the western world can do things better, faster and more profitably.

Globalization, Hewan says, consists of multinational corporations paying foreign workers poverty wages and then pulling out when their tax abatements end.

Globalization is American companies moving to the Third World to pay foreign workers next to nothing in order to reap a bigger profit.

Globalization is a few countries taking the materials and labor they need with little concern for the people and places from which they come.

Globalization is a few people getting rich while most of the world suffers in poverty.

You don't have to travel the globe to see the effects of incredible disparity between rich and poor. Just take a stroll through Over-the-Rhine, and the problems are apparent here at home, according to Sister Alice Gerdeman, spokesman for Coalition for a Humane Economy. Joining Gerdeman in the panel discussion, Gerdeman said some people believe being poor motivates people. But when there is no foreseeable way out of poverty, she says, what prevails is resignation.

"When you are desperately poor, it is not motivational," Gerdeman says. "It is not by labor and the sweat of your brow that people can make it any more."

Poor people, she says, feel they are expendable, easily replaced by their employers and their opinions do not count.

"Some of them have that look of hopelessness," Gerdeman says.

Ideally, globalization is supposed to be about improving the lives and economic well-being of the people of the world. But in reality, it means some countries prosper from the toil and exploitation of the "have-nots," according to Gerdeman. The gap gets wider between those who have and those who don't. People notice. People feel left out. People get angry.

When people get angry, no economic or political structures are secure. Thus the need to protect the privileged and their possessions from people who don't enjoy the finer things in life.

"A global mentality cares about everyone," Gerdeman says. "What we have now is a state mentality that wants to control the world."

In Cincinnati, as elsewhere in the world, Gerdeman says, police and politicians use regulations to protect those with wealth from those without it.

"If that isn't a fact, it certainly is a perception," she says.

Gerdeman says the time has come to face reality. In reality, she says, we do not have justice for all — and we don't have to stand for it.

"The city will be better off when it has people with some equality in it," Gerdeman says.

BURNING QUESTIONS is our weekly attempt to afflict the comfortable.

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