Mark Engler

The Maximum Wage: Coming Soon To A CEO Near You?

Should our societies have a “maximum wage”? Would the world be better off if the United States had one?

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Student Debt Crisis: It's Time for a Jubilee

Organizations that usually demand cancellation of the crippling debts owed by impoverished countries in the global South are now calling for debt forgiveness for a different group of borrowers: U.S. students.

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How Student DREAMers Won A Step in Immigration Reform

You can say that Obama was pandering for election-year purposes with his announcement last week that the government will no longer deport undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. You can say that the new policy does not go far enough in securing thoroughgoing immigration reform. So be it. The change is nevertheless a tremendous advance that will affect some 800,000 young people who have been living in fear and uncertainty about their ability to stay in the country. And it is worth spending a moment to pay homage to the DREAM Act students whose extraordinary activism made it possible.

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Occupiers from Around the Country Descend on Iowa Caucuses

As caucus craziness reaches its peak here in Iowa, the Occupy movement has not been left out. As the Des Moines Register reported Wednesday in a notably favorable top-of-the-front-page story:

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Immigrant Labor Improves Job Prospects For the Native Born

Facts or no facts, many people simply do not want to believe that undocumented immigrants coming to this country don’t steal jobs and undermine the American economy. When economic studies come along that challenge their preconceptions, they don’t take kindly to the troublesome conclusions.

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Should Democrats Use the Tea Party to Split the Right?

Are you a Democratic congressional candidate in a tight electoral contest? Here’s an idea: Help to recruit a Tea Party candidate to enter the general election and siphon off voters from your Republican opponent. Sure, you might be forced to debate a reactionary nut job. But this only makes you look more reasonable. More importantly, the new entrant splits the right-wing vote. You waltz to victory.

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Pentagon Tries to Lock Obama Into an Outrageously Bloated Budget

At the end of a long electoral season marked by bipartisan vows to bring "change," America’s massive military budget remains a hulking and seemingly immutable fact of national life. Given the financial crisis and the promise of President Bush’s departure from office, many have hoped that overheated defense spending might give way to the need to addressing domestic problems.

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There Is an Alternative to Corporate Rule

Editor's Note: This article is adapted from Mark Engler's new book How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, 2008).

One of the remarkable features of modern political life is how consistently global elites deny that viable alternatives to the current global order exist, even as the terrain of international politics rapidly shifts. The "imperial globalists" that rose to power in the Bush years contend that without U.S. military strength decisively projected abroad, the forces of evil will sweep the globe. Meanwhile, "corporate globalists" of Wall Street persist in their belief that, in the post-Cold War world, we have no choice but to embrace the continual advance of the "free" market.

Neither idea is credible. The disastrous war in Iraq has firmly contradicted the neocons' argument that preemptive war can create security. Meanwhile, mainstream pundits continue to proclaim neoliberalism -- the radical free market doctrine that has defined the "Washington Consensus" in international economics in recent decades -- to be inevitable and irreplaceable. Yet as that ideology falls into disrepute across the globe, their contention is revealed as ever more deeply disingenuous. Today, there exist scores of books and hundreds of reports that offer new directions for the global order -- plus innumerable initiatives at local, national, and international levels to create political and economic systems that uphold human rights and defend the environment.

In truth, a lack of viable ideas is hardly the problem for those who reject both corporate and imperial models of globalization. Whether they are part of boisterous national uprisings or quiet, persistent community efforts to fuel a truly democratic globalization -- a globalization from below -- members of grassroots networks are now engaged in a debate about the proper balance of vision, program, political strategy, and tactics needed to move forward.

Changes in the Global Justice Movement

Part of what has fueled public confusion about alternatives was specific to the political moment when globalization protests captured the attention of the mainstream media. During the period around the year 2000, global justice organizing was being covered only in contexts where participants were providing a voice of opposition -- at the summit meetings of institutions like the World Trade Organization (WTO), World Bank, and International Monetary Fund (IMF). These events became flash points of resistance for a reason: the summit meetings were remarkably effective at drawing together a tremendously diverse body of global citizen activists.

Yet the globalization scene began to shift early in the Bush years, with the attacks of 9/11 playing an important role in the change. Just as abruptly as the major news outlets had announced the arrival of a "new" global movement after the Seattle protests against the WTO, challenges to the Washington Consensus became virtually invisible to their reporters once again after 9/11. This only partially reflected what was happening on the ground. In the months following the attacks, some protests -- notably a major mobilization against World Bank and IMF meetings in Washington, DC -- were cancelled as the world rose to express sympathy for the victims. However, the Bush administration's reckless response wiped out global good will and ultimately widened the scope of protests.

As strategies to impose elite visions of globalization continued, global justice protests throughout the world resumed. Many people, particularly in Southern countries, combined outrage at U.S. militarism with a repudiation of corporate globalization. When Bush traveled abroad, he was met with huge protests, many of which raised economic issues as well as anti-war concerns. Yet media outlets mostly reported these demonstrations as incoherent anti-American riots when they covered them at all. Beltway pundits rushed to declare the global justice movement dead. Leading the pack was Edward Gresser of the Progressive Policy Institute, the think-tank of the pro-"free trade" Democratic Leadership Council, who pronounced the movement "destined for irrelevance" in a realigned world.

Millions of people had reason to protest. These activists were about to redraw the political map of Latin America, preside over the collapse of neoliberalism's legitimacy, lead a worldwide rebellion against preemptive war, and push issues of economic justice to ever more prominent places in the global development debate. Their efforts for a democratic globalization, they would assert, were very much alive.

The View From Porto Alegre

As it turned out, a most visible manifestation of the next stage of global justice movement would come from a modest city of 1.5 million people deep in the south of Brazil, a place whose name has become synonymous with the pursuit of a more just and democratic global order. Today, mention of Porto Alegre, the original home of the World Social Forum, should be sufficient to forever put to rest the knee-jerk contention that there is no alternative to dominant visions of globalization.

Even as progressives within the U.S. turned to resisting Bush administration policies of preemptive war and its reactionary assaults on Constitutional rights, international movements have not waited for regime change in the U.S. to further the decline of the Washington Consensus. Massive crowds have joined Americans in rallying against the war in Iraq, as on February 15, 2003, when upwards of ten million people in over 500 cities took to the streets, constituting the largest coordinated global day of action in history. But, at the same time, local communities have waged battles to reverse privatization of public utilities and transnational campaigns have fought for reforms like debt cancellation. In countries throughout Latin America, they have successfully overthrown neoliberal governments, elected leaders who oppose the Washington Consensus, and they have pressured those officials to enact social policies that serve working people.

Reflecting this sustained torrent of global activity, the World Social Forum has grown and matured. While the first global forum in 2001 hosted 12,000 participants, subsequent events have grown larger and larger, drawing crowds of up to 150,000 people. In addition to returning to Porto Alegre for three additional years after the initial summit, the global event has also convened in Mumbai, India and Nairobi, Kenya, with smaller forums taking place at the regional level. At World Social Forum, community leaders, nonprofit representatives, scholars, organizers, and progressive lawmakers have presented, debated, and refined ideas that collectively represent as comprehensive a set of policies for the global economy as any wonky campaign office could ever hope to devise. These spaces have served as physical embodiments of the proposals for a democratic globalization.

Groups meeting in tents designated for discussion of energy and the environment have strategized about ways to break our dependence on the oil economy. They have proposed investment in mass public transportation, high mileage standards for cars, and shifting government subsidies for hydrocarbon exploitation to alternative energy. Other environmentalists have worked to promote an international carbon tax to penalize polluters -- something undoubtedly in the public interest, especially given mounting evidence about the perils of global warming. All these represent perfectly viable public policies, but have been vehemently opposed by the oil industry.

In other tents, family farmers and food safety advocates from throughout the world have gathered to promote models for redistributive land reform. Even the international financial institutions acknowledge that land reform would be beneficial for the poor, but it has been pushed off the political map by national elites and agribusiness conglomerates. Other advocates explained how current government subsidies for exports and for pesticides boost large-scale "mono-cropping" over organic agriculture; in response, they argued for a shift in public funds to support sustainable farming. Indigenous communities further asserted their right to self-determination, particularly with regard to maintaining traditional systems of land ownership and food production.

Tents holding discussions on the need to curb corporate power have advanced a slate of innovative proposals. These include public financing of elections to end what U.S. Senator Russ Feingold has called "a system of legalized bribery and legalized extortion." They include laws that allow victims of corporate abuses in the developing world to sue in U.S. or European courts. And they include detailed proposals for strengthening anti-trust law in order to break up business monopolies -- among them the massive media empires that do much to set the limits of public debate.

A group called ATTAC, one of the organizations that founded the World Social Forum, has set up tents promoting campaigning for the Tobin Tax. First proposed by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Tobin in the 1970s, the initiative would impose a low percentage tax on the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of international financial transactions that take place each day. This would provide a disincentive for short-term gambling on currencies, and it would encourage longer-term and more productive investment. Moreover, even a miniscule levy could create an annual fund of upwards of $100 billion that could be used to stop the spread of disease and alleviate global poverty.

Warehouse workspaces hosting labor organizations have offered myriad methods for protecting workers' rights and ending sweatshop conditions. Over seventy cities and localities in the United States have passed Living Wage laws since the early 1990s. These go beyond paltry minimum wage requirements and mandate that businesses pay employees at least enough to keep their families out of poverty. At the social forums, U.S. advocates discussed how to spread these campaigns. Meanwhile, representatives from the estimated 180 worker-run factories that formed after capital fled Argentina's collapsing neoliberal economy in 2001 spoke about their experiences in self-management. And groups like the Women's International Coalition for Economic Justice have stressed that U.N.-backed summits and other international efforts to advance women's rights must not be subordinated to multilateral trade agreements.

Finally, workshops organized by representatives from the fair trade movement profiled endeavors to build direct ties between producers in the global South and Northern consumers. The fair trade model aims to eliminate exploitative middlemen, ensure that workers get a living wage for their labor, and give local collectives a greater say in the determining the conditions under which international economic exchanges take place. Like organic food, fair trade remains a niche market, and it cannot substitute for wider structural changes in global economy. But it provides both a living alternative to exploitative trade and a hopeful model for future change.

Even this wide range of activity hardly constitutes an exhaustive survey. Unlike the corporate and imperial models, a globalization from below does not take the form of one-size-fits-all prescription for the global economy. With regard to alternative policies, the model of participatory democracy produces, in the words of another slogan, "One No, Many Yeses." It generates a strong challenge to structures of neoliberalism and empire, but allows for a wider sense of what might replace them.

Contrary to individual manifestos that presume that a lack of ideas is the problem for progressives, the advocates at Porto Alegre have presented an agenda for change rooted in local struggles and campaigns that have long been underway. Excellent volumes such as Alternatives to Economic Globalization, a book compiled by the San Francisco-based International Forum on Globalization, have profiled other aspects of this agenda. The Human Development Reports produced annually by the United Nations Development Program have backed many of these same initiatives. A number of progressive proposals have even been introduced as legislation in the U.S. Congress in such measures as the recent TRADE Act, advanced by fair trade advocates this summer. Needless to say, the elite beneficiaries of corporate and imperial rule, still steadfast in their contention that no alternatives exist, would prefer that the public not take notice of any of these developments.

Just Saying No, or First Do No Harm

The ideas, experiences, and proposals of the World Social Forum provide a trove of information for all those who want to construct a new agenda for the global economy. At the same time, as long as democratic movements do not have the power to overrule political and economic elites, there exists an important case for just saying "no" -- for first insisting that those now in power stop doing harm.

When Wall Street neoliberals and Washington militarists ask, "What is the alternative?" they base the question on faulty assumptions. Their question serves to naturalize very radical agendas of empire and corporate rule, suggesting that these are normal and acceptable states of affairs. They are not. In a situation where power is grossly imbalanced, where crimes are being perpetuated in the name of democracy, and where ever larger sections of public life are being handed over to the market, saying "no" to these radical agendas can be a perfectly worthy task in itself.

In an important respect, the alternative to invading Iraq is not invading Iraq. The alternative to NAFTA is no NAFTA. The neocons' invasion of Iraq has cost thousands of American lives, taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, produced some two million refugees, and is set to squander over a trillion dollars of public funds. It has generated heightened regional tensions, greater instability, and more terrorism. Given the disastrous history of U.S. interventions -- not just in Iraq, but also, to mention some particularly ignoble examples of the past 60 years, in Vietnam, Indonesia, Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, Iran, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua -- calling for a moratorium on such military actions, official and covert, is a first step in stemming the damage of imperial globalization.

The agenda of corporate globalization, which unfortunately thrived during the Clinton presidency and is still popular within the right wing of the Democratic Party, is subtler. But this, too, has relied on forceful maneuvering to come into existence. Neoliberalism involves aggressively opening markets, clearing the way for a previously unheard of level of speculative capital transfer, and dictating the restructuring of local economies. None of these things occur naturally, and they deserve opposition. A moratorium on harmful "free trade" deals and on further expansion of the WTO, especially into areas beyond the traditional realm of trade, is a vital immediate demand.

Simply refusing each of the mandates of the Washington Consensus -- or at least rejecting the idea that they should be imposed world as a one-size-fits-all uniform for development -- would itself allow for a substantial restructuring of globalization politics. The true utopians in the global economy are people who embraced the market fundamentalist fantasy that unchecked capital would serve the common good. Refuting this idea can be fairly straightforward.

Neoliberal corporate globalization prescribes the elimination of tariffs and other protections for local enterprises. An alternative would be to allow poorer countries to keep these intact, reviving what is known in trade agreements as "special and differential treatment." This model would give developing countries more flexibility in choosing to nurture infant industries and to protect agricultural commodities that are important to traditional cultures and to the security of their food supply. When the Washington Consensus demands the privatization of public industry and the division of the commons into private property, an alternative is to keep these things in the hands of the public, defending the provision of public goods as a way of ensuring economic human rights -- including guaranteed public access to water, electricity, and health care. If it calls for cuts in social services, an alternative is to reject the cuts, maintaining or bolstering these services and instead pushing for a redistributive tax system that makes the wealthy pay their fair share.

When Washington mandates a more "flexible" labor market -- one without unions or worker protections -- an alternative is to defend living wages, collective bargaining, and the right to associate. And when IMF bailouts for wealthy investors create a situation in which, to paraphrase author Eduardo Galeano, "risk is socialized while profit is privatized," an alternative is simply to end these bailouts, making speculators bear the cost of their gambles.

The demand to reverse neoliberal structural adjustment policies proposes a fundamentally different relationship between wealthy nations and the global South than currently exists. It would grant countries the freedom to determine their own economic policies, priorities for government spending, and rules for controlling foreign investment. Instead of imposing a single hegemonic model on the entire world, this new relationship would allow for broader diversity and experimentation in international development. While this does not by itself constitute a vision for ensuring human rights or protecting the environment, it nevertheless represents an important strategic gain. It alone would likely bring change of great enough magnitude to make the politics of the global economy look virtually unrecognizable to those who have grown accustomed to Washington-dictated corporate globalization.

Those who reject corporate and imperial models of globalization have a wealth of ideas at their disposal, a healthy internal debate to refine their strategies, and a vibrant, growing international network of citizens that see their efforts as part an interconnected whole. They also have very powerful enemies. Fortunately, as we enter the post-Bush era, the international community has voiced a firm rejection of unilateralism and preemptive war. Likewise, ever-larger swaths of the globe view the neoliberal doctrine of corporate expansion as a failed and discredited vision. This creates unique opportunities for citizens to fight to bring a democratic globalization into existence. More exciting still is that many people are already doing so, and, on key issues like debt relief and across entire regions like the Latin America, they are winning. The punditry is increasingly taking notice. For there is nothing so dangerous to those who insist that the world must remain as it is as the simple, stubbornly defiant doctrine of hope.

The Battle for the Soul of the Democratic Party

[Note: This essay was drawn from FPIF analyst Mark Engler’s new book, How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy, published by Nation Books.]

“Free trade” has produced some of the most contentious political debates of our times. In a famous April 2000 article in the New Republic, economist Joseph Stiglitz argued, “Economic policy is today perhaps the most important part of America's interaction with the rest of the world. And yet the culture of international economic policy in the world's most powerful democracy is not democratic.” During the Bush years, economic policy received far less attention in political discussion than before; the use of military force took center stage. However, the trade and development debate went on, and it continues to affect fundamental questions of global poverty, inequality, and opportunity. Under a new Democratic administration -- or under a Republican administration that demotes the neocons in favor of the more traditional, realist foreign policy establishment -- it is likely that economic policy will again become the most important part of America’s interaction with the world. And it is likely that it will remain profoundly undemocratic.

The injustices of neoliberal trade policy and the hypocrisy of U.S. stances in international negotiations have produced an upheaval in multilateral institutions like the WTO, and this has helped to transform the debate about the global economy. But trade is also an important domestic issue. Today, trade policy plays an important role in the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party.

One of the major accomplishments of the Clinton administration was to move to the fore of the Party a faction led by the centrist, corporate-friendly Democratic Leadership Council. Working with pro-“free trade” Republicans, Clinton and the DLC made passing the North American Free Trade agreement (NAFTA) in 1993 and approving U.S. entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1994 into bipartisan crusades. The coalition in favor of corporate globalization was always tenuous, however. In recent years, especially as the Bush administration implemented an increasing belligerent foreign policy, the “free trade” coalition has frayed.
Shifting Center of Gravity

The center of gravity around trade issues has been slowly shifting in the Democratic Party throughout the Bush years, as candidates have found that popular disaffection with “free trade” deals can be a potent political force. As a result, trade debates have grown increasingly contentious. The Bush administration’s need to resort to desperate measures in order to pass CAFTA in 2005 -- and the fact that it squeaked through Congress with the smallest possible, 217-to-215 majority -- reflected the conflict.

When the Democrats swept the November 2006 elections and regained control of Congress, many of the victorious campaigns featured prominent pledges to oppose pro-corporate trade policy. In an excellent post-election analysis, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch documented a major defeat for the “free trade” coalition. Its report tracked seven senate races and 28 House contests in which “fair trade” advocates ousted "free trade" incumbents or won open seats previously held by advocates of neoliberal deals. In contrast, no fair trade incumbents were unseated.

Whether the wave of revulsion against corporation globalization will propel a lasting change in Democratic policy-making will depend largely on figures like Representative Charlie Rangel (D-NY), House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who became chair of the Senate Finance Committee. These political chiefs certainly do not represent the fair trade activists at the base of their party. In late 2006, President Bush visited Vietnam the week before Thanksgiving, and he hoped to bring with him news of Congressional approval of Permanent Normal Trade Relations with that country. This measure that would have served as a stepping stone to a free trade deal and an endorsement of Vietnam's entry into the WTO. It didn't happen. The bill failed to secure the two-thirds majority it needed to pass, with many emboldened Democrats rallying to defeat it. The New York Times declared that the vote, which was supposed to be an easy victory, instead signaled "a deep disappointment and embarrassment for the White House."

It may prove a temporary setback, however. Both Pelosi and Rangel voted in favor of the Vietnam trade legislation, and promoters of the measure would like to see it resurrected. In May 2007, Democratic leaders announced that they had brokered a deal with the White House to resume the bipartisan push for “free trade” agreements, ostensibly with stronger labor and environmental provisions attached. True to form, the deal was negotiated in secret, without input from environmental, labor, or public interest groups -- or even participation from the majority of Democratic lawmakers who view the “free trade” agenda with suspicion. What the agreement will mean in practice, and whether opposition lawmakers and the citizens who put them into office will accept the Bush-Rangel deal, is still being determined.

Congress passed a trade deal with Peru in late 2007 over the opposition of labor and environmental groups, and discord has flared up once again over a possible agreement with Colombia, although election year politics make its passage unlikely.

The Costs of ‘Free Trade’ At Home
Debates over international trade and development policy can often seem distant to most people. Yet the battle within the Democratic Party shows that these issues matter a great deal to Americans as well as citizens overseas. Under the market fundamentalist policies of neoliberalism, the international economy has been managed for the benefit of a very narrow slice of the population. It has placed the U.S. Treasury and the International Monetary Fund in positions as economic overseers on a global plantation. This type of domination goes against the values of all those who decry sweatshop economics abroad.

It also has costs at home. The interests of Wall Street are not the same as our national interests or the interests of working people. As successive administrations in Washington have enforced a type of market fundamentalism in foreign affairs, they have too often pursued a parallel set of policies domestically. Since the days of Ronald Reagan, Americans, too, have been locked into the trickle-down economics of the “golden straightjacket,” which has been a lot more golden for billionaire families like Thomas Friedman’s than it has for typical citizens. For some, like those left behind after Hurricane Katrina--when a stripped-down government did little to help those in New Orleans who could not afford to evacuate themselves -- the results have been tragic.

Sadly, neoliberal economics are not the exclusive purview of Republicans. Indeed, given the Bush administration’s international recklessness, an increasing number of corporate elites are turning to the Democrats to implement their economic agenda. In a front-page story entitled, “GOP Is Losing Grip On Core Business Vote,” The Wall Street Journal reported in October 2007 that the party could be facing a brand crisis as “[s]ome business leaders are drifting away from the party because of the war in Iraq, the growing federal debt and a conservative social agenda they don’t share.” Their defections will only increase tensions within the Democratic Party.

The ongoing battle in Washington has made clear that many centrist Democrats who denounce Bush’s imperial globalization would be all too eager to return to Clinton’s pro-corporate vision for the global economy if given the chance. But it also indicates that their position may not be as politically viable as it once was. A decade and a half after NAFTA moved the trade debate to the fore of political discussion, the broken promises of “free trade” agreements are making neoliberalism’s “clouds of gold” ever harder to sell.

The majority of Americans have reason to cry foul at such deals and to pressure their leaders to enact a truly democratic economic agenda. Citizen demands for good jobs, for full employment, and for investment in the public good go hand in hand with the call for fair trade and economic human rights throughout the world.

Hopeful Signs For Global Justice

To read the headlines in the morning papers during these Bush years is too often an exercise in exasperation, as each day's new outrages seem to top the last. But hidden quietly on the inside pages, and rumbling through alternative news sources, there is also a more encouraging story: Despite the challenges presented by the current administration, the global justice movement has made impressive strides in recent years.

Arguments for trade and development policies that truly address poverty and serve working people have moved from the left margins into the mainstream of international debate. The paradigm of "neoliberalism" that dominated world development for two decades has been steadily losing legitimacy. And, in its wake, some important spaces for building alternatives have appeared.

Whether in the Democratic sweep of the midterm elections, in the eruption of domestic protests supporting immigrant rights, in the leftward realignment of Latin American politics, in the collapse of the Doha round of talks at the World Trade Organization, or in extended victories in issues like debt relief, these trends continued in exciting ways in 2006.

Given that Bill Clinton's Democrats were the party of NAFTA, and that the Dems continue to rely on big money from corporate America, many global justice activists have long grown skeptical that a push for real change can be led from Capitol Hill. While this view has merit, the Democratic landslide nevertheless represented a serious blow to the reactionary Bush administration, and you would have to be unusually jaded not to see any bright spots in the electoral sweep. In fact, in terms of trade and development issues, the midterm elections helped foster a major realignment within the Democratic Party away from a corporate globalization agenda.

As the watchdogs at Public Citizen have documented, seven seats in the Senate and 28 in the House changed hands from "free trade" to "fair trade" advocates, who support using international agreements to promote stronger labor and environmental protections. Important wins include those of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a steadfast critic of neoliberalism, and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, long-time activist and author of Myths of Free Trade: Why American Trade Policy Has Failed. November 7 also produced numerous state- and community-level victories, bringing into office grassroots leaders who see their local work in an internationalist context. As just one example, longtime global justice champion Mark Ritchie, founder and former executive director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, was elected as Secretary of State in Minnesota, and will be leading the effort to make the state a model for conducting clean and fair elections.

Another type of democracy -- more colorful and direct -- was on display in the streets this year. Most notably, 2006 witnessed a wave of massive demonstrations in favor of immigrant rights. In March, a 750,000-person mobilization in Los Angeles staked a claim as an historic event, only to be topped by a march of over a million people in that city on May 1. Such demonstrations were mirrored throughout the country, and coordinated actions were held in over 100 cities nationwide in a matter of weeks. The demonstrations gave voice to some of the most marginalized members of our society: immigrants who help prepare our food, clean our hotels and homes, and care for our children. While it is not yet possible to discern the full political significance of the immigrant rights movement, the inspiring actions challenged us to see the connections between hardship abroad and the struggle for justice at home. And they suggested that a not-so-sleepy giant awaits politicians who promote exclusion and xenophobia.

It was also an election year throughout Latin America, and citizens in many parts of the region continued to reject pro-corporate models of economic "progress." Chileans elected their first woman president, Michelle Bachelet, a left-leaning doctor whose family was imprisoned by the Pinochet dictatorship in the 1970s. Voters in Brazil reelected former union leader Lula da Silva. And Hugo Chávez also won a decisive reelection in Venezuela, garnering broad support for his New Deal-style social programs. In Ecuador, voters chose economist Rafael Correa, an ardent opponent of the Washington Consensus, over a banana magnate who happened to be the wealthiest man in the country.

Perhaps the most impressive of the leaders has been Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia. Morales, who took office in January, has since shocked the international business press by actually delivering on his campaign promises. Bolstered by well-organized social movements, the Morales government initiated the nationalization of Bolivia's oil and gas assets on May 1. The process culminated in early December, when the government signed agreements with foreign energy companies giving it majority control over oil and gas extraction and directing over half the profits toward the public good. Given that the majority of the country's population lives in poverty and has benefited little from living in a resource-rich nation, these efforts are both overdue and welcomed. In late November, Morales' party went further by passing an ambitious land reform bill that seeks to right an historic injustice by breaking up some of the enormous estates left over from colonial times and redistributing as many as 20 million hectares to campesinos who work the land.

Political realignment in Latin America, coupled with years of popular pressure elsewhere in the developing world, has dramatically changed the tenor of international trade discussions. During July negotiations in Geneva, the Doha round of talks at the World Trade Organization collapsed as developing countries stood up to U.S. and European double standards on agricultural subsidies. While the Bush administration regularly sings the praises of unfettered "free trade," it in fact supports lavish subsidies for domestic agribusiness -- to the tune of $23 billion dollars a year, the great majority of which goes to our country's largest mega-farms. Delegates from poorer nations demanded significant cuts to these subsidies before they would agree to further liberalize their economies. Needless to say, the rich countries were resistant, and amidst this hypocritical display the talks fell apart.

While deadlock at the WTO does not guarantee a fairer system of global trade, Doha's demise stopped a bad WTO deal from going forward, at least for the time being. If world leaders take the hint, discussion should turn toward creating a system of trade that values grassroots self-determination and more justly distributes the benefits of international commerce.

Other advances suggest that such an agenda might not be far out of reach. On the issue of debt cancellation, the globalization movement has already succeeded in reshaping policy. Advocates effectively publicized the injustice of forcing nations with sick and malnourished populations to send large portions of their national budgets to rich countries in the form of payments on unsustainable foreign debts, many of which were accumulated by past dictators. In 2005, after a decade of pressure from grassroots groups, world leaders agreed to cancel debts of 18 impoverished nations to the IMF and World Bank. Debt cancellation has often proven to be one of the most effective forms of aid, allowing countries to use their own resources to meet social needs. But the 2005 agreement did not go far enough: it left out major regional banks like the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the leading multilateral lender in Latin America.

Members of the Jubilee debt coalition continued to push to cancel debts from the IDB, and this November they made another breakthrough. The IDB agreed to a deal canceling debts of five of the poorest countries in the Americas. If properly implemented, the agreement will eliminate obligations of up to $768 million for Bolivia, $365 million for Guyana, $1.1 billion for Honduras, $808 million for Nicaragua, and $468 million for Haiti. No doubt, there's more to be done to ensure that cancellation comes in full, without delays and without strings attached. Yet efforts to push for greater progress should be propelled by the recent string of wins.

Thousands of similar campaigns stood up to local injustices, challenged corporate power, and provided the energy that ultimately unseated presidents. As we are reminded daily of the hard realities that persist in an era of executive excess and superpower militarism, their victories might seem disparate and few. But they have shown that they can accrete and build, gradually bridging the divide that separates us from once-distant possibilities: the death of neoliberalism, the political re-creation of the Americas, the end of extreme poverty, a democratic globalization. The quiet wins of 2006 together remind us that change is more possible than we might sometimes despair -- and that it is not entirely naive to invest hope in the promise of a new year.


Happy Holidays!