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Issue No. 3 (April 1999) -- Mark Satin, Editor
I am offended by your characterization of David Korten as a sententious and humorless nag (“Globalization vs. Localism,” RAM #1. The person you pictured lambasting Thomas Friedman is a distorted caricature of the man I’ve read, listened to, and observed.
It is no surprise that most of the world’s peoples aspire to the “clean, free, hip, exciting” lifestyle enjoyed by the “professional” class you now belong to; advertising and the media make it look so glamorous and trouble-free. The hitch is that once they move up the consumerist ladder there will be no one at the bottom to provide the cheap labor and resources we depend on, no one to store the toxic by-products we need to send “away.”
And what will become of the air, water, and soil when we have 10 or 20 or 50 times as many automobiles, roads, factories, cities, and suburbs as we have now?
Although these are not pleasant topics, I want to read and listen to people who take them into account. Please cancel my subscription.
Thanks for highlighting my book The Post-Corporate World. Although I am saddened that you have self-consciously abandoned idealism for pragmatism a la Friedman, I appreciate the fact that you presented my views accurately and are as up-front in making clear your own beliefs and values in your new incarnation as you were in your NEW OPTIONS incarnation. Your personal integrity is clearly a constant that links the two.
One of the few things in your essay to which I did take exception is your observation that Friedman “devotes big chunks of his book to suggesting ways we can help other nations preserve local cultures and the environment and enhance economic opportunity for all.” While he makes mention of such concerns, it is with the admonition that nothing must be done in the interests of equity and the environment that would hinder the freedom of the “electronic herd” [multinationals and investors -- ed.]. Friedman does express nostalgia for the olive tree, but in the end he seems quite prepared to sacrifice the olive tree of his neighbor for the Lexus in his own garage.
I’m also inclined to chide you for slipping rather lightly over a fundamental issue: the contradiction between rule by money traders and corporations solely intent on short-term profit, and the goal of a world in which everyone has a crack at a decent life, including generations as yet unborn. The Mark Satin of yesteryear would surely have given more attention to my arguments that rapidly deepening inequality and environmental stress are virtually inevitable consequences of the interlocking institutional dynamics of financial markets and the corporate sector as we now know them.
In any event, I appreciate the recognition you have given my work and am proud to be held up as a proponent of the leading alternative to Thomas Friedman’s vision of a soulless world ruled by rapacious money traders and corporate monopolies.
David C. Korten, Ph.D.
When you first announced your new newsletter, I assumed it would be just a continuation of NEW OPTIONS. But now I see that you -- like some of the rest of us -- have moved to the next level, and I have decided to subscribe.
I like Friedman’s book. Willis Harman, too, in his last years, recognized that if we’re going to build a sustainable world then the big corporations (properly humanized and revamped) will play a major role.
Belden H. Paulson
David Korten’s antiglobalism is misguided, but it’s certainly not unusual anymore. It has become the new orthodoxy on the left, where people are adopting the sort of pull-up-the-drawbridges mentality that used to belong to the right-wingers.
You can still find conservative antiglobalists like Pat Buchanan, of course -- but nowadays the strongest invective against globalization is to be found in the editorials of the Nation, the books of Korten and William Greider, the newspaper columns of Molly Ivins, the policy statements of Ralph Nader, and the manifestos of radical environmentalists.
This is quite a change. It used to be the liberals like Woodrow Wilson and FDR who fought for the creation of international governmental organizations, and -- further to the left -- the Communists who sang the Internationale and dreamed of a global order in which nation-states would wither away. In those days you could count on the conservatives to celebrate parochialism and oppose dilution of national sovereignty.
Today, as we move into the first truly global civilization, the thinking on the left of center is increasingly united in the conviction that the best way is to go back -- back to isolated communities, back to nations, back to the simple life.
There are good reasons to be concerned about some of the effects of globalization; they don’t justify the negativism that writers like Korten tap into.
It is both ironic and sad that the kind of people to whom we could once look for daring visions of the future are now being dragged reluctantly into the 21st century. There was a time when the word “progressive” really meant something. It applies less and less to the American left, which is turning into a bunch of grumpy reactionaries.
Both Friedman and Korten trivialize globalization by placing too much emphasis on its economic dimensions. But at least Friedman conveys a sense of excitement and hope, a recognition that we live in an amazing, enormously promising, time.
Walter Truett Anderson
I appreciate your shining the spotlight on issues of economic globalization. However, I was dismayed to find your ultimate conclusion rested on whether Korten’s or Friedman’s approach was more appealing to the interests and desires of you and your law school buddies.
Clearly, globalization “works” for the small percentage of the population that is in the inner circle of corporate success, at least for the moment. But is that a good enough reason to embrace it?
The illustration on the front page of the New York Times Magazine that featured Friedman’s book was of a giant fist, painted in the colors of the American flag. The U.S. is the sole remaining superpower and had better get on with fulfilling its destiny of ruling the world, was the none-too-subtle-message.
Friedman advocates the equivalent of colonialism with a human face. Flip a dime to the beggars dispossessed by this monumental success story, and allow a few of them a piece of the action to keep the increasing numbers who have no place in this new economy placated.
Sarah Ruth van Gelder
I am dismayed by your assessment of the globalization vs. localism debate. Your writing has lost its heart. You’ve gone from the penetrating, empathic honesty of NEW OPTIONS to a glib self-importance that conceals itself as pragmatism.
You seem to think you’ve become wiser about how “reality” works after immersing yourself in the glad-handing, let’s-make-a-deal world of law and business. But I think you’ve swallowed the experience far too uncritically.
Don’t be fooled. No matter how self- important the money-status-power gang finds itself, they’re just the predators of society.
They don’t grow food. They don’t nurture and teach children. They don’t build anything useful. They don’t clean up the environment. In fact, very few lawyers or businessmen even try to make the world “work more smoothly,” as you claim, for the folks who do these life-sustaining tasks.
Craig Collins, Ph.D.
In your cover story you sided with Friedman on the grounds that Korten’s ideas are utopian, thus implying that Friedman’s ideas are not utopian.
I disagree. The doctrine of economic globalism is just as utopian as Marxism-Leninism, and its apologists are now doing as much damage as Marxism-Leninism ever did.
Future writers studying our decline and fall will see Korten as a truth-seeker. And they’ll see Friedman as just another craven mouthpiece for the party line, sucking up to the globalist nomenklatura for the money.
I agree with David Korten’s call for cluster housing in rural settings, with clusters in clusters, and with common cultural centers -- so that for each ensemble of 35,000 people there’d be a very active cultural/commercial/administrative center.
Alternately, I favor communities of not more than 40,000 people, living in configurations that enforce the closure of negative feedback loops -- the opposite of what is done today.
Although from 1967-77 I worked at social and political change thinking it would be possible to “Tear Down the Walls” (breaking the corporations down to human scale and planting the seeds for a ‘harmonious’ new civilization), I now believe Tom Friedman’s perspective has to be a starting point for change.
From everything I observe, it looks like the corporation -- particularly global corporations -- will be the major institutional form of the next century, assuming more significance and more sovereignty than most governments. Right now many companies are integrating to form “mega-corporations” and entering into strategic alliances all over the planet.
All of this says to me that any view of socio-economic-political-spiritual change needs to work with the above-stated realities. To continue to believe -- along with Korten -- that large corporations (let alone capitalism) can be made to go away is to live in denial. At the same time, I think it’s critical that we bring our values to bear on how these corporations conduct business and how they affect people’s lives and the natural environment.
So given that, and given that we are all deeply passionate about creating a more human world -- where do we go from here? How are we to be effective change agents?
For starters, we need to educate ourselves about how corporations actually function. This includes understanding how profit, cost, planning, the stock market and the analysts, and all the other forces of the marketplace have changed since we were radicals in college.
We need to clarify how corporations work -- politically and in terms of their internal decision-making. What are the levers, who pulls them, and how? It’s inaccurate and self-defeating simply to attribute bad motives to corporate decision-makers.
We also need to re-think our views about organizational dynamics and leadership. For example, 20 years ago many of us believed that everyone should participate in decision-making, but I think time has proved that it’s more effective and more humane to balance the ideal of participation with the need for efficient leadership.
We need to become more aware of our vision for the world, and learn to express it in realistic rather than utopian terms so people will want to buy in to it.
Finally, each of us needs to ask what strategy we, personally, would like to take in the change process.
There are two basic strategies, the “insider strategy” and the “outsider strategy.” Ideally they are complementary, and as a consultant I’ve occasionally adopted what you could call an “insider/outsider” strategy. For example, I’ve helped move large corporations like GM to endorse and embody the CERES environmental principles, and I’ve helped move other Fortune 500 companies to respond to human rights concerns around the world.
One of the sadder dynamics I’ve seen is that some of those who adopt “outsider” change agent strategies are so morally self-righteous or politically hostile that they can’t communicate with the very “insider” change agents who have the levers of power at their hands.
Marc D. Sarkady
If the Kortens of the world do not first spin out their utopian visions, then the Friedmans of the world will never be able to weave aspects of those visions into their more balanced proposals later on.
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