Small town WTO

The ‘American Dream’ was an idea that cemented a worldview in the minds of millions of Americans. Despite its many contradictions and its lack of connection to the lives of most ordinary Americans, (a subject that gave rise to some of the greatest literature of the last century) the American Dream was powerfully instilled in the nation’s conscience, framing politics, economics and culture for decades.

Today, we imagine a small-town America of white picket fences, immaculate lawns, and stay-at-home mums as the symbol of this American Dream.

If the US had been an Asian power, this small-town America would have looked like Nusa Dua, the Indonesian high-end tourist resort where this week’s World Trade Organisation summit is being held. Fresh cut lawns, stunning flower borders and the cleanest roads in the country, dotted with Hindu statues, Nusa Dua is a bubble in a country where half of the population are under or close to the poverty line. You can tell from the checkpoints and security barriers which litter the town.

Indonesian campaigners from the group Gerak Lawan greeting the WTO this morning.

But Nusa Dua is a perfect location for the WTO Summit, because it sums up the dream of free trade which the WTO represents. The WTO thinks free trade will create Western consumerism writ large, as the flow of trade-created wealth lifts all boats. It simply ignores the reality of free trade policies: millions of farmers indebted and impoverished by mega-corporations; water, food, education and healthcare sold off to be run by the ‘market’, all-seeing security states policing the historically unprecedented levels of inequality that result.

Then there’s the contradiction. The intellectual property rules that form the heart of the WTO system – allowing corporate ‘rights’ to trump those of the hungry, the sick, the poor – is nothing to do with free trade. But this doesn’t matter either. It is wiped clean in a world of sanitised luxury, the powerful image which allows the WTO’s corporate agenda to keep expanding.

This idea is so strong that when India’s trade negotiator, Anand Sharma, stands up for his government’s right to control India’s food policy, he is portrayed as a psychopathic crackpot by the global media. Who else would stand in the way of a deal which will allow millions of poor people to live like American consumers?

Over the next few days, I’ll try to tell a different story of what’s going on here, so stay tuned.   


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