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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Globalization Trends

There was a strong conviction among the tens of thousands of citizen activists who gathered in Porto Alegre, Brazil, for six days at the end of January for the World Social Forum that the rules and institutions of the global economy have lost their legitimacy.

While most people around the world have hopes for benefits from a closer linkage among different nations, according to a recent survey of 25 countries by Canadian firm Environics, they also worry that globalization now harms the environment, threatens many jobs, concentrates wealth more than it creates broad opportunities and does little to help the poorest billions of people on the planet.

The World Social Forum, first held in Porto Alegre three years ago, was founded as a counterpoint to the annual gathering of the world's business and political elite at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Participants at the Brazilian meeting say that it's possible to change the rules set by those elites, especially over the past two decades, for rapid globalization of a deregulated, pro-corporate model for the economy.

If anyone symbolizes that hope, it's Brazil's new president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who spoke to a throng in Porto Alegre before going to Davos to deliver his message that the rich countries should establish a fund to help relieve hunger and poverty.

Da Silva is remarkable not only as an individual but as a product of decades of innovative labor and community organizing. His government stands not as a repudiation of expanding global trade but as a commitment to the role of government in making sure that corporations and other economic institutions, such as the cooperatives his labor movement has fostered, serve the needs of the population.

Much of the criticism of contemporary globalization has been generated by a wide assortment of new social movements and nonprofit advocacy groups as well as by trade unions and well established environmental organizations. Despite success in raising issues and at times raising Cain, these movements are still far from success.

In order to move to the next level in their quest to prove that "another world is possible," they are going to have to do two things. First, they need to continue to elaborate on their proposals for an alternative globalization. These involve, first of all, greater autonomy for nations in how they participate in the world economy, for example, by regulating foreign investment to suit domestic interests.

Other alternatives focus on establishing more regulations at the international level to provide the same kinds of protections for workers, the environment and the poor that most advanced industrial countries enacted as they tried to civilize the raw capitalism of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

But in order to win serious changes in organizations such as the IMF or the WTO, critics of globalization will have to link their protests more to politics, electing national leaders such as da Silva, who have a chance of directly shaping the new rules. Given the power that the United States has in all of these global institutions, political success in America would clearly have the greatest impact.

There is no da Silva waiting in the wings of American politics. But there's no reason why the vigorous grass-roots organizing that already exists in the United States can't learn some lessons from that success. And there's even reason to hope that the Democratic Party could be steered toward support for an alternative model of globalization less beholden to big corporations and more responsive to the needs of ordinary people -- and the sentiments of most voters.

The new social movements will still be needed to hold officials accountable, but it will be far easier if they first elect governments that share their aims, as Brazilians recently have done.

David Moberg, a senior editor at the newsmagazine In These Times, contributed this comment to Newsday.