Our country lacks critical culture today, brooks little questioning of “how human beings should live and what our life means.” So argues Marshall Berman in his remarks opening the symposium in this issue. We need, he proposes, some “jaytalking.” But Andrew Delbanco dissents. “Jaytalking”—“transgressive” talk—is everywhere, he writes, and it is as “safe as the misdemeanor from which [Berman] derives the term.” Could it be that both are right?—that a breakdown of substantive questioning engenders impotent “transgressions” by intellectuals, postures that substitute for serious criticism?
More than “jaytalking” took place in Seattle’s streets this past December. Protesters against the World Trade Organization raised important questions that ought not to be obscured by a violent minority’s actions. For starters, who and what are “free” in today’s “free trade”? Who gets a free ride? WTO priorities reflect the economic correctness of neoliberalism: market dictatorship is “free” trade, critics are Luddites. The New York Times’s Thomas Friedman tarred demonstrators as “flat-earth advocates, protectionist trade unions, and yuppies looking for their 1960s fix.” Social suffering, that side-show to profits, will be alleviated when “the power of trade, the power of the Internet and the power of consumers” persuade or “embarrass” corporations and regimes. Absent from his list: the power of democratic citizenship.
Economically incorrect John Sweeney—whose stewardship of the AFL-CIO is appraised by Harold Meyerson in this issue—insists that “accountability, democratic procedures, workers’ and human rights, and the environment” must be integral to the governance of international trade. The point is not to quash markets or global commerce—only market mysticism. Commodities, even Nike sneakers, do not move “freely” on markets. Only human beings can be free; the political, social, and economic conditions of their lives can enable or hinder freedom. Susan George must be a flat-earther when she warns in our “Brave New Globe” series that for the WTO, “a product is a product, period.” Who wants “to hear about how it was produced, by whom, [and] under what conditions”?
Looking back at the history of Western socialism, Donald Sassoon concludes that “the impetus to transform capitalism” into a “relatively civilized system” always comes “from those dissatisfied with the absolute rule of market forces.” It hasn’t come from economic correctness. True, even Bill Clinton now says labor and environmental standards are needed in trade accords. But he says so only on becoming a lame duck. After eight years of his third way—during which social democrats and liberals were chastised as insufficiently “modernized”—we may find a Republican president added to a Republican Congress just as several Supreme Court seats become vacant. We may fin...
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