Monday, January 21, 2008

Free Trade, Sex/Slave Trade, and Immigration

Naomi Klein's explosive book about US global economic policy explains everything from the Iraq catastrophe and the Gulf Coast/New Orleans fiasco to Bush's near-wrecking of the national economy. The diabolical practice misleadingly called "free trade" or "globalism" is actually about how, over more than three decades, the wealthy have tested and perfected ways to dispossess the middle classes and the poor. Klein's work is painstakingly documented. There are more than a dozen examples involving Latin American, Asian, Pacific Rim, Middle Eastern, and European countries, as well as a close look at New Orleans. It's all there, and in my opinion, nobody who hopes to understand the main currents of contemporary life can afford not to read it.

The connections are deep and wide. When multinational corporations and their political, academic, and military allies conspire to create or capitalize (literally) on the conditions Klein explains--distracting disasters--the result is that the middle class is destroyed and the poor are abandoned, left to starve or drown.

It doesn't take much imagination to see how this practice--"free trade"--is, then, also fundamentally responsible for creating the conditions that lead to global worker migrations and to the international sex trade.

The former is obvious. If Monsanto introduces genetically altered crops into a country, the natural, organic counterpart is overtaken, erased, as it were, by cross-pollination. In time, crop monopolization occurs, genetically. If aggressive lawsuits then carefully ensure that no one can grow and market Monsanto's trade-marked hybrid without paying royalties to the corporation, small farmers and local growers are forced out of business or driven off their lands to other parts of the country. Then it becomes a race against time.

In the end, wind pollinates, and Monsanto wins. Thus, without their permission, and often over their urgent protest, their fields have been filled with Monsanto's trade-marked corn, maize, rice, soy--whatever--which they are not allowed to grow or sell. Left with few if any alternatives, few skills, and no money, they are forced off their own lands and, ultimately, often out of their own countries.

The connection between "free trade" and the international sex/slave trade is perhaps not so obvious, and I am indebted to a good friend for bringing it to my attention this morning. The dynamics are essentially the same: Extreme poverty with no alternatives forces extreme actions. For instance, what happens to village peasants when post-tsunami developers seize their lands, raze what's left of their villages, and put up luxury tourist spots? Dispossessed of village, family, trade, market, and all means to survive, some of them sell their daughters into the sex/slave trade, not necessarily knowing that it is the sex/slave trade.

These desperate, illiterate people are easy prey to outsiders' promises that their daughters will have a better life, a good education, a fine marriage if only . . . . After all, it doesn't take much to abandon a girl child in a culture where girls are regarded as liabilities due to dowry customs and lower wage prospects (if outside work is permitted at all). All this and pending starvation is a mighty persuader.

The moral depravity of these economic practices is just boggling. Unfortunately, the moral responsibility for ending them extends to us. Pick your cause: Environmental degradation? Sex/slave trade? Immigration? Women's rights? The rights of people of color? Minimum wage? Elder rights? There's virtually nothing that "free trade"--privatization, demolished social safety nets, zero taxes for the wealthy and the corporations, and cuts in wages and benefits--doesn't make worse. So it's imperative to act. Pick your cause, get informed, and get busy. The earth itself is counting on you and me.