Gurus of Gloom

Introductory comment by Scott Balson:

The references in this article to my right of reply to Charlton's article "Conspiracy theories" a week ago are a blatant breach of journalistic ethics. The right of reply was faxed to News Limited's Anne Fussell after one-to-one discussions with her on Sunday 22nd March that the basis of my letter was a "right of reply". Ms Fussell personally confirmed receipt of the fax on Tuesday and said that the article had been forwarded to Des Houghton the Editor of The Courier Mail's "Perspectives" section. Houghton decides whether "articles are published" in the Perspectives section.

On Wednesday I had a call from The Courier Mail asking me to reduce the length of the article to about 800-900 words. This I did. It was sent by email to Des Houghton on Thursday, Houghton confirming to me on the same day that it had been received and was being considered for publication.

Despite the fact that my right of reply has not been published as yet extracts are used in the article below and are taken out of context by Peter Charlton. My letter was obviously forwarded to and used by Charlton in clear breach of its intent.

You will note that there is absolutely no reference to the FSIA - the basis of my right of reply in the extracts that Charlton selectively uses.

Finally see what John Swinton, the former Chief of Staff of the NEW YORK TIMES says about ethics in journalism.

Monitor section. Page 28 of News Limited’s Courier Mail

Saturday 28th March 1998.

‘Opponents of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment are turning to the anti-globalisation arguments of new economic gurus.

National affairs editor Peter Charlton reports.

Austrian journalist Hans-Peter-Martin is the co-author of an international best seller, The Global Trap.

His book, first published in Germany in 1996, sold 250,000 copies in a year, It has now been translated into 20 languages, including English. It has made Martin, and co-author Harald Schumann, very, very rich.

Yet The Global Trap is to economics what Sandra Cabot’s The Liver Cleansing Diet is to medicine: slickly packaged, inventively argued but unredeemingly populist, pandering to prejudice, suspicion and fear of change. Little wonder, then, that it has been adopted enthusiastically by the opponents of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment.

Two weeks ago, Martin was in Australia as a guest of the Evatt Foundation, the Labor thinktank. Under Paul Keating, the Labor Party tolerated the Evatt Foundation but did not pay much attention to it. Since the 1996 election, the foundation has been trying to regain lost ground - so far without conspicuous success.

Its sponsoring of Martin, and support for his book, suggests the Evatt Foundation is determined to remain out of the mainstream of political thinking.

Not that The Global Trap has much to say about Australia. There is but one reference to the country, in a discussion about the importance of credit ratings by such agencies as Moodys. Comparing Australia to Canada, Martin and Schumann wrote: ‘The same sequence of events (a review by Moodys) occurred in 1996, when the agency placed Australia’s credit status ‘under review’ shortly before the elections were to be held. ‘Dark clouds over the Government’ headlined Sydney’s largest newspaper. The Labour (sic) Party lost the elections.’

Martin and Schumann would have the gullible reader believe that Labor’s loss was somehow connected to the ‘review’ by an international credit agency. Thus they chose to ignore the combination of factors that brought the Coalition to office on March 2, 1996, including the ‘It’s time’ factor, the huge unpopularity of Keating and the Liberal Party’s tactic of rolling itself into a small ball on policy.

It is tempting to analyse The Global Trap in terms of such logical and factual absurdities but the author’s central thesis - that globalisation and turbocapitalism threatens national sovereignty and will result in higher unemployment - is much more important to tackle.

In these apocalyptic views, of course, Martin and Schumann are not alone. There is William Greider’s One World Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism (Penguin, 1997), among others. The arguments differ slightly but the thrust is essentially the same: that globalisation is an international threat.

Martin pins much of his thesis on a three-day seminar in 1995 in San Francisco, attended by 500 of what he calls “leading politicians, businessmen and scientists from every continent” and under the leadership of Mikhael Gorbachev. Included among the politicians are the has-beens Margaret Thatcher, George Bush and George Schultz. Journalists are excluded from covering the proceedings but Martin is excluded from the exclusion and is one of three lucky hacks to make it in.

No introduction on any topic can last longer than five minutes; no contribution to discussion can last longer than two. Note Martin and Schumann: “Well groomed old ladies make sure of this by holding up huge boards - one minute, 30 seconds, stop - in front of the billionaires and theoreticians, as if they were Formula One racing drivers.”

It’s all a bit like the old Peanuts cartoon strip that consisted of two frames showing the dog facing an examination: “Explain World War II,” reads the first frame. “Use both sides of the paper,” read the second.

And yet the un-excluded Martin is hugely impressed by such an approach. From the seminar comes his argument that the world will be “80:20” - “80 percent of the world pacified by ‘tittytainment’ with 20 percent doing the real work. ‘Tittytainment’ is the invention of Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser: (‘tits’ plus ‘entertainment’) in terms not so much of sex as of milk flowing from a nursing mother’s breast. Perhaps a mixture of deadening entertainment and adequate nourishment will keep the world’s frustrated population in relatively good spirits.”

Essentially, Martin’s theory is Eurocentric, perhaps even Austrocentric. As an Austrian, Martin has lived with neighbouring Germany’s economic power all his life. The suspicions he has are similar to those of Canadians towards the United States. He believes fervently in a European Union, reshaped as a political institution, rather than an economic community. He argues for common taxation, common social standards and a tax on currency dealings.

When he spoke to the Evatt Foundation, Martin was sharply criticised by a senior journalist from The Australian Financial Review, Michael Stutchbury. Both the Financial review and Stutchbury are noted for economic rationalist views; Stutchbury described Martin’s views as “global claptrap” and anti-American polemic.

In an otherwise sympathetic treatment of Martin, senior Sydney Morning Herald journalist Helen Trinca noted Stutchbury’s remarks. But the Financial Review had a later word, with a Stutchbury-written editorial on Monday headed “Avoid Global Claptrap”. Such policy differences in the Fairfax stable are relatively rare; the ageing Lefties deep in Fairfax remain largely unreconstructed and untouched by the Financial Review’s tough minded editorial logic.

The Sydney Morning Herald article listed Martin’s Australian supporters: John Buchanan of the Australian Centre for Industrial relations Research and Training (a Sydney Institute with links to the Evatt Foundation), Patricia Ranald of the Public Sector Research Centre and Peter Sams, secretary of the New South Wales Labor Council.

It did not note the presence of Griffith University academic Richard Sanders, who is an opponent of the MAI and a supporter of Martin’s arguments. When I put it to Sanders that those at Martin’s seminar sounded like a “round-up of the usual suspects”, Sander replied, “Well that’s your view”.

Perhaps but for the convergence of ideas, from people on the left of politics to the right-wing supporters of Pauline Hanson who are also opposed to globalisation and the MAI, makes for a fascinating political phenomenon. And particularly when all in the debate seem not to averse to a bit of less-than-subtle scaremongering.

Take, for example, the response this week from one Scott Balson, who describes himself as “the Webmaster for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (who) carries extensive on-line research on international treaties like the MAI”.

In a long response to last week’s report on the MAI, Balson wrote, “The veil of secrecy that has been wrapped around this agreement should be of concern to all Australians as exclusions.... will be wound back or cancelled under the current MAI draft agreement while no new exclusions requested by a signatory country will be entertained. With the incredible changes taking place in technology today, how could we be so stupid to agree to this?

“Telstra will be in the midst of these technology changes and, like the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, will be a prime target for foreign takeover as the MAI, once signed, will sooner rather than later invalidate any government restrictions on foreign ownership in a valuable communications giant.

“Furthermore, how can an Australian government sign a treaty which will allow multinationals like McDonalds (the fast-food chain) to take any level of government to an international court if they believe they are being discriminated against? In a recent pre-MAI example, McDonalds took the Port Douglas shire, with just 3,000 ratepayers, to an Australian court because the council would not allow Big Mac to breach its council regulations by erecting a large golden arches sign. How could the shire afford to defend itself in an international forum against this financial giant?”

Balson’s arguments are similar to Martin’s: excessively gloomy, with frequently asserted conclusions based on the most remote of circumstances. Yet Balson is right when he quotes Renato Ruggerio, director general of the World Trade Organisation, on the MAI: “We are writing the constitution of a single global economy.”

Financial deregulation, trade liberalisation and the enormous advances in information technology - this century’s version of last century’s Industrial Revolution - have made a single global economy not only inevitable but desirable. The collapse of communism has expanded global markets. Australia must make sure we get our share.

Further related reading:

Return to the MAI.