This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

September-October 2016

Let’s say goodbye to global corporatization

Our editor emeritus on why monster corporations must make room for smaller institutions of community

Mel Watkins

ThisMagazine50_coverLores-minFor our special 50th anniversary issue, Canada’s brightest, boldest, and most rebellious thinkers, doers, and creators share their best big ideas. Through ideas macro and micro, radical and everyday, we present 50 essays, think pieces, and calls to action. Picture: plans for sustainable food systems, radical legislation, revolutionary health care, a greener planet, Indigenous self-government, vibrant cities, safe spaces, peaceful collaboration, and more—we encouraged our writers to dream big, to hope, and to courageously share their ideas and wish lists for our collective better future. Here’s to another 50 years!

Almost 50 years ago, in 1970, my friend Stephen Clarkson asked 50 people to guess what things would be like in 50 years and published them under the clever title Visions 2020. I made the cut then and—who’d have guessed—have made it again. I predicted that the world would still be run by multinational corporations and, I must say, was remarkably prescient.

I could try to say the same thing. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll stand my prediction on its head and imagine what I hope will happen: what must happen if we are to survive in our age of catastrophes, of global warming, droughts, wildfires, rising sea levels, species extinction, pandemics, terrorism and wars on terror, cyber wars, and new horrors not yet named.

As for the monster corporation, it must wither away to create the room for the smaller institutions of community. Corporate rights, as embedded in trade agreements, must yield to human rights. Corporate globalization must give way to communities that are in solidarity, fundamentally egalitarian.

After the great wave of economic globalization prior to World War I, Karl Polanyi described how the economy, separated from the society in which it had long been embedded, had taken on a life of its own. From that utopian project came the Great Depression of the 1930s and fascism in Germany. But, in a great victory of democracy over capitalism, there had also come, as counter-movement, the American New Deal, albeit with many flaws, and its modest Canadian equivalent.

Learning nothing from history, globalization in the raw was born again. The separation of finance from society and democratic control led to the 2008 global financial crisis. The state saved the whole system but resisted attempts at reform.

Meanwhile, the world worsened. This time globalization had yanked nature, ecology itself, from society; the disasters that resulted from that were made manifest. The good news is that again movement has led to counter-movement. Tellingly, deep analysis has been accompanied by political action, Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein being leading examples.

In my distant days on the editorial board of This Magazine, I wrote the Innis Memorial Column named for the great Canadian economic historian and student of civilizations, Harold Innis. Innis was much concerned with the conditions essential for creativity and stability, which he saw as a proper balance of space and time, of matters spatial and matters temporal. Globalization, gathering force in his lifetime, meant control of space, of the global economy.

Innis made “a plea for time,” in an essay of that title in 1950. Though agnostic, he appealed to Holy Writ: “Without vision the people perish.” This agnostic would insist on the plural: “Without visions …” The singular smacks of utopia and, even in my lifetime, of totalitarianism of the left and the right.

This Magazine is to be thanked for anticipating this point, for inviting 50 “visions.” To survive for 50 years is a considerable achievement. We are entitled to celebrate. To do another 50 is itself a vision and a hope, a project well worth the effort. Call this my Innis Memorial Column redux, my own abbreviated plea for time. Time for history as collective memory. Time for dialogue, not debate. Time to reflect, not react. Time to heed and to help. Time to care and share. Time to contemplate and meditate. Time to create the good. Time to heal and not hurt. Time to spare.

And lest I forget: time to renew your subscription to This Magazine. Ask for the special 50-year rate.

Mel Watkins is an emeritus professor, honourary doctor, blogger, peace activist, political economist, ex-Waffler, grandparent, and proud to be editor emeritus of This Magazine.

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