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(en) globalization & colonialism - The Third Wave II (2/2)

From Ilan Shalif <gshalif@netvision.net.il>
Date Sat, 21 Feb 1998 12:14:10 +0200

     A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

FWDed From:  MichaelP <papadop@PEAK.ORG>
by HURINet - The Human Rights Information Network by Roberto Verzola
     Information monopolies may be established not only by
     staking monopoly claims over information content
     through IPR, but also by controlling the hardware
     infrastructure for manipulating or distributing
     information. This infrastructure includes computer
     centers, voice and data switching centers,
     communication lines, television and radio stations,
     satellite networks, cable networks, cellular networks,
     printing presses, moviehouses, etc. Like their software
     counterparts, the owners of the hardware infrastructure
     make money through monopoly rents, in the form of
     subscription fees or per-use charges.

     Because they earn their incomes from monopoly rents,
     the propertied classes of the information sectors are
     rentier classes. They are the landlords of cyberspace,
     or cyberlords. The content monopolies are owned by
     information cyberlords, and the infrastructure
     monopolies are owned by industrial cyberlords.

     The richest man in the world, as well as several others
     among the ten richest, is a cyberlord. The economic
     powers of cyberlords are immense, and these powers are
     increasingly being felt in the political and diplomatic
     arena. Among U.S. negotiators, for instance, IPR -- the
     mechanism which gives software cyberlords their power
     -- is invariably a non-negotiable item in their agenda.
     It is the partnership between information cyberlords,
     industrial cyberlords, and finance capitalists which is
     the at the core of the third wave of globalization.

     To sum up: an information economy is one whose
     information sector has become the main source of
     wealth, eclipsing its industrial and agricultural
     sectors. The products of industrial and agricultural
     economies are material goods; the products of an
     information economy, however, are non-material goods.
     The reproduction cost of information goods is very low.
     This has led to the widespread social practice of
     freely sharing and exchanging information. On the other
     hand, it also promises extremely high profit margins,
     if the seller can monopolize information. Information
     monopolies have become the main form of ownership in
     the information sector. The high profit margins that
     they realize have led to a continuous movement of
     investment capital towards the information sector,
     eventually making it the dominant sector of the economy
     and transforming the economy into an information
     economy. The products of this information economy
     spread worldwide, as people freely share and exchange
     information goods. Thus an information economy needs a
     global system for enforcing its monopolies as well as
     for gathering information materials, tapping
     intellectuals and of course collecting payments
     worldwide. This leads to the globalization of the
     information economy and is the engine of the third wave
     of globalization. The main propertied classes within
     the information economy are information cyberlords, who
     control information content, industrial cyberlords, who
     control  information infrastructures, and finance
     capitalists, who control investment funds.

First to third waves: a comparison

     Let us compare the emergence of the global information
     economy with the two previous waves of globalization:

     - The first wave was after slaves, previous metals and
     lands for raising export crops; the second wave was
     after new investment acquisitions, sources of raw
     materials and labor, and industrial markets. The third
     wave is after sources of mental labor, sources of
     information raw materials, and markets for information
     products. This is why the WTO pushed very hard to
     conclude as soon as possible the agreements on
     information technology, telecommunications and
     financial services.

     - The third wave requires freer movement of information
     across national boundaries. This has helped erode
     further the power of the State. While the State itself
     operated corporate monopolies during the first wave,
     and continued to be dominant over corporations during
     the second wave, it is finding itself less powerful
     during the third wave. Global corporations are now
     assuming the dominant role in the State-corporate
     partnership, in close collaboration with supra-national
     institutions like the International Monetary Fund
     (IMF), the World Bank (WB) and the WTO.

     - As in the first two waves, the extraction of wealth
     from the rest of the world is likewise done under a
     mask that hides real intentions. The third wave hides
     behind such phrases as "information at your finger
     tips", "world without borders", "global village",
     instant access to the world's libraries", "free flow of
     information", or "TV with a million channels."

     - In reality, the global information economy imposes
     its own global rule to facilitate the wealth transfer.
     The role of the nation-state shrinks, many of its
     functions taken over by private corporation. National
     sovereignty is curtailed by supra-national
     institutions. Global corporations continue to
     strengthen their political voice and clout, and
     directly enter into partnerships with local elites and
     local governments, often bypassing the host government
     as well as their own government. Corporate control of
     information, communications, and media infrastructures
     is strengthened through privatization and deregulation.

     - In addition to the earlier forms of wealth extraction
     practised during the first and second waves, new forms
     emerge or old forms acquire new importance. Monopoly
     rents become the main form of wealth extraction.
     Because of the huge disparity in costs, trade between
     information economies and other economies become even
     more unequal. Compare, for instance, a CDROM which
     might sell for three hundred dollars, but whose
     production cost is around three dollars, to a typical
     Philippine product like sugar, which might sell for
     fifteen cents per pound. Much of the three hundred
     dollars in the price of 2,000 pounds of sugar would
     barely cover the cost of production, while much of the
     three hundred dollars in the price of a CDROM would be
     profit. Royalties from intellectual property rights
     (IPRs) and other income from information rents assume
     major significance; technology makes possible
     high-speed, finely-tuned financial speculation. As the
     importance of the nation-state recedes, corporations
     are able to purchase State assets and public properties
     at bargain prices.

     - New technologies of exploitation are introduced.
     First wave technologies were designed for the immediate
     plunder of our natural resources and human communities.
     Second wave technologies were based on material
     exploitation and intensive energy utilization. Third
     wave technologies are invariably information-based,
     centered on extracting the highest monopoly rents from
     the control of information infrastructure or
     information content. The best example of a technology
     that is at the leading edge of the third wave of
     globalization is the Internet. Advanced information and
     communications technologies make possible the
     convergence of media, entertainment, data, and
     communications. The application of information
     technology to genetic engineering and biotechnologies
     has transformed these fields and made them fertile
     areas for information monopolies, best illustrated by
     the patenting of life forms.

     - We are already starting to feel the impact of the
     third wave. Strengthening information monopoly
     mechanisms will increase the cost and make more
     difficult access to new technologies. As the global
     information infrastructure now being constructed reach
     the remotest corners of our countries, we will be
     further flooded with all kinds of junk culture, easily
     accessible with a few keystrokes, and the
     homogeneization of our cultures will reach new levels.
     The reckless experimentation with new life forms in the
     race to introduce new commercial biotechnology products
     and services will lead to biological pollution from
     genetically-modified organisms. Their potential for
     damage will be infinitely greater than chemical
     pollutants because these organisms can reproduce by
     themselves, mutate and evolve. Driven by the logic of
     profit-making and rent-seeking, biotechnology will pose
     the greatest threat to human health and survival.


     The global information economy will also enable those
     with vast resources to concentrate wealth further into
     their hands. To illustrate this capacity for
     super-exploitation unleashed by third wave
     technologies: imagine a corporation which can afford to
     automate its international financial transactions so
     that its computers could do a round-the-clock,
     unattended scan of the global financial markets for
     opportunities, make decisions automatically, and
     conclude a financial transaction within three seconds
     or a buy-then-sell transaction pair within six seconds.
     Such a facility, backed up by vast financial resources,
     executing financial transactions and profitting from
     them every 6 seconds, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,
     would be able to double its owners' investment funds,
     based on the following table:

Profit Margin for every               Period it takes for
buy-then-sell transaction             investment to double

          1%                                   7 minutes
          0.1%                                69 minutes
          0.01%                               11.6 hours
          0.001%                               4.8 days
          0.0001%                              1.6 months
          0.00001%                             1.3 years

     Who but the largest financial conglomerates would have
     the resources to set up and maintain such automated,
     round-the-clock facilities with a global reach? We had
     better think again, those among us who believe that the
     Third World can leap-frog second wave economies and
     ride the third wave by surfing the Web or by selling
     our agricultural and manufacturing commodities and our
     cheaper labor over the Internet. What we face here is
     really a new personification of greed, one that has
     freed itself of distracting human feelings like love,
     compassion, charity, guild, fear and other emotions,
     leaving only pure greed, unencumbered and free to
     pursue singlemindedly the one and only thing that
     motivates it: profit. It is the search for profit by
     global corporations that is powering the whole process.

     These corporations have even acquired their own rights,
     which are often more favorably recognized than the
     rights of real persons. They have learned to nourish
     themselves and to grow by feeding on nature, people,
     and information. They have become increasingly
     aggressive in asserting their freedoms
     ("liberalization"), overcoming government controls
     ("deregulation") and in taking over government
     activities ("privatization").

     Corporations had earlier shared global rule with
     governments. Now, they want to rule it by themselves

     The colonization of our countries that began in the
     16th century hasn't really stopped. It has just changed
     forms, coming in waves of globalization that intrude
     into our communities, impose their unwanted rule, and
     squeeze the wealth out of our people and environment.
     With each improvement in technology, with each
     transformation of capital, a new way of extracting
     wealth from our shores is employed, continually
     enriching those who control the technology and our
     economy while impoverishing us, destroying local
     livelihoods, ravaging our natural resources, and
     poisoning our environment. The first wave has ebbed,
     but we are still deep within the second wave, and the
     third wave has already started lapping our shores.

Responding to the third globalization wave

     How do we respond to globalization? To the first wave,
     we responded with independence struggles, ranging from
     armed revolutions to peaceful lobbies for independence.
     Economically, our responses ranged from outright
     confiscation and nationalization of foreign property,
     to negotiated purchases of foreign corporations at full
     commercial prices. Thus, historically, we can identify
     a period of economic nationalism worldwide, when
     newly-independent countries in Asia, Africa and Latin
     America tried to regain control of their economies
     through a range of policies favoring local economic
     interests and institutions.

     Then came the post-colonial second wave of
     globalization, both in response to our independence
     struggles and as a consequence of internal developments
     within the economies of powerful countries themselves.
     Responses to this second wave have ranged from
     communist-led armed struggles, to elite-led
     protectionist regimes. Many of these responses have
     floundered as crises upon crises beset our countries,
     enabling former colonial masters to recover much of
     their early privileges. In general, the second wave of
     globalization remains dominant over our national and
     community life, having managed so far to counter all
     the various responses that have confronted it.

     We're still under the second wave, and now comes the
     third wave. How do we respond to this new wave, and how
     should our response be related to our continuing
     efforts to confront the second wave of globalization?

A Green response

     We can learn from some of the responses of social
     movements which have confronted specific issues
     involving the information economy. An illustrative set
     of responses can be seen in the program of the
     Philippine Greens for a non-monopolistic information
     sector. The following are the major elements of this
     program (Society, Ecology and Transformation by the
     Philippine Greens, 1997):

          "1. The right to know. It is the government's duty
          to inform its citizens about matters that directly
          affect them, their families or their communities.
          Citizens have the right to access these
          information. The State may not use 'national
          security', 'confidentiality of commercial
          transactions', or 'trade secret' reasons to
          curtail this right.

          "2. The right to privacy. The government will
          refrain from probing the private life of its
          citizens. Citizens have the right to access
          information about themselves which have been
          collected by government agencies. The government
          may not centralize these separate databases by
          building a central database or by adopting a
          unified access key to the separate databases.
          Nobody will be forced against their will to reveal
          any information they do not want to make public.

          "3. No patenting of life forms. The following,
          whether or not modified by human intervention, may
          not be patented: life forms, biological and
          microbiological materials, biological and
          microbiological processes."

     Life form patenting has become a major global issue, as
     biotechnology corporations move towards the direct
     manipulation and commercialization of human genetic
     material. Biotech firms are engaged in a frantic race
     to patent DNA sequences, microorganisms, plants,
     animal, human genetic matter and all other kinds of
     biological material, as well as in all kinds of genetic
     modification experiments to explore commercial
     possibilities. We much launch strong national and
     international movements to block these monopolistic
     moves and experiments, and to exclude life forms and
     other biological material from our patent systems.

          "4. The moral rights of intellectuals. Those who
          actually created an intellectual work or
          originated an idea have the right to be recognized
          that they did so. Nobody may claim authorship of
          works or ideas they did not originate. No one can
          be forced to release or modify a work or idea if
          he/she is not willing to do so. These and other
          moral rights of intellectuals will be respected
          and protected.

          "5. The freedom to share. The freedom to share and
          exchange information and knowledge will be
          recognized and protected. This freedom will take
          precedence over the information monopolies such as
          intellectual property rights (IPR) that the State
          grants to intellectuals."

     A specific expression of the freedom to share is the
     "fair-use" policy. This policy reflects a historical
     struggle waged by librarians who see themselves as
     guardians of the world's storehouse of knowledge, which
     they want to be freely accessible to the public.
     Librarians and educators have fought long battles and
     firmly held their ground on the issue of fair-use,
     which allows students and researchers access to
     copyrighted or patented materials without paying IPR
     rents. They have recently been losing ground due to the
     increasing political power of cyberlords.

          "6. Universal access. The government will
          facilitate universal access by its citizens to the
          world's storehouse of knowledge. Every community
          will be enabled to have access to books,
          cassettes, videos, tapes, software, radio and TV
          programs, etc. The government will set up a wide
          range of training and educational facilities to
          enable community members to continually expand
          their knowhow and knowledge.

          "7. Compulsory licensing. Universal access to
          information content is best implemented through
          compulsory licensing. Under this
          internationally-practiced mechanism, the
          government itself licenses others to copy patented
          or copyrighted material for sale to the public,
          but compels the licensees to pay the patent or
          copyright holder a government-set royalty fee.
          This mechanism is a transition step towards
          non-monopolistic payments for intellectual

     Many countries in the world have used and continue to
     use this mechanism for important products like
     pharmaceuticals and books. Compulsory licensing is an
     internationally-recognized mechanism specifically meant
     to benefit poorer countries who want to access
     technologies but cannot afford the price set by IPR
     holders, but even the U.S. and many European countries
     use it.

          "8. Public stations. Universal access to
          information infrastructure is best implemented
          through public access stations, charging at
          subsidized rates. These can include well-stocked
          public libraries; public telephone booths;
          community facilities for listening to or viewing
          training videos, documentaries, and the classics;
          public facilities for telegraph and electronic
          mail; educational radio and TV programs; and
          public access stations to computer networks."

     Information infrastructures are very expensive.
     Building national networks from scratch may take
     several billion dollars. Providing a personal computer
     to each family may take a few more billion dollars.
     Yet, much of these hardware will become obsolete within
     a few years of use, after which we will again be forced
     to update the entire hardware infrastructure for
     several billion dollars more. The act of participation
     seems to entrap us at once into becoming captive
     markets of information economies. How do we ensure
     access at a much lower cost? The answer is in
     universally-accessible public facilities. In the same
     way that the problem of Third World transport is solved
     by public transportation and not by a
     "one-family/one-car" policy, the problem of universal
     access in the information sector can be solved by
     public work/access stations and not by a
     "one-family/one-computer" policy.

     Another approach in building public domain information
     tools is to support non-monopolistic mechanisms for
     rewarding intellectual creativity. Various concepts in
     software development and/or distribution have recently
     emerged, less monopolistic than IPRs. These include
     shareware, freeware, "copyleft" and the GNU General
     Public License (GPL). The latter is the most developed
     concept so far, and has managed to bridge the
     transition from monopoly to freedom in the information
     sector. In the personal computer arena, for example,the
     most significant challenger to the absolute monopoly of
     Microsoft Windows  is the freely-available Linux
     operating system, which is covered by the GPL.

     The first step in breaking up monopolies may be
     competition. But competition eventually leads to
     domination by the strong and those who can compete
     best, leading us back to monopolies. Isn't it better to
     transcend competition and move further towards
     cooperation? This means a stronger public sector and
     sharing meager resources to be able to afford expensive
     but necessary facilities. In the information sector,
     this means building information infrastructures, tools
     and contents which are in the public domain.

          "9. The best lessons of our era. While all
          knowledge and culture should be preserved and
          stored for posterity, we need to distill the best
          lessons of our era, to be taught -- not sold -- to
          the next generations. This should be a conscious,
          socially-guided selection process, undertaken with
          the greatest sensitivity and wisdom. It is not
          something that can be left to a profit-oriented
          educational system, circulation-driven mass media,
          or consumption-pushing advertising."

     These responses must also be linked with ongoing
     struggles against the second wave of globalization. By
     doing so, we can bring together the widest range of
     people, whose unity and joint action can bring about a
     political structure that can comprehensively address
     the challenges of globalization.

     As the Philippine Green program indicates, one of the
     tasks of such struggles is to develop a
     non-monopolistic information sector, where intellectual
     activity is rewarded through non-monopolistic
     mechanisms which are more consistent with the social
     nature of information. This will involve a radical
     rethinking of property concepts in the information
     sector, reinforcing similar demands for property
     restructuring in the industrial and agriculture

     Eventually, enough social forces should be mustered to
     confront squarely the powerful forces of globalization.
     We can expect this historic confrontation to demand
     from us the same kind of courage, sacrifice and heroism
     which the earlier anti-colonial struggles demanded from
     our national heroes.

     How we rise up to this challenge will determine whether
     our children and grandchildren will live as neo-slaves
     under a global system as cruel and heartless as the
     colonial system of old, or as free citizens living in
     communities where knowledge and culture are again
     freely-shared social assets, where industrial machinery
     is appropriately designed to serve and not to enslave
     human labor, and where ecology is the organizing
     principle in agriculture.

Final lesson

     There is one final lesson, among so many, that our own
     colonial past teaches us. The first Spanish colony was
     set up in the Philippines in 1565. Over the next three
     centuries, colonization would encroach on most of the
     archipelago, except the Muslims of Mindanao and the
     upland indigenous tribes. Isolated rebellions would
     occur but could not shake Spanish rule. In 1864, a
     public manifesto by a Filipino priest began a
     Propaganda Movement, which eventually awakened our
     people's anti-colonial consciousness. In 1896, a
     full-scale revolution broke out. By 1898, the
     revolution had for all intents and purposes defeated
     Spanish colonialism.

     It took some three hundred years before we Filipinos
     shook off the colonial mentality that immobilized most
     of our people and made them vulnerable to Spanish rule.
     The campaign for the Filipino mind took another thirty
     years to win. Within three years of anti-colonial armed
     struggle against Spain, victory was in sight.

     The struggle to unmask the colonial monster was ten to
     a hundred times more difficult than the struggle to
     bring it down.

     Let us keep this lesson in mind today, when we are yet
     at the early stages of unmasking the monster of
     globalization. Let not the seeming immensity of this
     task cloud our vision of the future, when our
     communities and nations shall at last be free to chart
     their own destinies guided by the principles of
     ecology, social justice and self-determination.

5 February 1998
Roberto Verzola

108 V.Luna Road Extension
Sikatuna Village 1101
Quezon City, Philippines

Tel.: (63-2) 921-5165
Email: rverzola@phil.gn.apc.org

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