Toward Global Parliament
by Richard Falk and Andrew Strauss
From Foreign Affairs, January/February 2001


One crucial aspect of the rising disaffection with globalization is the lack of citizen participation in the global institutions that shape people's daily lives. This public frustration is deeper and broader than the recent street demonstrations in Seattle and Prague. Social commentators and leaders of citizens' and intergovernmental organizations are increasingly taking heed. Over the past 18 months, President Clinton has joined with the secretary-general of the United Nations, the director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the president of the World Bank to call for greater citizen participation in the international order.

But to date, these parties have not clearly articulated a general vision of how best to integrate a public role into international institutions. So in the absence of a planned design, attempts to democratize the international system have been ad hoc, as citizen organizations and economic elites create their own mechanisms of influence. In domestic politics, interest-group pluralism flourishes within a parliamentary system of representation. In global politics, interest-group pluralism is growing, but no unifying parliament represents the public interest. This state of affairs cannot last in a world where the prevailing understanding of democracy does not accept the fact that unelected interest groups can speak for the citizenry as a whole. Any serious attempt to challenge the democratic deficit must therefore consider creating some type of popularly elected global body. Before globalization, such an idea would have been considered utopian. Now, the clamor of citizens to participate internationally can no longer be ignored. The only question is what form this participation will take.


Behind this clamor lies a profound shift in power. Thanks to trade, foreign direct investment, and capital flows, globalization is dispersing political authority throughout the international order. International governance is no longer limited to such traditional fare as defining international borders, protecting diplomats, and proscribing the use of force. Many issues of global policy that directly affect citizens are now being shaped by the international system. Workers can lose their jobs as a result of decisions made at the WTO or within regional trade regimes. Consumers must contend with a market in which state-prescribed protections such as the European ban on hormone-fed beef can be overriden by WTO regulations. Patients who need medicines pay prices influenced by WTO-enforced patent rules, which allow pharmaceutical companies to monopolize drug pricing. Most of the 23 million sub-Saharan Africans who have tested positive for the aids virus cannot afford the drugs most effective in treating their illness. They will die much sooner as a consequence.

For the half of the world's population that lives on less than $2 a day, governmental social safety nets have been weakened by IMF decisions. The globalized economy has not meaningfully reduced poverty despite a long period of sustained growth. Economic inequality is on the rise, as is the marginalization of regions not perceived as attractive trading partners or "efficient" recipients of investment. Furthermore, environmental trends pose severe dangers that . . .


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