Book Review > Klien, Fences and Windows, 2002, Picador

Fences and Windows by Naomi Klien (an international journalist and media commentator, also author of No Logo) is a time capsule into an emerging activist revolution against corporate globalism from late 1999 to 2002.

The text is made up of several articles with a unifying theme of boundaries (fences) and opportunities (windows). Klien brings intelligent insight, factual numbers and blunt views about a very mis-understood and loosely organized group of activists who keep showing up at major trade summits and gatherings around the world.

The first of such gatherings was the December 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle. The media, or rest of the world, didn’t know how to identify or what to do with them, and even Klien doesn’t pin a single name, cause or leader to the masses. (Sound familiar? Something like the loose networks of Emerging Churches?).

What she does clarify is this group is NOT anti-globalization. “All the activists I know are fierce internationalists. Rather, we are challenging the internationalization of a single economic model: neo-liberalism(78).”

Her April 2000 article, The NAFTA Track Record , gives a good glimpse into this economic core of her globalisim debate through reporting on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Whilw former Canadian PM Brian Mulroney sing the praises of the agreement, she gives voice to the opposition: “…private wealth has soared without translating into anything that can be clearly identified as the public good (65).”

While free trade has done very well, Klien broadens the picture: promised outcomes of boosted trade, “trickle down” money flow, are absent in the rest of society, most severely in Mexico. Poverty is up to 75 percent (up from 49 percent in 1981), and pollution has doubled in Mexico since the start of NAFTA (p.65).

Klien points out the irony in the dependence on this trade flow has not lead to streamlined lower costs (which were promised), but “hundreds of millions of new dollars to keep trade flowing (71).” Social needs like clean water, better schools, affordable housing, are still waiting for their trickle to come down the pipe.

It’s a bit eye opening to take a look at these statistics. This past weekend on an airplane flight, I sat next to a clean cut Electical Engineer from New Jersey who believed NAFTA was doing great things for Mexico. When I shared this argument, he said it must be because their government is corrupt.

It’s these stereotypes and excuses about the impact of free trade that Klien and her fellow protesters fight against in their own vision for globalization. They are not naïve to leave trade out in the equation or negate its value. Instead they advocate holding the powers that be accountable. “Globalization was supposed to be about global openness and integration…[and]… a new system of equality among nations(81).” She asks, “…why not build an international architecture founded on principles of transparency, accountability and self determination, one that frees people instead of liberating capital (79)?”

And I ask too, why not? Klien’s statement that “…human needs must take precedence over corporate profits from AIDS treatment to homelessness (243),” is one that the church should be asking ask well – if not leading the discussion.

Sidenote: I do have to admit, with a print date of 2002, I want to catch up on what Klien’s been writing recently – and what this movement has been up to the past few years.

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