World Trade Organization

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Headquarters of World Trade Organization

The World Trade Organization is an international organisation designed by its founders to supervise and liberalise international capital trade.


  • Empirical evidence tends to show that trade liberalisation may entail non-trivial adjustment costs for certain groups.

Quotes about

  • I have tried to define democracy, and worked out five criteria. If you meet a powerful person, ask them five questions: What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interest do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? How could we get rid of you? Because if you can’t get rid of the people who have power over you they don’t have to listen to you. The reason the members of parliament and prime ministers, with all their defects, have to listen is because the Day of Judgement comes on polling day, whereas the bankers, the World Trade Organization, the IMF, the Pope, the mullahs, the rabbis, don’t have to listen — because they are there. Some of them say they’re there because God gave them power, others say they are following the inescapable conclusions of a market-related society. But whatever justification they give they aren’t accountable and can’t be removed — and I will not be governed by people I can’t get rid of. For that very reason, people who do have power don’t like democracy because it will undermine the security they think they have.
  • A contradiction lies at the very centre of the neoliberal project. On a theoretical level, neoliberalism promises to bring about a purer form of democracy, unsullied by the tyranny of the state. Indeed, this claim serves as the model lodestar for neoliberal ideology - a banner under which it justifies radical market deregulation. But, in practice, it becomes clear that the opposite is true: that neoliberalism tends to undermine democracy and political freedom. More than 40 years of experimentation with neoliberalism shows that it erodes the power of voters to decide the rules that govern the economic systems they inhabit. It allows for the colonization of political forums by elite interests - a process known as political capture - and sets up new political forums, such as the World Bank, the IMF, and the WTO, that preclude democratic representation from the outset. Neoliberalism also tends to undermine national sovereignty, to the point where parliaments of putatively independent nations no longer have power over their own policy decisions, but are governed instead by foreign banks, the US Treasury, trade agreements, and undemocratic international institutions, all of which exercise a kind of invisible, remote-control power.
  • People commonly think of neoliberalism as an ideology that promotes totally free markets, where the state retreats from the scene and abandons all interventionist policies. But if we step back a bit, it becomes clear that the extention of neoliberalism has entailed powerful new forms of state intervention. The creation of a global 'free market' required not only violent coups and dictatorships backed by Western governments, but also the invention of a totalizing global bureaucracy – the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO and bilateral free-trade agreements – with reams of new laws, backed up by the military power of the United States. In other words, an unprecedented expansion of state power was necessary to force countries around the world to liberalize their markets against their will. As the global south has known ever since the Opium Wars in 1842, when British gunboats invaded China in order to knock down China's trade barriers, free trade has never actually been about freedom. On the contrary, as we have seen, free trade has a tendency to gradually undermine national sovereignty and electoral democracy.
    • Jason Hickel, The Divide: Global Inequality from Conquest to Free Markets (2018) p. 218
  • When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and other Western leaders were starting to plan for the postwar world, they had the recent past very much in their minds in other ways. They wanted to build a robust world order that would prevent the world from sliding, yet again, into another deadly conflict. The interwar years had been unstable ones, partly because the League of Nations had not been strong enough. Key powers, the United States in particular, had not joined or, like Germany and Japan, had dropped out. This time, Roosevelt was determined that the United States should be a member of the new United Nations. He was also prepared to do a good deal to keep the Soviet Union in. What had been a precariously balanced international order was put under further strain in the 1930s by the Great Depression, which encouraged countries to turn inward, throwing up tariff walls to protect their own workers and their own industries. What may have made sense for individual nations was disastrous for the world as a whole. Trade and investment dropped off sharply and national rivalries were exacerbated. To avoid that happening again, the Allies, with the Soviet Union's grudging acquiescence, created the economic institutions known collectively as the Bretton Woods system. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the International Trade Organization (this last did not materialize as the World Trade Organization until much later) were designed to provide stability to the world's economy and to encourage free trade among nations. How much difference these all made to the international order after 1943 will always be a matter of debate, but the world did not get a repeat of the 1930s.
  • Osama Bin Laden and George Bush were both terrorists. They were both building international networks that perpetrate terror and devastate people’s lives. Bush with the Pentagon, the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank. Bin Laden with Al-Qaeda. The difference is that nobody elected Bin Laden... The United States supported Saddam Hussein and made sure that he ruled with an iron fist for all those years. Then they used the sanctions to break the back of civil society. Then they made Iraq disarm. Then they attacked Iraq. And now they’ve taken over all its assets.
    • Arundhati Roy in The Shape of the Beast: Conversations with Arundhati Roy (2008)
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