Tagged: WTO

WTO

Having overcome a minor administrative hurdle, Mike and Andy arrive in Sydney (this time, the flight has been funded by various arts organizations, and they rely on a dozen local activists for housing and other assistance). After a day of adjustment for jet-lag, they put on fresh thrift-store suits, cut their hair, and go find the headquarters of the Certified Practicing Accountants Association of Australia.

 

After a good many pleasantries—the conference organizers are exceedingly gracious—“Kinnithrung Sprat” is introduced and takes the podium with all the gravitas he can muster.

 

Andy and Mike have decided on an entirely new tack for this lecture, one unmarked by the bombast and lunacy of previous ones. Since parody hasn't worked, they've decided to try that old standby, sincerity.

 

The WTO, Andy explains, has finally understood that corporate globalization is hurting the little guy; it has to therefore shut down completely. After that, Andy explains, the WTO will re-launch as a new organization—the Trade Regulation Organization—devoted, as its name suggests, to making corporations behave responsibly towards all world citizens, not just the wealthy. Instead of serving to help businesses do business—this is the way the WTO explicitly describes itself on its website—it will henceforward make sure that business helps people.

 

The lecture includes nearly an hour of shocking statistics drumming home the need for this massive transformation.

 

The accountants rally behind the plan with excitement. They are authentically thrilled at this radical new direction the WTO is taking. At the luncheon, some of them give suggestions for insuring that the new organization will serve the poor rather than only the rich. It is very clear that these accountants want to help the poor as much as we do.

 

They are not the only excited ones about the prospects of a new kind of trade organization. After Mike and Andy send out a press release from the WTO announcing its imminent improvement, a Canadian parliamentarian takes the floor to announce the good news. Andy and Mike receive hundreds of congratulatory e-mails from others excited about the rebirth.

 

Could it be that the violent and irrational consensus gripping the world, that we call corporate globalization, is maintained only through a sustained and strenuous effort of faith? Could it be that almost everyone—even those, like accountants, that we are usually inclined to think of as conservative—would immediately embrace a more humane consensus if one were presented by those in positions of authority?

 

The “WTO’s” press release is revealed to be a hoax, and sadly the WTO still does exist. The Canadian Parlimentarian retracts his statement, and hundreds of people email to tell us how disappointed they are that it isn’t true. The Yes Men sends another press release to clear up the confusion.

 

Although clearly another world is possible, it will have to start from the bottom up....

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In April of 2002 Mike meets Richard Robbins at a conference in upstate New York. Richard has written a book on corporate globalization, and he offers to organize a lecture by the WTO for his students at the State University of New York in Plattsburgh, where he is a professor.

 

Andy and Mike are happy to accept this invitation—especially since they already have been invited to speak to some trade experts in Australia. They feel they have come up with the surefire reaction-getter, but since it's likely to be their last chance, they'd better make sure. College students will make an excellent test audience before the real thing in Australia.

Just before leaving for Plattsburgh, they hear the conference in Australia has been cancelled. This is no longer a dress rehearsal.

 

The whole crew (Mike, Andy, Matt, Caz, Wolfgang, Snafu, Andrew, Rich) drive up from New York and arrive in Plattsburgh. Richard shows them the venue. Andy and Matt put on standard WTO business suits, while Mike wears a McDonald’s uniform.

 

Richard is kind enough to foot the bill for more than a hundred McDonald’s Hamburgers, which Mike passes out to the students at the beginning of the lecture. Andy introduces the talk by asking that important basic question: “Why is starvation a problem?” Matt’s illustration of “poverty guy” stands shrugging on the PowerPoint slide. Andy explains with candor how WTO agribusiness policies (like the policies of the British during the Irish Potato famine) are causing widespread starvation in the Third World today. He suggests a solution that—unlike protectionism and so on—remains within the logic of the free market.

 

The solution, as elegant as it is simple, is to provide Third Worlders with filters that allow them to recycle their food—extending the lifespan of a typical hamburger up to ten times.

 

In answer to one student’s outraged question, Mike explains that McDonald’s, in partnership with the WTO, is already experimenting with this technology in its products, and has been including 20% “post-consumer waste” in many of its hamburgers. Patrick’s 3-D animation of Ronald McDonald squeezing Menu Item Number Two from his colostomy bag erases any doubts about what is actually being said: the WTO believes that the poor should eat their own shit, or perhaps eat the shit of the rich, if an efficient pipeline can be established.

 

As might be expected, the students react violently to these concepts. But what is more surprising is that they have been reacting—with hisses, boos, even a spitwad or two—ever since the beginning of the lecture. Long before Andy tells them that they have eaten shit, they are appalled at the version of reality that he is asking them to swallow.

 

This is the only negative reaction Andy and Mike have gotten for a lecture. But the strong reaction clearly isn’t because the lecture is any crazier, since the students started reacting from the very beginning: it’s because the audience is smarter. All along, the problem has not been with the lectures, as supposed, but with the audiences themselves.

 

Years of neoliberal “education” and experience seem to make people stupid.

 

This realization causes Mike and Andy to abandon the lecture they planned for the agribusiness conference in Sydney (cancelled, but a special luncheon just for the "WTO" has been scheduled in its place), and to devise a whole new approach to the problem of representing the problems of free-market orthodoxy.

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On July 6, 2001, an email arrives at GATT.org from a television producer with CNBC Marketwrap Europe. The producer wants a representative of the WTO to debate an “anti-globalization” activist (possibly Naomi Klein) live in front of millions of TV viewers. The date: July 19th, the eve of the G8 protests in Genoa.

 

Andy and Mike are already in Paris, where Andy lives and works full-time; they are preparing to drive to Genoa to attend the protests. It is decided that Andy will go on the air from CNBC's Paris studio, linked by satellite to the main studio in London. Good: should Naomi want to punch him in the nose for the nasty things he’s going to say, she will be more than an arm’s length away.

 

On July 19, 2001, Andy dons his somewhat threadbare business suit and tries to look as mean and serious as possible. Unlike “Dr. Andreas Bichlbauer,” who smiled and laughed politely in Salzburg, “Granwyth Hulatberi” is more agitated, without a hint of joviality. Andy finds the TV studio and strides purposefully in. The technicians put a microphone on his tie and an earpiece on his ear. Andy sits in front of the camera. The open window behind him frames the Arc de Triomphe, a perfect symbol for the unabashed arrogance he feels welling up in his breast.

 

The cameras roll. “Granwyth” is live on CNBC’s European Marketwrap Europe, along with host Nigel Roberts, activist Barry Coates from the World Development Movement (Naomi Klein couldn’t make it), and the other guest: Vernon Ellis, the International Chairman of Andersen Consulting.

 

Ellis seems to be on his own planet: “I do believe that multinational corporations can be good for business,” he responds when asked whether the protesters might have a point.

 

Unlike Ellis, “Granwyth” doesn’t have anything to hide, so he explains what the WTO has in mind for people like Barry. With privatized education, Barry’s children won’t think the way Barry does. They will understand why free trade is good, and they will honor great thinkers like Darwin and Milton Friedman instead of Robespierre and Abbie Hoffman.

 

Andy does agree with Barry’s simple facts: dire reports of growing poverty in the world are of course correct. But Coates and the other protesters don’t understand the theories well enough. Markets are still the answer no matter what the cost. For example, a market in human rights violations can allow countries that want to abuse people to buy “Justice Vouchers” from those who don’t. Might makes right, Andy concludes: the rich are right because they have power, and the poor are wrong because they don’t.

 

In London, Barry Coates can barely contain himself, rolling his eyes in disbelief and almost losing his composure each time Andy opens his mouth. Despite this, Coates manages to respond articulately and patiently, explaining how the WTO is making the poor poorer and the rich richer.

 

Andy leaves the studio and rushes to catch the night train to Genoa, where Mike has already joined one of the largest and most colorful demonstrations in history—and one of the bloodiest police riots ever. Days later, the producer sends Hulatberi a videotape of the debate along with a friendly word, and no indication whatsoever that he noticed anything wrong.

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Beyond the Golden Parachute

 

In January of 2001, the organizers of a "Textiles of the Future" conference in Tampere, Finland send an e-mail to GATT.org asking for a WTO representative to deliver their keynote address. Andy and Mike are glad to oblige, and the organizers are delighted.

 

This time, Mike and Andy decide to cook up more drastic fare. The lawyers in Salzburg and the TV producers of “CNBC Marketwrap Europe” hadn’t noticed anything wrong with a clearly berserk WTO; these people clearly need something more visual that will demonstrate without words what the WTO is about.

 

Mike's friend Sal, a costumer to the stars, loves a challenge, and is willing to work for a significantly substandard wage, just this once....

 

Arriving in Tampere, Finland (having relied on the kindness of Helsinki activists to cheapen the costs of the trip), Andy and Mike suddenly find out they have completely forgotten about time zones. They get to the conference just as their session is due to begin; they race to the bathroom and frantically change Andy into Sal's elaborate costume, over which they carefully zip up a velcro-seamed business suit.

 

In his keynote address, Andy presents a short history of their field to the textiles scientists, engineers, and managers in attendance. First he describes how the US Civil War—fought over the textile, cotton—was a great waste of money, because slavery would have been replaced by its infinitely more efficient version: remote sweatshop labor, such as we have today. He then goes on to call Gandhi’s spin-your-own-clothing revolts misguided and naive, but he places equal blame on the British: if they had only seen that the Indians craved homespun fibers, they could have included that in their product line.

 

The only problem still remaining with the efficiency of today’s sweatshops, Andy continues, is a lack of control over workers. A manager in New York cannot constantly monitor workers in Rangoon. But there is a technological answer. He spreads his arms out, and Mike rips off Andy’s breakaway business suit to reveal the management solution of the future: a shimmering golden leotard—which, when Andy pulls a rip-cord in his crotch, sports a three-foot-long golden phallus.

 

Andy explains that this tool, the “Employee Visualization Appendage,” will allow the manager of the future to watch and control far-off workers while engaging in healthful leisure activities.

 

The goal of this performance, of course, is to clarify how dangerous it is to equate human freedom with a free market. Demonstrating visually the logical conclusion of neoliberalism, Mike and Andy hope to make their audience think twice.

 

Instead, the audience rewards Andy with a healthy round of applause, but no questions. A reporter takes photos. The conference leader thanks the WTO for its presentation three times in public, and seats Andy at the table of honor, right across from his daughter. All day, in fact, Mike and Andy come up again and again against a blank wall: a couple of people admit being mystified by the appendage, but no one is bothered by the content of the speech, including when they're reminded about the slavery issue. Finally they find one woman who admits being terribly offended—because Andy’s "Appendage" implies that only men can be factory managers too.

 

If the conference attendees blithely followed the Yes Men down such nightmarish paths, real business leaders must be able to convince these "experts" of anything. Which is exactly what they have done…

 
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