The Narrow Road to the Globalization of Solidarity
Jesus Christ said the road to life is narrow and few find it.
Has that road been opening up or narrowing down in recent years? And what obstacles has it overcome? This article summarizes some of the main milestones along this difficult trek.
Francisco Javier Ibisate, sj.
Now that we have entered the third millennium, the idea of “the end of history” as the only economic alternative has entered into internal crisis and is being subjected to increasing external criticism, because globalization is more about exclusion than inclusion. Globalization’s internal crisis, however, does not mean that its promoters have entered into a process of self-criticism. Self-criticism would amount to heresy as economic dogma doesn’t allow for such a thing. Instead, they say that the error lies not in the model, but in its bad application.
To which Luis de Sebastián replies: “It is always those who apply the model who are to blame, because they apply it badly. But if nobody is ever able to apply the neoliberal model well, could it be that the model is inapplicable? Might it be that the model and the policies it prescribes are actually harmful in the real world, which is the only world that exists? If the politicians and the political realities of emerging countries are responsible for the models and the economic measures derived from them not working well, then it should be the mission of those who design the models to take those well-known and analyzable realities into account. The world is full of imperfections that make it impossible to apply theoretical models in their pure form to any reality.”
At the same time, globalization’s “malaise” is increasing opposition to it, with increasing numbers of protesters active at all world summits and now transforming their protests into alternatives under the slogan adopted by the Porto Alegre Forum: “Another world is possible.” Since 2001, “Davos man” has been facing off against “Porto Alegre man,” with the alternative Porto Alegre Social Forum organized to coincide with the mainstream Davos Economic Forum.
Not all hope is lostAfter commenting that “private bureaucracies”—the big transnational companies—have become an extra-parliamentary government that is undermining human rights, Franz Hinkelammert announced the reemergence of hope. “Not all hope is lost,” he states. “More and more anti-establishment movements are appearing with the idea that another world is possible. They coordinate among themselves, but without trying to form a great unified movement. They don’t form political parties, although several parties support them. They promote a way of thinking based on alternatives, with a double orientation: to force the world system to reformulate its whole strategy of capital accumulation, known as the globalization strategy, and to respond to the despair increasingly expressed in irrational and directionless reactions.”
This movement is confronting the current world accumulation of capital because the now-global world needs to be defended from this strategy, which has become the worst threat to the sustainability of both humanity and the earth. In fact, this globalization has amounted the global pillaging of the whole world. Rather than globalizing the world, this strategy is globally destroying it.
The movement is booming and has acquired real legitimacy among world opinion, including many representatives of the powerful classes. It has a presence in all countries and among all sectors of the population. It is raising awareness of the current strategy’s fatal consequences for the future of humanity. While despair is leading to desperationb on the world level, with its irrational and senseless consequences, this movement is offering new hope, a way out, and is being noticed throughout the world.
A world to be built and enormous tasks pendingThe title of Luis de Sebastián’s book, A world to be built: Key points for understanding globalization (Madrid, 2002), echoes the Porto Alegre slogan. The introduction describes the current march towards a more human form of globalization: “The world is still to be built. History has not come to an end. Humanity still has enormous tasks pending. The kind of life that we know and that is possible for a few hundred million people is still an impossible dream for billions more. But humanity has the resources and knowledge to ensure that all human beings live a long, peaceful, meaningful, rich and worthwhile life. If not all human beings have such a life it is because we have badly organized the distribution of the means necessary for life. This bad organization of the world is a stimulus to keep on working.
“We have to feed millions of people. We have to cure millions of sick people who die from illnesses whose remedies we produce. We have to stop the dozens of fratricidal and invariably senseless civil wars that produce thousands of deaths and millions of refugees. We must put an end to the terror inflicted on populations by the murder of innocent third parties, to the slavery that has adopted new forms and terrible proportions, to the drug trafficking that is causing harmful effects among the young. I don’t know how anyone with their eyes open to what is happening in the world can possibly believe that we can rest on our laurels because there are no longer any important challenges for humanity now that communism has been defeated.”
Fortunately, the conviction that the world can still be built is increasingly penetrating the consciousness of wealthy societies. It is increasingly accepted—even among the world elites—that the process has not come to an end, and even that globalization is neither economically nor socially nor politically predetermined and can therefore be aimed at greater levels of humanity, equity and social justice. In fact, significant if small advances are being made in many fields that until recently appeared closed off to human compassion and rationality.
They are right taken as a wholeAccording to de Sebastián, globalization has generated a new kind of protest: “The new protests against the new costs and new victims of the globalization process are differentiated from previous ones because they are aimed against a diffuse, distant, unreachable power that neither dialogues nor negotiates with the man on the street and can only be accessed indirectly by taking advantage of the occasions in which it shows its face, such as the meetings of business people in Davos or the periodic meetings of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), NATO or other international organizations. Such circumstances make the protest movement a motley and somewhat chaotic one because the equations and demands are very varied, not always well articulated and not always compatible with one other.
“Nonetheless, the movement is of great historical transcendence; it cannot be ignored and the impulse that started it off is as real as life itself. The free expansion of the profit motive to all spheres of human life has created enormous injustice, discrimination, abandonment and abuse. It has to be recognized in order to stop individualism leading us to ruin and chaos. Not all of those involved in the anti-globalization movement are right, but they are right as a whole. And they have to be given the chance to express themselves in words and actions, opening up to their more realistic and reasonable proposals and trying to put them into practice.
The models need remodellingAt the same time that criticism of neoliberal economics was growing as the nineties progressed, so too was nostalgia for social and economic regimes that could be readjusted to the new context of the world economy as alternatives to the prevailing form of globalization. This constructive criticism comes from “upstream,” given that the 20th century was not only one of East-West confrontation, but also contained “the history of irreconcilable socialist brothers.” There are no prefabricated economic “models”; they have to be built. The founders of the social market economy, L. Erhard, K. Adenauer and A. Muller-Armarck, extracted important conclusions from the terrible experiences of the world economic crisis and the unbridled abuse of power incurred by the dictatorships of both Nazi National Socialism and Soviet communism in East Germany.
In western Europe, the welfare state was developed, inspired by the principles of socialism or social democracy, whose leaders came to power through the ballot box. This tendency opposes both giving the market a free rein and the dictatorship of an omnipotent party. For three long decades, these economic regimes achieved the highest growth rates, accompanied by equitable income distribution and social security. Democracy, social equity, the common good and solidarity were central to them. But after 1973, the economies of both the East and West entered into a process of world economic stagflation, while at the same time there has been a growing nostalgia for the past.
From the early nineties, this reasonable nostalgia has led to a proliferation of meetings that have criticized neoliberalism and presented alternatives to the “end of history.” A good example is the World Summit for Social Development held in Copenhagen in 1995, which stated “that development with social justice must be a commitment of the whole international community and every individual, because each of us is called upon to cooperate in building a more human and fraternal world.”
Economic “models” are made to be “remodeled” according to historical shifts and experience. Any “experiment” should be evaluated for two reasons: because the model chosen might not be the most suitable for that country’s particular historical moment and because internal and external forces or power groups tend to divert it from the agreed objectives and each social group tends to interpret them according to its own interests. Or, worse yet, if the model is imposed to defend determined minority interests with a veneer of democracy, liberty, human progress, justice and social peace, as appears to be case with neoliberal globalization.
From summit to summit: Empty wordsThe United Nations Earth Summit (Río de Janeiro, 1992), approved Agenda 21, which was promptly forgotten until the follow-up summit held in Johannesburg in 2002. The mode of production and consumption employed by industrialized economies is threatening to eradicate the natural resources, health and lives of millions of human beings. Over a billion people do not have any drinking water and almost 3 billion consume contaminated water. Some 30,000 people die as a result of drinking contaminated water every day, which is 10 times as many as died during the hateful September 11 attacks. In 1993, the Vienna Human Rights Summit took place, and its same rights were again insisted upon in the 2000 Millennium Declaration. The International Conference on Population and Development was held in Cairo in 1994 and the Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1996, where discrimination against women was presented as one of the world’s social blights. The issue of discrimination against women reappeared forcefully at the 2004 Mumbai Social Forum.
The documents produced by the United Nations in the run-up to the 1995 Copenhagen Social Development Summit stated that prosperous societies are those based around human beings. This statement was contrasted with the reality of globalization, in which poverty had become generalized, productive employment had decreased, social non-solidarity was on the rise and societies were atomizing.
The growing unemployment levels are generating a crisis that is economic, social and moral in nature, generating uncertainty and affecting governance. This is further aggravated by population growth, poverty, foreign debt and environmental degradation. The Social Development Summit passed by and few bothered to celebrate its anniversaries. It was said that the Summit’s main contradiction lay in the fact that while it talked of wanting to eradicate poverty it did not want to get rid of the neoliberal scheme. It is no surprise, therefore, that the representatives of some 2,500 nongovernmental organizations meeting together in a parallel summit pronounced that the official meeting was full of “empty words.”
The crisis of the Asian TigersAt about the same time, the world crisis of speculative financial capital erupted. The crisis emerged among “Asian tiger” countries and shook stock exchanges from Tokyo to Wall Street, rocking economies as different and distant as those of Russia and Brazil.
In a domino effect, speculative capital weakened the poorest economies that lacked solid monetary systems. Financier and philanthropist George Soros—a real expert in such matters—explained: “Although I have made a fortune in the financial markets, I now fear that the unbridled intensification of ‘laissez faire’ capitalism and the spreading of market values into all areas of life is putting our open and democratic society at risk. The uninhibited pursuit of self-interest produces intolerable inequalities and instability.”
Financial markets are unstable by nature. The same is even truer of international financial markets. And yet the idea that markets should be left to their own devices continues to be influential.
There’s no such thing as a “market society”The instability caused by financial speculation is not limited to the financial market. The goal of competitors is to dominate rather than to maintain competition within the market. The natural tendency of monopolies and oligopolies has to be limited with regulations. And it is up to the state to avoid the undue concentration of power and to safeguard stability. Since the end of the Second World War, the state has played a growing role in maintaining economic stability and has striven to guarantee equal opportunities and provide a social security safety net, particularly in the highly industrialized countries of Europe and North America.
But the Thatcher and Reagan governments started to reduce the state’s role in the economy. As a result, taxes on capital were significantly reduced while labor taxes have continued to grow. International economist Dani Rodrik states that globalization increases the demand on the state to provide social security while at the same time reducing its capacity to do so. Herein lie the seeds of social conflict.
This brings us to an even more crucial area: that of values and social cohesion. All societies need to have shared values. Market values do not serve this purpose because they only reflect what one participant is willing to pay another in a free exchange. Markets reduce everything to merchandise, including human beings and nature. Market economies can exist, but market societies cannot. In addition to markets, society needs institutions with social ends such as political freedom and social justice. Such institutions exist in certain countries, but not in global society.
People suffer, not governments In recent years criticism of this state of affairs has emerged from the centers of capitalism themselves. When the G7 members failed to find a solution to the world financial crisis during their 1998 meeting in Washington, World Bank president James Wolfensohn used a speech to talk about “the other crisis.” He proposed reaching further than financial stabilization and trying to deal with social problems: “We have learned that when we ask governments to take the painful steps to put their economies in order we can create enormous tension. It is people not governments that feel pain… We must learn to have a debate where mathematics will not dominate humanity, where the need for often drastic change can be balanced with protecting the interests of the poor… The problems are too big, their consequences too important, to be guided by the pat answers of the past, or the fads or ideologies of the day.”
Wolfensohn went on to warn that “today, in the wake of crisis, we need a second framework, one that deals with the progress in structural reforms necessary for long-term growth, includes human and social accounting, deals with the environment, deals with the status of women, rural development, indigenous people, progress in infrastructure, and so on… And we must ensure that the culture of each country is nurtured and enriched so that development is firmly based and historically grounded.” For Wolfensohn, “We must never stop reminding ourselves that it is up to the government and its people to decide what their priorities should be. We must never stop reminding ourselves that we cannot and should not impose development by fiat from above—or from abroad.”
Although these are rhetorical phrases, the speech’s value lies in its recognition of the weaknesses and errors of the policies recommended or imposed by the international institutions, the recognition that true human development goes further than the simple parameters of economic growth.
Davos: Capitalism’s elite Capitalism’s elite has met in Davos, Switzerland, every year since 1970. In 1999, over a thousand business leaders, some 300 political leaders—including 40 heads of government—and around 300 economics experts gathered there. The agenda of the Economic Forum that year was “Responsible globality: managing the impact of globalization.” The documents released prior to the Forum suggested a tense debate: “Globalization must acquire a social commitment so that it isn’t accompanied by the misery and exclusion of millions of human beings on the planet.”
The event’s organizers introduced the Davos Forum with a note of criticism, admitting that globalization had been run in an irresponsible way and that the problems created by it had resulted in a systemic crisis. They even stated that we would be condemned to a period of endemic and systematic chaos if new measures were not designed to tackle the crisis. The meeting’s main organizer, Klaus Schwab, proposed the need to create global and institutional mechanisms so that globalization can be successfully translated into a source of welfare for millions of people who have been condemned to misery and unemployment.
George Soros had said that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was not part of the solution but rather part of the problem, implying that it had not been adequately managed. Jeffrey Sachs said once in El Salvador that it is a frustrating institution, as it never admits when it has made a mistake. Whatever happens, it is right and everybody else is wrong. According to Sachs, this kind of arrogance is not permissible in an international institution. In another comment, which foreshadowed what would happen years later at the Seattle Summit, Sachs said that the management of international economic affairs could not continue to be the exclusive monopoly of the big powers, to whose meetings the representatives of the emerging countries were invited for decorative purposes only.
Once the 1999 Davos meeting had started, the IMF resisted being put in the dock. The prior comments did not generate any self-criticism aimed at correction. It admitted that the effects of globalization are increasingly disturbing almost across the world, but stated that globalization could not be controlled without breaking the market, resuscitating excessive governmental intervention and scaring off the innovators who create the technology and the investors who put up the money. In other words they told us that this globalization was unstoppable.
Seattle: The unease explodesThe “unease of globalization” finally exploded in Seattle, and Stiglitz’s theory that free trade is an intellectual fraud made history. Some 50,000 protesters invaded the streets of this US city, claiming that the World Trade Organization (WTO) was the Babylon of the second millennium, a kind of faceless and sinister organization turned into the motor force of a form of globalization that only favors the big multinationals. The protesters took to the streets to give a voice to those who have never had one and to make the WTO listen to it. They argued that the law of the multinationals does not amount to democracy and that small countries had to make themselves heard.
In line with the tradition established by other summits, the industrialized nations established the points of the agenda and their order in Seattle, while delegates from the emerging and developing countries were treated like stone statuary. It was in Seattle that the debate over the subsidies to European farmers (40.5 billion euros a year), which are similar to those received by US farmers (US$22 billion), first emerged as an issue.
The delegates from the poor and emerging countries exploited the only form of expression permitted them. The WTO norm establishes that the final agreement needs the unanimous vote of the 135 member country representatives. In Seattle, emerging and developing countries refused to sign some of the final agreements that had not been consulted with them. When private discussions dragged on and no information leaked out, delegates from the poor countries waited patiently in the corridors with no great expectations or illusions. They said they did not know what decisions were going to be made and that they would once more be asked to sign a text they would not even have the time to read. The African countries bitterly denounced their marginalization from the negotiation process. North Americans and Europeans applied a carrot and stick policy. The voice of those without a voice was expressed through their disagreement, which was interpreted as a victory. As a result, Seattle turned out to be half failure and half victory.
Subsidies: Hypocracy and genocideTwo years later, Stiglitz summarized the history of international trade in a letter to the G7 group meeting in Genoa. He said that the system of global trade was in trouble and that while the gospel of free trade was preached everywhere, it appeared that the countries weren’t taking any notice of their own message. Their markets remained closed to many of the products from developing countries and they massively subsidized their farmers, making it impossible for developing countries to compete. For Stiglitz, the G7’s message appeared to be: do what we say, not what we do.
Stiglitz transferred this criticism to his book Globalization and its Discontents. Critics rightly accuse Western countries of being hypocrites: they force the poor countries to eliminate trade barriers while maintaining their own, and stop poor countries from exporting agricultural products, depriving them of indispensable income through exports. One of the countries most responsible for this is, of course, the United States.
At the time, Stiglitz was president of the US govern-ment’s Council of Economic Advisers. “I fought hard against this hypocrisy,” he said. “It not only hurt the developing countries; it also cost Americans, both as consumers, in the higher prices they paid, and as taxpayers, to finance the huge subsidies, billions of dollars. My struggles were, all too often, unsuccessful. Special commercial and financial interests prevailed—and when I moved over to the World Bank, I saw the consequences to the developing countries all too clearly.”
What word can be used to describe the history of international free trade? Stiglitz often uses “hypocrisy,” while those who quite rightly oppose the ratification of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) talk of “neocolonialism.” In Davos (2001), the Indian director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, Vandana Shiva, stated that the globalization process, particularly the barriers put up by rich countries against the poorest countries’ agricultural products, constituted genocide on a scale unknown to humanity. She said that India had been lifting the last restrictions on imports since April 1, 2001, to comply with WTO norms, despite the fact that industrialized countries would not lift their own restrictions on textiles until 2005. Shiva also pointed out that we were paying a high price in terms of democracy, because “their” globalization is being answered with violence and they therefore need police states to defend this unjust deal.
Taking more with one hand than given by the otherThe differences over free trade that had existed in almost all of the world summits exploded in Seattle. In Doha, the European Union and the United States signed a commitment, but with no real will to comply. It agreed to reduce of all forms of export subsidies, with a view to their progressive reduction, but added that reduction does not amount to elimination. The 2003 Cancún Summit exploded the idea of the WTO as any kind of “development organization” because of the failure to comply with the Doha pact and because the United States and the European Union tried first to discuss “the Singapore issues”: investments, intellectual property rights, public services and free competition. The WTO thus went into hibernation, allowing US representatives to replace multilateral contracts with bilateral agreements.
In the 11th UN Conference on Trade and Development, held in Sao Paulo in 2004, Brazil organized the Group of 20 (G20) to oppose the rich countries’ agricultural subsidies. Later, in a meeting between representatives from the United States, Europe, India, Australia and Brazil, there was an attempt—in vain as it turned out—to resolve the tensions over agriculture. Brazilian President Lula da Silva took advantage of the situation to strengthen cooperation between countries of the South: “We could thus strengthen the construction of a new commercial geography in the world.” And he proposed suppressing reciprocal barriers without extending this advantage to developed countries. During the meeting, 44 countries signed this agreement and Brazil expects 40 others to join up. Developing countries are increasingly clear that rich countries take much more with one hand than they give with the other.
Davos 2000: An ephemeral optimismThe winds of change were blowing during the 2000 Economic Forum in Davos. The Forum’s organizers talked of a new beginning: of the “new economy,” electronic trade and, more concretely, electronic transfers from business to business, which would eliminate useless intermediations. This method would provide the force behind both growth and a change of economic and financial culture in the developed world. The organizers said they expected no clouds on the horizon. The world economy would grow by 4.5% in the year 2000 and the financial crisis was behind us. They pointed out that the euro had been consolidated and, above all, that the “new economy” of the United States was celebrating 107 months of the most sustained growth in its history. The new economy would ensure that future recessions would have a much smaller and less serious effect on economic activity, business profits and share prices.
The US representatives arrived triumphantly in Davos to come, to see and to conquer, while the Europeans listened like schoolchildren to the success of the Internet totem. The alarm was sounded by US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Stanley Fischer of the IMF. Fischer said he was nervous about the runaway US economy, which could be in for a drastic fall if current growth was not controlled.
In December of the same year, president of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, recognized that the US growth rate was probably close to zero. The epicenter of the economic earthquake was located in the stock exchange. Greenspan pointed out that the optimism of Davos 2000 had been overwhelming and generalized and that the participants had proclaimed unreservedly that the Internet, the source of economic growth in the United States, and the exuberance of the stock exchanges would lead to a new world prosperity. But, he added, in less than a year the stock exchanges had plummeted, particularly shares related to the new economy. Numerous Internet companies had folded and the US economy was cooling off fast, threatening to drag the economies of the rest of the world down with it.
Iraq in their sightsGeorge W. Bush’s first electoral victory represented a short pause, as the US economy entered into a serious slowdown, victim of internal and generalized speculation. One fact that should be seriously borne in mind: on November 6, 2000, the government of Iraq, the world’s second largest oil producer, transferred all of its petrodollars to the euro zone. Paul Harris of Columbia University and 2001 Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz wondered what would happen if OPEC were to change over to the euro. The record US current account deficit would be seriously affected, as would the US status as the main debtor nation.
Another fact that started to attract attention: in 2002 the Bush government diverted its radars from the evasive Osama Bin Laden, supposedly hiding out in mountains of Afghanistan, to train them on Saddam Hussein, who suddenly became the big threat. As you can’t declare war on a country for transferring its assets to the euro zone, it was necessary to resort to illusions and lies.
It was known from March 2003 that the “preventive war” against Iraq was based on illusion and lies. Bush’s first Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neil, stated that Saddam Hussein’s downfall was a presidential priority in January 2001, eight months before the September 11 attacks. And from then on, he said, the White House was announcing plans for troop deployments, war courts and the distribution of oil wealth. Today, it has been more than proved that the weapons of mass destruction used to justify the invasion and destruction of Iraq never actually existed.
The arrival of the new millenniumThe UN summit of November 2000 listed the host of problems facing the world at the end of the 20th century. The Millennium Declaration is at the same time a severe comment on the 20th century and what is already shaping up to be a failed commitment to the new millennium. It starts with “values and principles,” such as liberty, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature and common responsibility. With respect to solidarity, it states that world problems should be dealt with in such a way that costs and burdens are fairly distributed, according to the fundamental principles of equity and social justice. Those who suffer or who least benefit should be helped by those who benefit the most.
There was also a section dedicated to attending to Africa’s special needs. The African continent has blamed the rich countries for its poverty, pointing out the contradiction that the people of such a rich continent are so poor. Several African leaders have recalled how the European powers divvied up a continent so rich in natural resources in 1888. Is there any way of applying retroactive rights in this respect?
The summit also dealt with the issue of renovating the UN Security Council, which is hardly representative of the world’s demographic and political structure. But the five countries with the power to veto (the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain and France) opposed any suggestion of sharing power and only allowed another ten countries to join them on a rotating basis. This concentration of decision-making power, particularly the veto “monopoly” in which one veto is enough to annul any decision, allows war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity to continue being committed.
Later, in the 58th UN General Assembly Session (September 2003), a number of questions were raised: What good is the United Nations if it can’t ensure its resolutions are respected? How representative is the Security Council and what criteria allow it to decide on the use of force? Should the right to veto be preserved? Should we think about moving UN headquarters away from New York? What responsibility does the international community have when a state fails to protect its citizens? Only 90 of the 191 UN member countries have ratified the International Criminal Court’s statutes, including only 5 of the current 15 Security Council members. It has not been ratified by the United States, Russia and China, three of the five states with veto power. What security is there for the weak and what solidarity with the pain suffered in the world?
September 11: Greater insecurityIf the success of globalization is measured by the statements and agenda points of the Davos Economic Forums, then the “masters of the world” finally see a great number of clouds on the horizon. In Davos 2000 there was general euphoria over the “new economy,” which was in open recession by the end of the same year. The following year’s agenda was “to recover growth and reduce inequalities.” But something is obviously wrong when growth is decreasing and inequalities increasing. The Bush government did not attend Davos in 2001, where the experts were considering the possibility of a world recession.
The morally and humanly reprehensible September 11 terrorist attacks took place later the same year. By claiming that the attacks represented “the first war of the 21st century,” Bush introduced a dangerous rupture in the history of the new millennium as terrorism became “the world’s number one problem.” In this context, the Doha WTO meeting (2001) ended up little more than a pact of good intentions, with little will to actually fulfill them. One novelty did emerge, however. The peaceful protesters, tired of taking their protest from summit to summit, gathered together in Porto Alegre to transform their protests into an alternative proposal: “Another world is possible.” And Porto Alegre has been Davos’ rival or interlocutor ever since.
The 2002 Davos Economic Forum took place in New York, in front of the smoking remains of the twin towers. Its agenda consisted of the fragile economy and insecurity. It was said that the globalization of anger had accelerated with the rapid growth of social inequality. Economic considerations took second place as Bush relaunched his war against the “axis of evil,” including Iraq, Iran and North Korea. “History has given us the opportunity to defend freedom and fight tyranny,” he proclaimed, “and this is what our country will do. Some may grow tired. Others may become fatigued by our efforts for freedom. But not me, not my government and not our country.”
He was not willing to listen to Gorbachov’s measured reflection: “The victims of the September 11 attacks will not have died in vain if the world takes this chance to look at itself in the mirror, reflect on itself and establish a moral commitment without falling into panic.” But panic imposed itself and pushed aside any moral commitment.
War: The other face Other reflections were heard in Porto Alegre. Nobel Peace laureate Rigoberta Menchú said, “Since the attacks, social issues have been totally left aside as if American pain had overshadowed the pain of all suffering peoples.”
The Porto Alegre Social Forum declared that: “Following the terrorist attacks, which we condemn as we condemn all attacks against civilians in any part of the world, the United States government and its allies have launched a massive military operation in name of the war against terrorism. The terrorist war against Afghanistan is in the process of being extended to other fronts. It is the beginning of a permanent planetary war aiming to consolidate world domination by the US and its allies. The war reveals another brutal and unacceptable face of neoliberalism. In its attempt to protect the interests of big companies, the US government has arrogantly turned its back on the negotiations on the greenhouse effect (Kyoto), the antiballistic missiles treaty (ABM 1972), the Convention on biodiversity and the convention on racism. And it has once again demonstrated that it resolves world problems unilaterally.”
Is Bush’s zeal just a pretext?Even at the New York Economic Forum, the governments of Russia, China, France and other European countries reacted critically to Bush’s speech. The French foreign affairs minister said, “We are today threatened by a new simplism which consists of reducing all the world’s problems to the battle against terrorism…. That is simply not serious thinking. We cannot accept that idea…. If we don’t agree with American policy, we must say so.”
Perhaps the briefest and truest criticism came from Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey: “Today capitalism raises a question. In a word: Enron.” Financial cracks were beginning to open up in the US economy, caused by fraudulent speculation covered up by false audits and tax havens. The resounding bankruptcy of the biggest energy firm, Enron, not only tarnished the White House. Along with the bankruptcy of Global Crossing, the number one fiber optic technology company investigated by the FBI, Enron put the issue of speculative capital firmly on the agenda of Davos, New York and also Porto Alegre. Many writers started to question whether Bush’s warmongering zeal against the axis of evil might not actually be a thick veil thrown over the domestic axis of evil, given that several studies show that the string of fraudulent bankruptcies of so many big companies has done more damage to the US economy than the September 11 attacks.
Monterrey and Johannesburg:Given this context, the 2002 Monterrey Summit called by the United Nations and dedicated to “financing development and poverty alleviation” was pretty uneventful. Solidarity was conspicuous by its absence, despite the fact that the warm speech by France’s Jaques Chirac focused on “the globalization of solidarity.” But President Bush snuffed out that light. “We fight against poverty because hope is an answer to terrorism,” Buth said, adding that they were attacking the kind of poverty, indigence, lack of education and inefficient governments that often generate situations that terrorists exploit for their own particular causes.
Nothing out of the ordinary
It was a similar story at the Johannesburg Sustainable Development Conference, held just a week before the first anniversay of September 11. Agenda 21, signed in Río de Janeiro, remained in deep freeze. Environmental degradation was turning into the growing extermination of natural resources and a slow, but cruel form of “terrorism” against the health and lives of millions of people across the world. The Summit documents pointed to just how serious the problems were.
The alarm had been sounded a full ten years earlier in Río de Janeiro: the climate was heating up, clean water had become a scarce resource, dozens of species were becoming extinct and poverty was prostrating millions of human beings. It had also been warned that the main cause of the progressive degradation of the world environment was a model of unviable production and consumption, particularly in industrialized countries, which was extremely worrying because of the degree to which it aggravated poverty and imbalances.
The speeches by Chirac and Germany’s Schröder tried to catalyze world solidarity, particularly among the richest and most contaminating countries. They proposed a concrete commitment to ensure that 15% of world energy would be clean and renewable. Both offered their country’s technical and financial help to poor countries apply the new energy generating sources. But non-solidarity imposed itself when the United States—the world’s most contaminating country—again refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, arguing that it was bad for the economy. In addition, the United States and other oil producing countries refused to support the Franco-German proposal.
Davos 2003: Bush’s “holy war”“Building up confidence” was the main agenda point of the 2003 Davos Economic Summit. Confidence had been lost, and it was the worst thing that could be lost. The forum’s organizers sent the invitees the results of a survey of 36,000 people from 47 countries. The French newspaper Le Monde summed up the results as follows: “Company bosses are losing public confidence on a massive scale. Of all the different categories, the bosses of nongovernmental organizations are seen as most credible by most citizens (56%), followed by the religious leaders and leaders of the United Nations (42% y 41%). The least confidence was shown toward the leaders of the United States. And most citizens do not agree with the direction in which the world is going.” How can there be any confidence when the biggest empire is defending economic interests with tactics of war? People didn’t talk about the economy in Davos; they talked about the war, which continues to represent a threat to both the economy and humankind.
Bush’s speeches of March 6 and 16, 2003, were riddled with illusions, fallacies and lies. On March 6, he informed us that he was convinced the American people understood that when it was a question of security they would act when needed and did not need the United Nations’ approval to do so—or anybody else’s for that matter. He would not leave the American people at the mercy of an Iraqi dictator and his weapons. He also stated that he prayed every day and called on his faith to guide him and give him wisdom and strength. Bush is a victim of the worst kind of illusion, which turns him into an economic warrior engaged in a “holy war.”
The March 16 speech would later turn out to be pure invention. He told us that for over 10 years the United States and other countries had been involved in patient and honest efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime without resorting to war. The Iraqi regime had used diplomacy to win itself time, but reports gathered by the US and other governments left no shadow of a doubt that the Iraqi regime possessed and was concealing the most deadly weapons imaginable. According to Bush, it had already used weapons of mass destruction against its Iraq’s neighboring populations and against the Iraqi people, it profoundly hated the United States and its friends and had helped, trained and sheltered terrorists, including Al Qaeda agents. The United States had tried to work with the United Nations to deal with this threat in a peaceful way, but because the UN Security Council had not honored its responsibilities the US would take matters into its own hands.
The rest of the story is known to everyone and has turned the United States into the real “axis of evil.”
Cancún: A new blow to multinationalismUnfortunately, war tactics are now being applied to trade relations. In fact, they were used during the WTO’s Cancún summit. The failure of Cancún was a new blow to multi-nationalism and to the efforts being made to regulate globalization, because in a world dominated by a single superpower, the drawing up of universally binding common rules provides much more effective protection than a bilateral and unequal head-to-head with the United States.
Following Cancún’s failure, the IMF’s Horst Köhler commented that the blocking of international trade negotiations in Cancún certainly did not help strengthen world-level confidence. Trade was a powerful agent of world growth and poverty reduction and the key to successful negotiations lay in the hands of the leaders of the big industrialized countries, while agriculture was the key to decisive progress in those negotiations.
The World Bank’s Wolfensohn defended “a new balance among rich and poor countries.” He also commented that what happened in Cancún should be seen as an alarm bell, because the developing countries—over three billion people—found unacceptable a conception of negotiations in which they are expected simply to respond to proposals put forward by the rich countries. Two thirds of the developing countries depended on agriculture for their subsistence, while the richest countries spent over US$300 billion a year on agricultural subsidies and only US$56 billion on public development aid. World Bank economist Nicholas Stern, meanwhile, branded the rich countries’ system of subsidies as politically obsolete, economically aberrant, environmentally destructive and ethically indefensible, adding that it was time to put a stop to it.
Another world is possible… and desirableWhile the Porto Alegre Social Forums have always proclaimed that “another world is possible,” Davos 2004 surprisingly stated that “Another world is desirable.” It would seem that Davos is moving closer to Porto Alegre. Davos Forum directors Philipe Bourguignon and Thierry Malleret have stated that the world challenge requires the integration of three key objectives: cooperation, security and prosperity. They say that security is not possible without prosperity in the current world; that both objectives are inseparable. They also argue that global problems can only be resolved in a global way; in other words, including all of the key actors in the search for solutions. That, they point out, is the basis of the simple idea of the “inseparability” of the three notions. In this triangular correlation, the absence of one of the three ingredients compromises the very idea of progress. The reason for this, according to Bourguignon and Malleret, is that it is clear that we are experiencing a feeling of insecurity and that serious incidents with broad repercussions, such as September 11, could be repeated. As a result, they explain, most developing countries are paying a “Bin Laden surcharge,” which translates into billions of euros, military expenditure and millions of hours lost in airports due to increased security controls. Many industries and services are thus feeling the lash of terrorism, on top of over 15 conflicts between states, dozens of civil wars and latent inter-ethnic disputes.
The positive thing about these two authors is that they introduced the concept that Koffi Annan would call “human security” in the 58th UN General Assembly. Everybody is interested in improving “human security” because it is in that concept that security is related to prosperity. If 1.8 billion people are currently living on less than one dollar a day, is that just their problem? No; it’s all of our problem. Even leaving moral obligation to one side, it is advantageous for the rich countries to help the poor countries, because we are living in an increasingly interdependent global village. The poverty and frustration affecting others turn into things that threatens us: increased illegal emigration, greater environmental contamination, contagious diseases, fanaticism and terrorism.
There is a need to provide a broader meaning to the concept of prosperity. Not only is it the capacity of developing countries to maintain a normal growth rate; it’s also the ability to equitably share out the fruits of that growth. Moreover, it implies a mechanism capable of abolishing the terrifying gulf between rich and poor countries, which, despite what is said by the currently fashionable theory, is not a spontaneous process because rich countries are getting richer more quickly than the poor ones. The Internet, cell phones and planes have reduced the world and given us the feeling that everything is nearby. And in doing so they reveal problems that once seemed distant and under control.
Only through cooperationHow to solve global problems? How to improve security and prosperity at the same time? Through cooperation. There is no other solution, because, nobody, no group, no country, no institution has the means and the necessary legitimacy to tackle this immense task alone. The search for viable solutions currently demands a form of network government, a government centered on cooperation among business (institutions that generate value), politics (governments and parliaments) and extended civil society (nongovernmental organizations, unions and religious and academic leaders). Integrating business and civil society implies extending representativeness and with it legitimacy. This is very necessary because business and civil society are true world actors, as opposed to governments, which have the power to legislate, but act locally. This is a simple but very effective idea for formulating common solutions today for tomorrow’s problems.
The end of this summary raises the question of whether it will be possible to integrate the “other possible world” of Porto Alegre and Mumbai with the “other desirable world” of Davos. In January 2003, Lula da Silva talked first at Porto Alegre and then at Davos. It is said that his speech received the most applause. The following year, Joseph Stiglitz talked at both Mumbai (the site of that year’s World Social Forum) and Davos. In Davos he said that the axis of evil is poverty, AIDS and war. Could it be that the narrow road to the globalization of solidarity is opening up? That is both possible and desirable, but there are still only a few willing to find it.
Francisco Javier Ibisate, SJ, is professor of economics at the “José Simeón Cañas” Central American University (UCA) in San Salvador. The original text was published in the November-December 2004 edition of the UCA journal Estudios centroamericanos. This version has been edited by envío.