Discussion paper for Working Group C3, INES Conference, Stockholm, June 2000. Taken from The Lugano Report, Pluto Press, 1999, pp 181-8
ACCORDING TO PLAN
In mid-1994, as a supposed expert on North-South issues, I was invited to speak at a UNESCO Colloquium on 'What Happened to Development?'. The Director General was present as were various luminaries and official worthies of many nationalities who had, like me, been hovering around development debates for decades.
My turn came after many hand-wringing contributions on the proposed topic: no one could deny there were more losers than ever before, that the top 20 percent of humanity now controlled 84 percent of the assets (as opposed to 70 percent three decades previously) while the bottom 20 percent made do with a shade over 1 percent of the wealth; that there were more malnourished, sick, jobless, hopeless people than ever, that 'development' was an abject failure.
I said I was embarrassed to be the only optimist in the hall. In my view development had been a tremendous success. Those who did not concur were perhaps using the wrong indicators and incorrect benchmarks to measure success and failure.
I then proceeded to describe, giving chapter and verse, how debt and debt service had doubled in a decade, how dozens of countries were now subject to World Bank/IMF discipline and had been forcibly integrated into the global economy on largely unfavourable terms; how transnational corporations had found new freedom to invest and trade, how finance capital was rewarded as never before, how the powers of the State had been drastically reduced and privatisation become the norm, how massive income transfers from poor to rich both within and between countries had become well entrenched.
If, I asked, the commercial banks, the official creditors, the Bank, the IMF, the TNCs, the money managers and the global elites were happy, who were we to complain? How could anyone affirm that development was not a success when everything had gone exactly to plan? Were not those who expected in addition a fairer income distribution, an end to hunger, universal education and health care being immoderately greedy?
The reader will be only mildly astonished to learn that I have not been asked back, but at least I didn't play stupid games. Everybody knows perfectly well what 'should' or 'must' be done if fairer income distribution, an end to hunger, and so on are really the goals. The problem is not to persuade those who stand in the way of these outcomes that their policies are mistaken but to get power. The problem is not to repeat mindlessly what 'should' or 'must' occur but to ask two simple questions:
--Who is responsible for the present crisis?
--How can we make them stop?
Get power to do what? This question is more difficult than it might seem. I'm not happy with the ambiguity of the pronoun 'we', but I will use it here to encompass all those who reject The Lugano Report philosophy, are prepared to resist with whatever means they have at hand and are willing to fight for a different politics and a different world, not perfect but different.
In my view at least, the situation is fairly straightforward: 'we' have to find a way to stop people who will stop at nothing. Nor is the issue mere individual ruthlessness: transnational capital can't stop. Thrust forward by TNCs, uninhibited financial flows and "free" trade", it can only move towards an ever-more malignant stage, continuing to devour human and natural resources as it undermines the very body--the planet itsef--upon which it depends.
Proposing codes of conduct and voluntary restraint to protect people and nature is laughably [or weepingly] inadequate et l'auto-régulation est une sinistre plaisanterie dans la mesure où aucune instance extérieure ne peut contraindre l'entreprise à la respecter. Les habitants des communes françaises de l'Atlantique sur lesquelles se sont déversées les tonnes de pétrole de l'Erika seront surement heureux d'apprendre que la société TOTAL-FINA a promulgué une magnifique "Charte Sécurité Environnement", signée Thierry Desmarets. Cette Charte précise qu'"Aucune priorité économique ne s'exerce au détriment...du respect de l'environnement...Le Groupe choisit ses partenaires industriels et commerciaux en fonction de leur aptitude à adhérer aux règles de TOTAL en matière de sécurité et d'environnement..." Voire.
Nature and people will be confiscated and destroyed insofar as their appropriation allows the cancer to spread for a while longer. This is why the stakes keep rising; this is also why it is fruitless to ask TNCs to do a little less harm: we have to oppose what they are.
Faced with immensely powerful, non-transparent, unaccountable TNCs and the global governing structures they are putting in place to serve their interests; the burden 'we' must shoulder in the coming century is nothing less than the invention of international democracy. The alternative is totalitarianism and the Lugano solution; the choice is between their rules and ours.
We are in a smiliar position to that of the Americans or the French in the mid-eighteenth century. They too were groping, not entirely sure how to escape an absolutist monarchy and move to a national democracy; to change their status from subjects to citizens. They didn't have a perfect blueprint (no one ever has) and finally they had to fight. I don't know if our century is more mature, if we can invent non-violent solutions and succeed without bloodshed, but I know that this is not the end of history and that we must try to put down transnational tyranny before it puts us down. Like our ancestors, we must move from subjecthood to citizenship, from being victims of the corporate invisible government to being actors in our own destiny.
Shifts in the balance of power require assessing one's numbers, forces and capacity for making alliances. The numbers are there--geographically separated and politically divided, but there. The Working Party is quite correct from its own standpoint that separateness and division must be encouraged. Although 'we' are generally only too happy to comply, perhaps they can be surmounted.
The forces should be sufficient as well if only because of the great numbers of social sectors that stand to lose from arbitrary corporate power and transnational tyranny. The alliances are trickier because they must be trans-generational, trans-sectoral, trans-boundary and sometimes trans-political, often making for the strange bedfellows.
In the US, it took the right and left joining forces to defeat the President's 'fast-track' authority (to sign free trade agreements into law with no amendments from Congress). Les américains de gauche, pragmatiques, n'ont pas eu d'états d'âme à ce propos. En Europe, une certaine "pureté Marxiste" est devenue en revanche une arme pour freiner le changement. Ainsi, quand une Arlette Laguiller, député européenne de l'organisation française Lutte Ouvrière, vote contre la Taxe Tobin sous prétexte qu'il ne s'agit que d'un amenagement du capitalisme, elle joue parfaitement le jeu de ceux qu'elle prétend combattre.
La logique est impeccable: le capitalisme est un système mondial cohérent et unifié qui ne peut être démantelé que tout entier; aucune réforme partielle ne saurait l'entamer. Les souffrances qu'endurent telle ou telle catégorie sont le produit de ce capitalisme global; mais hors de sa disparition intégrale, il n'y a aucun remède, aucune alternative. Autrement dit, c'est une recette d'impuissance et de désespoir. Les néo-libéraux ne disent pas autrechose: devant la mondialisation, aucune nation n'a le choix; toutes doivent se plier, libéraliser, privatiser et déréguler. Les mouvements de protestation, le sursaut citoyen n'ont plus d'objet car l'histoire est du côté des forces du marché. Si bien que Marx est peut-être devenu le meilleur apologiste de la bourgeoisie mondiale...
Passons: Il n'en demeurent pas moins que les alliés potentiels, in a truly bizarre twist, may even be ... transnationals. The insurance industry, for example, is exceedingly worried about global warming because it increases the frequency and intensity [and thus the cost] of tropical storms. One needn't agree on everything to work together on something, although I draw the line at major predators and polluters. Let them earn their stripes somewhere else, through their own efforts before using popular movements as figleaves.
In spite of the obstacles, the positive side is that everyone can, should become involved because the task of all tasks is to reweave the social fabric that neoliberalism is rending. It's no good saying, 'But what can I do?' I can't do anything, I'm only ......' Fill in the blank. We are all 'only...' Each one can become a thread of the warp or the weft. Every bridge built, every channel dug, every pathway worn goes somewhere and helps to recreate the human landscape.
Myriad activities are taking place at the local level as people fight here a toxic waste dump, there an intrusive, unnecessary highway, elsewhere a plant closing. Some of these initiatives can be linked, for example through the promising Sustainable and Self-Reliant Communities Movement. The more economic activities that can be recaptured and withdrawn from the transnational orbit the better.
Dozens of towns of different sizes are already experimenting with locally held joint stock companies to supply goods and services satisfying local needs; countryside-to-town food coops directly linking farmers and consumers are being set up, community banks are viable, Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS) are flourishing, dozens of alternative currencies are already in circulation.
People fighting for the well-being of their families and their communities do not necessarily think of themselves as 'political activists' or 'environmentalists'. Neither did their predecessors in the nineteenth century when they fought against children working in the mines, adulterated food and milk or an end to the twelve hour day and demanded the right to rest on Sundays. All such struggles concern at base the integrity of the human body, whether the target is an incinerator in South Central Los Angeles, smog in post-War London or rats in Brazilian slums. Sometimes those who do call themselves environmentalists should think more about the human body, shape their issues in order to defend it and frame their arguments in terms everyone can understand.
Some maintain that changing the scale and 'going local' are enough. I disagree, however much I encourage these initiatives. Unless we can make sure that the State retains its prerogatives, I can't see who will stand between the person on the ground and transnational tyranny. Without the State--though not necessarily the one we have now--it will soon be McSchools, McHealth and McTransport.
Strengthening local and national democracy; creating dissident, parallel economies are paramount and something in which everyone can participate. The toughest task will still be to create alternative globalisation, which some organisations are beginning to call Cooperative Globalisation. For them, the concept means not a return or an escape to the local but as an effort to rebuild the global economy from the bottom up, on the basis of healthier, more equitable societies.
There are literally thousands, millions of jobs available in the 'social economy' or 'third sector' between public and private but so far most governments can't see them because they exist chiefly in the form of unmet needs. Brazilian workers, for example, are inventing the 'socio-economy' or 'public non-State sector' based on cooperatives with a wide range of forms of ownership and management which can cooperate and trade with each other to avoid dog-eat-dog competitive market relations altogether. They have already linked to Uruguayan and Spanish workers' cooperatives organised along similar lines.
The Fair Trade movement is also gaining ground and members. Best known for 'alternative' tea and coffee supplied to the North by Southern workers' coops, it is now moving well beyond this first stage to supply supermarkets and collectives (municipalities, universities and the like). In Britain, Christian Aid, using customer pressure, is encouraging supermarkets to take responsibility for the conditions under which the items on their shelves are produced in the South. University students and professors are asking their dining rooms to serve organic food grown by local producers and to supply fair-trade beverages. If you join with others, you can use your consumption to promote justice.
Trade unions are also beginning to organise transnationally. When workers run in the race to the bottom, everyone loses. If they could achieve company-wide unions across the globe, they could successfully challenge corporate power. The point is to bring wages and working conditions worldwide up to decent levels, not fight one another for crumbs; floors, not ceilings,
A French humorist once wrote, 'When it's money you're after, look for it where it is most abundant, among the poor'. Governments now do this more than ever because the poor are rooted, stationary, 'slow'; whereas the big money is nomadic and travels at the speed of bytes. Stationary money (of local businesses, professionals, wage and salary earners) will be taxed to the limit for the simple reason that it can be got at.
The only way to pay for everything that needs doing--eradicating hunger, environmental renewal, health and education for all--is to go after the money where it really is, among the TNCs and on the financial markets. Many proposals for the so-called 'Tobin Tax' on international financial transactions [FOREX] have been floated. Coupled with a trifling purchase/sales tax on stocks, bonds, options, and their fancy derivative cousins could put money in the coffers of the UN and its agencies faster than they could spend it.
But to earn the privilege of spending it, those agencies too would have to become responsible and accountable to someone besides transnationals and their own handpicked Boards of Governors. The UN and the TNCs now meet in cozy settings like the Geneva Business Dialogue [a joint venture of the International Chamber of Commerce and the UN], the Transatlantic Business Dialogue [heads of TNCs and top national and international officeholders] in multiple "consensus-building" exercises. If international bureaucracies want to escape charges of favouritisme, they should insist that other groups also be invited in sufficient numbers to make sure alternative voices are heard.
If international taxation is instituted, citizen organisations should have a say in how the money is spent, specific proportions could be allocated to co-ops and other decentralised enterprises and to democratically elected governments of poor countries making efforts to supply health and education to their people. Such taxes will not happen by magic but could be instituted if enough governments are told loudly and clearly by enough citizens that they want the tax burden shared.
One could start by financing a huge international Keynesian environmental conversion and cleanup programme. Ecological taxation is the only longer-term solution to environmental destruction. The old principle is applicable internationally: Tax what you want less of, de-tax what you want more of. De-tax employment and revenue, tax pollution and waste in order to push business onto the right environmental track.
Does all this mean that focusing on world population is unimportant? No, population is a genuine, deeply troubling issue. But unless one wants the Lugano Solution, one must take seriously the Report's chapter on Prevention in which several avenues are charted. The most effective is to supply education and choice for women, impossible under current structural adjustment austerity programmes.
Some basic rules apply whatever the path of action chosen: first identify the goal and the obstacles that stand in the way of reaching the goal. Seek to organise as many stakeholders as possible to achieve it. Then remember the wisdom of the ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu: Do not do what you would most like to do. Do what your adversary would least like you to do. Act transnationally whenever possible: the threat is transnational, so must be the riposte. With internet connections now so simple, we too can be 'fast people'.
People organised in transnational alliances can go a long way to shaping the future but I also believe that events will conspire to overturn strategies like those proposed by the Lugano Report. I hasten to temper this apparent optimism by pointing out that the circumstances are likely to be quite dire and I wish they could be avoided. This Annexe is about alternatives so I shall not describe my fears in detail; still I want to be on record concerning economic/financial meltdown, or what the Working Party calls a 'global accident' and social upheaval on a grand scale. Houses of cards tend to collapse and the 'self-regulating' market, as Karl Polanyi saw decades ago, will tear society apart.
Finally, if further moral grounds are thought to be needed for opposing transnational tyranny, one may turn to John Rawls' Theory of Justice. Before you choose the basic principles that should govern it, imagine society from the point of view of someone who is ignorant of his or her own place in it; of the talents and opportunities with which he or she will be gifted in life. You would then choose a world in which 'social and economic inequalities (are) arranged so that they are to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged'. You would surely not choose a world subject to the logic of the Lugano Report. Either we fight against poverty or we shall one day fight against the poor. There is a choice.