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Exposing World Trade

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If capitalism and globalisation are such good ideas,  bringing equality and quality of life to all, then why are there still so many examples of the poorer, developing nations of the world getting a raw deal as a result of the actions of rich, powerful, developed nations? Here are just a few;

 

Ghana used to be self-sufficient in rice. Now, the only rice available there is the polished white rice from America, and Ghanaian farmers, without a market either at home or abroad, are reduced to poverty. Who moved the goalposts?

 

Cambodia, Bosnia, Vietnam and Angola all have vast numbers of unexploded mines scattered around the countryside, maiming innocents daily. Who supplied the mines?

 

In countries such as China, Thailand, Philippines, and India, child labourers on miniscule wages continue to work in appalling, often dangerous conditions, to make branded goods for the west. Who buys these products?

 

In countries like Sierra Leone and Equador, large multinational corporations are exploiting countries valuable resources with the use of workers from said countries in return for pitifull wages and deplorable working conditions.

Millions are left without education, or food, or fresh water, because their countries are too debt-burdened to cover the basic needs of their own people. To whom are they in debt?

The answer, in each example and many more like them, is the Wealthy West.

To challenge the status quo and protest about specific injustices, people form groups, pressurise politicians, and actually go out and try to change the way things are. I take my hat off to them all.

But there are some crucial issues being missed; meta-issues, if you will, that over-shadow the details and call into question the wisdom of tweaking the edges of a system that is so deeply and fundamentally flawed. The main meta-issues are;

 

Continuous economic growth is seen as good. It’s not that simple. From a global perspective, infinite growth on a planet with finite resources is clearly impossible, yet we rarely see this very obvious conclusion being raised and faced.

 

The use of GDP as a principle measure of growth is flawed. GDP measures ALL expenditure. If an oil-spill needs to be cleaned up, those millions feed into the GDP number. As does the cost of a new prison. As does the compensation paid to victims of crime or negligence. As does money spent on the ‘War on Terrorism’, the War on Drugs’, or whatever snappy name the latest conflict is given. GDP growth is sold to us as a positive thing, when clearly some of its components are very negative.

 

The idea of growing ever more food to feed the hungry is flawed. There is a well-proven population phenomenon, one that can easily be reproduced with mice in the lab, which is that a population will grow and shrink in direct relation to the food supply. Produce more food and the population increases. Reduce the food supply, the population shrinks. Stabilise the food supply and the population stabilises. On a world that is already over-populated, it makes no sense to grow more food, thereby making population growth inevitable. What DOES make sense, however, is to sort out the distribution of existing stocks and supplies so that the hungry of the world are fed.

 

An attitude of short-termism is endemic in our world, and is at the root of many of our economic and environmental woes. CEOs are focused solely on producing good figures for their shareholders and for the City by the next AGM, or certainly by the time they come to step down. Governments are focused on leaving their mark within their limited time-span in office. Few of these people wielding the power see the world for what it is; a world that has existed for billions of years as a unique miracle in this vast Universe (as far as we know) and will exist for eons to come. Few think, as the Native American Indians do, that we are just here as custodians of a heritage far, far larger than any of us, and that we have a responsibility that stretches back ‘seven generation of our ancestors’ and forward ‘through seven future generations’ THIS is a realistic timescale on which to be operating, not to the next bonus cheque, the next election.

 

Closely linked to short-termism is the ego meta-issue. When individuals operate from the ego, their focus is on self-aggrandisement and self-enrichment. It’s the reason why the so-called developed world continues to squeeze the developing world in every way possible.

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Clearly, a system of globalisation and world trade that has these fundamental flaws at its very heart has to be radically altered, if not scrapped and replaced. Tweaking is just not going to do it.

Overseeing the globalisation process are three organisations (or perhaps one organisation with three faces); the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). They are all portrayed as neutral, impartial bodies with the very best intentions at heart. This is little more than spin. Whilst the principles with which they were created may be sound, the bodies we have today, and their actions, are far from sound, or sustainable. Regardless of what they are meant to do or be, this unholy trinity are, in effect, unelected, accountable to no one, with unprecedented power over the lives and livelihoods of 6 billion individuals. (Don’t fall for the idea that they only work at a national level; what are nations other than loose collectives of individuals within man-made boundaries?) And their actions are almost always heavily biased in favour of the West, and to the detriment of developing nations.

If you find this hard to believe, one only needs to look at the way in which a typical WTO meeting works. The dice are heavily loaded against the poorer nations from the start. Sure, every country has a vote. But the rich nations send in teams of lawyers, advisors and lobbyists to ensure they strike the best deal for their own ends, whilst the poorer nations are lucky if they can afford to send a single representative. Advisors and lawyers are way beyond their means. Alternatively, consider this; the World Bank has a single majority shareholder, with a 51% controlling stake – the US Treasury Department! Calls into question the neutrality and impartiality, don’t you think?

Their actions are frequently questionable on all sorts of levels. For example, the World Bank have supported and funded a number of hydroelectric dam projects around the world. Most of these displace peoples, often minorities in their own countries, without consultation. Most are environmentally destructive on a massive scale. Most will produce more power than will ever be needed. From any sensible viewpoint – human, environmental, economic – these projects would never see the light of day. Alas, the World Bank queers the pitch and brings them to fruition, despite all the reasons not to, purely in order to bow to the wishes of the trans-national corporations (TNCs) involved in the construction and management of these dams. They want the work. The World Bank makes it happen.

(A note or two on TNCs. In 1970 there were 7,000 companies that operated in more than one country. Now there are 60,000. Such companies commonly conduct trade between their own subsidiaries in different countries; such trade now accounts for around two thirds of today’s global trade. And of the 100 largest economic units in the world, 51 are companies, and the remaining 49 are countries.)

The TNCs based in the UK are often in league with our very own Export Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD) in their dealings abroad. The ECGD are a government department, run out of the Department of Trade and Industry, which uses taxpayers’ money to provide insurance for companies exporting goods abroad. (Goods can include such major projects as dam construction). If the country they are exporting to defaults on a loan the UK taxpayer, via the ECGD, pays up. The country that has defaulted then has the amount of the loan transferred to its national debt, making the ECGD a major contributor to Third World debt. In fact, it is estimated that the ECGD is responsible for 95% of developing country’s bilateral debt owed to Britain.

Another example of how initial good intentions have been left far, far behind is the way in which the World Bank / IMF structure debt and repayment programmes. It is not simply an accident that the terms and conditions of international development loans keep the debtor in debt and in poverty for an extended period – it is actually part of the hidden agenda of the World bank / IMF. There is a direct comparison here between the actions of landlords in ages past who kept workers in debt for life – so-called debt slaves – and the actions of the IMF towards poorer nations of the world today. Not only are the developing nations saddled with impossible debts, but the price of the commodities that are their main sources of income are at their lowest levels for 150 years.

Free trade, globalisation and democracy are all fine ideas, and were conceived with some very sound motives behind them. Unfortunately, egos have stepped in and twisted all three concepts so they have become the shadow side of the original, and that is what we are living with today. That is what is at the root of all the issues mentioned in the first paragraph. Tackling the issues whilst ignoring the meta-issues is, to quote a phrase, like re-arranging the deck chairs on the deck of the Titanic.

There are no easy answers here, but a substantial part of the answer lies in authenticity. Business leaders think in the short term to satisfy the City but they, as individuals, often have children and grandchildren, and they are not blind to the implications of the destruction they wreak in the name of profit. There is an unresolved tension, a conflict within them as individuals. Similarly, politicians choose arms over hospitals to please an electorate and thereby get re-elected, but they know deep down that this will have an effect on them and their families at some point. A conflict again.

And again, it’s not just those in power. We all have hypocrisies going on within us, conflicts of ethical investing against a healthy pension fund, organic food against cheap-and-convenient, climate change concerns against driving a fast, thirsty car. Not being authentic is the only way these conflicts can exist. Therefore, in working towards authenticity, the conflicts get resolved. It is not possible for an authentic individual to live with them.

So, if s/he is genuinely, powerfully concerned about the global legacy being left to the children, the CEO will simply not allow the company to pollute, build arms, exploit developing world labour, or whatever in the name of profit. The authentic politician will fight tooth and nail to change the priorities away from ego-led posturing and short-term policies towards real, positive changes that will last through generations, to the benefit of EVERY ONE of the nation’s populace.

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So what is authenticity in this context?

As an individual, it’s about knowing, at a deep level, who we are, what we are about, what our responsibilities are (and here I mean the extended, humanity level responsibilities) and where our priorities lie.

On a business level, it’s about co-operation rather than competition; it’s not about ignoring profit, but about extending the scope of vision beyond pure profit to the so-called Triple Bottom Line – Profit, People, Planet.

On a governmental level, it’s about consideration of consequences and effects beyond the 3/4/5 year term in office, out to 3/4/5 generations hence.

Those organisations, companies and governments and those that are supporting and driving globalisation must get to a point, and fast, where the very obvious imbalances are redressed. Imbalances, for example, which favour developed over developing nations, which favour profit over people, profit over the environment, and short-term gain over long-term custodial responsibilities.

And let’s not forget that organisations, companies and governments are just collections of individuals. Authentic individuals make up authentic organisations, companies, and governments. The desperately needed shift to authenticity has to start at the level of the individual.

Das Kapital