Live 8 - Making Poverty History? Or Entrenching Our Irresponsibility? By John Bunzl, Trustee, International Simultaneous Policy Organisation
The very name "Live 8" used for the rock concerts being held around the world on 2nd July to coincide with the G-8 meeting of the world’s richest nations indicates a focus on just eight politicians. It thus implies that just eight people could, if only they are sufficiently pressured, change the world by finally making poverty history. Bob Geldof KBE certainly seems to agree that these eight people have this within their power when, in referring to the original Live Aid concerts, he recently said, "We couldn’t change politics 20 years ago. It was a different world. Now it’s not a charity, it’s about political justice." Live 8, he says, "has to be this great national moment. This country gets to change the world and tilt it in favour of the poor. … These eight guys should to this thing." [i]
These eight guys should do this thing! Edit
Well, that would be nice. But can they? Does the G-8 really, genuinely, have the power to make poverty history? Does it really have that much power at all? Geldof and Bono by all accounts certainly think so. But are they not, perhaps, simply in thrall to the very attractive idea that some small group of people must have massive power and could change the world if only we put enough pressure on them? It’s tempting to think that someone must be in control of the global economy because, after all, aren’t our politicians supposed to be in charge of it? But how frightening would it be if we were to discover and to have to take on board the truth that no one is really in control; that the global economy actually runs on a kind of auto-pilot and governments and their appointed institutions such as the IMF, the WTO and the World Bank are merely puppets in a game over which they have no significant control? How frightening would it be, in short, to find that politicians and corporate executives are merely sitting in first class because there is, in reality, no pilot in the cockpit?
And it’s not just rock stars who seem to believe that a restricted group of politicians or business people have the power to change the world. The thousands of NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) that make up the ‘global justice movement’ and who consistently campaign against global poverty and other global problems all essentially adhere to the central tactic of blame, shame and protest to advance their cause. But blaming politicians or multi-national corporations inevitably carries with it the implication that they act wholly out of their own free will and thus have the power to change their behaviour. Blame implies power. After all, why else blame them?
It may be true that politicians and their appointed institutions have some power to reduce or cancel debt and to increase aid to poor countries and doing so would doubtless provide some short-term relief. But if we have a genuine intention to make poverty history, we should recognise that aid and debt are merely symptoms of a global economy that isn’t working. It is not therefore politicians’ performance on aid or debt that will determine whether poverty is made history or not. Rather, we need to assess the extent to which politicians have any significant power over the deeper workings of the global economy itself.
Power Over Markets or Markets Overpower? Edit
If we look, firstly, at corporations, investors and business executives who are the global economy’s main actors and whose behaviour is often blamed for many of our global ills, lets consider whether they act purely out of their own free will and whether they therefore have the power to substantially alter their damaging behaviour. It should be clear that in a competitive global market any corporation or investor taking on greater social or environmental responsibility – and thus an increase in its costs - would only lose out to less responsible competitors causing a loss of its profits, a consequent loss of jobs and, ultimately, the prospect of becoming the target of a hostile takeover. Corporate execs are thus largely obliged to do what they do for as David Korten has accurately pointed out, "With financial markets demanding maximum short-term gains and corporate raiders standing by to trash any company that isn't externalizing every possible cost, efforts to fix the problem by raising the social consciousness of managers misdefine the problem. There are plenty of socially conscious managers. The problem is a predatory system that makes it difficult for them to survive. This creates a terrible dilemma for managers with a true social vision of the corporation's role in society. They must either compromise their vision or run a great risk of being expelled by the system."[ii]
And what about politicians and governments? With no barriers to capital and employment moving instantly to any country where costs are lower and profits therefore higher, how should we expect governments to unilaterally impose increased regulations or taxes on business when that would only invite employment and investment to de-camp elsewhere? This collective governmental fear has become so ingrained and accepted that it has long since attracted its own code-name. For whenever you see the phrase, "maintaining our international competitiveness", you will be witnessing an unspoken inter-governmental race-to-the-bottom; a vicious circle which forces every nation to down-level social and environmental protection so as to better out-bid competitor nations for capital and jobs. It is therefore the global free movement of capital which drives the ever-widening gap between rich and poor and which explains why the environment is continually sacrificed at the altar of competitive economic growth. Such a political environment thus inevitably precludes the implementation of just the kind of measures needed if global poverty and so many other pressing global problems are really to be consigned to history. Because any government or restricted group of nations that moved first would lose out to all the others. And that is why nothing changes exept that our problems only get worse. Because governments, too, - even the G-8 - are largely powerless to buck the vicious circle of global capital flows over which they have no significant control.
International Competitiveness Emasculates Democracy Edit
Which party we may vote into government or what their pre-election promises may have been consequently no longer much matters. Once in government even Green parties are forced to jettison their most cherished policies in the name of maintaining their nation’s international competitiveness as the German Green party has shown. This is why party politics has become little more than an electoral charade in which all parties become ‘business parties’ and none can offer substantive solutions to global problems. While we may have the mechanics of democracy, the reality is a kind of pseudo-democracy in which whatever party we elect, the policies delivered inevitably conform to the profit-seeking demands of foot-loose global capital. There is no democracy; there is merely the illusion of political choice. Conventional party politics cannot therefore save us.
Even the WTO, IMF and World Bank whom we might expect to have a greater measure of control are, in fact, merely reacting to forces well beyond their influence. This encourages and justifies their close-held delusion that competition is an exclusively beneficial phenomenon. For in having no control over the global free movement of capital or corporations, and thus in accepting that state as a "natural given", what else can they do but recommend that each nation improves it’s attractiveness to global investors by implementing structural adjustment and privatisation programs? Taking their free movement as a natural given thus constrains these institutions to prescribe yet more competition as the cure to our global ills and not less. Sacrificing society and the environment thus becomes neatly and logically justified by the ever-present need for each nation to "improve its international competitiveness". In failing to realise that economic competition becomes destructive when it fails to occur within a framework of adequate global regulations which protect society and the environment, the WTO, WB and IMF serve only to exacerbate the problems they think they’re solving. They are not in control. There is no pilot in the cockpit.
Because we so often refuse to see what is so plainly in front of our eyes, I will repeat myself: There IS NO PILOT IN THE COCKPIT. There IS no restricted group of politicians who can change the world. Such is the nature of the vicious circle of global capital flows that the system runs all by itself. No pilot needed. No pilot available.
For all the good Geldof, Bono and the global justice movement have undoubtedly done to bring global poverty and other global problems to wider public attention, they ultimately do us a disservice by perpetuating the common belief that politicians have substantial power. After all why, despite all the promises they manage to elicit from politicians regarding greater debt relief, increased aid and so on, do global poverty and other global problems only get worse? It was to broadly this question that Bob Geldof, during his interview on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross (BBC 1,10th June 2005), rather limply answered: "I don’t know". For Bob Geldof and NGOs, the first crucial step to understanding why their campaigns have little, if any, lasting effect would be to finally take on board and accept that those they believed to have significant power simply do not have it.
Adolescence or Maturity? Edit
Very many of us would likely agree with the proposition that humanity’s aggregate mode of behaviour in the present age of scientific materialist globalisation, with its wars, grabs for natural resources, terrorism and unbridled consumption, is a sure sign that we find ourselves in the full flush of our species adolescence. Evolution biologist, Elisabet Sahtouris, notes ruefully that "Young species are found to have highly competitive characteristics: They take all the resources they can, they hog territory, they multiply wildly. Sound familiar?"[iii] Indeed, one of the traits of adolescence is the avoidance of reality; the propensity to ignore the unpalatable, to remain dependent upon others, to blame others for our problems and to expect others to sort out our own mess. In short, the hallmark of adolescence is the abdication of responsibility. By maintaining the illusion that politicians have the power to change the world on their own, by abdicating responsibility to them, and by encouraging us to think that all we need to do is to buy a little white wrist-band and go to a rock concert, Live 8 regrettably perpetuates our avoidance of responsibility. It encourages us to think that someone else – in this case eight politicians – can save the world for us.
Fortunately, the road out of adolescence and towards humanity’s adulthood is being pioneered through the work of a number of as yet little-known organisations whose supporters have taken the crucial step of releasing themselves from these delusions and who, in taking proper responsibility, realise that they themselves, co-operating globally with other citizens, must take the necessary action. They know that no one else can or will do it for us. One such group is the International Simultaneous Policy Organisation (ISPO)[iv] which offers a way for citizens the world over to firstly take back control of our hollowed-out pseudo-democratic processes and, secondly, a way we can co-create the policies necessary to achieve environmental sustainability and global justice. Finally it offers the crucial means for us to bring our politicians to implement them simultaneously so that no nation, corporation or citizen loses out to any other, thus allowing us all to escape the vicious circle of destructive global competition in which governments, corporations and citizens are presently locked.
By using our right to vote in a completely new way which makes it in the vital electoral interests of politicians to support Simultaneous Policy, it thus has the potential to turn the destructive, competition-led politics of globalisation on its head by offering global citizens a practical way to take back the world with a new politics of citizen-led, international co-operation for our emergent - but yet-to-be-born - sustainable global society. As Elisabet Sahtouris comments: "Simultaneous Policy is an imperative if we are to evolve humanity from its juvenile competitive stage to its co-operative species maturity. A wonderful ‘no risk’ strategy for finding agreement on important issues in building global community!".
It’s time we grew up.
John Bunzl – June 2005.
John Bunzl is the founder and a Trustee of the International Simultaneous Policy Organisation (ISPO).
Adopting the Simultaneous Policy is free! Please go to: http://www.simpol.org/dossiers/dossier-UK/html-UK/how_do_i_adopt_sp-UK.html
Simultaneous Policy: Re-Discovering Our Collective Humanity
[ii] When Corporations Rule the World, David Korten, Kumarian Press & Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1995.
[iii] Elisabet Sahtouris, adapted from Understanding Globalization as an Evolutionary Leap presented to the Institute of Noetic Sciences http://www.noetic.org/, July 2001. For more by Sahtouris go to: http://www.ratical.org/Lifeweb