The Worldwide Neglect of Justice
By Ian McDonald
Guyana Journal, September 2007
If I was younger, and the fierce fire burned in me, surely I would be among the protestors against the new order. Even now, old as I am and the fire in me dampened and dimmed, I still think I should consider joining the next protest. Who would live in this world without protest when the following is happening?
The movers and shakers in society everywhere speak continually of "the engine of economic growth" and never mention "the engine of social justice." Yet the equitable distribution of the fruits of growth is as important as growth itself if the world is ever to become a half-decent place to live.
While 'globalization' is creating opportunities for those with the assets, skills and education needed to operate in increasingly cut-throat markets, it is leaving utterly behind those without assets, skills and education. Millions benefit. Billions are going under.
1.2 billion people live on less than US$1 per day. And for every new billionaire created in this marvelous new age of technological progress and swollen stock markets 100,000 souls sink below the poverty line. A majority of the world lives on less than US$2 per day.
The average income of the richest twenty countries is now thirty times that of the twenty poorest countries, compared with fifteen times forty years ago. When the 20th century began, the richest country in the world was nine times richer than the poorest. At the start of the 21st century, the richest country in the world was sixty-three times richer than the poorest. And what is evil is that those in power in the world show every sign that they are determined to maintain the trend. The world's 500 richest people have the same income as the world's poorest 416 million.
Capital is free to move where it will in the world to get the best return. Labor is not free to move where it will in the world to get the best wages. Why? Simple. The rich countries select the best from the developing countries to work in their countries and leave the rest to provide low-cost fodder for their free-roaming capital.
Within the rich countries, the disparities also grow. In the United States today the average chief executive earns nearly 500 times as much as the average worker, up from 42 times in l980.
Today, every day, 30,000 children will die of hunger, disease and the other consequences of extreme poverty. This is cruel, universal genocide practiced on the most vulnerable of our kind.
Democracy is about being represented and protected and having your living standards raised by democratically approved intervention in the economy. Who can doubt that this is steadily being replaced by global businesses using governments to manage people in the interest of getting the best possible deal for themselves?
Rich countries posture and prevaricate. Great plans are put forward for relieving the poorest of the poor of their debt and then doubts and provisos and exceptions pile up and what little is finally agreed ends up in internationally strung-out implementation schedules.
The rhetoric at the conferences is sickening. Grand goals were set "to reduce by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015 and to reduce infant and child mortality by two thirds by 2015." Who do they think they are fooling? The fact is that the rich countries' sweet words about aid and debt relief and poverty alleviation are largely a hoax. There is no real sign that their leaders, their businesses, and their taxpayers are really prepared to make the resources available to fulfill the rhetoric.
Rich countries relentlessly lecture the world, even the most vulnerable, small and unready poor countries, on the need to become competitive. So when small Caribbean countries, with few options to pursue, responded by becoming world-competitive in the financial services sector do you recall what happened? That club of rich nations, the OECD, alarmed at this entrepreneurial success because their own tax takes might suffer, threatened punitive action. No wonder the Barbadian Prime Minister Owen Arthur, the strongest and most articulate of Caribbean champions, angrily pointed out at the time, "This high-handed unilateral action poses the greatest single threat to the stability and survival of the smallest economies of the Caribbean." But he should really not have been surprised that a bitter fight had to be fought for rights which the rich countries tell us, in principle but never in practice, are ours.
These bullet points describing what is nothing less than a precipitous flight from a fair and decent world could be multiplied almost ad infinitum. The statistics of gut-wrenching worldwide poverty, the increasing gap between the rich and the poor both between countries and within countries, the accelerating exposure of the poor to AIDS, the continual retreat from real democracy in a world more and more directed by what the multinationals want, the overwhelming of local values and cultures the statistics and the information are available to anyone willing to do a little reading and a little checking beyond the institutional rhetoric in the glossy handouts and the establishment publications which preach the infamous "there is no alternative" doctrine.
It is time to protest. It is time for civil society to give strength to our governments in protesting. It is time to stand up whenever and wherever we can and echo and repeat the words of the late George Odlum, Minister of Foreign Affairs in St Lucia, in his passionate address to a WTO Ministerial Conference some years ago:
"No to globalisatiion without ethics! No to liberalisation without equity! No to globalisation without inclusion! No to liberalisation without human security! No to globalisation without rights suited to circumstances! And, above all, no to liberalisation without development! How can we, the world's deprived countries, be expected to come here to this WTO that was supposed to be the epitome of democracy to put the seal of approval on declarations that have been developed by 'Green room' procedures to which we have had no access; to discussions in corridors to which only the economic power blocs are really privy; to texts from which are expunged every vestige of the concept of development - with no sensitivity to the plight of the poorest and smallest among us? No, we cannot! We must halt, if not stop, this mad rush to human destruction in the name of 'liberalisation' - it is not the first time in history that virtuous words are used to describe vicious deeds."
(With permission. Previously published in Stabroek News, Ian On Sunday, September 2 2007.)