there are alternatives
The United Nations has been holding in Geneva a World Summit for Social Development. The World Council of Churches has made a very helpful contribution to the UN's deliberations.
The World Council of Churches has published a dossier called "There are Alternatives to Globalization". It contains some startling facts about the growing gap between rich and poor.
For example, the world's top three richest people hold assets worth more than the combined gross national product of 48 developing countries. In other words, the world's three richest people have as much wealth as 600 million poor people. If you add in the next 197 richest people, then the total assets of those 200 people are higher than the combined income of 41% of the world's total population -- therefore those 200 people have as much wealth as that of almost three billion people.
Transnational corporations are the major players in the global economy. 70 per cent of all trade takes place within and between the corporations. They generate 80 per cent of the world's foreign direct investment. But they employ less than three per cent of the world labour force.
The World Council of Churches also has some interesting ideas to help the world's poor. First, workers should ensure that the capital invested in their pension and superannuation schemes is not being used to harm other workers. This means that all of us who have superannuation schemes need to take greater interest in where that money is being invested.
Second, governments and local companies should monitor and regulate the entry and exit of transnational capital. There is too much hot money just swirling around the world. We know all this very well in Australia because the Australian dollar is the sixth most traded currency in the world. The Howard Government has been claiming that the economy is strong -- and yet why is the dollar so weak? The answer comes from the speculation in foreign currencies that corporations carry out around the clock. They are driving the dollar down to suit their own speculations. They will drive it up in due course when they can find ways of making money out of it.
Third, there should be limits to the share of local companies that transnational capital is allowed to acquire. Australia should have had this advice decades ago. Unfortunately it may be too late because of the extent of the internationalization of the Australian economy. Australia is overshadowed by foreign investment.
Finally, international capital and government authorities should be held accountable for the damage they do to countries, such as the high rate of unemployment and damage to the environment.
This all sounds very idealistic. But there is a need for a new vision. The current economic system is not working well. Therefore we need to find alternatives.
It is too soon to assess what will be the impact of the UN World Summit. It is encouraging to see such a fine stand by the World Council of Churches in being a voice for the voiceless. The issues being discussed at the World Summit will not be resolved quickly. But the World Council's statement shows the sort of fundamental change that is required.
Keith Suter, June 2000
reprinted from PQ Broadsheet, October 2000