Fight fire with fire
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Date: 20 August, 2003

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'Whereas the current system demands that all nations paradoxically out-compete each other, the Clearing Union would encourage rich countries to channel their trade surplus back into those with a deficit.'


The Age of Consent - A Manifesto for a New World Order by George Monbiot

Fight fire with fire. Monbiot's message is loud and clear. To be effective the Global Justice Movement must unite behind a manifesto that out-globalises the globalisers. Unless we make the global project our own, democracy doesn't stand a chance of challenging the free-market fundamentalism that crucifies the developing world.

Monbiot doesn't pull any punches: poor nations should blackmail western powers by threatening to default on the debts imposed by the IMF and the World Bank.

It's like judo. Collectively, indebted nations can use the power of their exploiters to bring them to their knees. By resorting to this threat of economic chaos, the poor have the clout to insist that today's neo-colonial model is scrapped. For Monbiot, the most viable replacement would be an International Clearing Union as developed by the economist John Maynard Keynes.

Whereas the current system demands that all nations paradoxically out-compete each other, the Clearing Union would encourage rich countries to channel their trade surplus back into those with a deficit.

The hypocrisy of the rich world cannot continue. It gives its farmers $1 billion a day - six and a half times what it gives to poor nations in the form of aid. Farmers sell their food more cheaply than it costs to produce; and make a profit by dumping these goods overseas. Local producers go bankrupt.

Indebted nations slash spending on education and health. School fees in Ghana stop two-thirds of rural families sending their children to school. In Zambia, infant mortality has doubled since 1980, due to cuts demanded by the US. For short-term gain, we risk long-term anarchy.

The title of the book refers to the ideal of democractic participation lost in the stand-off between governmental coercion and radical dissent. Its destiny is a 'metaphysical mutation' that will sweep 'irrational' notions of national identity into the dustbin of history and teach us to live as one. This is where Monbiot and I part company.

What is it about the left? Its attitude towards humanity is like the cliché about people and their partners: 'You're perfect - now change!' We need to transform economic policies, not human nature. Monbiot should have trashed the utopian twaddle and fleshed out his facts with the voices of those on the ground.

Without such reportage, Monbiot's attempts at rabble-rousing fall rather flat. His concluding question: 'Well? What are you waiting for?' sounds more like a telling-off from a tetchy headmaster than a passionate plea to lead us into a secular rapture of human solidarity.

Metaphysical madness aside, this is an invaluable guide to what the future could be. Monbiot has comprehensively answered the right-wing canard that the Global Justice Movement only knows what it doesn't want.

At times it's a struggle to understand the intricacies of his proposals for political and economic reform. But the headache is worth it. There is no more critical debate than how to close the gap between the rich and the poor. As Monbiot says: what is realistic is what happens. So let's make globalisation work for the world.