Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Islam and the War on Terror

I meant to add this link to the last post but forgot to. It's to an excellent column by Timothy Garton-Ash on the way the west views Islam. The column is balanced and instructive and, in it, Garton-Ash examines 6 possible relationships between Islam and terrorism.

Very briefly, his possible explanations of the relationship are that:

1. The fundamental problem is not just Islam but religion itself.
2. The fundamental problem is not religion itself, but the particular religion of Islam.
3. The problem is not Islam but Islamism.
4. The nub of the problem is not religion, Islam or even Islamism, but a specific history of the Arabs.
5. We [the west] not they, are the root of the problem.
6. Whatever your view of the relative merits of the west and Islam, the most acute tension comes at the edges where they meet. It arises, in particular, from the direct, personal encounter of young, first- or second-generation Muslim immigrants with western, and especially European, secular modernity.

For what its worth (and I this is only my ‘working opinion’ – I’m no expert on the topic) I would argue that current tensions between the west and the Muslim world (and their manifestation in terrorism and the War on Terror) are a combination of points 1,3,4,5 & 6.

Or, in other words: much of the problem stems from the - unjust - way that the west has intervened (since the beginning of the colonial epoch) in Muslim lands and, in particular, in Arab (and Persian) Muslim lands. Too often we have supported reactionary forces at the expense of progressive forces (see for example our support of the Shah of Iran at the expense of Mossadech - spelt wrong sorry). Too often have we backed unjust dictators (see Saddam) and unjust actions (the repression of the Palestinian people). In doing so we have contributed to (but are not the only cause of) the dysfunctional politics of the Middle East. This has provided social space (and recruiting tools) for the reactionary elements of Whabbist Islam.

Radical Islamism itself is certainly part of the problem too: it is a vicious, reactionary and repressive movement. It is also one that has spread in the vacuum created by the failure of the state (and the repression of progressive segments of civil society) in much of the Muslim World.

While the ugliness and violence of radical Islam is - in the most part a product - of the repressive world that it has grown in, part of its nature is a also product of religion itself. After all, all (or almost all) religions have their own violent and repressive sects. Something which, in my mind, is a product of two things:

Firstly, the fact that - throughout history - religions have played a role as a tool of social control.

And, secondly, the fact that religions - through their appeal to the greater good - also provide an excuse for human evil. (Or, in other words, it's ok to harm another human being because you are acting on behalf of something that is greater than humans and human suffering). In saying this I am not arguing against religion. Although I'm agnostic (or a Pantheist on a good day) I believe that religion has the potential to be a motivating force for much good. Unfortunately, it also provides an excuse for much harm too.

To summarise then: Islamic terrorism, in my view, is a product of a repressive take on religion that has formed amongst a repressive part of the world. A part of the world where much injustice has been committed - some of which is the West's fault.

None of this, however, explains the terrorism committed by young (often educated and middle class) Muslim men living in the west. This is where Reason 6 comes in. People alienated in the manner described by Garton-Ash in Reason 6 - when provided with evidence of injustice and also the seduction of simple explanations (and solutions) to the problems they see and the discontent they feel - are prime recruits to a murderous cause. In this case a cause where murder is justified by an appeal to a 'higher' being.

Ok that’s enough for now. Although I would like to end with a disclaimer: explaining the causes of terrorism is not intended in any way as an attempt to excuse the phenomenon – there is no excuse for it. However, by trying to understand where terrorism comes from we – hopefully – give ourselves a better chance of vanquishing it.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Iraq and the War on/of Terror

Here's a few links to interesting articles that I have read recently relating to the invasion of Iraq and the "War on Terror" (this term is a flat-out oxymoron: war is terror).

First up a US academic called Juan Cole gives Christoper Hitchens the intellectual spanking that he has deserved for a very long time. In my opinion there was a decent case to be made for invading Iraq; one which had nothing to do with WMDs or fighting Al Quaeda but was, instead, based on the humanitarian cause of freeing the people of Iraq from the tyrant Saddam. While I still, ultimately, opposed the invasion of Iraq, I did think that left-wing commentators like Johann Hari made compelling arguments for supporting the invasion. Hitchens, on the other hand, was just rotten from the start: disingenuous, dishonest and - apparently - more motivated by personal vendettas than by any desire to realistically assess the pros and cons of invasion. And – finally – someone (Juan Cole) does the long required task of exposing Hitchens’s arguments for the nonsense that they are. Cole's piece is here.

But if Hitchens is bad, some of his opponents on the left are just as gruesome - the top contender here being George Galloway. Galloway seems to firmly believe that "my enemy's enemy is my friend"; something which lead to him cosying up to Saddam before the invasion and now making comments which - apparently – indicate his support of the innocent murdering insurgents in Iraq. What is thoroughly depressing is that Galloway has become a spokesperson for a reasonable slice of the anti-war left - sigh. If you are a real masochist you can watch Hitchens and Galloway debate the war here.

When it comes to Hitchens and Galloway I am with Greg Palast: they are both redundant - somewhere out of the wreck of neo-conservatism the left needs to find a way forward that eschews the dogma of these two.

The New York Times has a very interesting piece on the way that the Iraq war has hurt the "war on terror". It's here but, unfortunately, you will have to pay to see it (about $5).

I've recommended this before, but Mary Kaldor's take on Iraq is one of the most sensible that I have read. It's on Open Democracy so you might have to register to read the article but it ought to be free.

And, finally, Johann Hari - always the sanest of the pro-war left - has another good take on Iraq.

An antidote to politics

And here, as an antidote to the politics of the previous posts, are two very cool poems. Both by American poets.

The first - "The Fox" - is by
Kenneth Patchen - an anarchist and a pacifist (the two ideologies that my heart finds most attractive even if my brain doubts their plausibility). The second is by Laura Fargas and is about Kuan Yin - the Chinese goddess of mercy.


The Fox

Because the snow is deep
Without spot that white falling through white air

Because she limps a little - bleeds
Where they shot her

Because hunters have guns
And dogs have hangmen's legs

Because I'd like to take her in my arms
And tend her wound

Because she can't afford to die
Killing the young in her belly

I don't know what to say of a soldier's dying
Because there are no proportions in death.

- Kenneth Patchen

Kuan Yin

Of the many buddhas I love best the girl
who will not leave the cycle of pain before anyone else.
It is not the captain declining to be saved
on the sinking ship, who may just want to ride his shame
out of sight. She is at the brink of never being hurt again
but pauses to say, All of us. Every blade of grass.
She chooses to live in the tumble of souls through time.
Perhaps she sees spring in every country,
talks quietly with farm women while helping to lay seed.
Our hearts are a storm she trembles at. I picture her
leaning on a tree or humming or joining a volleyball game
on Santa Monica beach. Her skin shines with sweat.
The others may not know how to notice what she does to them.
She is not a fish or a bee; it is not pity or thirst;
she could go, but here she is.

- Laura Fargas

Monday, September 19, 2005

Friday, September 16, 2005

What do we spend our taxes on?

Everyone knows that our hard-earned taxes are simply wasted by the government on things like hip hop tours, dole bludgers, the treaty of Waitangi and a vastly bloated bureaucracy right? Wrong In fact, most of our taxes go on core services like education, health and taking care of our elderly - the idea of squandered taxes is another one of the great myths of the New Right. So in order to try and correct this misconception I have published below the "Great New Zealand Tax Graphic" which shows what proportion of government spending is spent on what. Unfortunately – due to software limitations – the graphic isn’t particularly clear, so I’ve reproduced the relevant numbers below it (or you can click on the graphic to view a larger version of it). There are all sorts of interesting things to note regarding the spending of taxes, but I thought I’d just point out one point that is particularly relevant to the pre-election “debates” on taxation. At present the New Zealand government spends approximately 5% of its tax-take on debt financing. That is as much as it spends on the DPB and Dole combined. It is also as much as we spend on law and order. And this is after a concerted effort by the government of the last few years to pay off debt. Given these points, do we really want to start borrowing more money at present? (PS Thanks to Tim for directing me to the treasury website).

Unemployment Benefit - 2%
Dom Purposes Benefit - 3%
Other Benefits - 16%
NZ Super - 13%
Health - 20%
Education - 18%
Core Government Services - 4%
Law and Order - 5%
Defence - 3%
Transport & comms -4%
Financial Costs - 5%
Other Costs - 7%
All figures from:

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Of ########

post missing

Turtles Can Fly - review

"Turtles Can Fly," directed by Bahman Ghobadi, 2004

“All wars, just or unjust, disastrous or victorious, are waged against the child.” Eglantyne Jebb (founder of Save the Children)

Kurdistan is not the type of country that you will find on a map; it is something else, something far more ethereal: a country that exists only in dreams and aspirations, and, in particular, the dreams and aspirations of the Kurdish people.

History has been cruel to the Kurds; not only is their dreamt-of homeland split by the borders of 5 different countries, but the countries which have claimed various parts of Kurdistan – Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Armenia – all have (or have had in the past) appalling human rights’ records. The consequence of this for the Kurdish people has been the duel tragedy of statelessness and repression – particularly in Iraq where the Kurdish people were notoriously gassed by Saddam Hussein during the civil war which took place in the 1980s.

Yet amongst all this repression, the Kurdish people are slowly finding ways of communicating their plight to the outside world: members of their Diaspora have attracted some attention (though not nearly enough) through campaigning, while artists like Bahman Ghobadi (the director of Turtles Can Fly) are becoming adept tellers of the stateless people’s tales. Ghobadi lives in Iran but “Turtles Can Fly” itself is set in Iraq or, more precisely, in a Kurdish refugee camp on the border of Iraq and Turkey. For the inhabitants of this refugee camp life is dominated by war: not only the horrors of past wars with Saddam Hussein, but also the anticipation of the impending US invasion of Iraq.

While the adults of the camp anxiously scan satellite TV for news of the invasion, the refugee camp’s children (who are the central characters in the story) go about their daily routine, which for most of them involves collecting landmines from nearby fields. The landmines are a source of income for the kids and their families, but – as you would expect – the consequences of collecting them are potentially gruesome, and several of the camp children live their lives impeded by missing limbs.

Yet somehow, despite this, and despite the mud, fear and barbed wire, the refugee camp kids maintain the optimism and humour of youth. And this is the strength, and beauty, of Ghobadi’s work: the way that he is able to weave the comedy of the children’s day-to-day lives through the much thicker threads of tragedy that surround them. In doing this, Ghobadi makes the child heroes of Turtles Can Fly painfully real – people who we can empathise with, people who are no longer just the collateral damage of war in far off lands.

Not only does this make Turtles Can Fly a very powerful movie to watch, but it also makes it a challenging one when set amongst the context of the US invasion of Iraq.

If you, like me, opposed the US invasion of Iraq you will find Turtles Can Fly a challenge to your beliefs as it shows the way that the Kurdish people viewed the Americans as liberators – saviours even – from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. This was a reminder to me personally of the thing that made me most uncomfortable about my own opposition to the invasion: the fact that by arguing against invasion, I was – in effect – also arguing for the possible continuation of Hussein’s regime. Personally, I never believed that Hussein was a threat to the West, but he was certainly a threat to his own people, and leaving him in place meant a continuation of this threat. Which was a very troubling thought unless you could provide an alternative to invasion; an alternative which either removed him from power or put an end to his tyranny. Ultimately, I did still oppose the invasion, in part because I could see such an alternative: human rights inspections to accompany the weapons inspections, along with continued pressure to force Saddam to open up political space. (I’ll discuss this idea in detail in a later post – in the meantime if you want a fuller explanation of this school of thought, Mary Kaldor on Open Democracy does a great job.)

On the other hand, if you supported the invasion of Iraq on genuine humanitarian grounds (like the English writers Nick Cohen and Johann Hari or the bloggers at Harry’s place) you will also find much in Turtles Can Fly to challenge your support of the war (that is, if it isn’t already challenged by the current quagmire and body-counts). This is because, in the film, when the US invasion finally does happen, the indifference of the US soldiers to the plight of the Kurdish people is plain to see. In the final scenes of the movie, as the soldiers advance across Kurdish Iraq, the Kurds are absolutely invisible to them. And for the viewer, who has by now been totally sucked into the tragedy of the children’s lives, this comes as an emotional slap in the face.

It also serves as a powerful reminder of one of the main reasons for opposing the war: the fact that the neo-cons never, ever, really gave a shit about the Iraqi people, or about human rights. This, of course, was hardly a secret, you only had to look at members of the Bush administration’s track record to see that the only things that motivated them were self interest and the quest for power (see for example Wolfowitz cuddling up to Suharto or Rumsfeld’s 1980s support of Saddam). Hardly a secret but, also, an important point because, in war, motives are usually reflected in outcomes. And in my mind there is a pretty clear correlation between the neo-cons’ lack of concern for the Iraqi people and the current disastrous mess that exists in Iraq at present.

So, for supporters of the invasion, Turtles Can Fly offers no relief either. Instead, at its end, the movie only serves as a painful reminder, both to those who supported the war and to those who opposed it, that another bloody chapter is now being written in the tragic book of Iraq. Which is something that should concern us all; not only because this new chapter seems like it may continue for the foreseeable future but also because – as Ghobadi shows throughout the movie – the victims of the ongoing war are real people, like you and me.

Development as Explained By 2 Cows in a Field

Cow picture is creative commons taken from flickr.com click here to find out more about the person who took it.

Written at the end of 2003...

Development as Explained By 2 Cows in a Field

Development in General – “Three cows are better than two.”

Mainstream Development – “Feeding the cow grass and exposing it to fresh air is completely inefficient. We will loan you money so that you can house the cows in a battery farm and feed them upon sheep brains which you will import from Great Britain. You can pay off the loan by exporting factory effluent to Japan.”

The Debt Crisis – In the 1970’s Western Banks had more cows than they knew what to do with, so they loaned cows to all manner of Third World despots and dictators. These un-elected rulers then slaughtered the cows and sent the profits to Swiss Bank accounts. Twenty years later the people of third world countries are asked to forgo education and basic medical care to repay the loaned cows, despite the fact that they never saw them in the first place.

Development World Bank Style – “Sure those cows provide you with food and security, but what you really need is a cash crop. Have you considered coffee?”

Development IMF Style – “Yes I agree that your cows are starving, but the last thing we want to do is feed them. We must emaciate them further in the hope of attracting international investors.”

Participatory development – “Has anyone ever thought of asking the cows what they think of all this?”

Gender and Development – “Hey! Have you noticed how little work the bull does. He just stands there and looks at the field all day!”

Helen Hughes and Development Part One – “Once upon a time we colonised the pacific, the effects of colonial polices were disastrous for the pacific. We then provided aid to the pacific which was given primarily for geo-strategic reasons and which often ended up lining the pockets of our own consultants. All of this is entirely the Pacific Island Peoples’ fault.”

Helen Hughes and Development Part Two – “It’s the Grass! The Grass is making the cows lazy. We need to impose business friendly ‘reforms’ on the grass!”

Development Economics Part 1 – “Sure your cows are dead but, as GDP has remained unaffected, I fail to see the problem”

Post Development – “It’s the cows! The Cows are the problem! We must stop believing in Cows!”

Development Economics Part 2 – “Surely that would be more easily expressed as:
G = ln(X-Y) / 3 (moo + moo) * jkl – log(16 + 4). Right?”

Neo-Liberal Development – “The public owns the cows?!? That is uneconomic, the cows must be privatised”. And, after the cows were privatised (one was sold to Japan while the other was bought by a foreign corporation which worked it to death) “Hmmmmmm..........I don’t know what went wrong. It must have been the grass. Yes that’s it, the Grass! You need to impose a private / public partnership on the production of grass.”

Neo-Conservative development – To cover up the fact that that one of their main corporate donors has just robbed the country of $3,000,000,000,000 neo-conservatives then invade another country to ‘liberate its cows’. 3 years later the only thing that has been liberated is the country’s oil. Lucrative development contracts are, however, awarded to the original donor corporation, which is then able to fleece someone else’s country. This is progress.

Sustainable Development – “Are you sure we have enough grass for this?”

Post Development 2 - "Development is just a trojan-cow for expanding colonialism and western hegemony."

Amartya Sen – “While primary issues can be complicated by secondary interpretations and some degree of ideological influence, it is reasonably possible to state, with a degree of certainty, that the heterogeneity of needs render interpersonal comparisons based exclusively either on material wealth or on nutritional needs to be of limited use. Moreover, a lack of interpersonal comparability, is one of the primary shortcomings of classical utilitarianism as it was eloquently espoused by such intellectual luminaries as Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill and, at the same time, on a slightly different level, it is difficult to conclude that liberty alone, as proselytised by Robert Nozik, can provide an adequate measure of welfare. This has been shown by Arthur Cowthorpe in his seminal 1876 work ‘Moovement and Place’. So we can start to form the beginning of an assumption that material wealth alone is inadequate to form any sophisticated paradigm of welfare. See?”

Helen Hughes Part 3 – “Look I really don’t like cows! But if I said as much, people would brand me a racist so I have to use economics.”

Update: Thanks to Monique for coming up with the idea for Post-Development 2

What's in a name...

"Long ago and not true anyway" is, according to Guardian Columnist Timothy Garton-Ash, an old Russian saying ("That was long ago and not true anyway"). It doesn't really have any relevance to the blog's subject matter, but the inherent contradiction in the saying made me laugh - on the day that I was trying to think of a name for the blog - and so it became the name.

Globalisation - Comparative Book Review from 2003

Here's a review of three books that (very loosely) pertain to globalisation - it was an essay from one of the papers I took in 2003. Needless to say my views have changed (or at least refined somewhat) since then.

Globalisation, the Global Economy and Development

Books Reviewed

Thomas L. Friedman. (2000) The Lexus and the Olive Tree. HarperCollins Publishers. London 489 pages. ISBN: 0006551394

Korten, David. (2001) When Corporations Rule the World (second edition). Kumarian Press Inc. Bloomfield. 385 pages. ISBN: 1887208046

Edwards, Michael. (1999) Future Positive: International Co-operation in the 21st Century. Earthscan Publications Ltd. London. 292 Pages. ISBN: 1853836311

The term globalisation is a problematic one. Like other words such as development and capitalism there is little consensus as to what exactly globalisation defines. In the numerous debates about globalisation meanings shift and change depending on context and agenda.

In the broadest sense, globalisation refers to the increasing international transfer of information, goods and finance that has been facilitated, in part, by changes in information and transportation technology, and in part by international political agreements. Put as such, globalisation is hardly a new phenomenon. Indeed, it could be argued that globalisation began when the first merchants started buying and selling goods beyond the immediate confines of their villages.

What has changed in the last three or four decades is the rate at which the world is being globalised. The levels of capital and traded goods now moving around the globe are much larger and moving much faster than ever before.

From a development perspective the shape of this global system is important. Decisions made on the London Futures Exchange affect the lives of Mayan coffee growers. Financial crises like the East Asian crisis have the potential to force millions of people into poverty. At the same time though, international investment can create jobs and improve the quality of people’s lives.

Award winning New York Times Columnist, Thomas Friedman, claims early on in his book “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” that he is not a “salesperson” for globalisation but merely an objective journalist describing an inevitable trend and advising on us how best to deal with it. However, it quickly becomes clear that Friedman is very much in favour of the existing system of globalisation. While Friedman identifies cultural, ecological and economic problems with the current system he believes that they are far outweighed by its benefits.

Friedman believes that globalisation is the natural product of technological change. As technology has made it faster, cheaper and easier to move goods and money around the globe, the Earth has become increasing economically inter-linked. Most recently, according to Friedman, advances in information technology have facilitated what he terms the “democratisation of finance” and the “democratisation of information”. By the “democratisation of information” Friedman refers primarily to the increased availability of information to individuals as a result of the Internet and other technological advances. In the developed world the “democratisation” of finance means that a larger proportion of society benefits from the wealth created in the financial markets either indirectly through their pension funds or directly using online brokerages. In the developing world, thanks to the increasing mobility of capital, there is now more money to finance development and move people out of poverty.

A by-product of Friedman’s “democratisation” is a phenomenon that he calls “the electronic herd”, investors and speculators who are able to move vast amounts of money around the globe more or less instantaneously. Using the examples such as George Soros’ “betting against the pound” and how it forced England out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, Friedman illustrates just how much power international investors wield and also, just how powerless governments can be in comparison.

This power imbalance forces governments to adopt a set of economic policies that he calls the “Golden Straightjacket”. “Straightjacket” because governments, who fear the flight of investors, are highly restricted in what policies they can prescribe but “golden” because, if the policies are adopted correctly, great wealth can be generated for their people.

While he sees the benefits of globalisation, Friedman also highlights some of the significant problems of the system of globalisation he describes. Friedman identifies environmental destruction, inequality and the anger of those marginalised by globalisation as problems. However, to Friedman these problems are not enough to justify changing the existing system of globalisation as a whole. Friedman doubts that change is possible and, even if it was, he sees the benefits of globalisation as too great to risk loosing. Instead, Friedman provides suggestions for mitigating the problems through the existing system. Friedman also believes that globalisation itself can solve many of the problems it produces. In addition to this he envisages a global policeman role for United States, whom he views as a “benign hegemon and reluctant enforcer”. Sometimes, Friedman claims, “the hidden hand of the market cannot function without the hidden fist.” (Page 464)

Friedman’s descriptions of globalisation are perceptive and his book is a good resource for someone seeking to understand why the policies advocated by most mainstream political parties are becoming increasing similar, or someone seeking to understand the paucity of choice available to the new Brazilian president as he seeks to reduce poverty in his country. Where Friedman is much less convincing though, is in his claims that the current system of globalisation is a natural product of technological change, and that it is both beneficial and unalterable. For a start, Friedman’s so called “Democratisation of Finance” in the United States took place over a period of time where inequalities of wealth in that country rose to unprecedented levels (Frank, 2000). Furthermore it is very hard to see the democracy of a system where a very small section of society (financial speculators) has more power over the choices of governments than the people voting for them have. In addition to this, Friedman’s claim that the United States is a “benign hegemon and reluctant enforcer” is highly questionable. It is very hard to see the benevolence in the US’s role in overthrowing democratically elected governments in Iran, Guatemala and Chile. So far, self interest rather than benevolence seems to have been the dominant force guiding American foreign policy. Indeed, as Will Hutton points out, the existing system of globalisation has been shaped as much by American self interest - as reflected in the policies of the IMF, WTO and the dismantling of the Bretton Woods currency system - as it has been by technological change. (Hutton, 1999).

Given the fact that the existing system has been shaped by policy, there is no reason to believe, as Friedman does, that overall reform is impossible without retreating to a segregated world deprived of all the benefits interconnectedness can bring.

Unlike Thomas Friedman, David Korten, a former Harvard Business School Professor and development practitioner, sees the current global economic system as neither inevitable nor desirable. Korten believes that, unless substantial change is made to the existing system of globalisation, the planet is headed towards a threefold crisis of deepening poverty, environmental destruction and social disintegration.

In a sense, the title of David Korten’s book is misleading. While much of his book is about the history of the corporation and the disproportionate share of political power controlled by corporations, Korten’s work also encompasses an overall critique of the global economy, which concentrates wealth and power in the hands of a very small proportion of the population.

Korten starts off by challenging what he calls the “myth of growth”. Growth, Korten argues, has only become a popular focus of economists and politicians because it provides a potential alternative to the trickier issues of redistribution. Korten claims that much of the “growth” experienced in the western world since World War Two has come at the expense of living standards and the environment. Korten also attacks the global financial markets and, in particular, speculative capital flows. Korten believes that speculative capital promotes economic instability and undermines development.

With regards to development, Korten claims that conventional practice is often shaped to suit the interests of the developed world rather than assisting people in developing countries. In particular, Korten accuses the IMF and World Bank of forcing policies on developing countries that increase poverty, damage the environment and facilitate the “corporate colonialism” of the developing word.

Korten believes that the outcome of this globalisation of corporate interest is the concurrent development of:

· A race to the top, in which the planet’s wealthy are able to evade taxes and national laws by moving their wealth between countries and by playing off different countries against each other.

· And a race to the bottom, where employment is moved to areas with the cheapest labour costs and most lax environmental standards. This undermines the position of workers and enables developed countries to consume far beyond their means, while externalising the environmental costs to the developing world.

As an alternative to this system, Korten proposes what he calls “People Centred Development” where economies are localised (though still kept within a global framework), economic power is dispersed and democracy is brought closer to the people. Markets, trade and corporations still play a role in People Centred Development yet the pursuit of profit at the expense of everything else is eliminated.

While People Centred Development may seem like a vague and idealistic concept Korten does provide some concrete suggestions as to how it could be achieved. Amongst other things Korten suggests:

· Implementing a system of taxation that ensures the price paid by consumers reflects the real environmental costs associated with producing goods.
· Limiting advertising.
· Eliminating corporations’ ability to fund and lobby politicians.

Generally speaking Korten’s picture of globalisation as a system in need of substantial reform is much more convincing than Friedman’s description of a global system which is more or less satisfactory and is only in need of some minor modification. Yet his work does have some flaws. Authors such as Michael Edwards (reviewed below) claim that Korten and similar critics are overly pessimistic about the current state of the world and that the changes he suggests are too drastic, potentially counterproductive and unlikely to ever be implemented. Certainly some of Korten’s criticisms of the existing order and his solutions are simplistic but Korten himself appears to be aware of this stating that his work is not intended to be the final word on the topic but rather a starting point for further discussion.

Michael Edwards in “Future Positive” produces the most even-handed examination of the historical and political forces that have led to the present state of global development.

To Edwards, the current global system is neither the natural product of technological change nor the result of a corrupt and over-powerful business class. Instead, Edwards argues, the forces that have shaped our global system are as complex as human nature itself.

Natural selection, Edwards argues, has given humans both the tendency to act primarily in their own self-interest and the ability to co-operate and work together. For Edwards, it is this ability to co-operate that needs to be enhanced at all levels, from personal interaction to international politics, if we are to create a more positive future for the planet. Co-operation, Edwards claims, needs to take place within countries in the form of a balanced partnership between civil society, government and business. Co-operation between countries, he argues, needs to be reflected by international agreements and institutions that are less geared to the interests of the developed world. Also, Edwards claims, the nature of international aid projects needs to be re-thought. In Edwards’ opinion international development assistance needs to be more flexible, context specific and facilitating. At the same time it needs to be less interventionist and provided more in the spirit of international co-operation rather than serving the narrow interests of the donors.

Edwards believes that development organisations, especially large bureaucratic ones like the World Bank, need to change as well. He argues that they must become learning organisations that are more tolerant of dissent and differing views.

While the changes Edwards suggests are significant he still views them as being possible within the existing global capitalist system. Edwards believes the future for capitalism is a humanised future, one which strikes a balance between unrestricted laissez-faire and overly restrictive state socialism. In Edwards’ view, the role for government in this system should be “light but firm”. Examples of this sort of international governance would be sensibly imposed environmental taxes and some financial market regulation. Edwards also believes that in some cases voluntary agreements can be more useful than excessive legislation.

Of the three books “Future Positive” provides the most nuanced interpretation of globalisation. In many ways Edwards’ more modest proposals for change appear more realistic than Korten's sweeping reforms. Yet, at the same time, there is a disparity between the fundamental paradigm shift that Edwards calls for and the less than radical ideas for change that he provides. Is co-operation really possible within the system of global capitalism? Or is self interest such an integral part of the existing system that if we really want to foster co-operation then we need to look for much more significant alternatives? And the track history of ‘voluntary agreements’, with regards to corporate responsibility, makes Edwards’ proposals in this area appear wilfully naive. In addition to this it is difficult to share Edwards’ optimism about the potential for co-operation in a post cold war world. So far, since the fall of the Berlin wall, the actions of the world’s one remaining super power seem to reflect a trend towards unilateralism rather than international co-operation.

Nevertheless, Edwards’ book, like Korten’s, while not containing all the answers, does provide an excellent starting point for thinking about alternative development and alternative global solutions. Something that Friedman failed to dissuade me from believing the planet is in desperate need of.


Frank, Thomas. 2000. One Market Under God. Vintage. London.

Heyne, Paul. 2000. The Moral Economy. Independent Review. Summer 2000 v5 i1 p137

Hutton, Will. Americas Global Hand. The American Prospect, Dec 6, 1999 v11 i2 p52

Lewis, Martin W. 2000. Global Ignorance. The Geographical Review, Oct 2000 v90 i4 p603

Northrop, Emily. 1998. When Corporations Rule the World. Journal of Economic Issues, Sept 1998 v32 n3 p896