one worldIf you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably know that I’m opposed to unregulated ‘free’ trade, very worried about the extraterritoriality of the WTO, NAFTA, Davos and other corporatist captives, strongly opposed to domestic corporations ‘offshoring’ jobs, using influence with the Bush regime and other right-wing governments to circumvent social and environmental laws and responsibilities, and a great believer in taking the pledge to buy local, and in community self-sufficiency.

At the same time, I’m a strong supporter of the UN and other multi-lateral NGOs, and I believe that we each have a responsibility for the well-being of all the people and creatures of this world. Some readers have said this view is inconsistent, and I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to such charges. Fortunately, Peter Singer, in his recent book on global ethics, One World: The Ethics of Globalization, has come to my rescue. Singer sees no inconsistency between strong local autonomy, community, and self-sufficient economies on the one hand, and global responsibility on the other. The book is based on the Dwight Terry lectures at Yale in 2000, but has been updated to incorporate reflection on the events of 9/11 and the appalling Bush social, environmental and economic record.

I’ll have more to say next week about Bush’s fraudulent and despicable Earth Day media blitz, and the major media’s shameless lack of critical evaluation of the utter nonsense that his propaganda machine has been churning out this week on the environment — newspeak of Orwellian proportions. The first part of Singer’s book deals with environmental responsibility, and his prescription for increasing it — immediate ratification of Kyoto by the US and other holdout countries, and introduction of an emissions trading mechanism to make the realization of Kyoto feasible (subject to the need for some oversight on the disposition of the proceeds of such trading when it involves autocratic governments).

The second part of the book deals with the global economy, and Singer adroitly tears apart the Economist’s (and other neocons’) naive assertion that economic globalization somehow benefits both rich and poor countries. He then goes on to prescribe a substantial reform of the WTO and the GATT, which could actually lead to more equitable distribution of wealth and more efficient production of economic goods, while safeguarding human rights, labour and the environment. Unfortunately, the multi-national corporations and corporatists who hold sway in the WTO would never tolerate Singer’s prescription, since it would entirely divert the benefits of economic globalization from their pockets to those of the world’s poor.

The third part of the book deals with international law, and Singer lashes out at Bush for his unconscionable refusal to ratify the International Court of Justice, and for the UN’s continued hesitancy to accept a duty (not a right) to intervene in situations of genocide and other humanitarian crises, even within a single nation. Singer is sanguine about the limitations and dangers of ‘global government’, but supports strengthening the UN to enable it to act as a ‘protector of last resort’, and including in its mandate the responsibility to supervise elections in all member nations.

The fourth and final part goes back to ethical principles and proposes that countries must, in this world where national boundaries no longer have any logistic meaning, set aside national interest and embrace, once and for all, global interest, impartially. That does not mean cultural homogenization, but imposes a responsibility for the reduction of inequality, both of economic resources and personal rights and freedoms.

Always the pragmatist, Singer concludes by worrying out loud about how the responsibility for a global ethic could be managed:

It is widely believed that a world government would be, at best, an unchecked bureaucratic behemoth that would make the bureaucracy of the EU look lean and efficient. At worst, it would become a global tyranny, unchecked and unchallengeable. These thoughts have to be taken seriously. How to prevent global bodies becoming either dangerous tyrannies or self-aggrandizing bureaucracies, and instead make them effective and responsive to the people whose lives they affect? It is a challenge that should not be beyond the best minds in the fields of political science and public administration.

I’d like to believe that this was possible, because if it isn’t, we’re in serious trouble. We cannot expect national governments to set aside parochial interests, especially when this entails accepting a responsibility that would, for the richer nations, inevitably lead to a drastic redistribution of wealth to poorer nations and hence a sudden and sharp reduction in, at least, economic living standards (if not necessarily well-being). But as John Ralston Saul has so eloquently argued, larger organizations and institutions, whether public or private, are almost always, and inherently, less efficient, less agile, more resistant to change, more hierarchic, and less transparent than smaller organizations. So the challenge is to achieve the best of both worlds, having organizations of global scope and authority and responsibility, but broken up into sufficiently small, autonomous and dynamic units that they are sensitive, resilient, responsible and responsive to the people and communities they serve. We can only hope that “the best minds in the fields of political science and public administration”, wherever they are, are up to the task.

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  1. KevinG says:

    Dave-Nice summary. It was the second of Singer’s books that I had read and the better of the two.As always, I am left wondering what the catalyst will be. What, for example, could shake North Americans up enough to make real sacrifices in “lifestyle”. Watching how easily the fairy tale notion of globalization was jetisoned as soon as jobs or income are threatened makes me think that only immediate self interest motivates people enough to change. Perhaps I’m a little fatalistic today.

  2. cs says:

    Thanks for the recommendation. I’m ordering Singer’s book through inter-library loand today. Dennis Kucinich says there is no mechanism for modifying WTO and Nafta, so our only choice is to withdraw. Do you know more about this?

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Kevin: I’d say that’s realism not fatalism.CS: WTO & NAFTA can be amended by unanimous consent of the signatories, but it’s much simpler (for better or worse) to just unilaterally withdraw. The sad thing is that these agreements were based on very valid and well-intentioned principles, but were corrupted by greed and self-interest so much that they make things worse rather than better. When NAFTA’s temporary exemption for corn expires in 2007, it will be catastrophic for Mexico, and the truth of the massive hidden US agricultural subsidies will finally come to light, and NAFTA will simply collapse, if it lasts that long. Better, I think, to start over, and this time let the people see what’s being negotiated instead of doing it all behind closed doors.

  4. Don Dwiggins says:

    Replying to the last sentence (and Singer’s conclusion): I have an emerging sense that trusting to the “best minds” to construct a solution, that will only have to be mechanically followed by the rest of us, is looking in the wrong place. All “isms”, when followed blindly, are doomed to failure.Any viable solution will have to be grown, not built, and that by a long process of learning involving multiple layers of communities; learning to interact on the basis of mutual trust and care, and to create patiently and persistently. If done right, this will proceed top-down, bottom-up, and middle-out.This is worth more space than a comment can reasonably hold. I’ll be expanding on it elsewhere over the next few months; if you’re interested, let me know and we can dialogue on it.BTW, thanks for the Singer link and review; looks worth getting into.

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