(this analysis draws extensively from newspaper and online reports about the events connected with the meetings of the World Economic Forum and the World Social Forum)
One World — Two Fora
The World Economic Forum and its challenger, The World Social Forum have just concluded their simultaneous and polarized week-long deliberations in New York City and Porto Alegre, Brazil, respectively. Each has a vision for the world. Which vision will prevail?
For us Indians the question is Which vision will India choose? This is a question, the answer to which is of vital importance no matter where we Indians live. Whether we live in Queens or Kochi, London or Lucknow, Mombasa or Mumbai, we carry dreams and hopes for India. We know that India, the largest democracy in the world, a former colonized nation and one of the most ancient of societies, has a unique role to play in providing leadership as well as fellowship to the nations of the world that are committed to global justice and economic equity.
Are we going to choose increasing nuclearization and militarization or are we going to choose to banish poverty, hunger, malnutrition and illiteracy within our borders? We cannot choose both options. It is a lie, a palpable falsehood, to pretend that we can arm and feed and educate all at the same time. Resources are finite. We must make critically important choices and clearly state our priorities.
We need to seize the ethical moment. That moment is NOW. That moment is now when the world’s disenfranchised have told their stories in Porto Alegre. We need to make a moral choice, a Gandhian choice, an Ashokan choice, and in fact the ultimately appropriate political choice, to commit ourselves to a domestic policy that is just and fair and prosperous for all our citizens.
We can’t go on meeting like this! It is obvious that the participants of the World Economic Forum and the alternative World Social Forum will soon have to sit at the same table and talk up a deal. But for now they are arguing with each other from separate continents. At least a few who met in New York City, at the ‘Davos in New York’ World Economic Forum, the rich and powerful of the world had something useful to say. Microsoft’s Bill Gates stated “ It a healthy thing there are demonstrators in the streets. We need a discussion about whether the rich world is giving back what it should in the developing world. I think there is a legitimate question whether we are.”
Two New York Times reporters wrote “Sunday, just as diners savored the last scraps of braised veal cheeks, the word came down: “If you are going to the Clinton nightcap, it’s completely full, and the buses are leaving for the Waldorf right now!”
In a flash, half the room rushed for the exit as if a fire alarm had rung, skipping not one but two desserts. The planned panel discussion collapsed like a fallen soufflé. But back in a crowded conference room at the Waldorf, some 300 world leaders in politics, industry and finance were held spellbound by a freewheeling, solo seminar conducted by someone whose idea of a great meal was the Mexican platter at the
White House mess: former President Bill Clinton, the ultimate Davos Man, always ready to expound on
globalization until the last top-dog dies.
So what if platters of chilled pineapple, tapioca and mint fruit soup with coconut sorbet, and banana- Manjari
chocolate clafoutis with macadamian nougat went uneaten in Mr. Boulud’s elegant dining room on East 65th
Street? Fifteen blocks to the south, Mr. Clinton was just getting up a good head of steam as midnight
Meanwhile, much more modestly but in far greater numbers delegates in Porto Alegre, Brazil, met to discuss and challenge the causes and consequences of freewheeling global capital. The Associated Press quoted a major talking point of delegates there “The more the United States spends on defense, the more it pushes the world’s most impoverished nations into despair.”
That scathing opinion was issued Monday even before President proposed a 14 percent increase in defense spending, the biggest rise in two decades. That proposed $48 billion increase — to $379 billion Bush said Monday in Florida that the increase was necessary because “we need to defend freedom with the best equipment possible.”
But U.S. military spending repeatedly was criticized during the last day of debates at this five-day counter-summit to the gathering of business, political and academic leaders at the World Economic Forum in New York.
“There’s an unprecedented (U.S.) hegemony,” said Claude Serfati, professor
at France’s St. Quentin University. “Its result is a deterioration in malnutrition
and disease in the developing world.
“Now, at the start of the new century, we face anew spiraling defense
spending across the world.”
estimated to be $750 billion.
Foreign debt has been a focus of this summit of 40,000 politicians and
members of grass-roots and citizens’ rights groups. On Sunday, a “court”
composed of figures from developing nations ruled that the $1.8 trillion Third
World debt was illegal and should be forgiven.
Kailash Satyarthi of India , president of an activist group fighting child labor, said
Monday that covering the basic needs of 250 million needy children around the
world would cost $8 billion.
“Sending those kids to school would cost … less than four days of the world’s
military spending,” he said.
That easily could be attained by moderating U.S. defense spending, which he
said makes up about 40 percent of world military spending.
Such spending also was rising fast in conflict regions in Africa and Asia,
where most of the globe’s 25 wars were waged in 2000, he said.
“The wars have been very destructive and caused huge human displacement,”
Satyarthi said. “Children suffer most and, even worse, they are not even a
priority in development plans.”
France’s Serfati claimed things have worsened in recent years, dominated by the rapid
spread of globalized, free-market economics.
Activists on Monday also protested a U.S.-proposed Free Trade Area of the
Americas, which would be the world’s biggest common market. They view the
trade zone plan as an attempt to impose U.S. domination throughout the
hemisphere by economic integration.
The questions for India at the end of the meetings of the World Economic Forum and the World Social Forum are What is our vision for India and the world? We have a choice to lead by example, in Gandhian fashion, “to be the change we wish to see.” What is our choice? Peace and social justice or poverty and injustice and the threat of war? Shall we try to develop a democracy decoupled from predatory forms of capitalism? Shall we try to grow democracy coupled with social justice? What will we Indians choose, no matter where we live?