Two world forums — Different people, different policies
As 3,000 members of the so-called global elite gathered for five days in the Swiss Alpine resort of Davos to make deals and attempt to put a "human face" on capitalist globalisation, a completely different grouping of 3,000 people was meeting in the World Social Forum in Brazil to hammer out alternative policies. The Swiss were ready for the now familiar scenes of anti-globalisation protesters who consistently fail to appreciate or accept the widening gap between the rich and the poor and the destruction of the environment. The Swiss army which must be feeling really left out of the various world wars because of their country's neutrality was at last ready to take on an enemy — mostly young civilian protesters. The pictures coming from Davos remind one of Nazi concentration camps. Razor wire surrounded the world's "elite", water canons and tear gas were on hand for those protesters who braved a snow storm to express their democratic right to have a say in what's going on in the world. The only difference with the Nazi concentration camps is that the "inmates" were all well-dressed in suits and ties and looked well-fed and pleased with the world. Funded by more than 1,000 of the world's largest corporations, the CEO's, political leaders and academics participating this year are acutely aware that millions no longer accept their policies and are fighting back against unemployment, poverty, the loss of rights — even the right to live. The fact that one of the topics on the agenda was: "Addressing the Globalisation Backlash" indicates that the corporate chiefs and their tame politicians are on the defensive. They could have started with a simple question — why has globalisation failed to deliver goods and services to the world's poor? Despite the last two decades of rapidly expanding international trade, there has been a sharp slowdown in economic growth. From 1960-80, the average country had real income growth, per person, of 83 percent. In the last two decades (1980-2000) this growth was only two percent. The policies of the "free" market have directly contributed to this. In previous decades, national governments exercised more control over their economic policies. This enabled them, in many cases, to pursue economic development strategies that increased the productivity of their own labour force by way of investment in industry, education, or necessary infrastructure such as power and electricity. Over time, this increasing productivity laid the basis for higher living standards for the entire population. It is not just the poor who have lost in this economic drive of the corporations to turn the world into one big piece of private property. It is the vast majority of people, including those of the United States, where the median wage (adjusted for inflation) is about the same today as it was 27 years ago. Most of the poorer countries have been hit much harder. In Africa, real income per person has fallen by 15 percent over the last two decades (1980- 2000), after increasing by 34 percent in the previous 20 years. Latin America saw its growth slow from a 75 percent gain in the first period to only seven percent in the second. The most rapidly growing economies of the last half-century — countries like South Korea and China — used extensive state planning and investments in the public sector. They did not allow their economies to be simply open to foreign corporations as demanded by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation. The loss of national economic sovereignty is presented by those at Davos as an inevitable result of the global economy and an inevitable historic process. These arguments are advanced for the purpose of forcing countries to open up to the transnational corporations of the big industrialised countries. The fact is that more than 80 percent of the world's goods and services are produced for national, local markets. In the United States the figure is 87 percent and the US Government is not restrained by global markets in deciding its major economic policies. The policies of the alternative World Social Forum are entirely different. "Globalisation is a new phase of the imperialist expansion of capital, a fig leaf to hide imperialism itself", said the director of the Third World Forum, Egyptian economist Samir Amin who is a proponent of global socialism. "To say that there is no alternative to globalism is false", he said to the applause of the 3,000 people attending the conference. Representatives from grassroots organisations, labour unions and political parties joined international economists and sociologists for a five-day discussion on various topics including the foreign debts of developing countries, child workers, feminism, racism, GM foods and, above all, the negative effects of globalisation. Speakers and participants at the Forum were dressed in jeans and wore symbolic red scarves. There was no razor wire surrounding the conference site. The Forum participants called for the direct involvement of citizens in both national-level economic decision-making through local referendums and international accords through the participation of local representatives. Failing that, former Algerian president Ahmed Ben Bella called on participants to take up arms and reclaim democracy by force. "We are here to reclaim democracy, but if the way is blocked, as in Colombia, Palestine or Algeria, then taking up arms is a sacred right", he said.