Fundamentalism Versus Sustainable Development: A Titanic Struggle To
Save The World
By Dr Zeki Ergas
26 February, 2007
Introducing MF and SD
I - Let us be clear on what
market fundamentalism (MF) really means. MF is not the belief, or the
credo, that free or open markets, as a general rule, or under certain
conditions, or at a given point of time, or for one sector of the economy
but not for another, lead to, or are good for, development. It is the
belief, or the credo, that free or open markets lead to, or are good
for, development at all times and without conditions; and that ‘covers’
not only the international trade of goods and services but also domestic
economic policies in the poor countries that have crucial and negative
social implications. These domestic economic policies include: a) the
privatisation of essential services – such as, water, electricity,
health, education, transportation and telecommunications – and
the suppression of state subsidies that make them affordable for poor
people; b) the reduction (if not the complete elimination) of budgetary
deficits as a prerequisite for IMF or World Bank loans – because
controlling inflation and achieving a stable and convertible national
currency are judged to be more important than the alleviation of poverty;
and c) the lack of protection of poor farmers (for example,100,000 Indian
farmers have committed suicide in the last ten, fifteen years)1 and
of ‘infant’ industries.
On the other hand, MF has been very good, and led to, massive profits
for the large multinational corporations (MNCs) operating in an extremely
favourable environment. MF is thus at the heart, or the core, of neo-liberal
globalisation (NLG) which has significantly worsened economic inequalities
in the world.
II - Sustainable development
(SD) has two essential, social and ecological, dimensions: the social
dimension is comprehensive and incorporates the political and economic
dimensions. The political dimension is, broadly, about democracy and
its requirements; the economic dimension, largely, about the satisfaction
of five basic human needs (BHN) – food, shelter, health, education
and employment. To understand fully the importance of the ecological
dimension, one needs to start from the essential truth that the human
species, is only one of the several living species on the planet Earth.
Having a far more developed brain, an erect posture and hands (incredibly
sophisticated instruments), the human species was able to establish
its domination over the other living species. But, at some, perhaps
instinctive and intuitive, levels it is possible that the other living
species, are not inferior to the human species. As Konrad Lorenz put
it: ‘All the animal is in man, but all man is not in the animal’.
What he meant is that: while man shares with the animal the basic instincts
of fear, hunger, reproduction, and aggression, he has, in addition,
a vastly superior intelligence. Right. But, perhaps the time has come
to ask the question: What kind of vastly superior intelligence is that
if man is using it to destroy the human species, and perhaps even the
planet itself? Einstein has apparently once observed: ‘I believe
that two things are infinite: the Universe and the stupidity of man;
and of the two, I am certain of the latter but not of the former.’
It is possible that at some essential philosophical ? level man is stupid.
Be that as it may, there is one ultimate truth: the planet Earth must
be essentially in balance, or equilibrium, for life on it to continue
to exist. That essential balance, or equilibrium is based on many things,
but the ecological dimension is certainly an essential sine qua non.
It is increasingly clear that the human species is upsetting that ecological
dimension and, by doing so, breaking that essential balance or equilibrium.
As a result, human development is perhaps already, or soon will be,
What happened? What
Can be Done? Humanity at a Crossroads
In the post-Industrial Revolution
world, development can be said to have been based essentially on five
‘variables’: agricultural production; industrial production;
non-renewable mineral and energetic resources; population growth; and
pollution. 3 The rapid industrialisation in the 19th and the 20th centuries,
with its concomitant use of large amounts of non-renewable mineral and
energetic resources, began to upset the delicate ecological equilibrium
of the planet. Then, in the late-1970s, the arrival of NLG, followed,
a dozen or so years later, by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the
‘emergence’ of new great economic powers accelerated it.
4 Presently (in February 2007) according to a major report by a large
number of experts, global warming – caused by climate change,
which in turn is caused by the dumping of hundreds of billions of tons
of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere -- threatens to break it completely.
Why does it seem
likely that that ecological imbalance will persist?
i - China, India and Russia
(not to mention Brazil, Turkey, South Africa, Indonesia, etc.) will
want – legitimately so, under the present system -- to achieve
the high standards of living that exist in the US, Western Europe, Canada,
Australia and New Zealand.
ii - The impossibility to
duplicate, or replicate, these standards will exacerbate the competition
for scarce mineral and energetic resources.
iii - Combined with the decline
of America and the rise of China -- and India and Russia -- that raises
the spectre of violent conflict in the near future – perhaps,
in ten to fifteen years.
iv - An aggravating factor
will be the deepening of the great divide between the poor and the rich
(including the persistence of extreme poverty) which could hide behind
the mask of a ‘clash of civilisations’.
v – the latter will
provide a terrain favourable to international terrorism.
NLG is largely to blame for
this catastrophic situation. Dominated by a small number of very large
profit-oriented MNCs; supported by the governments of the rich and the
‘emerging’ countries; and IFIs such as the IMF, the World
Bank and the WTO; this is the ‘crowd’ that annually meets
at Davos, Switzerland, for the ‘High Mass’ of the WEF. There
were, in the 37th edition, in January 2007, some 2,000 participants,
discussing the three ‘global themes’ of :
-- the ‘emerging’
-- the growing clout of the
producers of mineral and energetic resources; and
-- the challenge of global
I believe that the WEF is
involved in an impossible task which can perhaps be capturede in the
following question: How can the extraordinary privileges of the rich
and powerful be protected while, at the same time, ‘creative’
ways can be found to decrease inequality, injustice, etc. It is an exercise,
it seems to me, doomed to failure.
I will confess: I am pessimistic
about the future of the planet. I think that NLG and MF are like a train
that has left the station and cannot be stopped. In the following years,
and even decades: China, India, Russia and Brazil – not to mention
the other medium-sized ‘powers’ -- will continue to industrialise
at neck-breaking speed. The thousands of billions of tons of carbon
dioxide that will have accumulated in the atmosphere probably cannot
be removed. Neither is the bridging the great divide between the rich
and the poor in the cards. Extreme poverty will persist. It is probable
that the no-holds-barred competition between the great powers for natural
resources and standards of living will end in a world war. I agree with
the British scientist who predicts that we have a 50 per cent chance
to reach the end of the century.
Nonetheless, having made
these all too gloomy predictions, I must also add that mankind has no
choice but to pretend, or to assume, that the world can still be saved,
and that SD is possible. What then needs, at a minimum, to be done for
humanity to create a world that is socially and ecologically sustainable?
What follows is a random list, by no means a systematic or exhaustive:
- rich countries will have
to learn to live more frugally and eliminate waste;
- the extraordinary privileges
and excesses of the very rich must be reduced;
- extreme poverty must be
- profit-oriented NLG must
be replaced by a people-oriented globalisation (P-OG) that is based
on peace, justice and solidarity.
Today, the civil society
– the CSOs and NGOs – is spearheading the struggle for a
world that is socially and ecologically sustainable. Its motto is: ‘Another
World Is Possible’. Let us join hands to build it. 6
Dr Zeki Ergas, SG of PEN
Swiss Romand, has, in the last two years or so, published more than
a dozen essays on topics having to do with the search of ‘Another’
or ‘better world’; these essays can be found in: www.globalmarshallplan.org
, www.globalmarshallplan.org and www.stwr.net
BHN: Basic Human Needs
NLG: Neo-liberal Globalisation
IFI: International Finance Institution
NGO: Non-governmental Organisation
CSO: Civil Society Organisation
SG: Secretary General
IMF: International Monetary Fund
SD: Sustainable Development
MF: Market Fundamentalism
WEF: World Economic Forum
MNC: Multinational Corporation
WSF: World Social Forum
WTO: World Trade Organisation
1 Because they have borrowed
money at prohibitive rates from local lenders to buy artificial seeds
and fertilisers from MNCs like Monsanto; these loans they were unable
to reimburse when crops failed or when and prices collapsed.
2 The Intergovernmental Panel
of Climate Change met in Paris on the first week of February 2007. It
has concluded that there is a 90 per cent chance for global warming
to reach 3 to 4 degrees centigrade by the end of the present century.
If that happened, the melting of the polar ice caps would result in
the raising sea levels and the flooding of large areas low-lying coastal
lands. This in turn would cause catastrophic migrations involving hundred
of millions of people. There is presently 382 ppm (parts per million)
of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; 450 ppm is the highest acceptable
limit,which corresponds to a rise in temperatures of two degrees. The
question is: Can the world reduce in the coming decades pollution levels
sufficiently to respect that limit of 450 ppm?
3 The five variables are
from Stop to Growth, a book published by the Club of Rome more than
forty years ago.
4 The four biggest ‘Emerging’
economic powers are China, India, Russia and Brazil; they are often
referred to (from the letters their names begin) as the CRIB or the
5 In February 2007, Richard
Bronson, the flamboyant English billionaire businessmen met with Al
Gore, the former American Vice-president and the author of the documentary
An Inconvenient Truth, to offer a $ 25 million prize to the scientist
(or group of scientists) able to pump out one billion tons of carbon
dioxide from the atmosphere per year for ten consecutive years. Nicolas
Hulot, a very popular French television journalist, has convinced the
ten candidates in the forthcoming French presidential elections, in
April 2007, to sign an ‘Ecological Pact’.
6 The civil society created
the World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in January 2001.
The seventh ‘edition’ of the WSF took place, in January
2007, in Nairobi, Kenya; it had some 50,000 participants.
Dr Zeki Ergas is Share The
World's Resources (STWR) Member (www.stwr.net
© Share The World's
Resources ( www.stwr.net