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Market 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, unsustainable. 2

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. 5

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’ economic ‘giants’;

-- the growing clout of the producers of mineral and energetic resources; and

-- the challenge of global warming/climate change.

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 eradicated;

- 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: , and


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 BRIC countries.

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 ( )

© Share The World's Resources ( )


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