Sharing: A Shift In
By Rajesh Makwana
04 October, 2007
growing body of progressives within the global justice movement, including
environmentalists, economists and policy makers, broadly agree that
a significant overhaul of the world’s economic and political systems
is long overdue, and that without significant restructuring our most
pressing problems will never be tackled.
Whilst financial wealth soars
to new heights for the few, the majority world are growing relatively
poorer in the face of unfair trade, debt-based finance and grossly insufficient
aid. At the same time, developing countries have to endure
the harsh environmental consequences of the industrial growth that fuels
the skewed generation of wealth. Instead of being given the tools to
end poverty they find themselves forced to systematically abdicate democratic
control over their economies and resources to economically dominant
countries and corporations.
Whilst economists and policy
makers of the G8 nations remain comfortable in their runaway train of
policies, we cannot rely on governments to instigate change until after
the train collides. Their systematic prioritization of competition,
self-interest, market forces, economic
growth and the blatant subsidizing of corporate activity
has created an unsustainable, commercialized society and has distorted
the very meaning and function of economics. In a world where 2.7 billion
people live on less than two-dollars-a-day and 50,000 people die as
a result of poverty each day, economic practice can no longer claim
to ensure the efficient distribution of resources for all, but rather
the maximization of wealth generation without regard for consequence.
It is clear to many that
the rogue train is on a collision course with environmental devastation
and global economic and financial
instability . If that isn’t enough, old Cold War
divisions from renewed competition over resources and resentment from
marginalized communities throughout the world present themselves as
security threats, which are potentially catastrophic in a nuclear age.
It is time for a significant
re-evaluation of global economic and political values and the creation
of an economy that serves the needs of the global community as a whole,
within our environmental limitations. It may seem a vein hope that policy
makers will wake-up before the collision, but we can at least be sure
that they will take heed once they emerge from the wreck.
Amongst the many fundamental
flaws of the global economy are the rapidly globalizing market forces
which hold self-interest and competition at their heart. To fuel these
forces, there is the unending privatization of resources for the sake
of security and profit, and the propagation of economic growth as the
panacea for development. This all rests within a corrupt and unstable
global financial architecture based largely on speculation and bearing
no relevance to the lives of most people. Within this structure, multinational
corporations have thrived and shaped the thwarted ideals of consumer
society, ensuring grave environmental neglect through overconsumption.
In the meantime, the scourge of mass poverty has been neglected and
left to commerce and damaging export-oriented trade and agricultural
practices that prioritize profit over food security.
With climate change, financial
instability and political and economic competition between nations,
humanity finds itself at the edge of a dark abyss. Fundamental change
is inevitable, and a just and sustainable economy is required at the
very least to secure basic human rights and needs for all people everywhere
as a priority, ensuring that corporate enterprise serves the public
good and that all economic activity occurs within ecological limits
and a strict framework for emission reductions.
An effective and uniting
global framework for economic and political activity must supersede
the restrictive and often divisive prescriptions of socialism, communism
and capitalism. Once we overcome such ideologies, many comprehensive
and inclusive solutions to these problems present themselves through
the work of individuals and institutions around the world. Proposals
by ‘green economists’, the International Forum on Globalization,
proponents of ‘localization’ and others propose generally
to root economic activity in local communities as a way of reducing
CO2 emissions, reducing corporate power and reinforcing participatory
What is missing from these
and other proposals, which have at times been interpreted as protectionist
and regressive, is an overarching concept for how the global community
can continue to operate in an interdependent and globalised capacity,
in line with the observable cultural shift towards international unity.
The more basic question is how can the outdated values of privatization,
self-interest and competition - which drive economic globalization -
be fundamentally transformed to reflect principles that more accurately
embody our humane nature?
Privatization, or the enclosure
of the global
commons for the sake of marketable and profitable commodities,
is (and has been since the Middle Ages) the process at the very heart
of our individualistic and competitive economy. For centuries, various
forms of privatization have allowed corporations
to proliferate and amass wealth and influence at the behest of dominant
governments and to the advantage of the minority world. Both the commercial
drive for profit and the increasingly hostile relationships between
many countries stems from this same urge to secure and protect ones
national interests. If these selfish drives are not directly transformed
as part of any new political and economic framework, any restructuring
will be superficial and a return to current geo-political tensions will
Common ground must be established
and humanity’s common needs acknowledged; cooperative global interests
must replace competitive self-interests. On an individual basis, within
families and communities, people have established this sense of unity
through the simple act of sharing what they own. Sadly, the process
of sharing has been neglected at the international level where it can
ensure that the basic needs of all are secured. Sharing, as a simple
economic process, cuts to the heart of international relations and has
the potential not only to unite, but to transform the driving values
which underpin the global economy and thereby guarantee the permanency
of political and economic reform.
Ensuring that those resources
which are essential to life are no longer owned by corporations or controlled
by nationalistic governments is a crucial step in creating a sustainable
world economy which does not segregate or disenfranchise, but guarantees
to secure the basic needs of all stakeholders. The global cooperative
ownership of resources such as basic food, clean water, energy and medicine
will involve the transformation of a variety of institutions and the
creation of an international trust which can manage these resources
on behalf of the global community.
The positive ramifications
of identifying and sharing essential resources are manifold and will
address many of the key problems presented above, including a significant
reduction in corporate power, corporate
trade and commodity speculation as essential resources
are removed from commercial activity. The prioritization of local economies,
food security and the rapid distribution of the necessary resources
needed to achieve this will also lead to a rapid relief from poverty,
reduction in inequality, and the end of inadequate aid mechanisms which
are often ‘tied’ to benefit donors.
An international commitment
to equally sharing our right to the atmosphere, and our right to pollute
it, alongside strict targets for emissions reductions, will go a long
way to ensuring the viability of life on earth for future generations.
and convergence mechanism works in line with the principle
of sharing and provides the necessary framework for CO2 sustainability.
Most importantly, sharing
the world’s resources will necessarily internationalize and reinforce
economic and political cooperation, thus encouraging peaceful relations
between nations. This can pave the way for renewed international agreements
on disarmament and non-proliferation, and help end regional, national
and sectarian conflicts over resources such as land, water and minerals.
With the basic human needs of all people secured, the reasons for disenfranchisement
are directly addressed and the threat of terrorist activity greatly
It should be reiterated that
the goal of implementing a system of sharing is twofold. Firstly to
rapidly prioritize the needs of the majority world, who presently go
without essentials such as adequate food, clean water and basic healthcare;
and secondly to ensure that political and economic reform penetrates
the very heart of the ‘the system’, transforming the values
upon which it is built and not just its operation. Unlike existing theories
such as socialism, Marxism or capitalism, sharing cannot be perceived
as a divisive ideology by anyone. Economic sharing is a simple and familiar
human process which recognizes the inherent unity of all nations and
has the potential to secure basic needs and establish a sustainable
world through the global common ownership of essential resources by
the global public.
Proposing a System
In proposing a possible framework
within which resources can be efficiently shared across the world to
secure basic human needs, it must be emphasized that this ‘proposal’
is not meant to constitute the definitive method for establishing such
a system, but merely presents a possible and logical skeleton for consideration
that can be amended over time as further research is undertaken. Ultimately,
global economic reform and the establishment of any system of sharing
will only be possible after extensive dialogue at the international
level, quite probably under the auspices of the United Nations.
This proposal presents campaigners
and activists with a viable structure for reform to be considered and
debated, and is aimed at clarifying and substantiating a global call
for sharing the world’s resources by seeking to answer the question
‘how can sharing be implemented in the global economy?’
It is unlikely that the necessary
changes will occur until there is a dramatic turn-around in the thrust
of international policy objectives, which may be most likely to occur
after significant economic or environmental crises, both of which are
likely to occur in the near future as economically dominant nations
and multinational corporations maintain the attitude of ‘business
as usual’. It is inevitable that, sooner or later, policy makers
accept that excessive consumption, fuelled by the liberalization of
market forces and short-sighted profit maximization, is the direct cause
of climate change, and that these same commercial forces have created
an unstable global economy based on speculation and sustained by governments
pursuing economic growth at all costs.
If not before, then it will
be at this point of crisis that proposals for far-reaching reform will
be considered, and a recognition established that we must work together
as a global community if we are to create a fairer and sustainable economy.
Implicit and fundamental to such thinking must be the recognition that
securing the basic needs of those who live in poverty must be the primary
objective of any economic system.
Any attempt to redistribute
resources more equitably will require global consensus for action and
the transfer of economic power away from multinational corporations
to a council of governments as they organize a framework within which
essential resources, production and services can be re-directed to prioritize
the securing of basic human needs.
is likely to centre on the United Nations whose vast humanitarian experience
places it in good stead to coordinate reform, despite its many flaws.
The United Nations
Given its international membership
and humanitarian charter, the UN system is clearly the only international
body with the experience and resources to address global economic reform.
In its current state, however, the UN is far too handicapped to initiate
such change. Over the past 20 years, the US in particular has undermined
the UN’s effectiveness by withholding pre-agreed and essential
funding. The main reason for this is self preservation, as US economic
hegemony is not compatible with the UN’s humanitarian principles.
Instead, funding has been diverted to the largely undemocratic international
financial institutions that favor America’s economic ideologies
WTO, World Bank and IMF.
The UN system must be restructured
and revitalized, firstly to ensure that the democratic power to make
and act upon decisions resides within the General Assembly. It should
be also provided with all the resources necessary to fulfill its original
mandate of regulating global economic affairs, strengthening international
cooperation and promoting peace. The UN must be allowed to live up to
its charter, in particular Article
International dialogue for
reform must be centered on these principles, alongside the principle
of sharing as the appropriate value with which to secure these universal
rights. Once sharing has been accepted as the guiding principle for
a reformed economic system, it would be necessary to create an additional,
fully representative and accountable body within the UN responsible
for organizing a global framework for sharing and thereafter to coordinate
the global redistribution of resources. For the time being we can call
such a body the ‘UN Council for Resource Sharing (UNCRS)’.
A United Nations
Council for Resource Sharing (UNCRS)
All participant countries
should be fairly represented in the UNCRS, and all members would subscribe
to a declaration of mutual benefit and equality. At all stages, the
process should be transparent and directed by member countries representing
their citizens’ needs. The activities of the UNCRS would be strictly
in the interests of the global community, would be free of any national
political or commercial gain and would eventually replace existing international
aid, development and poverty reduction strategies.
Sharing essential resources
would naturally create a more manageable international trade and finance
framework, under which existing international financial institutions
(such as the IMF, World Bank and WTO) would be rendered broadly redundant
and could be progressively
dismantled. Established agencies, such as the UN Economic
and Social Council (ECOSOC) and UN Conference on Trade and Development
(UNCTAD), are well equipped to take over as the arbiters and overseers
of the remaining international trade, finance and development mechanisms.
An international strategy
to rapidly alleviate extreme poverty and to ensure that essential resources
are shared in the longer term will require the UNCRS to initiate two
programs of reform. In the short term a United Nations Emergency Redistribution
Program (UNERP) – to end needless deaths from extreme poverty,
and in the longer term a global system for sharing essential resources
– The Global Sharing Network (GSN) – to ensure an ongoing
sharing of resources that can create a more sustainable economy.
The United Nations
Emergency Redistribution Program (UNERP)
A similar program to transfer
essential resources from 'north to south' was first proposed in the
(1980) but, despite widespread approval, the necessary
political will to implement the proposals was sadly lacking. Humanity
cannot afford this level of political complacency again; not to act
is to condemn millions of people to needless hardship and death.
The process of an UNERP would
be structurally and ideologically different from existing aid mechanisms,
and the goal would be to prevent the deaths of the 50,000 people who
die each day from poverty, within a three year period. This would be
achieved through the universal provision of essential resources, regardless
of cost implications. The emphasis would be on the redistribution of
existing material resources, outside of the market system, and not simply
the pooling and redirection of patronage aid. Necessarily, countries
with the greatest surpluses of each individual resource would be first
in line to share their excess, a responsibility that would naturally
fall on the shoulders of more affluent and productive countries.
The UNCRS would utilize existing
sources of data from UN agencies, the World Bank and NGOs for these
figures. Where there is insufficient or disputed data, the UNCRS would
turn to member country governments and where necessary conduct local
surveys within countries. This information would form the basis of a
global network for sharing resources (as detailed below) as part of
a more comprehensive system of sharing.
Any such program would require
calculating the most urgent national and global requirements, which
would include basic food, clean water and essential medication. Available
data would enable the UNCRS to determine the quantities of each of these
provisions that donors must supply, and determine which countries are
best placed to supply them. The UNCRS would then coordinate international
efforts to redistribute these essential resources to where they are
most urgently required. It is feasible that the army, navy, air force,
other military bodies as well as members of the public around the world
would be involved in the redistribution effort.
The UN Emergency Redistribution
Program (UNERP) differs significantly from existing development structures
as most of the ‘aid’ or redistributed resources will not
be channeled through governmental bureaucracies, but mobilized directly
on the ground where it is required in the form of food, water and medicine.
The resulting self-sufficiency and direct access to resources will end
the dependency that developing countries have on systems of aid, which
will in turn bring an end to the existing aid mechanisms which are grossly
insufficient and often corrupted by political, economic or commercial
interests, or nation-specific foreign policy objectives.
World Economy and Sharing Resources
Reform of the world economy
and the establishing of a wider system of sharing should begin as soon
as the UN Emergency Relief Program (UNERP) has gained momentum. Whereas
the UNERP is a tool for the immediate relief of those in extreme poverty,
a parallel restructuring of the global economy would be necessary to
ensure that the wider basic needs of the global public can be met in
perpetuity. This includes the right to healthcare, education, housing
Since the world economy is
largely capitalistic at present and based on production and consumption
for the sake of wealth accumulation, the aim of reform would be to mitigate
the prevalence of market forces and commercialization. In order to correct
the unequal distribution of resources around the world, to end poverty
and to highlight the commonality of nations, those resources which are
common to all people and necessary for life must be made universally
available. Re-establishing the stake that humanity has in the world's
natural resources, produced goods and services will necessarily involve
government intervention to minimize corporate and nationalistic control
The management, production
and distribution of essential resources must be organized to ensure
that only after the basic human needs of all people are satisfied can
they be made commercially available to other economic entities for the
purpose of profitable production or consumption. This must occur within
a reformed commercial framework which benefits local communities and
ensures that resources are made available for all nations to become
self sufficient and productive to the best of their capabilities.
Broader political and economic
reform on a global scale will also be necessary if sustainability and
economic justice is to be permanently established. Complimentary measures
include implementing the principles of economic localization and subsidiarity
to significantly reduce corporate influence, regulate corporate activity
and strengthen local economies, production and food security. Implementing
the contraction and convergence model of global carbon emissions reduction
and encouraging energy efficiency would, alongside many other measures,
also be crucial. Many other suitable measures for global reform have
gained wide support amongst progressives, activists and alternative
economists worldwide and cannot be discussed here.
Comprehensive reform can
ensure that the selfish interests of economic entities, whether they
are countries or corporations, will be superseded by the combined interests
of the global community. A true internationalism which can foster peaceful
relations between nations and the cooperative advancement of humanity
can then be established. Clearly many of the above measures are interdependent.
For example, by encouraging the local production and consumption of
resources, the inefficient and carbon heavy practices of international
freight transportation of many resources will be significantly reduced,
making it easier to achieve stricter emissions targets.
In order to institute a broader
system of sharing it will be necessary to determine more comprehensively
what constitutes ‘essential resources’, and therefore come
to a global consensus regarding levels of need and consumption. It will
also be necessary to create a framework to safeguard these resources
and to establish a global network to facilitate their international
distribution. Each of these issues is considered in more detail below.
Resources and Needs
Implicit in any such system,
however, is the need for affluent countries which currently over-consume
resources to consume less and learn to live sustainably within global
ecological limits. Reducing over-consumption and preventing unnecessary
waste would ensure that sufficient resources are available globally
to meet all citizens’ needs.
Rampant and unnecessary commercialization
can be addressed through measures to
regulate corporate activity; energy consumption can be
reduced by cutting back on inefficient corporate trade structures and
lowering food miles; and economic localization and sharing resources
according to need can help further develop distributional efficiency.
A gradual contraction and convergence method, similar to that applied
to emission reductions by the Global Commons Institute, would have to
be employed in relation to general consumption around the world.
In order to consider how
the ownership and management of key resources could be organized, it
is useful to group them according to type. There are three general categories:
-Naturally occurring resources
– e.g. land, water, oil, gas and mineral ores
-Produced goods – e.g. agricultural produce, medicines, building
materials and machinery
-Services – e.g. utilities, healthcare and education
The management of each of these types of resources would have to be
structured differently at the international level, which will require
an invigoration of some existing international bodies and the creation
of certain new mechanisms, as outlined below.
Holding Natural Resources
in Trust - A Global Commons Trust
To reverse the insidious
and selfish enclosure
of the global commons, the right for all to have access
to and benefit from common resources must be returned to world citizens.
Only through responsible trusteeship divorced from the profit motive
can we be sure that the world’s natural complement of resources
can be managed sustainably to secure the urgent needs of current and
future generations. Common resources could include land, water, the
atmosphere, oil, gas, coal, iron, bauxite, copper and other essential
minerals and metals.
A trust is a suitable legal
mechanism to ensure that essential resources are managed in the interests
of the global community. Internationally identified common resources
can be written into a ‘Global Commons Trust (GCT)’. The
beneficiaries of the trust would be all world citizens, whilst the trustees
would be a fully representative and international body – the UN
Council for Research Sharing (UNCRS). The trust would be created on
the premise that the specified common assets must be utilized in a manner
that prioritizes securing the basic needs of humanity.
Where it makes sound ecological
and economical sense, the production of goods from raw materials should
be sited near to where the resources are naturally located. Governments,
working in cooperation with the UNCRS, would then be responsible for
organizing production to ensure that global needs can be secured. Depending
on the country of origin, levels of local need, aggregate global needs
and other factors, a proportion of produced goods would be allocated
for global redistribution, whilst a portion would be made available
for local consumption.
Within the context of the
wider reforms mentioned above, governments would have a range of options
open to them for how to organize the production of goods such as basic
agricultural produce, essential medicine, and much-needed building materials.
They could establish national production facilities for goods which
suit their national compliment of resources through a process of full
or part nationalization of existing industries. However it may be more
efficient, especially in the early stages, to make use of the existing
productive facilities owned by multinationals, for example existing
producers could be mandated to donate a suitable proportion of their
goods to help secure global needs. Another option is that larger corporations
are broken down into their smaller components for local communities
to organize cooperative production facilities, as has been the case
in some Latin American countries such as Argentina.
Currently the World Health
organization (WHO) leads the field in facilitating international healthcare
and has detailed research on where and which types of healthcare services
are required. Similarly, the United Nations Educational and Social Council
(UNESCO) is at the forefront of the ‘Education for All’
movement and has information regarding how and where programs should
be implemented and which resources are necessary to secure universal
Apart from various awareness-raising
and monitoring NGOs, however, there is no global agency which is directly
involved in overseeing the provision of utilities such as water or energy.
Increasingly, these services are not even managed by governments but
are in the hands of private corporations.
Once the right to energy
and water is internationalized through a Global Commons Trust, a new
World Utility Organization can begin to coordinate the provision of
essential utilities and engage in research activities to ensure that
relevant and up-to-date information is available where required. Such
an organization could coordinate local groups, non-profit companies
and cooperative organizations to manage the provision of utility services.
It may also be possible in the short term for existing corporations,
under international mandates, to lend their expertise and resources
to these projects.
A Global Sharing
In order to practically establish
a system of sharing within the global economy, the UN Council for Resource
Sharing (UNCRS) would set up and coordinate a Global Sharing Network
(GSN). The GSN would measure the changing levels of excess production
in each country, then calculate how much of any resource a country is
able to redistribute to another and ensure that excess resources are
shared efficiently and with minimal impact on the environment, by ensuring
that goods travel the shortest possible distance at all times.
The UNCRS would provide logistical
support in the creation of networks within countries to ensure that
correct information is fed back to the GSN. Such networks are likely
to comprise of civil society groups which monitor resource levels locally
and regionally, and a governmental body which coordinates and collates
this information to feedback to the GSN. Members of the community would
be encouraged to form local and regional assemblies to ensure that the
basic needs of the public are accurately represented. They would also
assist in the distribution of resources received from other regions
The process of sharing basic
resources in this way is essentially a democratic and direct route to
economic development. The method would ensure a ‘bottom up’
development controlled by those most affected, and not an imposed ‘top-down’
process. Local and regional assembly structures of this kind would also
enable genuine political participation to become a reality.
How Sharing can Transform
the World Economy
In a global economy where
essential resources are shared, the primary objective would not be commerce,
trade liberalization or economic growth, but the production and global
distribution of all resources that are essential to life. Adopting a
system of sharing will mean that the majority of commodities and goods
that are currently traded would instead be cooperatively owned and distributed
by the global public through the UN Council for Resource Sharing (UNCRS).
As a result, international
trade in commodities and their derivatives will be significantly
reduced and confined to non-essential goods, and commercial interests
would have no direct influence on economic sharing. Corporations would
operate within this new global framework to serve the remaining economic,
industrial and technological needs of society.
Sharing would ensure that
essential domestic needs are largely met at the local level, thereby
reducing dependency on foreign imports of essential goods. As a consequence,
there would be less need for developing countries to agree to prohibitive
trade agreements, whether multilateral or bilateral. This would free
the population to develop their own industry and economy, making it
eventually possible to decommission the WTO. Divorcing essential resources
from financial markets will dramatically reduce the amount of stock
and financial derivatives related to the stocks that are speculated
upon and traded. This will help to reduce the global financial instability
that many economists and analysts believe will, sooner or later, result
in an international economic crisis and world stock market collapse.
Sharing resources would also
mean that developing nations require less foreign exchange reserves
as they will be purchasing fewer goods from abroad. This would reduce
the need for developing countries to turn to the IMF for loans and accrue
crippling debts. It would therefore be possible to eventually decommission
A system of sharing should
be implemented within a framework for wider economic reform once policy
makers admit that economic instability and climate change are the result
of unfettered market forces, commercialization and overconsumption.
The overriding impetus for reform must be to create the necessary economic
and political conditions for ending poverty, protecting the environment
and creating a united world in which justice replaces inequality.
The common ownership of resources,
goods and services which are essential to life and their cooperative
management by the international community goes further than existing
calls for economic reform which include localization, subsidiarity and
corporate regulation. Implementing the principle of sharing in world
economic and political affairs replaces the values of competition and
self-interest upon which these systems are based with the more humane
values of cooperation and common interest. In this way, economic sharing
ensures that fundamental issues such as the prevalence of market forces
are addressed by removing key resources from commercial control, thereby
reducing corporate power and influence and destabilizing speculative
activity on financial markets.
Much more research and dialogue
is clearly required at the international level before any program of
international reform and economic sharing can be constructed. The above
proposal, however, provides a starting point for further research and
demonstrates that it is both necessary and possible for reform on this
scale to be initiated if the world community seriously commits itself
to ending poverty, mitigating climate change and creating a sustainable
This is an edited version
of a more detailed article which can be read here
is the Director of Share The World's Resources (STWR), an NGO campaigning
for global economic and social justice. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Copyright 2007 Share The
World's Resources (www.stwr.net)
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