Another World Is Possible
The demonstrations in Laeken at the end of the Belgian EU presidency in December brought out tens of thousands, including a large number of trade unionists, with almost no violence (one or two shattered bank windows). On January 19, ATTAC-France (ATTAC is an acronym for the Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions to Aid Citizens, whose program now reaches well beyond the push for the so-called Tobin Tax, the proposed small tax on international currency transactions) filled to overflowing the largest rock concert hall in Paris for the kickoff of the upcoming presidential and legislative election season. While we have no intention of becoming a party, we do promise to harass all the candidates unmercifully around our issues. Next month, ATTAC-Hungary will be launched, the fortieth country to join this international movement. The CGIL, Italy's largest and most progressive trade union, recently decided to become a "founding institutional member" of ATTAC-Italy. Kids all over Europe asked their parents to give them the airfare to Porto Alegre for Christmas so they could attend the historic international citizens' gathering there January 31-February 5.
We know that for Americans, the backlash of the terrorist attacks has been far more powerful and the aftermath more lingering. With flags flying on every corner, the obligatory rallying around President George W. Bush no matter what he decides, and a kind of suffocating and frequently phony patriotism dominating the debate, it's clear that the pressure is considerable.
Allow me still to argue that it's time to pull ourselves together, pull up our socks and pull together--take your pick of metaphors, but also take heart: September 11 is not the end of the world. History may even be handing us a radically new moment, one we did not choose but ours to seize. Our message is more relevant today than it was on the eve of September 11.
The emotions the atrocities awakened in all the rich Western countries caused me briefly to entertain the naïve hope that their leadership might finally recognize the gravity of the situation and provide an appropriate response. I should have known better. Those who hold our futures in their hands are not serious. They see no farther than the noses of their bombers. Frightening though the prospect may seem, citizens must accept the risk of being serious in their place.
What does "being serious" mean? For starters, recognizing what our leadership refuses to admit: that terrorist nihilism is one response to poverty, despair and hopelessness. I don't mean to imply that redistribution of resources and aid programs, however well conceived, could have stopped bin Laden and his immediate followers. They care nothing about the poverty of their own compatriots, but they do know that terrorism thrives in the rich soil of exclusion and victimhood.
On September 10, half the world was already living, if one can call it that, on less than $2 a day, with a fifth surviving on half of that. Thirty thousand children were already dying needless deaths daily. Inequality is exploding both within and among nations, and perhaps contrary to the poor of the nineteenth century, today's poor know they are poor. The plausible fantasies of Western television constantly remind them of their own failure to capture the material rewards of modernity.
The only rational response to global problems is global solutions. "Foreign direct investment," the panacea of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, consists mostly of mergers and acquisitions that result in harmful economic concentration and job losses, and in any case such investment flows to only a dozen or so countries. The UN target of 0.7 percent of the wealthy countries' GNP for development aid is never going to be met, and we should stop pretending that it will be, because this particular pot of money is shrinking by some 5 percent a year. What resources do exist are unaccompanied by control over the local elites, who all too frequently use them for their own ends, a recipe for waste, corruption and inefficiency. What's needed is to ratchet up our efforts to the international level and launch a global Marshall Plan, financed by various international tax instruments (including but not confined to Tobin-type taxes) and made conditional on genuine civil society participation and rigorous auditing. Debt relief ought to be a precondition of a properly functioning world system; otherwise the debtors are competing on the "level playing field" the neoliberals never tire of extolling with lead in their sneakers.