Fellows meeting 2008
Credit and Food Crises: Global Economic Prospects
Presenter: Susan George
The financial crisis is proof of how ‘free’ globalised capital has become: with no limits, little unaccountability and cushioned by the knowledge that states would have to bail out the banks. The crisis does not mean that there is too little money or credit. The world is in fact awash with money. The problem is that speculation and deregulation has sucked money upwards and concentrated it in the hands of a small elite.
Similarly, the food crisis is about distribution of land and investment in agriculture rather
than the limits of production. Resolving the crises will need a myriad of approaches: re-regulation of the finance sector, requiring banks to make environmental investments, rebalancing the power of labour and capital, challenging free trade regimes, moving from an economy based on expanding consumption to a social, low-carbon economy.
While we might favour an ecological Keynesianism, we should also be alert that states may respond to the crises by imposing a militarist form of Keynesianism.
Resource Wars and the Geo-Politics of Energy
Presenters: Praful Bidwai and Boris Kagarlitsky
It used to be argued that the economy of extraction and production of materials would be replaced by a new hi-tech economy. In fact, the opposite has happened with highly resource-intensive industries expanding —fossil fuels, minerals, land, forests and water. This is further opening up regions such as Africa, which recently surpassed the Middle East as a provider of US oil.
There are also new protagonists on the global extractive stage such as India, China, Russia and Ukraine, which all seem unable to break with environmentally-destructive models of development.
The conflicts over resources, in particular water and land, have been exacerbated by the climate crisis and are already causing conflicts in regions such as Darfur and Kashmir.
It is also leading to the militarisation of foreign policy, as seen in the growing influence of the Pentagon in African affairs.
Climate Politics, Agrofuels and Land Struggles
Presenters: Jun Borras and Oscar Reyes
Land and climate change are now at the forefront of development discourse. The mainstream market framing of the issues is often at the source of the problems in the first place, however, and it is thus little wonder that no real solutions are delivered.
In the case of climate change, the decision to tackle global warming by pricing carbon, and using Cap-and-Trade along with offsetting schemes, has proved to be a corporate bonanza with little environmental benefit. It has distracted from the necessary if difficult structural changes needed in areas of energy, trade, food and production.
In the case of land, the promotion of market-led land policies, supported by the international aid community, is likely to lead to future conflicts as corporations seek to take over land for industrial agriculture, including agrofuels.
Both free-market land reform and current climate policies face growing opposition from a broad alliance of social organisations—with land rights and climate justice movements
increasingly linking up.
Centres of Gravity: China and India as Global Players
Presenters: Isabel Hilton and Achin Vanaik
China and India’s emergence as global powers has the potential to rebalance the global order. There is no sign that either wants to, or can, replace US global hegemony, but their economic expansion is already having an impact within Asia and, indeed, worldwide.
The option of an alternative trading partner may have opened up negotiating space for some countries, but it has also led to the support of such pariah regimes as Sudan and the
expansion of damaging extraction industries globally.
Internally, the cost of growth has been inequality, environmental devastation and rising social conflict. In India, the Maoist Naxalite movement is growing. In China, there have been an estimated 80,000 internal disturbances over the last three years.
It is increasingly questionable how sustainable China and India’s growth will be. India may prove more able than China to resolve these problems due its more democratic institutions.
The Middle East: Still the Crucible of Empire?
Presenters: Phyllis Bennis and Kamil Mahdi
The economy of the Middle East will continue to be driven largely by external actors. Iraq and Iran, in particular, will remain in the crosshairs of US foreign policy. Even if President Obama wants to end the war, he is still committed to occupation, leaving behind troops and mercenaries. Iran worries the US because of its strength in the region and its control over oil, water and land.
A post-oil era is not far off but there is little sign that the Middle East has prepared itself: the region continues to export capital, fails to invest internally and has neglected long-term challenges of food and water sustainability. Dubai may be proclaimed as a model for the future, but remains an enclave economy built on social divides and ecological destruction.
Counter forces are emerging – from the Iraqi resistance against US occupation to labour movements in Egypt – but currently lack a unifying vision and organisation. In short, there is a real need to work with civil society partners in the Middle East to strengthen a focus on political, cultural, economic and social rights.
Political Agency for Change
Presenters: Edgardo Lander and Hilary Wainwright
The current crises are symptoms of the problem with the project of industrial society, based on the control, manipulation and destruction of nature. Current approaches to tackling climate change will not work unless there is a radical change of mindset, taking on board new conceptions of wealth, happiness and well-being.
This will also require rethinking how social and political change happens. What are the forces, structures, institutions and methodology that will allow this? There is a tension between the urgency of the ecological crisis and the flawed nature of the institutions expected to take action.
An unreformed institution often distorts or undermines radical change. TNI has a key role to play in highlighting where radical alternatives are already being developed, and helping to connect these. It can also reflect the important learning emerging where neo-liberalism has ruptured, such as in Latin America. At the same time, TNI needs to analyse why ostensibly alternative forms of political organisation have failed to live up to expectations.