22 October 2008

An Alternate Proposal

For that reason, the countries that had been shut out of the creation of the IMF-WB built their own project and their own institutions. The main organization was the UN Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD, created in 1961 by the bulk of the UN nations, newly freed from colonial dominion of one kind or another (these are countries that wedded themselves to the Third World project, as I outline in The Darker Nations). In the 1980s, the IMF and the WB began to use the debt crisis as leverage to transform the politics and economics of the poorer world. Structural adjustment policies weakened whatever mild gains had been made over the course of the past fifty years. The lack of effective democracy in the IMF-WB and their promiscuous relationship with Europe’s capitals and with Washington, DC, allowed them to skew their policies against the needs of those who make what is so acquisitively enjoyed by those in power.

When Tremonti says that he is thinking of an agreement “among large nations” I’m sure he doesn’t mean “large” in terms of demography. Otherwise China, India, Indonesia, Brazil and Pakistan would join the United States in setting up the new rules (Tremonti’s Italy only has .9% of the world’s population, while China and India house over 36% of the world’s population). Gordon Brown’s opinion piece in the Washington Post, “Out of the Ashes” (October 17) is populated with the royal “We.” “We must deal with more than the symptoms of the current crisis,” he writes, and then hastens to add, “European leaders came together to propose the guiding principles that we believe should underpin this new Bretton Woods.” The ideas are fairly straightforward, including transparency, sound banking, responsibility, integrity, and global governance. But these could mean anything: responsibility of whom, and toward whom? The same with integrity. There is similar hoopla about global this and global that (“the global problems we face require global solutions”) except the only ones who seem to count in the drafting of the project are the Europeans and the U. S. (with Japan). No-one proposes to call a genuine world-wide conference, to revive the project of the UNCTAD, to ask Beijing and New Delhi, N’Djamena and Quito. Brown quotes Dean Acheson who said of Bretton Woods that he was “present at the creation.” India and China might have been there, but they were absent: their input was minimal, and it remains marginal.

If Brown asked those involved in the Bolivarian experiment, he’d get a set of concrete proposals that would be just the tonic needed for a tired planet: their principles, derived from the Third World project, would call for capital controls over hot money, firm obligations for foreign direct investment to remain for the long-term, better ability for states and regions to protect the value of their currency, construction of trade policies consonant with the needs of the population and not the imperatives of transnational corporations, and finally the revival of the United Nations Centre on Transnational Corporations (which led a much abused life from 1973 to 1993). These and more would be the kind of proposals that would come from the South. But Brown’s ear is turned toward Paulson, and he can’t hear what Chavez is saying.

While in the White Mountains last week I casually asked someone if he knew anything about the Abenaki Indians. He didn’t. Nor are their any signs to indicate that they were ever alive. Except a ski resort named for them. The Abenaki were exterminated by the plague of 1616-1618, then the slow, painful encroachment of the Massachusetts settlers up the Merrimack River (including a series of wars that devastated the Abenaki and other peoples: King Philip’s War, 1675-78, Lovewell’s War, 1723-25 and the French and Indian War, 1754-63, during which Major Robert Rogers conducted his bloody raid of the village of St. Francis), and by finally by the long cultural war that fully cleansed the landscape of them. Bretton Woods was built on the homeland of the Abenaki, taken by the colonialists for its resources (the trees became raw material for the ships) and for the land. It is fitting then that Bretton Woods, built on colonial amnesia, is the name of a conference that the G7 wants to revive, once more forgetting the silenced billions.

By all means a conference, but not one that shuts out the many. Chavez gets this. After meeting Sarkozy in Paris in late September, Chavez told the press that such a meeting must “not be confined to the Group of Eight.” He’s having a good laugh. Reflecting on the equity stake in the banks, Chavez said, “Comrade Bush is to the left of me now.”

Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, CT His new book is The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World, New York: The New Press, 2007. He can be reached at: vijay.prashad@trincoll.edu

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