Albert Reply to Monbiot – 1


I agree with you that without global democracy national democracy is hamstrung (though it is nonetheless quite different to have free elections, free speech, etc., than to have death squads and dictators). For me globalization means rewriting the norms of international exchange to increasingly benefit the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and weak. What’s bad is contouring relations so trade and other benefits accrue overwhelming to those who need them least. Our internationalism should turn the dynamic upside down seeking global ties that increasingly benefit the poor and weak.

You point out that gains made domestically can be undone by the influences of persistent international relations. I agree, but I think gains made internationally can be undone by persistent domestic relations as well. For example, efforts to alter trade, even if they succeed and are codified in a changed or replaced IMF, World Bank, or World Trade Organization, can be rolled back by pressures from persistent domestic capitalist relations. I assume we agree on that too, though you didn’t note it.

More critically, I think the public which has to compose an aroused massive movement knows the above. And so efforts to rally tens and hundreds of millions of people to demand new international relations have to overcome public doubts that dissent is a fool’s errand because any victory will be undone by persistent capitalism. To counter this pessimism, even our internationalist efforts have to answer people’s question – what do you want – not only with a picture of new international relations, but also with a picture of new domestic relations.  Our efforts have to galvanize people in ways that create lasting commitment and desires to carry struggle to profoundly new ends. To do that we must put basic institutional features on the table for debate, internationally and domestically.

I agree with you that our greatest power is numbers and commitment coupled with moral authority, and I would certainly like to see a world parliament controlled by the will of populations around the globe. I also agree that we don’t have to pursue a parliament that replicates the ills of our domestic models. Why not build a structure much better than what has typically existed in the past?

For example, I don’t understand why a world parliament needs populations to manifest their wills under the banner of their home country. Maybe that is something we can get beyond.

Assume a world population of 8 billion. Suppose we ignored national borders and said the new world parliament will have 1,000 voting members, If so, each would have to represent eight million people. Suppose people worldwide organized into units of fifty. Each unit picks a representative to serve and be replaced after one year. At the bottom layer there are 160 million fifty person assemblies. The second layer would combine the 160 million selected representatives into 3.2 million assemblies. The next layer, again made up of people chosen by each unit of the prior level, would contain 64 thousand units. The next level would be — let’s simplify a little, 1000 units, again with fifty people each. The next level would be one unit of 1000 representatives. What’s nice is that discussion, deliberation, and debate can occur in the component units as well as at the highest level, and that those thousand representatives, each of whom had to be picked as exemplary four times, would not represent nation states, but simply eight million people each. It is elaborate, I admit, but it would be transparent and truly devoid of national oversight or control. More, none of the elections is a massive financial affair, since in every case there are only fifty people choosing their emissary. Anyhow, it’s a thought.

I think I don’t understand something about the ICU idea. It seems to be premised on the centrality of providing incentives such that when each year ends each country will have imported a volume of items whose total value is the same as the total value of what it exports. I have never understood what is called macroeconomics, but I must admit I don’t see why this is the focus.

Suppose country A has some item and country B pays for it. And vice-versa as well. In fact, let’s say there are just these two countries and let’s say they balance as the ICU desires. Okay, so country A got items a, b, c…z from country B in some amounts. Country B got items a’, b’, c’ through z’ from country A in some other amounts. The total value, price times amount, for what each country got is the same. Why trade?

Well, assuming no coercion, these trades would occur because country A is better at producing the primed items, and country B is better at producing the unprimed items. If they didn’t trade, country A couldn’t forego the a’-z’ it exchanged to instead produce what it wants, a-z, without losses compared to trading. Likewise, country B couldn’t forego a-z to produce a’-z’ without losses relative to trading. There are gains to be had, in other words, by having a division of labor and then exchanging. The overriding question is where do these gains accrue? Do they get apportioned evenly, or mostly to A, or mostly to B?

Globalization is a campaign to enforce that the gains accrue overwhelmingly to the stronger and wealthier parties. In fact, it is often even worse. If we take into account a company coming in and using up resources and violating the environment, the balance can be outright negative for one country and wildly positive for the other. As internationalists, we of course want the reverse. But does the ICU idea yield the reverse? I doubt it. It seems to ignore very critical factors such as who sets the prices of the items and whether those prices actually account for the real costs and benefits, including pollution, affects on workforces, and so on. If they don’t, what is really happening and what seems to be happening looking just at equal accounts, could be two very different things. So I guess I am asking whether the ICU idea actually gets to the heart of the matter.

Your formulation that nations should be free to pursue development in the wisest way, is of course one I support. The “sliding scale of trade privileges” you recommend is precisely the kind of proposal that seeks to bend international exchange so the benefits of trade go more to the poor and weak.

You say “a Fair Trade Organization would also become an international licensing authority for corporations. Only those companies which can demonstrate that they are not employing slaves, banning trade unions or dumping their pollutants in the rivers would be permitted to trade internationally.” I’m for it. But of course this is profoundly anti-capitalist and would be fought to the death. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek it, of course, but we do need to be clear that just because we are talking about “the world” and not about “the U.S.,” we haven’t somehow avoided the reality that capitalist firms and the U.S. and other states that function largely on corporate agendas will oppose these measures.

And this raises another aspect I wonder about. All of the measures you propose, and no doubt many other possible desirable ones, would of course have to be won against very stiff opposition. Your conditions and proposals are anti-capitalist, anti-market, and anti-corporate in their logic and implications, though you don’t seem to say so. They are changes the other side will fight tooth and nail against, not solely for their immediate implications, but even more so because of the trajectory of demands movement victory on such issues could provoke. The same gains could be sought inside any given national economy. Why do you think they would be easier to win posed for the whole world, then posed for particular specific economies? And if they could be won for the latter more easily, wouldn’t that be an argument for pursuing that course as a foundation for then taking on the problem internationally, or at least simultaneously?

In moving toward strategy you seem to emphasize the threat of poor nations not paying debt, not the marshalling of massive movements. Who are poor nations? Do you mean their populations? Okay, their populations will have very great reason to support the kinds of international change you are proposing, of course, but their populations have no say over debt, save by organizing and fighting to impose their preferences. If you mean the states, on the other hand, and thus their corporate and political elites — the fact that country X is poor and being ripped off, doesn’t imply that country X’s leaders and corporate class want to embark on a path that challenges inequality and injustice. Quite the contrary, more often than not those constituencies benefit from the poverty of their countries.


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