PCDForum Column #16,   Release Date August 12, 1991

by James Robertson

The recent London economic summit of the Group of Seven (G7)--Britain, Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada, France and the United States--again confirmed what has long been evident. The leaders of the world's high consumption, high polluting economies are not prepared to offer an effective response to the deep-seated world crisis brought on by conventional approaches to economic progress.

In recognition of this reality, the first people's economic summit, known as The Other Economic Summit (TOES), was organized seven years ago in parallel to the 1984 London G7 meeting. One aim of TOES was to build an international citizen coalition for a new economics grounded in social and spiritual values to address concerns the G7 consistently neglects--such as poverty, environment, peace, health, safety, human rights, and democratic global governance. TOES has since become an annual companion to the official G7 meetings.

Since 1984, the enormous growth in environmental awareness and the collapse of world communism have demonstrated what effective citizen movements can accomplish and have created important new openings for a post-modern approach to economic policy. Communism and capitalism have been interlocking aspects of a world order born of the same world view--modern, industrialized, supposedly scientific, and culturally European. Both have taken an impersonal, unecological, and nonethical approach to economic life. Both have been centralizing, whether under big business or big government, destructive of the earth, and disabling of people. For the past seventy years, each has used the threat of the other to distract attention from its own injustices and shortcomings. Now the collapse of world communism opens the way to the transformation of world capitalism as well.

Yet in spite of growing awareness of our environmental crisis and much talk about sustainable development, few leaders in politics, government, business, and finance yet admit, or perhaps even understand, that the conventional Western vision of economic progress is hopelessly unsustainable. Nearly all are still acting out the fantasy that economic growth, combined with new technical fixes, can provide an effective response to threats like global warming and growing world poverty. They seem to have no inkling that economic sustainability will require reducing present levels of rich-country consumption, especially of energy, by as much as half or more. Nor are they prepared to discuss the need for radical changes to modernize and democratize the present institutions of global economic governance--the World Bank, the IMF, the GATT, and the G7 itself. Indeed there seems to be a conscious effort in preparation for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development next year to avoid such issues.

Last year's G7 at Houston declared the 1990s a "decade of Democracy." Yet the G7 Summits, in which seven wealthy countries assume unto themselves responsibility for directing the world economy, represent a damaging anachronism in a democratic post-European one-world economy striving for sustainable development. To strengthen and democratize the system of global economic governance the G7 Summits must be replaced by a more representative World Economic Council working within the UN system and responsible for coordinating the work and policies of UNDP, the World Bank, IMF, GATT and other such organizations.

In addition to such an official body, an independent citizen forum is also needed. TOES should develop into such a body--an officially recognized, but still wholly independent annual international gathering of NGOs, peoples' representatives and concerned citizens meeting in parallel with the new World Economic Summit. Its task then, as now, would be to look further ahead and more widely than politicians and government officials can do and to make sure that vital citizen interests and concerns are not ignored in the official forum.

People pursuing career success and survival within the established institutions of our society are prisoners of the power structures they head. Only independent citizens and people's movements are free to map the route to a truly new world order. Our leaders will follow only when we as citizens insist that they do so. Non-governmental organizations concerned with earth's people and ecology must provide leadership toward this longer view. They must not allow themselves to be captured by the short-term agendas of business and government.


James Robertson is a founder of TOES, publisher of the "Turning Point 2000" newsletter, and a contributing editor of the People-Centered Development Forum. This column was prepared and distributed by the PCDForum based on his paper "Seven Years On: The Other Economic Summit Begins Its Second Seven-Year Cycle." Robertson's most recent book is Future Wealth: A New Economics for the 21st Century. His address is Turning Point Network, The Old Bakehouse, Cholsey. Nr. Wallingford, Oxon OX10 9NY, U.K.

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