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Global Economics Debate: George Monbiot and Alan Shipman

This was not the bloody brawl that I'd expected. George Monbiot, author of The Captive State, is arguably the most left wing journalist working in Britain. His column in The Guardian rings with denunciations of the powerful rich and calls to arms. With rich dark hair and a beard, he is a little larger than life. His adversary, Alan Shipman, author of The Globalisation Myth, is a slight man with nervous body language. An economist by training, he speaks with careful precision. A packed house awaited the onset of battle.

But when they started talking and the strangest thing happened: the two agreed with each other, almost completely. Monbiot described himself as pro 'global Justice' rather than anti-globalisation, saying globalisation can be a good thing, but there are unjust and disturbing trends. Shipman elaborated: When they go transnational, businesses often "stomp on human rights and democracy". Both agree that with proper controls, the markets can be tamed to produce a better society. Regulating capital flows to avoid economic disasters (such as happened in South East Asia) is a priority.

Neither hold much hope for the upcoming Earth Summit in Johannesburg. Shipman talks of the U.S. government being 'colonised by big business for its own ends', whilst Monbiot is rightly critical of Tony Blair's delegation (which includes representatives from mining and logging companies, and originally wasn't going to include the environment minister). 'Corporate Social Responsibility' - the slogan the big corporations are trying to sell at the Earth Summit of voluntary codes of conduct - is "nonsense". Things are not good, and something needs to be done.

They do disagree (finally!) on how the necessary regulations can be put in place. Both seem naive here, and avoid giving any solid details. Monbiot believes in a grassroots global uprising which will establish a global democracy. Last year there were 20 million people involved in various global-justice protests around the world. He believes this movement will grow and "completely turn things around". Shipman places his faith in the markets. He thinks big business will realise the need for regulation and call for it themselves. The free movement of capital, being destructive, is not in anyone's long term interests, even the capital owners. He sees bodies like the WTO and the IMF as having the potential to provide the regulation that poor countries are unable to do themselves (Monbiot calls the IMF 'counter-democratic' and describes the WTO as 'a cabal of corporate lawyers meeting in secret').

The question period was slightly marred by the usual idiots. Monbiot and Shipman continued to nod assent and elaborate on each others points. Meanwhile the World Bank has just published a report on the need to protect the environment and developing nations from rampant free market capitalism. Are these the first signs of sanity? Or evidence that things are worse than we realise?

© Daniel Winterstein, 22nd August 2002.


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