Debate on the Future of the WSF

Apr 01

Following the first "Global Day of Action", which took place on January 26th, and after 7 years of existence, the World Social Forum is in debate. Read and participate in the debates >>>    The World Social Forum  at the Crossroads by Walden Bello>>>   The WSF as  "Moment" by Walden...

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The Economist Debate Series: Freedom and its digital discontents

Mar 27

The first brought us the gem that was central planning; and the second, the wondrous neoliberal economics that has reigned over the last 25 years. Despite opposite locations on the ideological spectrum, both approaches were united at a metaphysical level by the Platonic paradigm that there is one ideal straitjacket into which you can cram all actually existing economies. We all know where central planning and the elimination of the market brought the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. Over the last few decades, we have witnessed how the holy trinity of radical liberalization, deregulation and privatization has increased the numbers of people living in absolute poverty, redistributed income towards the rich and reduced global economic growth per year in the 1980-2000 period by more than half of what it was during the 1960-80 period. Despite claims to the contrary, what we have had under the reign of unfettered market processes is not Schumpeterian creative destruction, but long-term stagnation combined with periodic destabilization. The current financial crisis that may lead to what the former Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, describes as possibly the “world’s worst economic crisis since the second world war” provides a cautionary tale of what happens if you eliminate all effective controls on the market. The housing bubble is but the latest of some 100 financial crises that have swiftly followed one another ever since Depression-era capital controls began to be lifted during the Thatcher-Reagan years. Owing to the devastating impact of uncontrolled gyrations and permutations of speculative capital, there were calls for capital controls and a return to strong financial regulation following the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and the dot.com craze of the late 1990s. The first event led to the economic collapse of all the so-called Asian tiger economies that did not impose capital controls, the second to the wiping out of $7 trillion in investor wealth and the US recession of 2001. Instead of heeding these calls, Washington caved in to Wall Street’s insistence on private sector “self-surveillance” and “self policing”. Instead of stronger monitoring and regulation of sophisticated financial instruments such as derivatives,, governments meekly agreed to leave this to market players who were supposed to have access to complex quantitative computer...

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E-mail Debate: Do Corporations Rule?

Mar 08

September 2005 As part of the BBC's Who Runs Your World? series, the BBC News Website asked two experts to debate whether global corporations are the most powerful beasts in the...

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The Prague Castle Debate

Mar 08

I would like, first of all, to thank President Havel for staging this debate today, and President Robinson for chairing it. I never thought I would be seating so close to Jim Wolfensohn. I guess this is what you call combat in close quarters. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have avoided a real debate with their critics in civil society for a long time. Today, the representatives of these two institutions are here, partly because of President Havel's moral suasion, partly because they realize that, with their two institutions suffering an unparalleled crisis of legitimacy-the worst in their 56-year history, in fact-the old strategy of denial and non-confrontation no longer works. In this brief presentation, let me tackle four myths propagated by the Bank and the Fund, and end with questions to Mr. Kohler and Mr. Wolfensohn: Myth No. 1: The World Bank and IMF are proponents of "good governance." Fact: For the greater part of the last 30 years, the Fund and the Bank have been intimately associated with very corrupt governments and human rights violators. What did the Brazilian military dictatorship, Ferdinand Marcos, Gen. Pinochet, the PRI government in Mexico, and the Suharto regime have in common? They were all governments or heads of governments that were designated by the World Bank as "countries of concentration"–that is, countries to which the flow of Bank resources was greater than to other countries of similar size and income. Over the last 30 years, over $30 billion in World Bank funds found its way to the Suharto dictatorship. According to several reports, including a World Bank internal report in 1999, the Bank tolerated corruption, accorded factual status to false government statistics, legitimized the dictatorship by passing it off as a model for other countries, and was complacent about the state of human rights and the economy. This happened under your watch, Mr. Wolfensohn, and the people of Indonesia will never forgive the Bank. Myth No. 2: The IMF and the World Bank are concerned with the degradation of the environment. Fact: Again and again, studies of the impact of IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programs have shown that, by institutionalizing stagnation and high poverty levels, they have been...

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Big Pharma: Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution

Mar 08

Many people, however, increasingly have questions about o­ne key group: the pharmaceutical companies or, as it is called in business circles, "Big Pharma." More and more people have asked the question: Is Big Pharma part of the problem of part of the solution? Corporate Obstructionism While the UN and other agencies have been working with governments in Africa, Latin America, and Brazil overtime to stem the tide, what has Big Pharma been up to? Well, from 1999 to 2001, it sought to get the US government to use mechanisms like a cut-off of aid to pressure South Africa to overturn its new law o­n compulsory licensing that would allow the manufacture of cheap anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs. It also threatened to sue the South African government for infringing o­n patent rights. It even used then Vice President Al Gore to pressure South African President Thabo Mbeki o­n the issue. When the Fourth Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) adopted, in November 2001, a declaration that public health concerns overrode intellectual property rights, Big Pharma spent the next two years trying to undermine the agreement by pressuring countries to attach o­nerous conditions to the sale of essential drugs by developing countries with drug manufacturing capacity to those without it. When it comes to HIV-AIDS, Big Pharma is less concerned about saving lives and much more concerned about protecting its patents and advancing its interpretation of the Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) agreement as restricting compulsory licensing, preventing export of drugs produced under compulsory licensing, and banning parallel imports. What is behind this callous attitude? Well, Big Pharma’s rationale goes this way: Without the very broad protection it wants for its patents, without the superprofits it derives from patent protection, there would be no research and development (R&D), no innovation, and thus more and more people would die from AIDS and other deadly diseases. So when you learn from the World Health Organization (WHO) that most patented medicines retail at 20 to 100 times their cost of manufacture, don’t get mad: Remember that this is not about market pricing but monopoly pricing to support continuing R&D. Myths and Realities Big Pharma’s position o­n the necessity and efficiency of corporate R&D...

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