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Keep connecting dots…

Written by Alnoor Ladha and Martin Kirk, originally posted at The Rules

What do rising sea levels in Bangladesh, the break up of public utilities in Ghana and austerity in the UK have in common?

They’re all symptoms of the same disease: neoliberal capitalism.

This is not the story we’re most often told. Instead, we’re encouraged to see the many economic, political, environmental and societal crises faced by communities around the world as separate. In this story, rising food prices in Kenya, for example, have nothing to do with exploding student debt in America. But this simply isn’t true. They are both inevitable outcomes of the same neoliberal logic that says that life must ultimately serve capital, rather than the other way round.

It’s only when we connect enough dots that we can expose the deep logic and rules that govern the whole global economy. Rules like, “material growth, everywhere, at all costs”; a ridiculous idea on a planet with finite resources. And it’s only when we connect the dots that we can see that the people who have the most power in this system aren’t the most thoughtful, talented or worthy, but merely those who most effectively obey these rules.

Like all stories, the way to undermine its power is to be conscious of it. Understanding and then exposing the deep logic and rules of the global system is one of the most important political acts we can engage in. It’s the beginning of our own de-programming, and it leads us to alternative solutions to these whole-system problems. Alternatives like strong local economies that can bypass debt-based currencies, and food sovereignty approaches that challenge the monoculture model of neoliberal ‘development.’ Alternatives that are already to be found all around us; from the Brixton Pound in Britain, to the Zapatistas in Mexico, to Rojava, the Kurdish free state in northern Syria.

The mainstream media is not set up to see these shifts and so continues to push the old story of “growth at all costs”. It’s up to us to connect the dots. To expose how oppressions around the world are connected. And to recognise that something wonderful and powerful is emerging all around us, outgrowing the cruel limitations of neoliberal capitalism by embracing life in all its glorious, indescribable diversity.

Will you help us connect the dots and build the alternatives before it’s too late?

Here’s how you can help:

Watch and share our short video to keep #ConnectingDots between our global oppressions:

Keep connecting dots

Saying “everything is connected” is pretty popular these days. ‘Intersectionality’ is the latest buzzword.  ‘Systems thinking’ is the discipline du jour.  Everyone, it seems, is trying to make sense of this dawning awareness that the challenges we face do not stand alone. Climate change, for example, is not just about carbon emissions but also economics, race relations, patriarchy and power. There is no line of disconnect, except where we draw it with our minds.

Starting with How

Simply saying that everything is connected doesn’t get you very far, though. The real challenge is to understand how. When it comes to the root causes of inequality and poverty, many of the all-important hows are not only to be found in every national economy, but transcend them all.

Globalisation is a word that’s been in common use for at least thirty years. At this point, It feels old hat; the 90s version of the social justice struggle.

But that sort of easy dismissal surrenders crucial intellectual ground. It removes from view not just basic facts – e.g. global trade is the lifeblood of most national economies – but some critical realities about how the world works.

The first critical reality is that, in the most practical and important sense, there is one global economic system. There are networks of national systems within it, but they are all part of, and increasingly subservient to, a single mother-system.

This is an astonishingly important idea to get our heads around. Instead of starting with, for example, the US or Greek economies and then looking for where it links to the global system, we start with the global, look down at the US and Greek economies and start to connect dots to see how they are similar.

You don’t have to work from this perspective for long to recognise that there is a single set of rules. They may be implemented in different ways or clothed in different language, but they are as true for the US and Greece as they are for China and South Africa.

The second point is that this one system, with its single set of rules, is being governed. There are people who see its wholeness clearly and operate from that perspective. Right now, most of these people, unsurprisingly, sit in organisations that have genuine planetary reach; private corporations, international institutions like the World Bank and the World Economic Forum, and a small number of large NGOs.

This leads to the third truth, which is that the people with the most power in the global economy are those who align with its interests. Which is another way of saying that they effectively promote and implement its rules. This isn’t some conspiracy theory, merely a truth about the nature of complex adaptive systems. The top priority of any system is to survive. Once a network becomes sufficiently complex, it becomes self-organising. From that point on, it will always ‘want’ to survive. One way the global economic system does this is to draw into positions of influence those people who best serve that purpose. A capitalist system, whose Prime Directive is the production of capital, will work constantly to refine and improve its ability to do just that. It will continue until it is stopped by an external force of some kind, or it collapses under its own weight.

Connecting these dots leads us to one very important realisation: even the most powerful people in the world have no choice but to obey the rules as long as they want to be rewarded by the system, with more power or wealth. In other words, unless a politically significant mass of people actively choose otherwise, the rules of the system will govern us, not the other way round.

The system itself will not see human suffering as an imperative to change its rules as long as those rules serve its immediate survival. It has no inherent predictive capacity. It is self-organising but not independently sentient. It can no more ‘feel’ human suffering than it can foresee its own destruction at the hands of climate change. Only us humans, with our predictive capacities, can do that. If the rules are to be changed, we cannot expect the system to auto-correct. We must change them manually.

Growth as Given

There are few rules of the single global economy more fundamental than growth. The mantra that “growth is good” has been repeated so often that it has the feel of common sense. It is almost impossible to think of how economies might work, let alone how inequality and poverty might be reduced, if we aren’t growing the amount of capital there is in the world through ever-increasing production and consumption.

This logic pervades all international debates and plans. Take, for example, the recent “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs). They rest on the fundamental assumption that every country, every company, even every human being, must grow their material wealth over time, as a precondition to anything else. This is measured in GDP for countries, and profit for businesses. In other words, they obey the rule that the global economy must grow continually through the perpetual growth of all of its parts.

But what if there is a fatal flaw in this logic? What if this rule is not fit for the purpose of guiding us into the future? What if, instead of being a panacea for all that is good, it is a driver of so much that is bad?

The evidence is clear. Totalitarian growth of all parts of the system has not only led to destabilising the climate by making sure consumption is always increasing, everywhere, but has also created vast amounts of poverty and inequality. This might sound counter-intuitive at first glance – doesn’t more money mean less poverty? But consider this: since 1990, global GDP has increased 271%, and yet both the number of people living on less than $5 a day, and the number of people going hungry has also increased, by 10% and 9% respectively. Add to that the wage stagnation across the developed world, and increasing inequality both within and between countries pretty much everywhere, and the shakiness of this basic logic becomes evident. Aggregate economic growth does not translate into less poverty.

Maybe this would only be problematic, something that could be fixed by tweaking the growth model while keeping the basic imperative in place, were it not for the second part of the problem. The imperative for every part of the system to constantly grow its material wealth is destroying us, in the most real and painful way. The consumption-driven mechanisms we use to achieve it, and the GDP measure we use to define it, have us locked on a path to ruin by actively encouraging us to treat finite natural resources as if they were infinite, and prioritize the growth of the money supply over everything else. Said another way, the perceived moral imperative for economic growth actually contradicts the laws of nature.

It is only by connecting dots that we start to be able to see the true shape of the challenges we face. We all face. Whatever our issue-focus, there are underlying rules and norms that affect every facet of human life. Growth is just one.

At first glance, connecting dots in this way might make the job of radical change feel more difficult. We struggle hard enough to affect change locally, let alone nationally, let alone globally. But something liberating and empowering happens when you start to connect the dots to see what’s going wrong; the same process also allows you to connect the dots between the struggles for making things better. We start to see that what’s driving the destruction of the rainforest in Indonesia is the same basic set of rules that are causing rising food prices in Kenya, and the explosion of student debt in America. We become connected, in very real and actionable ways, by a realization that we are all being screwed by the same basic set of rules.

Most importantly, we start to see new and different solutions. Ideas that previously seemed to only mitigate one problem can start to be seen to mitigate all.

For example, strong local economies with independent currencies and food sovereignty challenge the monoculture model of ‘development’. Gift economies that deny the commodification of life disrupt the system’s rules by their very existence. As we contract new types of relationships, with each other, with our communities, with Nature itself, we will usher in new types of social relations based on a vast range of diverse and mutually-supporting solutions that will render the old paradigm, with its slavish adherence to ideas like perpetual growth, wholly obsolete.

These new models and experiments are already taking place all around us. From the Brixton Pound in Britain, to the Zapatistas in Mexico, to Rojava, the Kurdish free state in northern Syria; a new breed of post-capitalist thinking is taking hold and spreading through networks of conscious citizens. However, the mainstream media is not set up to see these shifts. They are pushing the old story of growth, lifting boats, charity and ‘financial access’. And in their blindness lies our opportunity. The antidote lies in our ability to see how the old system is connected, while recognising the patterns in the diversity and wellspring of wonder and power that is filling the void of the crumbling edifice of growth-based capitalism. The question is, will we connect the dots before it’s too late?

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Last-minute lack of transparency weakens sustainable development goals

The US asked to replace the word “ensure” with the word “promote” in two targets (2.5 and 15.6, both about equitable benefits from natural resources) which, when applied would see rich nations – whose corporations and research institutions extract the vast majority of world’s natural biodiversity – share fairly the profits and patents reaped from those resources with the countries and communities from which they are extracted.”

This article appeared today in The Guardian about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. It’s an important read.

“On Sunday 2 August, the 193 countries which make up the UN agreed to a document that will shape the next 15 years of international development policy and action.

Hailed “the people’s agenda” by UN secretary-general Ban-Ki moon, the sustainable development goals (SDGs), have taken some two years to negotiate. The SDGs in their final form will be agreed to by all governments at a special summit this September.

Yet, the final 48 hours leading up to this milestone moment were marked by closed-door deals and bad faith, I believe.

As a civil society advocate working on the SDGs, I have been witnessing the negotiations since March 2013. The negotiations had, until the evening of Friday 31 July, been a genuinely open and inclusive process. They were open to observers, included opportunities for civil society and the private sector to speak directly to the governments and were webcast on the UN’s own live TV channel.

But that weekend, as the 17 goals and 169 targets were being debated for the last time, observers were kept out and information was relayed by a small handful of specific negotiators to a small handful of civil society advocates such as myself.

After the negotiations stalled, the US delegation laid down an ultimatum, asking for changes to the language of the final outcome document, without which they refused to adopt the SDGs.

The US asked to replace the word “ensure” with the word “promote” in two targets (2.5 and 15.6, both about equitable benefits from natural resources) which, when applied would see rich nations – whose corporations and research institutions extract the vast majority of world’s natural biodiversity – share fairly the profits and patents reaped from those resources with the countries and communities from which they are extracted.”

Read the rest of the article here.

NEWS: BRICS bank launches, boosting Chinese influence

A new $100 billion international development bank backed by developing countries launched in Shanghai on Tuesday, in what official Chinese media called a challenge to Western-backed international lenders.

The New Development Bank came after three years of negotiations among members of BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The launch comes soon after the formation of another multilateral bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which was organized by Beijing.

“Obviously, the new institutions are going to break the monopoly of the World Bank. Now, there will be more options for borrowers, who will look for the best terms among different institutions,” Bala Ramasamy, professor of economics at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai said.

China is expected to dominate both institutions. It has the biggest share at 31 percent in the AIIB. In the NDB, it is contributing equally with the four other countries in the $50 billion initial capital, which will be doubled later on. But China has taken a 41 percent share in a $100 billion contingency fund, which was announced by NDB on Tuesday.

China as global banker

“It seems China is going to play an increasingly bigger role through the new institutions,” Ramasamy said. “Developed countries like the United States and the United Kingdom will be forced to increase their roles, and review their relationship with the developing world.”

Some analysts say that the new banks are relatively small compared to the World Bank, and challenging it at a serious level will be difficult. Critics of the new banking institutions also have questioned whether the projects they finance will have provisions protecting human rights and enforcing environmental safeguards.

The NDB may not be able to compete with the World Bank in terms of low interest rates because of its higher cost of borrowings. Any future bonds by the NDB will be judged on the basis of the credit ratings of its member countries.

“The NDB and the AIIB may want to break the monopoly of World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. That is their ambition. But do they have the confidence to do so at this stage? I have to say ‘no,’” said Liu Xiaoxue, a researcher at the Beijing-based National Institute of International Strategy.

Competitors or collaborators?

M.V. Kamath, the first president of NDB, an Indian banker, addressed the bank’s relations with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other major lenders at the inauguration ceremony on Tuesday.

“Our objective is not to challenge the existing system as it is but to improve and complement the system in our own way,” he said.

He also indicated NDB will coordinate policies with the AIIB by establishing a “hotline” to improve communications.

The new institutions might also need help from the World Bank and established institutions like the Asian Development Bank for project assessment expertise and joint financing. The AIIB and the World Bank are already discussing joint financing of specific projects, and this might be extended to the NDB.

“Some parts we learn from the World Bank, some parts we try to do things differently,” Zhu Xian, vice president of NDB, told China Central Television on Tuesday. “We will complement with each other with the World Bank and other international development banks. But in some projects, there will be competition.”

Funding Chinese projects

Chinese finance minister Lou Jiwei made it clear the NDB and the AIIB will work together.

“It [NDB]will also complement the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and both will share operational experience and strengthen cooperation when the projects start.”

China’s goal is to get the new bank to finance its “One Belt, One Road” program that involves constructing a chain of infrastructure projects across the world. Beijing sees it as a means to revive its own economy by obtaining contracts for Chinese construction companies and machinery suppliers.

“The bank will provide new driving force to accelerate the global economic recovery by supporting infrastructure projects and expanding global demand,” Lou said.

Critics say the World Bank takes an overly rule-bound approach to project assessment, and often rejects proposals that its experts consider to be environmentally unsustainable. The new banks are expected to take a different approach.

“I would say the NDB will conduct proper environment impact assessment. But it is going to try and reduce the negative environment impact of projects from developing countries instead of entirely rejecting them,” Ramasamy said.

Source: Voice of America

NEWS: Modi critic under investigation in India amid crackdown on foreign charities

According to Reuters India’s leading crime-fighting agency registered a case on Wednesday against a prominent critic of the prime minister for accepting foreign funds, amid concerns that overseas charities are interfering in the country’s domestic affairs.

An official at the Central Bureau of Investigation said Teesta Setalvad faces charges of fraud, misappropriation of funds and violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act. She did not respond to a request for comment.

A home ministry official said an investigation by government auditors revealed her non-governmental organization, Sabrang Trust, was accepting funds from the U.S.-based Ford Foundation without government permission.”The NGO was cheating the government and even the donors,” said a senior home ministry official, requesting anonymity. Since the start of the year, India’s government has canceled the registration of nearly 9,000 charities for failing to declare details of donations from overseas. Earlier this year, the Ford Foundation, one of the world’s largest charitable funds, was put on a watch list after the home ministry said it was investigating the funding to Setalvad’s group. A spokesperson for the Ford Foundation did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Critics have argued that the government’s crackdown is an attempt to stifle the voices of those who oppose Modi’s agenda. Setalvad has pursued legal cases against Modi accusing him of failing to stop anti-Muslim rioting in 2002 when at least 1,000 people died in attacks on his watch as chief minister of Gujarat. Modi denies the accusations.

(Reporting By Rupam Jain Nair; Editing by Andrew MacAskill)