New Internationalist

Action/reading

Issue 320

ACTION on the GLOBAL ECONOMY

I heard the grass(roots) singing

by Roberto Rubio-Fabián

Maria Eugenia rose to her feet in the packed hall and stared straight ahead, her weathered face a picture of tense composure. The young Salvadorean woman had travelled for 16 hours by bus over pitted mountain roads to tell her story. More than 300 people in the room listened attentively.

‘Once my family had a market for our goods,’ Maria explained. ‘We campesinos could sell our crops and our handicrafts; we were able to make a living. But now we have to compete against cheap goods coming into the country. And we can’t afford the high interest rates the banks charge. It’s too expensive to send our kids to school and the Government is cutting back on other services too. We are barely able to cover our costs and I don’t know how much longer we can hang on.’

Heads around the room nod in agreement, each person recognizes a fragment of their own life. Maria’s story is commonplace in this tiny Central American country. Thousands more of her fellow citizens could tell a similar tale. Economic-adjustment policies imposed by the international financial agencies have made each day a bitter struggle for survival for El Salvador’s rural majority.

For nearly two decades the economic policies that shape the lives of the Majority World have been prescribed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. But in all that time no-one has bothered to ask the people paying the price of ‘adjustment’ what they think.

Now that’s changed. In 1997 the Structural Adjustment Participatory Review Initiative (SAPRI) was negotiated with World Bank President James Wolfensohn by some of the world’s sternest critics of structural adjustment. The idea was to look at the impact of those policies on ten countries across four continents.

SAPRI has given a broad range of citizens’ groups a legitimacy that civil society has never before enjoyed. Perhaps most important, it has sparked the creation of national networks of peasants’ and women’s groups, small-business owners, urban workers and farmers. Members of this global network provide a channel for ordinary citizens to talk about the effects of adjustment programmes on their lives, their communities and their economies. One stumbling block: the Bank has yet to create a mechanism for integrating the grassroots feedback into policy.

But from Bangladesh to Ghana the stories of ordinary citizens have shown that local knowledge is the key to producing sound proposals for healthier, more just economies. After all, if economic policies make life worse for the poor, are they really worth having?

Roberto Rubio-Fabián is Executive Director of the National Development Foundation of El Salvador (FUNDE) and is Latin America Regional Co-ordinator of the SAPRI network (SAPRIN). For more information see www.developmentgap.org

ACTION

AOTEAROA/NEW ZEALAND

Jubilee 2000/Debt Action Nework, c/o CWS, PO Box 22-652, Christchurch. Tel: +64 3 366 9274; Fax: +64 3 365 2919; E-mail: cws@christianworldservice.org.nz

Friends of the Earth, PO Box 5599, Wellesley St, Auckland. Tel: +64 9 303 4319

AUSTRALIA

Australian Council for Economic Justice, 245 Gladstone Road, Dutton Park, QLD 4102 Website address to: www.acej.org.au Email address to: happijon@optusnet.com.au

Australian Council for Overseas Aid, 14 Napier Close, Deakin, ACT 2600. Tel: +61 2 6285 1816; Fax: + 61 2 6285 1720; Website: www.acfoa.asn.au

Economic Reform Australia, PO Box 505, Modbury, SA 5092. Website: http://dove.mtx.net.au/~hermann/erahome.htm

BRITAIN

War on Want, Fenner Brockway House, 37-39 Great Guildford St, London SE1 OES. Tel: +44 171 620 1111; Fax: +44 171 261 9291; Website: www.waronwant.org
E-mail: WOW@gn.apc.org

World Development Movement, 25 Beehive Pl, London SW9 7QR. Tel: +44 020 7738 3311; Fax: +44 171 274 8232; Website: www.wdm.org.uk
E-mail: wdm@wdm.org.uk

CAFOD, 2 Romero Close, Stockwell Rd, London SW9 9TY. Tel: +44 171 733 7900; Fax: +44 171 274 9630; E-mail: hqcafod@cafod.org.uk

CANADA

Council of Canadians, 502-151 Slater St, Ottawa, ON K1P 5H3. Tel: +1 613 233 2772; Fax: +1 613 233 6776; Website: www.canadians.org
E-mail: inquiries@canadians.org

Halifax Initiative, 1 Nicholas St, Suite 412, Ottawa, ON K1N 7B7. Tel: +1 613 789 4447; Fax: +1 613 241 2292; Website: www.sierraclub.ca./national/halifax
E-mail: halifax@web.net

US

Institute for Trade and Agricultural Policy, 2105 First Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55404. Tel: +1 612 870 3400; Fax: +1 612 870 4846; Website: www.iatp.org
E-mail: khoff@iatp.org

Public Citizen, 1600 20th St, NW, Washington 20009. Tel: +1 202 588 1000; Fax: +1 202 547 7392; Website: www.citizen.org
E-mail: gtwinfo@citizen.org

Institute for Food and Development Policy, 398 60th St, Oakland CA 94618. Tel: +1 510 654 4400; Fax: +1 510 510 654 4551; Website: www.foodfirst.org
E-mail: foodfirst@igc.apc.org

INTERNATIONAL

Focus on the Global South, CUSRI, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok 10330, Thailand. Tel: +66 2 218 7363/4/5; Fax: +66 2 255 9976; Website: www.focusweb.org/
E-mail: admin@focusweb.org

International Forum on Globalization, 1555 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94109. Tel: +1 415 771 3394; Fax: +1 415 771 1121; Website: www.ifg.org E-mail: igc@igc.org

Worth reading on.... the global economy

You couldn’t find a more spirited and readable critique of economic globalization than False Dawn: the delusions of global capitalism by John Gray (Granta Books, 1998). Along the same lines but with a more campaigning edge is Your Money or Your Life! the tyranny of global finance by Eric Toussaint (Pluto Press, 1999) who works with the Brussels-based Committee for Cancellation of the Third World Debt. The Crisis of Global Capitalism (Perseus Books, 1998) is a refreshing blast from billionaire hedge-fund manager George Soros on how faith in market forces threatens democracy.

David Korten’s newest book The Post-Corporate World: life after capitalism (Kumarian and Berrett-Koehler, 1999) is an inspiring and visionary exploration of the roots of our global crisis. Korten is both highly personal, intensely passionate and hopeful in his analysis and prescription for change. If you’re interested in venturing into the nuts-and-bolts of the new financial architecture debate your best bet is Taming Global Finance: a better architecture for growth and equity (Economic Policy Institute, Washington, 1999) by Robert Blecker. Some of the best information being compiled on global finance these days comes from the UN Conference on Trade and Development in their yearly Human Development Report. The latest version, Globalization with a human face (OUP, 1999), offers a massive compilation of research and some quite radical solutions for changing global inequalities.

Useful periodicals include the Economic Justice Report published quarterly by the Ecumenical Coalition for Economic Justice (947 Queen St East, Ste 208, Toronto, ON M4M 1J9) which does a good job of synthesizing huge amounts of material from a social-justice perspective. The strongest and most vibrant journalistic attack on neo-liberal economics can be found in Le Monde Diplomatique, a monthly tabloid available in English. See their website at www.monde-diplomatique.fr

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