New Internationalist

The Lugano Report

Issue 320

new internationalist
issue 320 - January-February 2000

The Lugano Report
A secret research document on ‘the future of the global economy and the
free-market system’ has just been made public. Commissioned by the major
global powers and written by an anonymous ‘working group’ the report
proposes some disturbing solutions to the rich/poor divide in the next
century. Here’s a brief excerpt.

THE INTENT OF OUR REPORT is not to shock or blaspheme: the fact remains that in earthly affairs, the market, at its broadest and most inclusive, is the closest we are likely to come to the wisdom of the Almighty.

Yes, the market creates suffering for some; its decisions may appear harsh and cruel, but let us not forget the theological parallel to the market according to which ‘God, supremely good, would never allow that there be evil in His works unless He were so powerful and so good that even from evil He could do good.’1

If capitalism can be said to possess an ontology, an essence, it is surely that the market, in its full sweep and scope, is harmonious and wise. Like God, it too can create good from apparent evil. From destruction it draws the betterment of humankind and the highest possible equilibrium of the whole.

The moment has come to put this ontology to the test. It is time to ask if the beneficiaries of the free market and the liberal system, including the Commissioning Parties, are prepared to accept the seemingly harsh consequences of their beliefs.

Can the environment and civilized society sustain present and future numbers? Should Western culture be represented by fifteen, then ten, then five per cent of humanity? Should the most productive individuals and nations sacrifice their well-being in the name of problematic gains for the least productive ones? Should now-powerful countries willingly relinquish their authority? Such are the questions our analysis obliges us to put to ourselves and to the Commissioning Parties; for our part, we answer ‘no’ to all of them.

We have dwelt at length on the likelihood of environmental collapse and social anarchy. We have spoken of the mirage of the universal welfare state and the illusion of universal human inclusion. We have warned against the folly of renouncing one’s own power and culture in the bargain. As Machiavelli pointed out to the Medici long ago, the choice is to remain Prince and to do whatever is necessary to that end, or to cease to be Prince. We have no doubt that the Commissioning Parties will choose to remain, as it were, Prince. The great question thus becomes: ‘What is necessary to that end?’

If twenty-first century capitalism cannot continue to function optimally – or at all – under foreseeable demographic conditions, then those conditions must be altered.

Such a statement, should it be seized upon by self-appointed moralists, would doubtless be denounced as a declaration of intended ‘genocide’. Not only would this betray a careless use of language, it is not what we intend. To begin with, we are not ideologically motivated and we harbour no hatred for any ethnic group, religion or race.

Such sentiments are puerile and unworthy. Secondly, we are not speaking here about some lunatic utopia (‘the world will be perfect when all Jews/class enemies have been eliminated and the people/party purified’). Our goals are rather to:

  • create an economic environment which will maximize individual chances for success and the pursuit of happiness
  • safeguard a liveable habitat for humans and other species
  • perpetuate civilized society and Western culture

The first goal – to create a favourable economic environment – requires that we determine under what conditions it is possible to ensure not some ultimate, ideal system but the greatest possible welfare for the greatest possible number. If the free market does not provide for ‘pursuing happiness’ more readily than some other alternative system, it deserves to lose its pre-eminent place. A system based upon competition should not fear it.

The liberal, market-based system does not now provide happiness, comfort and a measure of security for the majority of humanity; nor will it do so for projected populations in future: these are givens and must be recognized. We doubt that any other system could do so either, but in the context of this Report that is irrelevant. Even in the best-off countries, not everyone can possess and accumulate capital or succeed as a risk-taking entrepreneur; whereas the labour market is just that: a market, obeying market rules.

[image, unknown] According to the founding principle of competition, the global market takes the best and leaves the rest. Today, although no-one knows for sure, the ‘rest’ are almost certainly more numerous than those whose talents, skills, education, moral qualities, birth, luck and so on have placed them inside the system. Even the International Labour Organization puts the numbers of those ‘unincorporated’ in the labour force at over a billion: add their dependants, and the enormous size of this category becomes apparent.

Our second goal – safeguarding a liveable habitat – is curiously akin to the views expressed by the so-called Deep Ecology movement. Although we are far from subscribing to all its premises, we note with interest the following statements from its Platform:   

The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of non-human life requires such a decrease. Policies must therefore be changed.2

The Deep Ecologists do not say how or by whom the ‘substantial decrease’ might be achieved, nor which policies would have to be changed to achieve it. They simply state the obvious. To our knowledge, Deep Ecologists are not being held in custody for advocating ‘genocide’.

The author unveiled
The Lugano Report is actually a fictional work by the noted author and critic of globalization, Susan George. She tells us here why she wrote the book.

What was the genesis of a fictional ‘official’ report.
I was convinced that another book of analysis and criticism was pointless. I’ve spent the last 25 years of my life describing hunger, famine, debt and structural adjustment and what they are doing to people, and virtually nothing has changed.

So, I thought, why not make things really clear by taking the logic of the global system to its conclusion? I wanted to put the case clinically to show the horrific consequences of continuing down the economic road we’re on.

Why do you think the market model has such a hold on people?
Backers of the global economic model are very clever at paying both hacks and legitimate scholars to spread their propaganda. If a decision were taken that there had to be two billion fewer humans in 2020 you’d soon see all sorts of people developing a new kind of ethics and a new kind of law, and you’d have them paid for. You would have a recasting of Malthus and it would be for everyone’s own good, of course.

Susan George: 'The system is fragile.'

Why do you reveal yourself as the author at the end?
Doesn’t that destroy the impact?

When I first showed the book to a publisher in France they wanted to publish it anonymously but I thought that was too dangerous. Maybe I’m flattering myself, but I think if you published this without a confession of authorship at the end and people believed it was real and were convinced that organized genocide was on the cards... Well, I didn’t want to take on that big a responsibility. I insisted on an ‘afterword’ and an ‘annex’ which they didn’t want. So they rejected the book.

Is there any hope for challenging the élite system of governance you outline in the book?
Definitely. The big battle for me right now is the World Trade Organization. It’s a huge monolith and it’s going to be an epic battle. If you’re fatalistic you say that capitalism just rolls on like a juggernaut, crushing greater parts of humanity and the environment. But the system is fragile, with lots of cracks. We just have to get out there with our pick axes and work along the fault lines. I’ve sometimes been criticized for my pessimism, but I must say that I’m as optimistic as I have been in a very long time. I really think there are huge opportunities now.

Our third goal – perpetuating civilized society and Western culture – cannot be attained today in the same ways as it has been during most of recorded history. From the time of the Greeks and the Romans to that of the nineteenth-century colonists, sophisticated conquerors always sought to incorporate the land, resources, wealth and people of the conquered territory because they represented significant assets. The labour of the conquered population, often under the watchful eye and the heavy rod of a collaborating local oligarchy, was another source of riches and power. Today, the idea of holding colonies is faintly ludicrous: their assets can be better extracted through other methods; their populations are, for the most part, not merely useless but burdensome as well.

The Enclosure Movement in Britain was a harbinger of things to come, dispossessing thousands of small farmers and creating a floating population. However, until the machines of the Industrial Revolution put masses of traditional craftsmen out of work, the problem of excess populations never arose.

Until our own day, society could also count on various safety valves, first among them the celebrated Malthusian ‘checks ’ like famines. Surplus labour and social misfits could also emigrate to the new lands opening in North America and Australia. Fifty million Europeans did so in the nineteenth century. Colonies elsewhere, particularly in Africa and the Indian subcontinent, helped to take up the slack as well.

Armies conscripted and disciplined many otherwise antisocial youths. Families were expected to care for indigent members. Organized charity developed at the same time as the Industrial Revolution itself and dealt with many of its unsavoury consequences.

We no longer enjoy these luxuries. The world is full and there are no empty spaces left to settle or colonize. The notion that private charity or even public aid can deal with the full range of present social ills is absurd.

Just as physical rubbish and waste litter the landscape and threaten to overwhelm many cities and their services, so social rubbish and waste endanger liberal ideals and the market, though few dare to say so in public. Proper management and social control are impossible when all efforts to ameliorate the situation are immediately neutralized, indeed swamped by proliferating, poorly integrated populations.

The question for us is therefore not whether but how to achieve the goal of drastic population reduction. In this regard, we wish to state firstly some general principles:

  • Although not entirely cost-free, modern population-reduction strategies must be cheap, requiring no special equipment and virtually no manpower. The ‘Auschwitz model’ is the opposite of what is required to attain the objective. It is also far more important to redirect spending than to raise new funds.
  • ‘Victim’ selection should not be undertaken by anyone but the ‘victims’ themselves. They will self-select on criteria of incompetence, inaptitude, poverty, ignorance, laziness, criminality and the like; in a word, ‘loser-hood’.
  • The state should have relatively few duties to perform with regard to population management and in any case far fewer tasks than those connected with vast prison administrations, unemployment compensation, overall ‘welfare’ administration and the like. We advocate downgrading the present size and scope of the state and reducing significantly its role in people’s affairs. We are thus consistent in recommending that the state take its cue from the private sector in the area of population control as well.
  • In the matter of visibility and public perceptions, we recommend two categories of strategies. ‘Preventive’ population control will centre on birth prevention, it will be visible and part of normal policy; whereas ‘curative ’strategies will deal with those already born but will not appear to have any particular agency behind them. There are no villains in this scenario.
  • As a consequence, the question of opprobrium should not arise.

Properly thought through, with sufficient moral energy and financial commitment behind them, these strategies, taken together, could succeed. The task of the Working Party is to think them through; the energy and commitment must be supplied by the Commissioning Parties and their allies.

The twenty-first century must choose between discipline and control or tumult and chaos. The only way to ensure the greatest welfare for the greatest number while still preserving capitalism is to make that number smaller. We have arrived at this conclusion after carefully weighing the alternatives. If no action is taken, some future Working Party may still debate whether social anarchy will precede, follow or accompany ecological collapse, but the basic questions will have been settled negatively for civilization. We ask the Commissioning Parties to appreciate that our message is not merely that ‘the ends justify the means’, though this may well be so. It is, rather, that Western culture and the liberal market system must, in the twenty-first century, choose between the ends and The End.

1. Saint Augustine, quoted in Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, question 2, article 3.
2. Arne Naess and George Sessions, The Deep Ecology Platform, 1985, published as a broadsheet.

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