New Internationalist

Money Mavericks

Issue 320

new internationalist
issue 320 - January-February 2000

Illustration by BRICK

Money mavericks
Economic thinkers who've dared to challenge the dominant view.

JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES
Life and times Cambridge-educated economist and member of London's snooty Bloomsbury group in the 1920s and 1930s. Known for an astringent wit and biting intellect. His General Theory of Employment, Interest and Prices (1936) is probably the single most-influential work on economics this century. Widely- published academic and key figure behind the postwar international financial system hammered together at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in June 1944.

Main ideas Admired and feared the power of the market system. Argued that capitalism would founder on its own greed and self-destruct. Instead he suggested that the state rein in market excesses and the capitalist system's tendency to increase economic inequality. Also advocated government spending to stimulate the economy, increase employment and 'prime the pump' of consumer demand. His original Bretton Woods plan called for fixed exchange rates, tight controls on investment capital and relatively open trade in goods. The IMF was to be a true 'lender of last resort', managing a global system where capital flows were minimal and currencies easily convertible.

Legacy Keynesian economics dominated the postwar era until 1973 when the US sabotaged the fixed-rate exchange system by allowing the dollar to float. Since then the volume of unregulated investment capital has exploded - bringing instability and financial collapse in its wake.

JEFFREY SACHS
Life and times Not yet 50, Sachs's résumé runs to a dozen pages. The agency that books his speeches calls him 'one of the most influential economists of his generation'. Director of the Center for International Development at Harvard. Top-level consultant to governments in Latin America, Eastern Europe and, infamously, the former Soviet Union. Has also worked for the IMF, the World Bank, the OECD and the UN Development Programme.

Main ideas 'Global capitalism is the most promising institutional arrangement for worldwide prosperity the world has ever seen.' Chief advocate of economic 'shock therapy' - a disastrous plan to remake Russia's moribund, Soviet-style 'command economy' into free-market system based on the American model. Recent about-face as trenchant critic of IMF solution for economic recovery in the Third World. Says the IMF is 'deeply flawed', 'secretive', 'arrogant' and 'not technically up to the task'.

Legacy Spectacular failure of Russia's economic 'transition' - one of the greatest social and economic disasters in history (70 per cent of Russians now live below the poverty line). Has hardened his critique of the IMF and unregulated investment since Asian financial crisis - blaming rich-world governments for most of the mess. Says it defies logic that '1,000 economists in Washington control the economic conditions of 1.4 billion people in 75 developing countries'. Advises poor countries 'not to wait for a new financial architecture' but to limit short-term borrowing by immediately adopting controls on capital inflows.

GEORGE SOROS
Life and times Patrician financier, philanthropist and one of world's richest men (estimated wealth $5 billion). Born 1930 in Budapest, later emigrated to Britain. Studied at the London School of Economics and came under influence of the humanist philosopher Karl Popper. Moved to US in 1956 where he developed the 'hedge fund'. Launched Quantum Fund in 1969 in tax-free island of Curaçao. Made a billion dollars betting against the British pound in 1992; six years later lost $2 billion in Russia. His Open Society Institute donates millions of dollars to foster democratic political and social reforms.

Main ideas Knows capitalism intimately and is not optimistic about what he sees. Blames 'market fundamentalists' for reducing human and social relations to the common denominator of money. Argues that unregulated markets, left alone, ignore common interest in favour of individual self-interest. Says this is recipe for social disintegration and political collapse 'which may sweep away the global capitalist system itself'. Instead advocates 'global system of political decision-making to stabilize and regulate a truly global economy'.

Legacy Success as a capitalist has added weight to critique of economic globalization. Particularly agitated about the 'inherent instability' of financial markets. Calls for national controls to dampen speculation, yet his own fortune has been built on speculation in those same markets. Surprisingly also calls for tough regulations on hedge funds and bank lending, insisting that creditors 'take the hit' rather than be bailed out by public funds. Biggest legacy may be the millions he channels towards progressive causes.

 

WALDEN BELLO
Life and times Soft-spoken Filipino economist. Spent years in exile in the US as a critic of autocratic Marcos regime. Worked as researcher, activist and journalist documenting dark side of much-heralded Asian 'tiger economies'. Eventually served as Director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy in San Francisco before resettling in Asia as Professor of sociology and public administration at the University of the Philippines and Co-director of the Bangkok-based policy think tank, Focus on the Global South.

Main ideas Tireless opponent of economic globalization which he sees as profoundly destructive in both human and environmental terms. Harshly critical of IMF and World Trade Organization which he calls 'Jurassic institutions' impossible to reform because of 'hegemonic influence' of US and 'deep neo-liberal indoctrination'. Says Bretton Woods institutions are the 'linchpin' of an international order that 'systematically marginalizes the South'. Advocates radical vision of localized economies and regional co-operative arrangements to allow 'internal economic transformation to take place with minimal disruption from external forces'. Better to 'de-globalize' domestic economy by looking to local resources and local markets instead of export-led growth.

Legacy Clear analysis and impressive scholarship have made him one of Asia's key progressive thinkers. Insistence on people-centred development grounded in ecological sustainability sets him apart from the élite consensus in Asia and is beginning to garner public support throughout the region. Believes people see failure of neo-liberal model and are searching for new democratic directions based on 'community solidarity and security'.

DAVID KORTEN
Life and times Springs from mainstream, middle-America. Taught at Harvard School of Business and Public Health and worked at Ford Foundation and USAID in the Philippines. Asian experience forced him to question fundamentals of 'development' and to analyze the workings of the global economy. Middle-American image of integrity, honesty and plain-speaking helped him become leading critic of economic globalization and a fierce opponent of corporate-led growth.

Main ideas Unflinching critic of capitalism. Says globalization is 'triumph of privatized capital over markets and democracy' and 'triumph of the extremely wealthy over the remainder of humanity'. Laments 'powerful, unfeeling global economic machine dedicated to the conversion of life into profit by depleting living capital'. Instead calls for 'post-corporate world' based on environmental balance and 'democratic role for individual citizens in economic and political governance'.

Legacy Arguments resound with indignation of an Old Testament prophet. Unbridled optimism has galvanized thousands of activists dissatisfied with the antihuman sweep of globalization. Economic critique appeals because it is intensely moral, rooted in personal spirituality and unbending faith in wisdom of humanity. Vision of globalizing civil society based on 'openness, voluntary commitment and the ability to self-organize'.

MAUDE BARLOW
Life and times Was politicized by the women's movement as young mother and homemaker. Quickly became indefatigable activist, eventually senior advisor on women's issues to Canadian Prime Minister. Outraged by gutting of Canadian social programmes, she began organizing opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Later as head of Council of Canadians was leader in successful fight by global citizens' groups against the Multilateral Agreement on Invest- ment (MAI).

Main ideas Key strategist in fight against unaccountable 'corporate rule' and for basic rights of citizenship. Says narrow, money-centred agenda of private corporations and government supporters has hijacked democracy and created a 'new royalty' of global élites. Believes globalization and corporate rule are not inevitable. 'To say that we have no choice is intellectual terrorism.'

Legacy Thorn in the side of corporate free-traders. Charges that trade liberalization benefits rich and powerful, undercuts national sovereignty and subverts public interest. Has raised concerns about corporate influence on public policy and erosion of postwar social contract by global free-trade agenda. Has also raised concerns about concentration of press ownership and dominant business influence on mass media in shaping public opinion.

 

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