New Internationalist

…Imagine That!

Issue 365

Alternatives to corporate-led globalization abound. Adam Ma’anit sees the beginnings of a post-IMF/World Bank world emerging.

If we take as a starting point the goal of any economy to be one that serves the needs of people rather than the other way around, then imagining a post-IMF/World Bank future really isn’t that much of a stretch. It’s a vision thing.

The decades-long abolish/reform debates perhaps still rage, but more and more people and communities around the world are beginning to hash out just what sort of world they want to live in. This is perhaps most apparent in the emergence of the World Social Forum (WSF) and the related regional and local forums and gatherings which have sprung up to tackle head on the issues that matter. With mottos like ‘Another World is Possible’, people from every continent are finding ways to exchange experiences and ideas on how the state of the world can be improved. Whether it’s in the official WSF or at one of the many alternative gatherings, the principle of international sharing of experience, information, mutual support and solidarity has been the foundation for the global justice movement.

Its most important function is to provide a space not only to develop new strategies and build networks, but also to celebrate the progress made so far. As Mari Marcel Thekaekara writes on the NI website: ‘The WSF gives people who care a chance to look on the bright side of life. To look at the achievements made in the last years for women, children, dalits, adivasis, for human rights and for the dispossessed, the marginalized, the wretched of the earth.’

And it is from the vitality and resilience of the movements fighting for positive social change that we can begin to see the post-IMF/Bank vision in action. For example, activists and communities fighting against the privatization of water around the world have been regularly exchanging what in corporate-speak would be called ‘best practice’ – looking at models of community control over resources and economic decision-making which transcend the private-public debates of old. The Bolivian water war in Cochabamba and the resultant struggle to set out in a new direction is a recent example of a community no longer prepared to tolerate injustice.

Flying in the face of World Bank and IMF conceit, the municipalities of Recife and Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, Dhaka in Bangladesh, Savelugu in Ghana and Santa Cruz in Bolivia have all found ways to increase democratic control over economic decision-making with regard to one of life’s most precious resources – water. And yet despite the overwhelming results of these community-led initiatives, the World Bank continues aggressively to promote water privatization with corporations like Suez and Bechtel and remains openly hostile to meaningful community participation in decision-making.

So what is to be done? Well, if anything is clear from the evidence in this magazine, it is that after 60 years of the Bretton Woods institutions, and despite all the best efforts at reform, these weapons of mass financial destruction really must be decommissioned. An international inspection team should be appointed to oversee the decommissioning process and ensure that existing loan conditionalities, structural adjustment processes and other programmes are removed along with the institutions which promoted them.

Total debt cancellation should be a key part of that process. Let’s not waste time with energy-draining negotiations to decide what’s legitimate debt and what’s not. According to the US Government’s International Financial Institution Advisory Commission, total debt cancellation for HIPC countries would barely make a dent in the operating budget of the World Bank and the IMF (see Facts). In an age when wealthy nations would rather spend their resources on playstations and ‘manned’ missions to Mars, a simple one-off Jubilee for the Majority World would be the most human and sensible act of the 21st century.

And just as the Bretton Woods conference in 1944 created the institutions and foundations of the global economy, so too can a World Social Forum or community gathering help develop its alternatives.

Adam Ma’anit is an NI co-editor and occasional optimist.

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