Interview with Susan George
In 50 years’ time, will the world be a better or a worse place?
We have a choice about that, but we have to make it right now. With social or political questions one can sometimes go back, start over and get things right, but with environmental questions we haven’t time. No-one knows for sure if we’ve gone over the edge already. I prefer to act as if we still have time to change our economy and our way of living. Our governments are usually well behind the people and won’t act unless there is a massive failure or a disaster, and often not even then – just look at the financial débâcle.
So you doubt that change can be achieved?
Not necessarily. In my new book* I recommend many practical measures to move things forward. It takes political persuasion, education, organizing and alliances to make people listen, but we have the means, knowledge, technology and policies to make the changes required. Collectively we even have the money. What we don’t have is the political power and organization that will force governments to act, and we have an additional difficulty because the struggle is no longer purely national. We need to co-operate across borders – this is an unprecedented time in human histrong. We’re fighting in France [where George lives] today to maintain our social protection. That’s also important internationally because a victory in one country can give others hope; but acting alone, nationally, is no longer enough.
Can global financial and political institutions ever be a force for good?
They could be and we need global institutions. Ours, however, are the proverbial oil tankers, steeped in neoliberal ideology, so turning them around demands massive effort. The people we elect simply govern for those I call the ‘Davos class’: the people who attend the Swiss ski resort ‘World Economic Forum’ every January to reinforce each others’ positions, decide how to run the world and make more money. Researchers from the Bank of England showed that the people of the world provided a total of $14,000 billion in bank bail-outs and guarantees. That’s what we as taxpayers have spent, but it’s not enough – in France retirement benefits have been reduced, in Greece it’s public services, elsewhere it’s cut this and cut that – but it’s never about closing down tax havens or taxing financial transactions or taking public control over the banks. This isn’t just a financial crisis: it’s also a moral crisis because the guilty are rewarded and the innocent punished.
If you could banish one person from the planet, who would it be?
‘Banish’? That’s a nice non-violent word! I don’t think banishing a person has much effect. We’re in a system run by the Davos class whose members are interchangeable. If I banish someone they come back as someone else – Robert Rubin [US Treasury Secretary under President Clinton] nurtured Larry Summers [US Treasury Secretary under Obama and former Chief Economist at the World Bank]. Both have done a lot of harm. But it’s not worth banishing them because they would be instantly replaced – the point is to get them under control and prevent them by law from doing harm.
Who do you irritate the most?
I certainly don’t irritate the people I would like to irritate because they tend not to pay any attention. Some friends tell me, ‘Don’t worry, they read your work’, but there’s never any reaction. Silence is the best way to treat a critic because it says, ‘I’m more powerful than you and I don’t have to debate this’. But that doesn’t mean you stop working. As long as good, honest people want to change things and are willing to listen to me, I’ll try to keep going.