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Posts Tagged ‘George Monbiot

Corporate power unbound: No remedies decided for the next financial crisis

Governments are liberating global corporations from the rule of law and leaving them to rip the world apart

international assault on democracy?

What have governments learned from the financial crisis?

I could write a column spelling it out. Or I could do the same job with one word: nothing.

The lessons learned are counter-lessons, anti-knowledge, new policies that could scarcely be better designed to ensure the crisis recurs, this time with added momentum and fewer remedies.

And the financial crisis is just one of the multiple crises – in tax collection, public spending, public health and, above all, ecology – that the same counter-lessons accelerate.

 Andrew Bossone shared this link

“This, in a world of accelerating complexity and booming corporate crime, is pure recklessness.

But fear not, they say: economic power no longer needs to be subject to the rule of law. It can regulate itself.”|By George Monbiot
Step back a pace and you see that all these crises arise from the same cause.
Players with huge power and global reach are released from democratic restraint. This happens because of a fundamental corruption at the core of politics.
In almost every nation the interests of economic elites tend to weigh more heavily with governments than do those of the electorate.
Banks, corporations and landowners wield an unaccountable power, which works with a nod and a wink within the political class. Global governance is beginning to look like a never-ending Bilderberg meeting.

As a paper by the law professor Joel Bakan in the Cornell International Law Journal argues, two dire shifts have been happening simultaneously.

On one hand governments have been removing laws that restrict banks and corporations, arguing that globalisation makes states weak and effective legislation impossible. Instead, they say, we should trust those who wield economic power to regulate themselves.

On the other hand, the same governments devise draconian new laws to reinforce elite power.

Corporations are given the rights of legal persons. Their property rights are enhanced. Those who protest against them are subject to policing and surveillance – the kind that’s more appropriate to dictatorships than democracies.

Oh, state power still exists all right – when it’s wanted

Many of you will have heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

These are supposed to be trade treaties, but they have little to do with trade, and much to do with power.

They enhance the power of corporations while reducing the power of parliaments and the rule of law.

They could scarcely be better designed to exacerbate and universalise our multiple crises – financial, social and environmental. But something even worse is coming, the result of negotiations conducted, once more, in secret: a Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), covering North America, the EU, Japan, Australia and many other nations.

Only through WikiLeaks do we have any idea of what is being planned.

It could be used to force nations to accept new financial products and services, to approve the privatisation of public services and to reduce the standards of care and provision.

It looks like the greatest international assault on democracy devised in the past two decades. Which is saying quite a lot.

So the self-hating state proclaims that it has no power while destroying its own capacity to legislate.– internationally and at home As if the last financial crisis had not occurred, and as if unaware of what caused it.

George Osborne, in his most recent speech to the City of London, told his audience of bankers that “a central demand in our renegotiation is that Europe stops costly and damaging regulation”.

David Cameron has boasted of running “the first government in modern history that at the end of its parliamentary term has less regulation in place than there was at the beginning”.

This, in a world of accelerating complexity and booming corporate crime, is pure recklessness.

But fear not, they say: economic power no longer needs to be subject to the rule of law. It can regulate itself.

Some of us have long suspected that this is bunkum with bells on. But until now, suspicion is all we’ve had.

This week the first global review of self-regulation is published. It was commissioned by Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, but it covers every sector from payday lenders to dog breeders. And it shows that in almost all cases – 82% of the 161 schemes it assessed, voluntary measures have failed.

For instance, when the European Union sought to reduce the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed by vehicles, it could simply have passed a law instructing the vehicle manufacturers to change the way they designed their bumpers and bonnets, at a cost of roughly €30 a car. Instead, it relied on a voluntary agreement with the industry. The result was a 75% lower level of protection than a law would have delivered.

When the Welsh government introduced a 5p charge for plastic bags, it cut their use by 80% overnight. The Westminster government claimed that self-regulation by the retailers would do the job just as well. The result? A grand reduction of 6%.

After seven wasted years, it succumbed last month to the obvious logic, and introduced a charge.

Voluntary schemes designed to prevent the advertising of junk food to children in Spain, to cut greenhouse gases in Canada, to save water in California, to save albatrosses from long-liners in New Zealand, to protect cosmetic surgery patients in the UK, to stop the aggressive marketing of psychiatric medicines in Sweden: fail, fail, fail, fail.

What the state could have done with a stroke of the pen cheaply and effectively is left instead to the fumbling efforts of industries that, even when sincere, are fatally undermined by free riders and opportunists.

In several cases, companies begged for new laws to raise standards throughout the industry. For example, those who make plastic silage wrappings for farmers tried to get the UK government to raise the recycling rate, while garden companies wanted regulations to phase out the use of peat. The governments refused.

Was this the result of blind ideology or grubby self-interest – or both? The biggest donors to political parties tend to be the worst operators, using their money to keep malpractice legal (consider Enron).

Because the parties they fund bow to their wishes, everyone else is forced to adopt their low standards.

I suspect that governments know as well as anyone that law is more efficient and effective than self-regulation, which is why it is not used.

Restraining the electorate, releasing the powerful: this is a perfectly designed formula for a multidimensional crisis. And boy, are we reaping it.

Will Africa ever be freed from colonial onslaught on its lands and raw materials?

One of the stated purposes of the G8 conference, hosted by David Cameron (British PM) next week, is to save the people of Africa from starvation.

To discharge this grave responsibility, the global powers have discovered, to their undoubted distress, that their corporations must extend their control and ownership of large parts of Africa. As a result, they will find themselves in astonished possession of Africa’s land, seed and markets.

Nothing ever changes when it comes to colonial greed.

One of the stated purposes of the Conference of Berlin in 1884 was to save Africans from the slave trade.

To discharge this grave responsibility, Europe’s powers discovered, to their undoubted distress, that they would have to extend their control and ownership of large parts of Africa.

In doing so, they accidentally encountered the vast riches of that continent, which had not in any way figured in their calculations.

The colonial powers of France, England, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Spain… found themselves in astonished possession of land, gold, diamonds and ivory. They also discovered that they were able to enlist the labor of a large number of Africans, who, for humanitarian reasons, were best treated as slaves. (Hands shopped for failing to bring in the proper quota of rubber…)

I had posted many articles on this topic and now this one by  .

 published in The Guardian this June 10, 2013:

David Cameron’s purpose at the G8, as he put it last month, is to advance “the good of people around the world”.

Or, as Rudyard Kipling expressed it during the previous scramble for Africa: To seek another’s profit, / And work another’s gain … / Fill full the mouth of Famine / And bid the sickness cease”.

Who could doubt that the best means of doing this is to cajole African countries into a new set of agreements that allow foreign companies to grab their land, patent their seeds and monopolize their food markets?

The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which bears only a passing relationship to the agreements arising from the Conference of Berlin, will, according to the US agency promoting it, “lift 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years through inclusive and sustained agricultural growth“.

This “inclusive and sustained agricultural growth” will no longer be in the hands of the people who are meant to be lifted out of poverty.

How you can have one without the other is a mystery that has yet to be decoded. But I’m sure the alliance’s corporate partners – Monsanto, Cargill, DuPont, Syngenta, Nestlé, Unilever, Itochu, Yara International and others – could produce some interesting explanations.

The alliance offers African countries public and private money (the UK has pledged £395m of foreign aid) if they strike agreements with G8 countries and the private sector (in many cases multinational companies). Six countries have signed up so far.

African farming needs investment and support. Does it need land grabbing?

Yes, according to the deals these countries have signed.

Mozambique, where local farmers have already been evicted from large tracts of land, is now obliged to write new laws promoting what its agreement calls “partnerships” of this kind.

Ivory Coast must “facilitate access to land for smallholder farmers and private enterprises” – in practice evicting smallholder farmers for the benefit of private enterprises.

Already French, Algerian, Swiss and Singaporean companies have lined up deals across 600,000 hectares or more of  Ivory Coast prime arable land. These deals, according to the development group Grainwill displace tens of thousands of peasant rice farmers and destroy the livelihoods of thousands of small traders”.

Ethiopia, where land grabbing has been accompanied by appalling human rights abuses, must assist “agriculture investors (domestic and foreign; small, medium and larger enterprises) to … secure access to land”. (Think of this Indian multinational planting rice and roses on lands rented for a single dollar a hectare…)

And how about seed grabbing?

Is that essential to the wellbeing of Africa’s people?

Mozambique is now obliged to “systematically cease distribution of free and unimproved seeds“, while drawing up new laws granting intellectual property rights in seeds that will “promote private sector investment”. Similar regulations must also be approved in Ghana, Tanzania and Ivory Coast.

The countries that have joined the New Alliance will have to remove any market barriers that favor their own farmers. Where farmers comprise between 50% and 90% of the population, and where their livelihoods are dependent on the non-cash economy, these policies – which make perfect sense in the air-conditioned lecture rooms of the Chicago Business School – can be lethal.

Strangely missing from New Alliance agreements is any commitment on the part of G8 nations to change their own domestic policies. These could have included

1. farm subsidies in Europe and the US, which undermine the markets for African produce; or

2.  biofuel quotas, which promote world hunger by turning food into fuel.

Any constraints on the behavior of corporate investors in Africa (such as the Committee on World Food Security’s guidelines on land tenure) remain voluntary, while the constraints on host nations become compulsory.

As in 1884, powerful nations make the rules and weak ones abide by them: for their own good, of course.

The west, as usual, is able to find leaders in Africa who have more in common with the global elite than with their own people.

In some of the countries that have joined the New Alliance, there were wide-ranging consultations on land and farming, whose results have been now ignored in the agreements with the G8. The deals between African governments and private companies were facilitated by the World Economic Forum, and took place behind closed doors.

But that’s what you have to do when you’re dealing with “new-caught, sullen peoples, / Half devil and half child“, who perversely try to hang on to their own land, their own seeds and their own markets.

Even though David Cameron, Barack Obama and the other G8 leaders know it isn’t good for them.

• Twitter: @georgemonbiot. A fully referenced version of this article can be found at




October 2022

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