A comprehensive proposal for how a system of economic sharing could function within a reformed world economy and the effect it would have on corporate trade, international finance and aid mechanisms.
How to Share The World's Resources: A Proposal
24th September 2007
Written by Rajesh Makwana
purely market based approach to global resource allocation, based on the values of self-interest and competition, has proven incapable of securing basic human needs for the majority world. Under this model, the global economy has failed forty percent of the world's population who still live in poverty, resulting in the unnecessary deaths of some 50,000 people every day. At the same time, overconsumption, commercialization and financial speculation continues to destabilize the world economy and accelerate climate change.
If the international community is to address these issues directly, it is vital that those resources which are essential for meeting basic human needs are no longer controlled exclusively by private or national interests and traded only for profit.
Under the auspices of the United Nations, new mechanisms must be created to ensure that natural resources, essential goods and services are held in trust on behalf of the global community and managed cooperatively to secure basic human needs universally and perpetually. In the short term, the priority must be an emergency redistribution program to end extreme poverty.
Wider economic reform which strengthens economic democracy can ensure that a system of sharing essential resources could function alongside a reformed free-market that allocates non-essential goods and services.
A growing body of progressives within the global justice movement, including environmentalists, economists and policy makers, broadly agree that a significant overhaul of the world’s economic and political systems is long overdue, and that without significant restructuring our most pressing problems will never be tackled.
Whilst financial wealth soars to new heights for the few, the majority world are growing relatively poorer in the face of unfair trade, debt-based finance and grossly insufficient international aid. At the same time, developing countries have to endure the harsh environmental consequences of the industrial growth that fuels the skewed generation of wealth. Instead of being given the tools to end poverty they find themselves forced to systematically abdicate democratic control over their economies and resources to economically dominant countries and corporations.
Whilst economists and policy makers of the G8 nations remain comfortable in their runaway train of neo-liberal policies, we cannot rely on governments to instigate change until after the train collides. Their systematic prioritization of competition, self-interest, market forces, economic growth and the blatant subsidizing of corporate activity has created an unsustainable, commercialized society and has distorted the very meaning and function of economics. In a world where 2.7 billion people live on less than two-dollars-a-day and 50,000 people die as a result of poverty each day, economic practice can no longer claim to ensure the efficient distribution of resources for all, but rather the maximization of wealth generation without regard for consequence.
It is clear to many that the rogue train is on a collision course with environmental devastation and global economic and financial instability . If that isn’t enough, old Cold War divisions from renewed competition over resources and resentment from marginalized communities throughout the world present themselves as security threats, which are potentially catastrophic in a nuclear age.
It is time for a significant re-evaluation of global economic and political values and the creation of an economy that serves the needs of the global community as a whole, within our environmental limitations. It may seem a vein hope that policy makers will wake-up before the collision, but we can at least be sure that they will take heed once they emerge from the wreck.
The question arises - along what lines should a sustainable economy be based? To answer this, it is useful to outline the key problems:
- A rapidly globalizing market-based economy with self-interest and competition at its heart, prioritizing profit over people.
- The privatization of resources for the sake of security and profit, and the propagation of economic growth as the panacea for development.
- A corrupt and unstable global financial architecture based largely on speculation and bearing no relevance to the lives of most people.
- The monopolizing power and influence of multinational corporations and the welfare they receive to propagate economic growth and shape the ideals of society.
- Inefficient and damaging export-oriented trade and agricultural practices that prioritize profit over food security.
- Grave environmental neglect and climate change as a result of overconsumption and excessive commercialization.
- The neglect of mass poverty and growing inequality by policy makers who mistakenly leave the provision of basic human rights to commerce, market forces and the so called ‘trickle down’ effect.
- The minimization of true democratic institutions and influence.
- Political and economic competition between nations and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
- The commercialization and homogenization of our values and cultures.
- Secure basic human rights and needs for all people everywhere as a priority.
- Create effective and interdependent local economies that co-exist harmoniously within a stable world financial system.
- Create democratic and representative global and local institutions to regulate economic activity and to guarantee social and economic rights.
- Ensure that corporate enterprise serves the public good and is rooted locally where possible.
- Ensure that all economic activity occurs with ecological limits and within a strict framework for emission reductions.
What is missing from these and other proposals, which have at times been interpreted as protectionist and regressive, is an overarching concept for how the global community can continue to operate in an interdependent and globalised capacity, in line with the observable cultural shift towards international unity. The more basic question is how can the outdated values of privatization, self-interest and competition - which drive economic globalization - be fundamentally transformed to reflect principles that more accurately embody our humane nature?
The list could be extended but is sufficiently comprehensive for the purposes of this analysis. On the other hand, a just and sustainable economy must:
An effective and uniting global framework for economic and political activity must supersede the restrictive and often divisive prescriptions of socialism, communism and capitalism. Once we overcome such ideologies, many comprehensive and inclusive solutions to these problems present themselves through the work of individuals and institutions around the world. Proposals by ‘green economists’, the International Forum on Globalization, proponents of ‘localization’ and others propose generally to root economic activity in local communities as a way of reducing CO2 emissions, reducing corporate power and reinforcing participatory democracy.
Shifting Economic Values
Privatization, or the enclosure of the global commons for the sake of marketable and profitable commodities, is (and has been since the Middle Ages) the process at the very heart of our individualistic and competitive economy. For centuries, various forms of privatization have allowed corporations to proliferate and amass wealth and influence at the behest of dominant governments and to the advantage of the minority world. Both the commercial drive for profit and the increasingly hostile relationships between many countries stems from this same urge to secure and protect national interests. If these selfish drives are not directly transformed as part of any new political and economic framework, any restructuring will be superficial and a return to current geo-political tensions will be inevitable.
Common ground must be established and humanity’s common needs acknowledged; cooperative global interests must replace competitive self-interests. On an individual basis, within families and communities, people have established this sense of unity through the simple act of sharing what they own. Sadly, the process of sharing has been neglected at the international level where it can ensure that the basic needs of all are secured. Sharing, as a simple economic process, cuts to the heart of international relations and has the potential not only to unite, but to transform the driving values which underpin the global economy and thereby guarantee the permanency of political and economic reform.
Ensuring that those resources which are essential to life are no longer owned by corporations or controlled by nationalistic governments is a crucial step in creating a sustainable world economy which does not segregate or disenfranchise, but guarantees to secure the basic needs of all stakeholders. The global cooperative ownership of resources such as basic food, clean water, energy and medicine will involve the transformation of a variety of institutions and the creation of an international trust which can manage these resources on behalf of the global community.
The positive ramifications of identifying and sharing essential resources are manifold and will address many of the key problems presented above, including a significant reduction in corporate power, corporate trade and commodity speculation as essential resources are removed from commercial activity. The prioritization of local economies, food security and the rapid distribution of the necessary resources needed to achieve this will also lead to a rapid relief from poverty, reduction in inequality, and the end of inadequate aid mechanisms which are often ‘tied’ to benefit donors.
An international commitment to equally sharing our right to the atmosphere, and our right to pollute it, alongside strict targets for emissions reductions, will go a long way to ensuring the viability of life on earth for future generations. The contraction and convergence mechanism works in line with the principle of sharing and provides the necessary framework for CO2 sustainability.
Most importantly, sharing the world’s resources will necessarily internationalize and reinforce economic and political cooperation, thus encouraging peaceful relations between nations. This can pave the way for renewed international agreements on disarmament and non-proliferation, and help end regional, national and sectarian conflicts over resources such as land, water and minerals. With the basic human needs of all people secured, the reasons for disenfranchisement are directly addressed and the threat of terrorist activity greatly reduced.
It should be reiterated that the goal of implementing a system of sharing is twofold. Firstly to rapidly prioritize the needs of the majority world, who presently go without essentials such as adequate food, clean water and basic healthcare; and secondly to ensure that political and economic reform penetrates the very heart of the ‘the system’, transforming the values upon which it is built and not just its operation. Unlike existing theories such as socialism, Marxism or capitalism, sharing cannot be perceived as a divisive ideology, but a simple and familiar human process which asks for little more than:
Proposing A System of Sharing
The proceeding sections outline a possible framework within which resources can be efficiently shared across the world to secure basic human needs. This ‘proposal’ is not meant to constitute the definitive method for establishing such a system, but merely presents a possible and logical skeleton for consideration that can be amended over time as further research is undertaken. Ultimately, global economic reform and the establishment of any system of sharing will only be possible after extensive dialogue at the international level, quite probably under the auspices of the United Nations.
This proposal presents campaigners and activists with a viable structure for reform to be considered and debated, and is aimed at clarifying and substantiating a global call for sharing the world’s resources by seeking to answer the question ‘how can sharing be implemented in the global economy?’
It is unlikely that the necessary changes will occur until there is a dramatic turn-around in the thrust of international policy objectives, which may be most likely to occur after significant economic or environmental crises, both of which are likely to occur in the near future as economically dominant nations and multinational corporations maintain the attitude of ‘business as usual’.
The world reveals a very different set of circumstances to those present at the time of the Great Depression, where both the effects of and the economic cures for the economic crash were focused primarily in the US. The economic, financial and even social systems of the world are now far more interdependent. The US Dollar is effectively the international reserve currency; the US is a major and integral component of the world economy, being the consumer of last resort and the natal home of the multinational corporation; and Washington and Wall Street, alongside other G8 Nations, dictate the global financial architecture and trade conditions for the majority world. Economic reform, whether it be self-initiated or the result of crises, will necessarily involve and impact upon the entire global community of nations.
The probable environmental consequences of run-away climate change may be somewhat more polarized and likely to continue to disproportionally affect those in the developing world. However, there has been a significant increase in freak weather conditions in both the US and Europe which often have claimed the lives of many. Reports from agencies such the IPCC are increasingly bleak, yet there is little or no determination by primary polluters to significantly curb their emissions. Whereas economic collapse may present theoretical and structural challenges to policy makers, environmental devastation from climate change is likely to present immediate and sudden challenges, and efforts to restore the atmosphere will not pay dividends quite possibly for decades.
It is inevitable that, sooner or later, policy makers accept that excessive consumption, fuelled by the liberalization of market forces and short-sighted profit maximization, is the direct cause of climate change, and that these same commercial forces have created an unstable global economy based on speculation and sustained by governments pursuing economic growth at all costs.
If not before, then it will be at this point of crisis that proposals for far-reaching reform will be considered, and a recognition established that we must work together as a global community if we are to create a fairer and sustainable economy. Implicit and fundamental to such thinking must be the recognition that securing the basic needs of those who live in poverty must be the primary objective of any economic system.
Any attempt to redistribute resources more equitably will require global consensus for action and the transfer of economic power away from multinational corporations to a council of governments as they organize a framework within which essential resources, production and services can be re-directed to prioritize the securing of basic human needs.
International discussion is likely to centre on the United Nations whose vast humanitarian experience places it in good stead to coordinate reform, despite its many flaws.
The United Nations
Given its international membership and humanitarian charter, the UN system is clearly the only international body with the experience and resources to address global economic reform. In its current state, however, the UN is far too handicapped to initiate such change. Over the past 20 years, the US in particular has undermined the UN’s effectiveness by withholding pre-agreed and essential funding. The main reason for this is self preservation, as US economic hegemony is not compatible with the UN’s humanitarian principles. Instead, funding has been diverted to the largely undemocratic international financial institutions that favor America’s economic ideologies – The WTO, World Bank and IMF.
The situation has been made worse by the Security Council’s excessive influence over UN decisions, and the permanent members’ use of undemocratic and outdated veto powers. The accumulative result is an under-funded and under-staffed UN system that is consistently bypassed on global economic and security matters. The UN system must be restructured and revitalized, firstly to ensure that the democratic power to make and act upon decisions resides within the General Assembly. It should be also provided with all the resources necessary to fulfil its original mandate of regulating global economic affairs, strengthening international cooperation and promoting peace. The UN must be allowed to live up to its charter, in particular Article 55 which states:
"With a view to the creation of conditions of stability and well-being which are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, the United Nations shall promote:
a. higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development;
b. solutions of international economic, social, health, and related problems; and international cultural and educational cooperation;
c. universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion."
International dialogue for reform must be centred on these principles, alongside the principle of sharing as the appropriate value with which to secure these universal rights. Once sharing has been accepted as the guiding principle for a reformed economic system, it would be necessary to create an additional, fully representative and accountable body within the UN responsible for organizing a global framework for sharing and thereafter to coordinate the global redistribution of resources.
This new agency could be established as a subsidiary to the General Assembly under article 22 of the UN Charter. Alternatively, an agency can be formed with intergovernmental agreement and brought into association with the UN via the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) according to articles 57 and 63 of the UN Charter.
For the time being we can call such a body the ‘UN Council for Resource Sharing (UNCRS)’.
A United Nations Council for Resource Sharing (UNCRS)
All participant countries should be fairly represented in the UNCRS, and all members would subscribe to a declaration of mutual benefit and equality. At all stages, the process should be transparent and directed by member countries representing their citizens’ needs. The activities of the UNCRS would be strictly in the interests of the global community, would be free of any national political or commercial gain and would eventually replace existing international aid, development and poverty reduction strategies. It would be important for the new Council to work very closely with existing UN agencies.
Involvement with the program should not be enforced upon any country; nations should remain free to develop economically in their own way. Nor should there be any conditions attached to sharing resources, although it seems wise that participating countries agree not to consume more than their ‘fair share’ and to entrust their excess production and/or resources to the UNCRS in order to cooperate in the international effort to secure everyone’s basic needs.
Since a significant portion of the world’s goods and services that are currently commoditized can be considered ‘essential resources’, and therefore shared instead of traded for profit alone, the UNCRS would become a crucial part of the framework for the governance of a new global economy.
Sharing essential resources would naturally create a more manageable international trade and finance framework, under which existing international financial institutions (such as the IMF, World Bank and WTO) would be rendered broadly redundant and could be progressively dismantled. Established agencies, such as the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), are well equipped to take over as the arbiters and overseers of the remaining international trade, finance and development mechanisms.
An international strategy to rapidly alleviate extreme poverty and to ensure that essential resources are shared in the longer term will require the UNCRs to initiate two programs of reform:
- In the Short Term: A United Nations Emergency Redistribution Program (UNERP) – to end needless deaths from extreme poverty.
- In the Longer Term: Global System for Sharing Essential Resources – The Global Sharing Network (GSN) – to ensure an ongoing sharing of resources that can create a more sustainable economy.
We will consider each function in turn below.
1. The United Nations Emergency Redistribution Program (UNERP)
The most immediate program that the UNCRS should undertake is an Emergency Redistribution Program (UNERP) to end extreme poverty and unnecessary deaths. A similar program to transfer essential resources from 'north to south' was first proposed in the Brandt Report (1980) but, despite widespread approval, the necessary political will to implement the proposals was sadly lacking. Humanity cannot afford this level of political complacency again; not to act is to condemn millions of people to needless hardship and death.
The process of an UNERP would be structurally and ideologically different from existing aid mechanisms, and the goal would be to prevent the deaths of the 50,000 people who die each day from poverty, within a three year period. This would be achieved through the universal provision of essential resources, regardless of cost implications. The emphasis would be on the redistribution of existing material resources, outside of the market system, and not simply the pooling and redirection of patronage aid.
The entire process would be coordinated by the United Nations Council for Resource Sharing (UNCRS), which would have an internationally agreed mandate to ensure that they can manage the collection and distribution of these resources from donors. Necessarily, countries with the greatest surpluses of each individual resource would be first in line to share their excess, a responsibility that would naturally fall on the shoulders of more affluent and productive countries.
The UNCRS would utilize existing sources of data from UN agencies, the World Bank and NGOs for these figures. Where there is insufficient or disputed data, the UNCRS would turn to member country governments and where necessary conduct local surveys within countries. This information would form the basis of a global network for sharing resources (as detailed below) as part of a more comprehensive system of sharing.
The program would be initiated earlier than a more comprehensive system of sharing could be mobilized, and the following steps would need to be followed:
A. Calculating the most urgent national and global requirements.
Data from member countries and existing statistical resources would allow the UNCRS to coordinate a global assessment of the quantity and types of emergency provisions required and an analysis of where they are required. In most cases these will be food, water and medicine:
Food: The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) food basket or ration usually consists of a variety of basic food items (cereals, oil and pulses, sugar and salt), and possibly additional ‘complementary’ food items (meat or fish, vegetables and fruit, fortified cereal blends, sugar, condiments) which enhance nutritional adequacy and palatability.
Equipment and energy supplies for cooking food are also essential.
Medicine: Medication to prevent and treat diseases such as malaria and HIV/Aids, and other basic medical supplies. Basic health centers and trained medical personnel to administer medication and provide basic health services.
These resources would be country specific and should be determined by the World Health Organization (WHO) and similar agencies.
Water: Water pumping, treatment, storage and distribution equipment. The international standard for emergency water provision is 15 litres a day per person, approximately four gallons.
All of the above essentials require infrastructure in the form of roads and transportation to ensure that supplies can reach those who need them. Given the lack of this infrastructure in some of the least developed countries, the provision of transportation vehicles, fuel, personnel and the building of necessary roads and infrastructure also would be necessary.
B. Sourcing provisions to meet global needs.
Similar data would enable the UNCRS to determine the quantities of each of these provisions that donors must supply, and determine which countries are best placed to supply them.
Where possible the provisions would be redistributed as raw materials, goods and services as opposed to finance. In these cases, redistribution should be organized so that those who produce goods in excess of their domestic needs can easily share their excesses. In some countries, a simple redistribution nationally would be the priority. Other, more affluent countries would be in a position to concentrate on redistribution internationally.
C. Redistributing these resources.
The United Nations Council for Resource Sharing (UNCRS) would coordinate international efforts to redistribute these essential resources to where they are most urgently required.
The UNCRS would work closely with their members as they mobilized resources for distribution, and donor countries would be informed where the quantity of each resource should be sent. It is feasible that the army, navy, air force and other military bodies would be involved in transporting goods. This act of military service could replace the existing and largely wasteful military operations that are commonly pursued as part of selfish foreign policy objectives.
Another possible source of international assistance is the global public who, through their goodwill, may wish to give their time and resources to assist in the collection, transportation and distribution of the emergency supplies- in both donor and recipient countries. Qualified individuals may also be able to provide more specialist assistance as doctors or nurses, or in the construction and maintenance of crucial infrastructure, such as roads and heath centers.
History provides many examples of how a motivated and informed global public often leads the way in humanitarian assistance, often being the catalyst to more effective action by governments. Examples of such a heartfelt response to humanitarian crises are plentiful, including many natural and manmade disasters such as the Ethiopian famine in the 1980’s, and more recently the Asian Tsunami of 2004. Already, large numbers of people volunteer to work with agencies of all types, in both developed and impoverished countries, to provide humanitarian assistance in various fields. It would seem prudent for donor governments to specifically request public support for this global initiative, coordinate a public campaign and ensure that individuals can, where appropriate, obtain the necessary assistance to apply themselves to this program at a local, national or international level.
Emergency Redistribution as an Alternative to Aid
It is clear that the UN Emergency Redistribution Program (UNERP) is immense in scope and purpose, requiring the combined effort of the international community, coordinated by the UNCRS. It differs from existing development structures as most of the ‘aid’ or redistributed resources will not be channelled through governmental bureaucracies, but mobilized directly on the ground where it is required in the form of food, water and medicine. The resulting self-sufficiency and direct access to resources will end the dependency that developing countries have on systems of aid, which will in turn bring an end to the existing aid mechanisms which are grossly insufficient and often corrupted by political, economic or commercial interests, or nation-specific foreign policy objectives.
The effective implementation of a UNERP can result in the elimination of extreme poverty, potentially saving the lives of some 50,000 people each day. It would embody the most urgent and important aspect of international aid, emergency and development programs. The UNERP could be expected to span a period of around 3 years, by which time it is hoped that extreme poverty would be largely eradicated.
It must again be emphasized that the UNERP would only constitute the first part of a wider economic reform to ensure that essential resources are shared internationally, as discussed in more detail below.
2. Restructuring the World Economy and Sharing Resources
Reform of the world economy and the establishing of a wider system of sharing should begin as soon as the UN Emergency Relief Program (UNERP) has gained momentum. Whereas the UNERP is a tool for the immediate relief of those in extreme poverty, a parallel restructuring of the global economy would be necessary to ensure that the wider basic needs of the global public can be met in perpetuity. This includes the right to healthcare, education, housing and clothing.
Since the world economy is largely capitalistic at present and based on production and consumption for the sake of wealth accumulation, the aim of reform would be to mitigate the prevalence of market forces and commercialization. In order to correct the unequal distribution of resources around the world, to end poverty and to highlight the commonality of nations, those resources which are common to all people and necessary for life must be made universally available. Re-establishing the stake that humanity has in the world's natural resources, produced goods and services will necessarily involve government intervention to minimize corporate and nationalistic control over them.
The management, production and distribution of essential resources must be organized to ensure that only after the basic human needs of all people are satisfied can they be made commercially available to other economic entities for the purpose of profitable production or consumption. This must occur within a reformed commercial framework which benefits local communities and ensures that resources are made available for all nations to become self sufficient and productive to the best of their capabilities.
Broader political and economic reform on a global scale will also be necessary if sustainability and economic justice is to be permanently established. Many suitable measures for global reform have gained wide support amongst progressives, activists and alternative economists world-wide. Measures which would compliment a system of sharing by providing ancillary mechanisms and support for more comprehensive reform include:
Strengthening, democratizing and refinancing the UN system.
- Progressively decommissioning the IMF, World Bank and WTO.
- Implementing the principles of economic localization and subsidiarity to significantly reduce corporate influence, regulate corporate activity and strengthen local economies, production and food security.
- Implementing the contraction and convergence model of global carbon emissions reduction, encouraging energy efficiency and investing in renewable energy.
- Shifting to sustainable, non-carbon intensive agricultural practices.
- Cancelling all multilateral debt owed by developing countries.
Comprehensive reform can ensure that the selfish interests of economic entities, whether they are countries or corporations, will be superseded by the combined interests of the global community. A true internationalism which can foster peaceful relations between nations and the cooperative advancement of humanity can then be established. Clearly many of the above measures are interdependent. For example, by encouraging the local production and consumption of resources, the inefficient and carbon heavy practices of international freight transportation of many resources will be significantly reduced, making it easier to achieve stricter emissions targets.
In order to institute a broader system of sharing it will be necessary to determine more comprehensively what constitutes ‘essential resources’, and therefore come to a global consensus regarding levels of need and consumption. It will also be necessary to create a framework to safeguard these resources and to establish a global network to facilitate their international distribution. Each of these issues is considered in more detail below.
Determining Essential Resources and Needs
Over and above the provision of resources as part of an emergency relief program, the UNCRS would need to determine which resources are deemed ‘essential’ and are to be shared internationally. The consultation process should be carried out away from any political or commercial influences and in conjunction with UN member countries, UN agencies and other humanitarian bodies.
A system of sharing would also be based on a set of assumptions regarding the level of need that each person has for each particular resource. Such measurements will obviously vary from country to country and are also likely to differ within a country. Implicit in any such system, however, is the need for affluent countries which currently over-consume resources to consume less and learn to live sustainably within global ecological limits. If the citizens of affluent society lived simpler lives and did not pursue material gain and maximum instant gratification alone, the environment, local community and social fabric would immeasurably benefit. Reducing over-consumption and preventing unnecessary waste would ensure that sufficient resources are available globally to meet all citizens’ needs.
With a combination of educational measures and the prioritizing of essential needs amongst developing nations, excessive over-consumption would have to be counteracted in affluent countries. Rampant and unnecessary commercialization can be addressed through measures to regulate corporate activity; energy consumption can be reduced by cutting back on inefficient corporate trade structures and lowering food miles; and economic localization and sharing resources according to need can help further develop distributional efficiency.
A gradual contraction and convergence method, similar to that applied to emission reductions by the Global Commons Institute, would have to be employed in relation to general consumption around the world. Over time, as a degree of equality establishes itself across the globe, differences in consumption would decrease in size. Until then, such measurements would be specific to countries, regions, or even towns and villages. The fluctuating quantities will be monitored locally, regionally and internationally to provide feedback for a global network that could ensure the correct resources and quantities are distributed.
An accepted definition of what the universal basic requirements are for living a normal, healthy life should be has already been agreed in article 25 of the UN declaration of Human Rights, which states that:
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services…”
We can extrapolate from this that, broadly speaking, the following types of resources are essential for securing basic human needs:
- Land – for housing and agriculture
- Energy – required at all stages of development and all aspects of life
- Water – essential for life, agriculture, sanitation and industry
- Materials - derived from minerals for constructing roads and buildings
- Technology, equipment and machinery for infrastructure, building, manufacturing, agriculture and processing
- Infrastructure and transportation for energy, food, water, machinery, materials and people
- Knowledge and training for an effective workforce
In order to consider how the ownership and management of these various resources could be organized, it is useful to group them according to type. There are three general categories:
- Naturally occurring resources – e.g. land, water, oil, gas and mineral ores
- Produced goods – e.g. agricultural produce, medicines, building materials and machinery
- Services – e.g. utilities, healthcare and education
The management of each of these types of resources would have to be structured differently at the international level, which will require an invigoration of some existing international bodies and the creation of certain new mechanisms, as outlined below.
Holding Natural Resources in Trust - A Global Commons Trust
To reverse the insidious and selfish enclosure of the global commons, the right for all to have access to and benefit from common resources must be returned to world citizens. Only through responsible trusteeship divorced from the profit motive can we be sure that the world’s natural complement of resources can be managed sustainably to secure the urgent needs of current and future generations. Common resources could include land, water, the atmosphere, oil, gas, coal, iron, bauxite, copper and other essential minerals and metals.
A trust is a suitable legal mechanism to ensure that essential resources are managed in the interests of the global community. Internationally identified common resources can be written into a ‘Global Commons Trust (GCT)’. The beneficiaries of the trust would be all world citizens, whilst the trustees would be a fully representative and international body – the UN Council for Research Sharing (UNCRS). The trust would be created on the premise that the specified common assets must be utilized in a manner that prioritizes securing the basic needs of humanity.
Generally, the ‘entrusted’ resources would require extraction and/or the application of productive processes or distribution to create useable goods or services. The options this presents the international community are outlined below.
Producing Essential Goods
Where it makes sound ecological and economical sense, the production of goods from raw materials should be sited near to where the resources are naturally located. Governments, working in cooperation with the UNCRS, would then be responsible for organizing production to ensure that global needs can be secured. Depending on the country of origin, levels of local need, aggregate global needs and other factors, a proportion of produced goods would be allocated for global redistribution, whilst a portion would be made available for local consumption.
Within the context of the wider reforms mentioned above, governments would have a range of options open to them for how to organize the production of goods such as basic agricultural produce, essential medicine, and much-needed building materials. They could establish national production facilities for goods which suit their national compliment of resources through a process of full or part nationalization of existing industries. However it may be more efficient, especially in the early stages, to make use of the existing productive facilities owned by multinationals, for example existing producers could be mandated to donate a suitable proportion of their goods to help secure global needs. Another option is that larger corporations are broken down into their smaller components for local communities to organize cooperative production facilities, as has been the case in some Latin American countries such as Argentina.
The combination of options adopted would vary from nation to nation, depending upon their particular set of circumstances, and the expertise of the UNCRS and other UN bodies would be made readily available to counties which require assistance in restructuring their local economies along these lines.
Providing Essential Services
To ensure that there is universal provision of essential services such as healthcare, education and access to utilities, global institutions which can coordinate their provision must be strengthened and new organizations created to oversee the distribution process around the world.
Currently the World Health organization (WHO) leads the field in facilitating international healthcare and has detailed research on where and which types of healthcare services are required. Similarly, the United Nations Educational and Social Council (UNESCO) is at the forefront of the ‘Education for All’ movement and has information regarding how and where programs should be implemented and which resources are necessary to secure universal education.
Apart from various awareness-raising and monitoring NGOs, however, there is no global agency which is directly involved in overseeing the provision of utilities such as water or energy. Increasingly, these services are not even managed by governments but are in the hands of private corporations.
Once the right to energy and water is internationalized through a Global Commons Trust, a new World Utility Organization can begin to coordinate the provision of essential utilities and engage in research activities to ensure that relevant and up-to-date information is available where required. Such an organization could coordinate local groups, non-profit companies and cooperative organizations to manage the provision of utility services. It may also be possible in the short term for existing corporations, under international mandates, to lend their expertise and resources to these projects.
The UNCRS would be directly involved in coordinating this process by ensuring that resources such as water, energy and infrastructure are redirected to where they are most urgently required.
A Global Sharing Network (GSN)
In order to practically establish a system of sharing within the global economy, the UN Council for Resource Sharing (UNCRS) would set up and coordinate a Global Sharing Network (GSN). This would be a computerized system that acts upon information from governments around the world. The GSN would measure the changing levels of excess production in each country, then calculate how much of any resource a country is able to redistribute to another. The system would automatically adjust for the changing levels of ‘need’ and ‘productive output’ individual countries may experience. Such fluctuations would also occur as consumption in affluent countries contracts and world consumption converges to sustainable levels as developing countries lift themselves out of poverty. The GSN would ensure that excess resources are shared efficiently and with minimal impact on the environment, by ensuring that goods travel the shortest possible distance at all times.
Cooperation between nations is essential for this system to work effectively. National governments would work closely with the UNCRS in order to provide up-to-date information about (a) which essential resources are available to share through the GSN; (b) which resources the public are in need of; and (c) the location of these relative excesses and insufficiencies. The national government would be responsible for ensuring that resources are distributed appropriately within the country, a task that the GSN would facilitate.
The UNCRS would provide logistical support in the creation of networks within countries to ensure that correct information is fed back to the GSN. Such networks are likely to comprise of civil society groups which monitor resource levels locally and regionally, and a governmental body which coordinates and collates this information to feedback to the GSN. Members of the community would be encouraged to form local and regional assemblies to ensure that the basic needs of the public are accurately represented. They would also assist in the distribution of resources received from other regions or countries.
The process of sharing basic resources in this way is essentially a democratic and direct route to economic development. The method would ensure a ‘bottom up’ development controlled by those most affected, and not an imposed ‘top-down’ process. Local and regional assembly structures of this kind would also enable genuine political participation to become a reality.
Given the scale of the task, the involvement and expertise of existing development NGOs and UN agencies such as the FAO, UNDP and ECOSOC would prove essential. The UN agencies in particular have established links both at the local and governmental level in developing countries and possess a wealth of practical experience, research and statistics. These will prove invaluable when implementing poverty reduction and development strategies, locally and nationally.
How Sharing can Transform the World Economy
In a global economy where essential resources are shared, the primary objective would not be commerce, trade liberalization or economic growth, but the production and global distribution of all resources that are essential to life. Adopting a system of sharing will mean that the majority of commodities and goods that are currently traded would instead be cooperatively owned and distributed by the global public through the UN Council for Resource Sharing (UNCRS). As a result, international trade in commodities and their derivatives will be significantly reduced and confined to non-essential goods, and commercial interests would have no direct influence on economic sharing. Corporations would operate within this new global framework to serve the remaining economic, industrial and technological needs of society.
Sharing will ensure that essential domestic needs are largely met at the local level, thereby reducing dependency on foreign imports of essential goods. As a consequence, there would be less need for developing countries to agree to prohibitive trade agreements, whether multilateral or bilateral. This would free the population to develop their own industry and economy, making it eventually possible to decommission the WTO. Divorcing essential resources from financial markets will dramatically reduce the amount of stock and financial derivatives related to the stocks that are speculated upon and traded. This will help to reduce the global financial instability that many economists and analysts believe will, sooner or later, result in an international economic crisis and world stock market collapse.
Sharing resources will also mean that developing nations will require less foreign exchange reserves as they will be purchasing fewer goods from abroad. This will reduce the need for developing countries to turn to the IMF for loans and accrue crippling debts. It would therefore be possible to eventually decommission the IMF. Sharing in the way described is essentially a democratic and participatory process. Once economic and social justice has been achieved, these democratic structures can be utilized to further a nation’s integration into a democratic global economy. The mutual benefit of sharing will be clear as the existing system of patronage aid is replaced and once the developing world is living healthily and in a self-sustaining manner. At this stage, international trade and exchange is likely to increase significantly as development proceeds and societies share their cultural inheritance.
A system of sharing should be implemented within a framework for wider economic reform once policy makers admit that economic instability and climate change are the result of unfettered market forces, commercialization and overconsumption. The overriding impetus for reform must be to create the necessary economic and political conditions for ending poverty, protecting the environment and creating a united world in which justice replaces inequality.
The common ownership of resources, goods and services which are essential to life and their cooperative management by the international community goes further than existing calls for economic reform which include localization, subsidiarity and corporate regulation. Implementing the principle of sharing in world economic and political affairs replaces the values of competition and self-interest upon which these systems are based with the more humane values of cooperation and common interest. In this way, economic sharing ensures that fundamental issues such as the prevalence of market forces are addressed by removing key resources from commercial control, thereby reducing corporate power and influence and destabilizing speculative activity on financial markets.
Much more research and dialogue is clearly required at the international level before any program of international reform and economic sharing can be constructed. The above proposal, however, provides a starting point for further research and demonstrates that it is both necessary and possible for reform on this scale to be initiated if the world community seriously commits itself to ending poverty, mitigating climate change and creating a sustainable economy.
Rajesh Makwana is the Director of Share The World’s Resources (www.stwr.org), an NGO campaigning for global economic and social justice. He can be contacted at
Copyright 2007 Share The World's Resources.