An investigation into the common denominators behind the escalating environmental, financial and political crises, and an examination of how greater economic sharing can lead to a more sustainable world. By Adam Parsons.
Sharing in The Global Economy - An Introduction
13th August 2007
Written by Adam Parsons
Unless the international community learns how to share the world’s resources, it is unlikely that we will make it beyond the 21st century. This is a bold statement, but there is a growing consensus in the new millennium that humanity is going in the wrong direction. The challenge is not only one of awareness; everywhere there are websites, newspaper commentaries, rallies and conventions about the need to transform our political, economic and social structures. Countless groups are formed in every country to raise the issues of poverty, inequality, global conflict, human injustice and environmental degradation, although campaigners have yet to reach an agreement on the underlying solutions for all these critical problems.
Global justice movements, from the Seattle protests against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1999 to the ongoing Social Forum gatherings of grassroots activists, recognise that the international economic policies driven by privatisation and trade liberalisation – often dubbed ‘neo-liberalism’ or ‘corporate globalisation’ – are incapable of eradicating poverty and meeting the basic needs of the poorest citizens. Public consciousness of the injustices caused by uncontrolled market forces is growing at an unprecedented pace, but the challenge remains as to how to unify the various campaigns with the global public on the same platform. The question is no longer simply why the world needs to change, but what must we change and how are we going to do it?
Share the World’s Resources (STWR) believes that there is a fundamental solution. If we prioritise human needs first and restructure the global economic system accordingly, not only can we eradicate extreme poverty in an extraordinarily short amount of time, but the entire world will benefit as a result. The inexcusable track record of the richest nations in addressing these crucial issues has proven, however, that the demands for change need to be led by civil society with one peaceful and united voice based upon the same humanitarian values.
With a worldwide campaign to pressure governments and policy makers to secure the basic needs of every citizen through a system of sharing essential resources, we could be in a position to rapidly avert the greatest dangers facing the earth’s future.
Why Share the World’s Resources?
a.) The world situation is critical
b.) The current economic system is divorced from morality and human values
c.) The current economic system is unsustainable
What is the Principle of Sharing?
How can Sharing work?
What will sharing mean for international relations?
Why Share the World's Resources?
a) The world situation is critical
The first step is to ensure a universal understanding of how serious and critical the world situation is. Thanks to the awareness-raising successes of campaigns like Make Poverty History and Live 8, the dire statistics of the developing world have become common knowledge; every few seconds someone dies from poverty, every 30 seconds a child dies from a mosquito bite, every minute a woman dies needlessly during pregnancy or childbirth, and every day 50,000 people die from poverty-related causes. An estimated 2.7bn people, almost half of the world, are officially struggling to survive on less than two dollars a day, whilst the number of billionaires has increased more than 80-fold since the 1980s.
Despite the fact that 800 million people still go to bed hungry every day, all of the richest nations signed up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, including Article 25 that states: “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, medical care and necessary social services.” When the Declaration reaches its 60th anniversary in December 2008, there will be little to celebrate; even though there is enough food for everyone, at least 4.3 pounds per person a day according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), still around 1.4 million children die from poverty every year, whilst more than 40 percent of Africans do not have the ability to obtain sufficient food on a day-to-day basis. If there is no reason why anyone should starve or die from poverty at a time of unprecedented wealth amongst the world’s rich, then the central problem is inarguably one of distribution. The reasons for this moral outrage, in other words, are to be found in the current economic system.
There are a number of myths that cloud popular thinking when debating the crisis of poverty. Many people still believe that there’s not enough food for everyone, or that there are too many mouths to feed in the world, even though studies have shown that family sizes decrease when the general conditions of poverty are alleviated. Others argue that poverty has always existed and is therefore inevitable, even though technology, affluence and vastly increased levels of wealth means that we have never been better equipped to address the root causes of deprivation. There is also the widespread myth, seldom questioned, that more aid from rich donor countries can eventually bring an end to poverty without first addressing the deep-seated inequities of the world economy.
If we look to the future, poverty is far from the only concern of policy makers and government leaders. In January this year the Doomsday Clock, devised by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1947, moved its minute hand forward to indicate that the world has edged closer to nuclear Armageddon than at any time since the most precarious moments of the Cold War in the early 1980s. The causes are not only found in the nuclear stand-off in the Middle East or the arsenals being amassed by unstable countries like Pakistan, but also in the ongoing terrorist threats from al-Qa’ida or other extremist groups, as well as the apocalyptic vision of global warming that is predicted to cause a ‘great climate change divide’ between rich and poor countries in the coming decades. Whilst a battle for scarce resources creates more geo-political instability and environmental damage, many informed analysts are also forewarning of an impending stock market crash that could result in a worldwide financial depression worse than anything seen before.
History has never recorded such rapid technological progress alongside such widespread poverty, such excessive inequality, such international tension and so many threats to continued life on earth. At the same time, the solutions to the world’s most urgent problems - summarised by the moral imperative of ending poverty and the global necessity of environmental sustainability - have never been so close at hand. What clearly lacks is the political will, the true sense of a shared transnational purpose, and a united voice from the global community that can lead a fundamental reorientation in our values and priorities.
b) The current economic system is divorced from morality and human values
It would not be untrue or too simplistic to state that our current economic system is based upon the principles of selfishness, greed, aggressive individualism and unmitigated competition. The established thinking traces back to Adam Smith, the forefather of modern-day economic theory, who wrote his famous book The Wealth of Nations in 1776. The key revolutionary concept that Smith put forward – that the selfish interest of the individual can benefit society through the ‘invisible hand’ of the market mechanism – remains a guiding and unquestioned principle in world affairs.
Although Adam Smith was a moral philosopher who had no conception of the kind of multinational, monopolistic corporate world that prevails today, a consideration of ethics and moral principles became gradually divorced from economy theory. This process took on a new momentum in 1886 when a U.S. Supreme Court ruling gave the same ‘rights’ to a private corporation as to a natural person. Corporations could then influence governments in their own interests in the same way as an individual citizen, allowing businesses to dominate public thought and discourse with their power of wealth, lobbying and political party donations.
The phrase ‘corporate libertarianism’ soon came into parlance to describe the influence of corporate rights and freedoms above those of the individual, accompanied by an ideology that prioritised economic concerns and profit over basic human rights. These ideas received an intellectual acceptance during the Cold War period from the 1950s, as epitomised by the psychologist R.D. Laing and the economic theories of Friedrich von Hayek and James M. Buchanan. Human beings, argued Buchanan, are inherently selfish, competitive and motivated solely by material rewards, leading to the notion that ‘public interest’ is in reality driven by the self-interest of governing bureaucrats.
These beliefs underpinned the free-market principles of Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of England in the 1980s, who sought to dismantle as much of the British state as possible by placing former national institutions into the hands of public shareholders. President Ronald Reagan shared the same conviction that a reliance on market forces or the ‘invisible hand’ could create a form of social equilibrium, a policy defined by sustained economic growth as the only way to human progress, the privatisation of all public utilities and services, and the removal of all regulations that inhibit free trade between countries. The era of Reagan and Thatcher officially inaugurated the modern economic model known as neo-liberalism, in effect an experiment of the past few decades promoted only by those few who benefit from it most.
Corporate globalisation and the standardised values of unfettered competition, national self-interest and a ‘survival of the fittest’ attitude to business is today the accepted premise of international trade. As a result, power has moved away from governments and communities towards an unprecedented centralisation of influence for corporations, bankers, and the global institutions that propagate economic growth and free trade. The policies of these institutions, in particular the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and World Trade Organisation (WTO), have led to massive public protests in the developing world ever since their ‘prescriptions’ began in the 1970s, as well as in richer nations since the Seattle protests of 1999.
The reasons for this opposition have filled the bookshelves of libraries for many years; of the 100 largest economies in the world, for example, 51 are corporations and only 49 are actual countries, whilst the share of world trade for the poorest nations has declined to 0.6%, less than a third of what it was 40 years ago. Developing countries are forced to open up markets, switch to exports and compete with large multinational companies, leading to the decimation of small farmers and self-sustaining communities without providing alternatives for those most in need. Enforced policies of deregulation leads to massive corporate profits at the expense of environmental, health and safety regulations, with pitiable wages paid to those in the global South, and less security and benefits for employees in the global North when jobs are outsourced abroad in search of cheaper workers and less accountability.
Far from competing on a ‘level playing field’, as per the basic argument of pro-globalisation advocates, rich nations subsidise their industries to the tune of $1bn dollars a day, whilst demanding that poorer nations remove all forms of local market protection. A cow in the European Union receives a subsidy of $2.7 dollars each day, as one example, whilst half of India’s one billion population survives on less than $2 dollars a day. Meanwhile the top 200 corporations create almost a third of world earnings whilst employing less than one percent of the world population, revealing an inconceivable bias in the distribution of wealth that is not difficult to unravel; the key beneficiaries of corporate globalisation are the few shareholders, financiers and powerful governments who ensure that the richest 50 million people in Europe and North America have the same income as 2.7 billion poor people, and that 20% of the population in the developed nations consume 86% of the world’s resources.
The endless statistics can also be quoted another way, as in a United Nations calculation that showed how the whole of the world population’s basic needs for food, drinking water, education and medical care could be covered by a levy of less than four 4% on the accumulated wealth of the 225 largest fortunes. The entire world’s essential food and sanitation requirements would cost only $13bn dollars a year, hardly as much as is spent annually by the United States and Europe on perfume or pet food. Food production has never been so abundant whilst the levels of inequality and impoverishment has never been so extreme, pointing to the unmistakable conclusion that world priorities are extremely skewed in favour of the richest countries.
The answers lie not simply in redistributive or fairer tax measures, but in a universal recognition that our values and priorities need to be fundamentally addressed. A model of economy that is based upon the selfish accumulation of wealth at the expense of poorer, more vulnerable nations most in need of support is clearly a strategy that cannot last for long, especially when the world is continually shrinking as a result of technology and the spread of mass media. “As for the charge that those who are against it are utopian,” writes a report from the International Forum on Globalisation, “obviously the globalisers have got things backward. To keep arguing as they do – that a system that homogenises global economic activity and culture to benefit corporations, removes power from communities and puts it into global bureaucracies, marginalises and makes homeless millions of farmers and workers, and devastates nature can survive for very long – that is utopianism. It’s not going to work. It’s far better that we seek other solutions.”
Any comprehensive alternative needs to prioritise basic needs first, then establish the human rights of sufficient food, clothing, shelter and healthcare, and then structure the future economy on agreed human values; cooperation in place of competition, community development in place of diffusion and delocalisation, and international sharing in place of national self-interest.
c) The current economic system is unsustainable
Before any proposals for a new economy can be put forward, we need to first understand and accept the core reason for why the existing system is unsustainable. A key underlying assumption behind established economic theory is that free trade has an overwhelming positive effect in all countries and forms the basis of human progress. Despite all evidence to the contrary, a belief in economic growth as a panacea to eventually cure the world’s problems - including global poverty, Third World debt, overpopulation and climate change - is almost universally accepted amongst mainstream economists.
The justification for neo-liberal economics – or those policies designed to open up emerging economies to market forces, to globalise trade, and to force every country to compete in the international marketplace - is illustrated with a few hackneyed metaphors such as ‘the rising tide lifts all boats’, or that, rather than share the ‘cake’ more evenly, it is better to bake an even larger one. If more national and global income is created through economic growth, it is maintained that a ‘trickle-down effect’ will follow, thereby enabling the poorest members of society to increase their proportion of total income. As the rich man eats more cake, one might say, the poor man scrambles for a few more crumbs.
Even if the billions of people in developing countries could compete against multinational companies in the global marketplace, the obvious question that isn’t addressed is: when will the growing be forced to stop? Economic growth, which translates as a continual increase in the production and consumption of goods and services, is obviously predicated on increasing population and per capita consumption. Finite resources cannot be consumed to an infinite capacity, leading to the imminent threat of peak oil supplies and dwindling natural resources.
This essential contradiction is starkly highlighted in a report by the New Economics Foundation; if everyone in the world shared the same lifestyle as the United States, we would require almost five and a half planets the size of earth to sustain us. “One of the peculiar failures of the current economic system,” writes the NEF, “is its limited capacity to capture real human value. And at the heart of this failure lies the question of measurement. Orthodox economists reduce everything to money, but the result is a fatal blindness at the heart of the system. Money might measure profit, but it is useless when it comes to measuring forests, or human worth, or species, or community, or human happiness and well being.”
Overseas aid is a smokescreen
By failing to address this fundamental impasse in the economic system, current efforts to help poorer countries with Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) or ‘donor aid’ measures are incapable of ending poverty. Some of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which include a global commitment to halving the overall levels of people suffering from hunger by 2015, could be a further century away from being honoured according to the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Even if the eight goals are met on relieving poverty, disease and illiteracy in poor countries, there will still be 900,000 people living on less than one dollar a day in 2015, a negligible difference to the almost one billion people living in extreme poverty today once population growth is accounted for.
The World Bank still rejects any evidence, however, that economic growth as a singular policy tool for development is insufficient or unsustainable. Rich nations first agreed to donate 0.7% of gross national income to poor countries from 1970, but the track record for keeping these promises has remained deplorable. If these commitments had been consistently met, we would already have celebrated the complete eradication of extreme poverty, and be six years into a program to eradicate two-dollar-a-day poverty.
Even when the targets are reached, donor aid is normally tied to conditions that demand ‘free market’ reforms from the developing economy, whilst often failing to reach those most in need. In 2005, when total overseas aid reached a record $106bn dollars, only 22% went to the least developed countries, and less than 20% of this small amount was spent on basic social services. The larger proportion of aid takes either the form of debt relief, food dumping of excess goods which can devastate local producers, military aid which contributes directly to armed conflicts, or ‘tied’ aid which ensures that imported goods can only be purchased from the donor country.
These distorted priorities are made clear in the United States statistics who presently contribute only 0.17% of national income to aid, whilst 31% of the national budget is allocated to military spending in 2008. The world’s 10 poorest countries, with most of them in Africa, received less than five percent of all U.S. bilateral economic assistance in the mid 1990s, compared to Israel and Egypt who together received almost one third. The primary focus of aid is not poverty or hunger, as the figures reveal, but the geopolitical interests of dominant countries who use aid as a power tool to further entrench the inequitable structures of the global economy.
Debt cancellation is not the only answer
The mountainous debts owed by developing countries are a further leverage used by richer nations to preserve their economic dominance and ensure an export-oriented, free-market-driven world economy. Up to 80% of the historic debt of some of the poorest countries, mostly accumulated odiously by corrupt dictators or old colonial regimes, is owed to unaccountable multilateral institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Owing to their ‘preferential creditor’ status, debt repayments must be prioritised to prevent the indebted nations from being cut off from further loans and sources of credit, leading to sacrifices in essential welfare services such as health and education.
This makes a mockery of overseas aid measures when some countries pay four times as much in debt repayments as they receive in aid, with indebted countries repaying $100 million dollars each day – 2.3 times the amount they receive in aid, and most of which is compound interest. Between 1980 and 1996, Sub-Saharan African nations paid back twice the sum of their total debt in the form of interest, but they still owed three times more in 1996 than they did in 1980. As a result, many African countries have spent more on debt repayments each year than on health care, education, and the provision of essential resources. If the amount needed to write off the entire multilateral debt burden for all 59 low income countries is about $80bn dollars - $26bn dollars less than the total overseas aid amount in 2005 - then the escalating debt burden clearly reveals the baser motive of financial subjugation and dominance that lies behind the global economy.
Despite the noble gestures made by the United Kingdom to lead the international community in debt relief after the enduring Jubilee 2000 Coalition, it is therefore unlikely that the remaining $2.5 trillion dollars will be annulled within the existing framework of the global economy. The economically dominant countries not only profit from the compound interest charged on the loans, but also the increased access to developing markets through credit packages made on the condition of free market reforms. Even if absolute debt forgiveness was granted within the current economic system, it would likely result in the immediate accumulation of new debt as developing countries continue to be forced to trade on unequal terms, maintain financial stability and compete in a growth based, free market economy.
As long as international development goals do not address the larger picture of a global economy structured exclusively around the profit motive, any plans to assist poorer countries will remain mired by the very system the goals exist within. Wealth, resources and services that belong in the public domain will continue to be drained from developing nations and transferred to corporate interests, safeguarded by dominant governments who are blinkered by their drive for economic growth. Total debt cancellation is critically essential to secure basic human needs globally, but requires a restructuring of the world economy based on the public ownership and distribution of key resources.
The current international goal of contributing a mere 0.7% of national income from rich countries in overseas aid each year has proven too unattainable and too unambitious within the existing economic structures. Prior to establishing an international program to share the world’s resources, the first priority must be an immediate, international and emergency relief program to lift the 850 million permanently starving people out of poverty, and to prevent the needless, daily toll of 50,000 poverty-related deaths each day.
Economic growth: the blind spot
Regardless of the rhetoric from business leaders and the misleading statistics issued by the World Bank each year, economic growth as a development policy has not even succeeded in its basic objective. Between 1960 and 1980 the average rate of growth across the developing world was 3.2%, falling dramatically to a mere 0.7% between 1980 and 2000. Throughout the 1990s, most of the developing world (sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa) also saw an increase in poverty by around seven million. In some African countries, economic growth, savings and capital investment has not resumed even after 30 years in some cases. To strictly define economics as the efficient distribution of scarce resources, the current free market experiment has clearly failed to achieve its stated purpose.
If all the evidence reveals that the basic theory underlying the current economic system is not only flawed but is also increasing the divisions within society, then why do politicians and economists still assume that a free market economy is our only option? The answer could be quite straightforward; an effective and just distribution of essential resources goes against the immediate financial interests of the wealthiest sectors of society, those who are more likely to influence policy decisions. Governments are forced to value short-term corporate profitability more highly than the welfare and basic rights of the majority population, as reflected in U.S. figures quoted by the Economist that showed corporate profits rose by 60% between 2002 to 2005, compared to a 10% increase in wage income.
If the total wealth in the world was divided in perfectly equal shares among the world’s adults – a total of US $125.3 trillion dollars according to the United Nations in the year 2000 – then every adult on earth would hold a net worth of just under US $34,000 dollars. Instead, half the world’s adults hold under one-tenth that modest sum, whilst the richest five percent of the world’s adults hold more than 70 percent of the world’s wealth. The total wealth of the new ‘global ruling class’ of billionaires, meanwhile, grew by 35% between 2006 and 2007, whilst income levels for the lower 55% of the world’s population stagnated or declined. National governments, following the prescribed neo-liberal approach, have repeatedly chosen to stimulate economic growth rather than to redistribute wealth as a solution to poverty, inequality and unemployment. The result is a compromised democratic process, a divided and discontented society, and the clear favouring of corporate interests at the expense of the working public.
This doesn’t mean that economic growth per se is entirely negative, as growth is crucial and beneficial when a result of goods being produced locally in a way that benefits the whole community. The problem is that the blind pursuit of economic growth as a sole measure of progress has led to the over-consumption of resources, excessive pollution of the environment, implausible levels of inequality both within and between countries, a negligible effect on reducing poverty, a political battle for scarce resources, and a consequent heightening of international tension.
What is the Principle of Sharing?
If an economic system based on growth is unsustainable, then how do we begin to organise a sustainable economy? The only solution is to first begin with a set of agreed values and priorities and structure a new global economy based upon the principles of cooperation, community development and sharing.
History has taught us the lesson that ideologies imposed from a ‘top-down’ approach at the international level are more likely to be designed in the interests of powerful elites or for commercial benefits rather than the welfare of the majority world. As many alternative economists argue, a sustainable economy must move away from the disproven concept of ‘trickle-down’ economics towards a ‘bubbling-up’ approach that secures basic human needs as the first priority. Until world governments and leaders prioritise poverty eradication and environmental sustainability over short-term economic gains and corporate profits, the necessary economic reforms will remain insurmountable.
By focusing on the principle of sharing, it is possible to cut through the danger of further imposed ideologies for social change and economic reform. Sharing is not ‘ism’ or a belief system but a natural law of economy, a simple concept that requires no explanation as a human process. No-one can own or dominate control over a human value or an abstract verb that denotes only cooperative action whilst transcending the barriers of race, class and religious identity. In the same way that we share resources on a family basis, we need to accept the vital need to share resources on an international basis.
The first precondition for creating a sustainable economy is an established recognition that the continued unleashing of unregulated market forces is not only incapable of ending poverty, but is also leading us towards ecological disaster and a potential nuclear conflict. With a reframing of our value system, we need to recognise that securing basic human rights and needs for every citizen of the world is the primary prerequisite and the fundamental concern of the international economic system.
The second precondition involves a reordering of concerns by government leaders and policy makers until universal access to those resources which are essential to life – such as food, clean water, medicine and adequate shelter which currently over 40% of the world goes without – is accepted as the first priority of a reformed economic system.
The concept of sharing as a guiding principle to restructure the world economy is not an abstract ideal but rather a practical initiative, as indicated by two examples after the Second World War. One of these was the Marshall Plan, a mammoth four-year program of aid designed by US Secretary of State George C. Marshall to help restore the infrastructure and essential resources of the war-ravaged economy in Western Europe. Often cited as an inspiration and model for how a similar emergency fund of aid is needed for Africa, the Marshall Plan demonstrated the far-ranging effectiveness of the sharing of financial resources by helping Europe to quickly recover and restore economic stability.
Other examples of sharing include the welfare systems in countries like the UK, Germany and France, in which society pools resources through taxation to ensure that the basic needs of education, healthcare, housing and unemployment benefit are available to all. By creating a social safety net to ensure the securing of essential resources, a sense of national unity and solidarity is created which is sorely missing on an international level. Wealthy nations, by continuing to impose unjust trade and development policies on low income countries, are responsible for neglecting to create a global safety net to prevent the poorest people of the world from dying of hunger, let alone from providing unemployment benefits or adequate healthcare.
Certain countries in Latin American countries also provide a contemporary example of sharing economic resources on a regional basis. Venezuela is sharing its oil supplies with other countries in the region, whilst countries such as Cuba, in return, are providing the majority of doctors who work in Venezuela, leading to reinforced political relationships, goodwill and a sense of commonality and trust between nations.
Many commentators speculate that a global catastrophe will be needed to catalyse the required consciousness shift in humanity until we accept the necessity of a more equitable economic system. As the global campaign to achieve these preconditions gathers pace, however, it is undoubtedly possible to coordinate and galvanise world public opinion in favour of sharing the world’s resources. The responsibility for leading these changes, as proven by the track record of the richest nations who continue to prioritise economic theory and profit over the environment and human life, lies with the peaceful, united demands of civil society.
Once the international community has agreed to prioritise basic human needs, the structure of a global economy based upon the principle of sharing would have to be debated at the international level, and those resources which are deemed essential to life would need to be determined and agreed upon. These essential resources may include water, land and basic agricultural produce, mineral ores and sources of energy, the atmosphere, and beneficial knowledge and technology. Resources deemed essential can then be removed from the market economy and no longer controlled by private or national interests and traded only for profit. A newly-formed international body, acting as a fully-representative council for all member countries, can instead hold these resources in trust on behalf of the global community.
A market-based system of trade does not need to be abolished altogether, but confined only to non-essential goods and services. When economic growth is secondary to the supply of essential resources, however, the emphasis on commerce and trade liberalisation would be significantly diminished. Commercial interests would have no direct impact on these agreed resources, and corporations would operate within a new global framework to serve the remaining economic, industrial and technological needs of society.
The United Nations system, although presently in need of major reform, is the only existing organisation with the necessary experience, international membership and humanitarian charter to successfully coordinate the vast undertaking of sharing essential resources. A new body within the United Nations, which we can presently call the UN Council for Resource Sharing, could then be responsible for the short term goal of an emergency redistribution program, and the longer term goal of creating a global network to distribute essential resources.
An emergency redistribution program is necessary to prevent the needless deaths of 50,000 people who currently die each day from poverty-related causes. This will involve calculating the quantity and types of essential resources that are required in each member country, in most cases comprising basic food, water and medicine at the earliest stages, and then coordinating international efforts to redistribute these resources from donor countries. Those countries with the greatest surplus of individual resources would be first in line to share these excesses with poorer nations, both on a national and international basis. Emergency redistribution will also involve the sharing of labour and infrastructural provision to ensure the necessary roads, vehicles and personnel are available to meet the basic needs of the least developed countries. With such a system in place, extreme poverty could be largely eradicated within an estimated two to three years.
A global network to share essential resources on an ongoing basis could begin in tandem with the emergency redistribution program. The longer-term coordination of an international network can be achieved with a centralised, computerised system that acts upon information from governments around the world. By measuring the changing levels of excess production in each country, a ‘global sharing network’ computer could calculate how much of any particular resource a country is able to redistribute to another, whilst monitoring the changing levels of ‘need’ and ‘productive output’ as less developed countries lift themselves out of poverty. It can then be ensured that essential goods and services, rather than being continually exported across the oceans to increase the profit of multinational companies, can be supplied within the shortest possible travel distances.
Local and regional assembly structures would need to be formed by civil society groups to make sure that the basic needs of the global community are accurately represented, and that local resource levels are efficiently monitored and fed back to the sharing network. This relationship between local civilian networks, national governments and the international community would comprise a truly democratic, ‘bottom-up’ and direct form of economic development.
What will sharing mean for international relations?
Although the challenges and milestones to achieving a new economy based upon the principle of sharing are immense and long, the optimistic policy implications are practically endless. Rather than relying on the unambitious Millennium Development Goal of only halving extreme poverty by 2015, a result that would still leave almost a billion people living on less than one dollar a day, we could celebrate its complete eradication within a few short years. Rather than constantly campaigning to cancel Third World debt, a system of international sharing would not constitute a loan or incur any financial repayments.
By divorcing essential resources from the profit motive, international trade in commodities and their derivatives would be drastically reduced, leading to less dependency on expensive foreign imports, less carbon emissions from unnecessary trade, and a truly paternalistic attitude of responsibility between the developed nations and the developing world. The much derided and undemocratic institutions like the WTO, IMF and World Bank could then be progressively decommissioned, with any remaining development projects passed over to existing bodies within the United Nations.
On a social level, a new altruistic ethos created through sharing essential resources could fill the current void in community relations, as well as the feeling of a lack of meaning that has grown alongside commercialisation. The evidence suggests that where there is low child mortality, families have less children and population growth declines. When everyone has their basic needs secured, when each nation and community is sharing with one another, then it would not only be the beginning of a true form of participative democracy in every country, but it would lead to less marginalisation, less of a support base for terrorism, and it would mark the beginning of an international culture of trust, commonality and goodwill between nations.
Adam W. Parsons is the editor at Share The World’s Resources (www.stwr.org), an NGO campaigning for global economic and social justice. He can be reached at
 John Cavanagh and Jerry Mander, (eds). Alternatives to Economic Globalisation: A Better World is Possible (Berrett-Koehler Publishers / International Forum on Globalisation, 2004)
 David Boyle, Corrina Cordon and Ruth Potts. Are you happy? New economics past, present and future (New Economics Foundation, London, November 2006)
Copyright 2007 Share The World's Resources (www.stwr.org)