National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  January 30, 2004

Two cities, two continents, two perspectives

Two gatherings; two views of globalization. Neither is likely to disappear soon.

Can globalization and anti-globalization advocates arrive at the same point?

The World Social Forum, held in Mumbai, India, Jan. 16-21, drew some 80,000 antiwar and anti-globalization activists. They had little good to say about the impact of the corporate world and the powers that be. They also came with plenty of criticism of U.S. military and economic policies. (Global Perspective at reported on the World Social Forum with a story posted Jan. 21, see Making A 'Mother World' Possible.)

Just as they were packing up to leave one of the poorest cities on earth, the world’s economic elite were checking into hotels in Davos, Switzerland, the scene of this year’s World Economic Forum.

While the former conference was open to all, the latter was mostly closed and walled off by well-armed police.

World Social Forum talks were dominated by protests against unfair global trade, big business and foreign debt. World Economic Forum talks concentrated on security issues with expressions of concern for ruffled feathers in Europe, U.S. deficits and reports about social discontent worldwide.

No dress code was posted in Mumbai. Delegates to Davos were encouraged to be a bit less stodgy this year. Neckties brought a $4 fine.

Mumbai, a city of 18 million, half of whom live on less than $2 a day, afforded a close look at real poverty. Davos, with 11,000 residents, is snuggled into the Swiss Alps and offers breathtaking views.

Yet the seamier side of global reality did not entirely escape the millionaires and billionaires who wined and dined in Alpine splendor. The meeting was kicked off under a cloud of a global survey commissioned by the economic forum, that found “ordinary people feel ‘unsafe, powerless and gloomy’ about the future security and prosperity of the world.”

Forbes magazine pointed out that there were no “ordinary people” at Davos. The $20,000-plus price tag for the five-day meeting is one way the “ordinary people” are kept out.

Common folks are not the only ones worried about the state of the world and its economies. Another pre-Davos report by a team of more than 40 experts concluded that “governments, international organizations, business and civil society are engaging in only about one-third of the effort and partnership necessary to realize the United Nations Millennium Declaration goals.”

Those goals were aimed at an effort to end the scourge of war, reduce global poverty, stabilize the global environment and ensure basic human rights for everyone on the planet.

Slowly the message might be getting out that rich and poor live on the same planet and breathe the same air -- at least most of the time.

To be sure, the purpose of Davos had more to do with economic security than world justice. Both Mumbai and Davos delegates seemed to agree on the theoretical desire for lasting world peace. Clearly they often have different road maps.

Forbes magazine, considering Davos, made this cogent observation: “We will not have strong, sustained economic growth across the world unless we have security, but we will not have security in unstable parts of the world without the prospect of prosperity.”

Might the goal of wider prosperity be an obvious starting point?

The problem is, however, that around the world, inequality is increasing even as globalization gains momentum. This, then, becomes a problem neither Mumbai or Davos can deny. Poverty is therefore not just an economic issue; it is an issue of political economics. Consider:

  • Half the world -- nearly 3 billion people -- lives on less than $2 a day.
  • The gross domestic product of the poorest 48 nations, that is, a quarter of the world’s countries, is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest countries combined.
  • Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
  • Less than 1 percent of what the world spends every year on weapons could put every child into a classroom.

Mumbai, Davos, two cities, two continents, two perspectives. Yet all the delegates at both conferences share the same planet. No peace or lasting security is possible while the gap between rich and poor widens. In the words of Pope Paul VI, taken from his encyclical Populorum Progressio, “If you want peace work for justice.” The wisdom of that equation just may be making some inroads into unexpected places.

National Catholic Reporter, January 30, 2004

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