October 23, 2017

Le Piège se Referme – Introduction

Introduction by Edward Goldsmith to Le Piège se Referme (The Trap Snaps Shut) (Plon, May 2002), in which he and other authors take a fresh look at Le Piège (The Trap), by his brother, Jimmy Goldsmith (Editions Fixot, March 1994).

Le Piège se Referme contains a collection of writings by Maurice Allais (Winner of a Nobel Prize in economics), José Lutzemberger (former Brazilian environment minister), Prince Saddrudin Aga Khan, Susan George, Ralph Nader, Jacques Laigneau and others.

The justification for Le Piège se Referme is that events in the last seven years since Le Piège was published have lent considerable credibility to the ideas expressed in it. Though all but a few of our establishment scientists, economists, political scientists, and politicians, would still reject them, they would probably do so less dogmatically, and more hesitantly. In any case – and this may be more significant – the general public would almost certainly be far more sympathetic to these ideas, indeed the gulf between the ideas and values entertained by the public at large and those with which the establishment is still imbued, is widening by the day, in particular on the very issues that were the subject of Le Piège.

  • The first idée reçue that my brother questioned is that economic growth provides a measure of human welfare, and that to maximize it should be the foremost priority of public policy.
  • The second is that the centralised and bureaucratic European super-state that our governments are creating, provides the best means of assuring peace in Europe and of serving the welfare of the European people.
  • The third is that free-trade at a global level is the best means of providing jobs, combating poverty and improving general welfare.
  • The fourth is that intensive, chemically-based, large-scale, industrial agriculture, provides safe and wholesome food and is the only means of feeding the grossly inflated world population of today.
  • The fifth, and this particularly concerns the French people, is that nuclear power is both safe and economic.

It goes without saying that these assumptions still underlie the policies pursued by governments throughout the world today, while the first, the third, and the fourth are fundamental to the very principle of the industrial society we have created.

I suppose that the first reaction of people who read Le Piège must have been that this is not the sort of book that one would have expected from a highly successful business tycoon, and still less from one with a reputation as a gambler, and a bon vivant.

But then Jimmy was no ordinary businessman. Among other things he saw himself as an outsider, both to the business and political establishments, or he would not have entitled the five volumes of talks he gave to business and political audiences, Counter Culture: volumes 1-5.

But if it is unlikely that a business tycoon would write such a book it is equally unlikely that he would have entered on a political career, so late in life, with so much energy and dedication, and panache. Let’s face it, there cannot be too many men who had created their own political parties in two different countries and run them at the same time. But then he had harboured political ambitions for a very long time, and he never did things by halves. His interests, what is more, had never been confined to business, or for that matter to politics in the narrowest sense of the term.

He had a very inquiring mind, and was astonishingly well-informed on a host of subjects that few businessmen or politicians are likely to know very much about. His personal library in his house in Burgundy had large sections on anthropology, religion, the philosophy of science and the environment, in addition to more obvious subjects like history, politics, and economics. He realized decades ago that the modern world we have created was a highly aberrant one, and that the knowledge imparted in our schools and universities serves above all to rationalize the policies that have created this aberrant world, and that we were making it still more aberrant by the day.

That economic development on the present scale can only lead to the present social and environmental devastation, he understood long ago. In 1972 he organized a dinner at the Ritz Hotel in London, to which he invited leading bankers and industrialists. They were addressed by Aurelio Peccei, founder of the Club of Rome, and his colleague Alexander King, who was then chief scientist at the OECD. The Limits to Growth, the famous report to the Club of Rome by Dennis Meadows and his team, had just been published and was attracting a great deal of attention. It seemed to justify Jimmy’s worst fears. It was about this time too that he set up the Ecological Foundation, which we planned to use for funding all sorts of environmental initiatives.

Unfortunately, he became ever more absorbed in his business enterprises, which prevented him from devoting much time to his environmental concerns. As a result the foundation had to fend for itself, its main achievement being to set up and fund a private commission on transport under the chairmanship of Hugh Montefiore, the Bishop of Kingston, (who later became the Bishop of Birmingham). It was to give rise to a report entitled Changing Directions. [1] Its conclusions were as valid and as equally unlikely to be acted upon at that time as they are today. The Ecological Foundation still survives, but it has remained quite small and is based in Cornwall, where I lived at the time.

It was only 20 years later, when he decided to retire from business and devote his life to what he accepted to be more important things, that he set up the Goldsmith Foundation to fund initiatives, mainly in England and in France, that contributed to the battle against the nuclear industry, industrial agriculture (in particular the contribution to it of genetic engineering) and the global economy. It is no coincidence that these were also the main issues he seriously dealt with in Le Piège. This Foundation (it is now referred to as the JMG foundation) is still active and has the full support of the members of his immediate family.

It seems to me that the best way to introduce Le Piège se Referme to our readers is to view the main features of the original book – Le Piège. I shall do so under the headings of the different basic assumptions that it sets out to question.

Different choices for farming

JMG always fully understood the intolerable consequences of industrialized agriculture. His estate in Burgundy was and is still farmed entirely organically, as is his estate in Mexico. One of the reasons for selling his very successful company, Cavenham foods, he told me, was that his technicians seemed “to have completely forgotten that the food they designed actually had to be eaten”. He was horrified by the way battery chickens are reared and I remember him telling me decades ago – rightly or wrongly – that if chickens were kept for more than the normal 42 days in the concentration camps in which they are now reared, they would have a 100 percent cancer rate.

In Le Piège he denounces vehemently the intensive rearing of chickens, pigs, and dairy cattle, and described in detail the many health problems they encounter, in particular Mad Cow disease. But what concerned him most of all is how the industrialization of agriculture inevitably drives small farmers off the land and into the mushrooming cities:

“Partout dans le monde ces phénomènes ont entraîné la déstabilisation de la société rurale, ainsi que le développement de vastes agglomérations urbaines où s’entassent des individus déracinés, dont les familles ont éclaté, dont les traditions culturelles ont été anéanties et qui en sont réduits à vivre aux crochets de l’aide sociale dispensée par l’État. Aussi bien dans notre monde développé que dans le tiers monde, ces concentrations urbaines sont devenues des tumeurs tragiques. Les coûts induits par un tel effondrement social ne peuvent jamais entre évalués avec précision tant le mal est profond.” [2]

“All over the world these processes have led to the destabilisation of rural life, and to the formation of vast urban agglomerations into which uprooted rural people have been packed – people whose families have broken apart, whose cultural traditions have been crushed and who are reduced to living from the crumbs of social assistance dispensed by the State. In the developed world as much as in the Third World, these urban areas have become tragic tumours. The costs of this social collapse can never be accurately assessed, so deep is the injury.” [2]

For him there was no alternative but to reverse this fatal process. In Europe there would be no difficulty in financing such a move, since about 50 percent of the budget of the common agriculture policy, i.e. 110 billion francs a year at the time, was simply spent on selling surplus agricultural produce to foreign countries. This is but the inevitable result of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that leads to the maximization of production without any regard for real needs. Such a policy must clearly be abandoned and the money used to fund a transition to a diversified and balanced agricultural system. [3]

He pointed out how essential such a policy was in a speech he made in the European Parliament. Needless to say, his argument fell on deaf ears. The Common Agricultural Policy remains. Some of its details have been changed, but in essence it is the same and is as destructive as it always was.

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A new energy programme

JMG’s other major concern was nuclear energy. He always knew that it was wrong. In 1977 he provided about half the funding required by the environmental groups that opposed the extension of the nuclear reprocessing plant at Windscale (now called Sellafield). I personally distributed the money among the different activist groups. As Mycle Schneider notes JMG was absolutely horrified to learn of the EDF’s secret experimental exposure of a large number of people in France to tritium – a radioactive isotope of hydrogen – merely to see what effect it would have on their health.

He was so enraged that he wrote a highly polemical article on the subject in The Express, which he owned at the time, much to the amazement of many of his readers. Unfortunately, as he noted, the nuclear industry, as a result of almost unlimited state funding, has become so powerful that it is virtually above the law. Also, it operates in such secrecy that even when it became obvious that nuclear energy was both uneconomic and extremely dangerous, the facts were hidden from the public.

With the ever more rapid progress in the development in renewable energies it is now impossible (assuming that it ever was possible) to defend seriously the need for a nuclear industry at all. It should clearly be phased out. The main obstacle would of course come from the nuclear industry itself and the Electricité de France (EDF) which it largely controls.

In an internal report dated June 1989 on its proposed commercial strategy it referred to combined heat and power and the decentralized production of electricity in general as “threats” which presumably had to be overcome, or more precisely prevented from obtaining government backing. Its only preoccupation it seems was thereby its own survival, regardless of the consequences for the country as a whole.

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Rethinking Europe

Jimmy was violently against the Maastricht treaty. He fought it bitterly as a French Euro-MP and as President of the group Europe des Nations. He fought it equally bitterly as the leader of the Referendum Party in Britain, which was set up specifically to persuade the British people to insist on a referendum before Britain became totally committed to the single currency and to any further delegation of power by the British government to the Brussels bureaucracy.

He knew that to transform Europe into a highly centralized federal super-state, which would inevitably be controlled by Germany – Europe’s dominant economic power – does not provide, as we are told, a means of ensuring peace in Western Europe. On the contrary, it can only lead to growing social conflicts, and perhaps even to “civil war”.

At least 30 wars around the world were being fought when Jimmy wrote Le Piège, most of them largely motivated by the desire of real nations “to be liberated from the artificial states that had been imposed on them”. [4] The truth is that people need to preserve their cultural identity. They do not want to be run by a foreign power. The European super-state that our governments are seeking to create will just be another Yugoslavia, and its unfortunate citizens could well suffer the same fate as the inhabitants of Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo.

“Il est bien triste que le nouvel ordre mondial dont on a tant parlé n’ait pas adopté pour objectif un monde qui permette aux nations de vivre conformément à leurs religions, à leurs traditions, à leurs besoins et à leurs aspirations propres, libres de toute intervention impérialiste, qu’elle soit culturelle ou territoriale, bien intentionnée ou non, imposée par la force des armes ou par l’incitation financière.” [5]

“It is sad indeed that the new world order of which so much has been said has not adopted the objective of a world that allows its nations to live in conformity with their own religions, traditions, needs and aspirations, free of all imperialist attentions, be they cultural or territorial, well intentioned or not, imposed by force of arms or by financial inducements.” [5]

In the The Trap (English edition) he points out very explicitly that

“this acute form of cultural imperialism is reinforced by international business, which considers that it would benefit from the destruction of social diversity and its replacement by a global monoculture hungry for Western-type products.” [6]

Indeed, he continues, “We cannot satisfy at once the interests of the multinational corporations and those of communities and societies.” This is clearly so, since, as he stated in the European Parliament,

“Il existe un profond conflit d’intérêts entre l’industrie et la société civile. l’intérêt de l’industrie est de maximaliser rapidement la rentabilité de ses capitaux. Le succès d’une nation, quant à elle, ne se mesure pas exclusivement en termes économiques. Pour elle, le véritable succès se manifeste dans la stabilité de la société et dans le contentement de son peuple.”

here exists a deep conflict of interest between industry and civil society. The interest of industry is quickly to maximise the profitability of its investments. The success of a country, however, is not only measured in economic terms, but is to be seen in the stability of its society and the happiness of its people.”

That is why it is so disastrous . . .

“. . . qu’à travers une cascade d’organisations mondiales, de panels et de commissions dites ‘indépendantes’, ce sont en réalité les industries concernées qui ont accaparé un pouvoir dominant de fixer les arbitrages entre les interêts de l’industrie et ceux de la société civile.” [7]

“. . . that by way of an avalanche of global organisations, of supposedly ‘independent’ panels and commissions, the industries that are meant to be regulated have in fact seized the power to determine the outcome of disputes between the interests of industry and those of civil society.” [7]

Perhaps the answer is a more powerful and more centralized state. For the author this is the last thing we need. Above all, it is impossible to imagine a less democratic form of government. As he writes in the The Trap (English edition, page 67),

“Democracy functions properly when it is local and participatory. In a healthy democracy it is the people who decide which powers should be entrusted to their leaders. In a false democracy, it is the leaders who decide which freedoms are to be lent to the people.” [8]

Throughout his campaign for the Referendum Party he accentuated what for him was the essential principle of ‘subsidiarity’. A society based on subsidiarity, for him

“. . . ne transfère, ni à la collectivité ni à l’État, les responsabilités qui d’une façon naturelle, sont celles des familles. Elle ne détruit pas les petites et moyennes entreprises pour concentrer leurs activités dans des groupes géants. Elle n’éteint pas les exploitations agricoles familiales pour les regrouper dans des vastes exploitations mécanisées de monoculture. Au contraire, elle a compris qu’une nation saine doit être riche de villages, d’artisanats, d’une multitude de petites et moyennes entreprises couvrant un large spectre de métiers, ainsi, bien sûr, que de grands groupes industriels.” [9]

“. . . transfers, neither to the community nor to the State, those responsibilities which are naturally those of families. It does not destroy small and medium-sized businesses in order to concentrate their acivities in giant conglomerates. It does not close down family farms and reorganise them into vast mechanised monocultures. On the contrary, it has understood that a healthy country should be rich in villages, cottage industries, in a multitude of small and medium-sized enterprises across a broad spectrum of professions, trades and crafts, as well as, of course, some large industrial combines.” [9]

This is a fine vision, indeed an inspiring one. For me, however, it can be criticized on the grounds that the co-existence of giant corporations and small companies is difficult unless they operate in very different fields. Indeed it is not enough for the latter to expand horizontally into ever more distant markets, they must also expand vertically, swallowing up small companies that they see as competing with them and that prevent them in this way from maximising the market for their own goods and services.

The opposite of subsidiarity is what JMG called “corporatism”. This is best seen as

“Un triangle à la tête duquel se situe l’État. Aux deux bases vous trouverez, d’une part, le patronat et, de l’autres, les syndicats. Ces trois formations possèdent des intérêts objectivement liés. Les syndicats ne peuvent prospérer que lorsque leurs adhérents travaillent pour de grosses entreprises.

“A triangle at whose apex sits the State. At the two lower corners you will find, on the one side the employers, and on the other, the unions. These three have closely related interests: The unions can only flourish when their members work for large enterprises.

In small companies, in which the boss knows and works amongst his employees, the formation of a trades union is rarely necessary. Employers too like this arrangement, as does the State – which

“se trouve face à deux grands interlocuteurs plutôt qu’à une multitude d’entreprises de différentes tailles. Un tel système répond parfaitement au système bureaucratique.”

“deals with two large interlocutors, rather than a multitude of players of various sizes. Such a system corresponds perfectly to the bureaucratic system.”

But this leads to an intolerable situation.

“Progressivement, la nation et ses activités sont dominées par des groupements industriels géants, des syndicats puissants et un État qui ne reconnaît plus de frontières à ses responsabilités et a son pouvoir. L’esprit corporatiste finit par tout imprégner, même l’Éducation nationale et le système de santé publique.” [10]

The nation and its activities are progressively dominated by giant industrial groups, powerful trades unions and a State that no longer recognises limits to its responsibilities and its powers. The corporatist spirit finally engulfs everything, even public education and the national health system.” [10]

Events in the last 7 years however have not gone exactly as JMG foresaw. Rather than getting stronger, the state has become progressively weaker and is increasingly dominated by the ever more powerful transnational corporations the global economy has brought into being. As for the trade unions, they have been disempowered by successive governments intent on reducing wage inflation as a means of cutting costs and generally increasing the competitivity of the multinationals.

They have been further disempowered by the unprecedented automation made possible by modern computer technologies together with the ‘delocalisation’, or the threat of delocalisation of big companies from the rich countries to the very poorer ones where salaries can be anything up to 50 times lower and environmental laws very much laxer or rarely implemented.

JMG was never opposed to the principle of the European Union, only to its transformation into a European super-state. For him the only functions that should be fulfilled at the European level was, first of all, the protection of the environment; secondly defence, though not by Eurocorps, which, as it happens, Mr Blair and Mr Schroeder have just brought into being, and the protection of the European internal market, which of course would require reneging on the Uruguay Rounds agreement, and withdrawing from the World Trade Organization. In Le Piège (French edition) he saw diplomacy as a fourth function to be fulfilled at the European level. However, this is no longer mentioned in the English edition that was published two years later.

For JMG the political institutions set up to run the European Union should also be drastically reformed. He proposed the creation of an European Constitutional Senate, whose main function would be to assure that the European authorities did not violate the principle of Subsidiarity and that the culture of each European nation be fully respected. The European Parliament would become a real parliament that would legislate on such important issues as education, research, development, and health services. As for the Commission, its members would be nominated by national governments and its power seriously reduced.

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Economic Growth

It is generally agreed that the concept of progress came into its own during the 17th century, and was the most fundamental assumption of the ‘Enlightenment’ in the late 18th century. Today, economic development is its most obvious manifestation. It has rarely been defined, but I suppose one can best regard it as above all involving the methodical commodification and hence monetization of functions that were previously fulfilled for free by the family, the community, society at large, and the ecosystems that make up the natural world.

As this process occurs the natural social and the ecological structures mentioned above disintegrate and people are reorganized into artificial social groupings such as government institutions and commercial enterprises that between them provide these newly monetised functions. As this occurs so does the society’s world view, in particular its moral values, undergo a corresponding change. Above all, they now serve to rationalize these dramatic developments.

To question the fundamental assumption that the maximization of economic development provides the only means of combating poverty, providing jobs and assuring the general welfare is possibly the ultimate blasphemy in the eyes of the faithful. Few economists have the necessary understanding, let alone courage, to do so. Kenneth Galbraith hinted at it in the 50s and 60s, but the first economist of any note to have seriously questioned this assumption was probably Ezra J. Mishan of the London School of Economics in his 1968 book: The Costs of Economic Growth. [11]

A number of economists followed suit. In France it was René Passet in his great book l’Économie et le Vivant [12], and in the USA the most prominent was Herman Daly, whose latest book For the Common Good [13], co-authored by John Cobb, an eminent theologian, (which unfortunately has not yet been published in France), is possibly the most comprehensive and is generally seen to have provided the foundations for the new discipline of ‘ecological economics’. Jimmy was probably the first politician, and almost certainly the first industrialist of any note to question this assumption. Of course, he did not totally reject economic growth, only that it had precedence over more important social and ecological imperatives:

“Reconnaissons une fois pour tout que la croissance économique n’a de valeur que pour autant qu’elle renforce la stabilité de nos sociétés et qu’elle en augmente le contentement.” [14]

“Let us recognise for once and for all that economic growth is of value only insofar as it reinforces the stablity of society and increases happiness.” [14]

It must be clear to all sane people that these conditions have been far from satisfied in recent times. Societies everywhere are disintegrating fast, the most obvious consequence being the growth in crime, violence, delinquency, and drug addiction, while the natural environment is being degraded at an unprecedented rate. JMG fully realized this.

“Les eaux, douces et salées, sont empoisonnées; la terre et les sols se dégradent; dans de nombreuses régions, l’air est devenue dangereux à respirer ; la destruction de la couche d’ozone pourrait transformer l’ensoleillement quotidien en menace mortelle ; et comme l’a déclaré Maurice Strong, secrétaire général de la Conférence des Nations unies sur l’environnement, nous vivons sous la menance de ‘quarante Tchernobyls’, et cela dans les seuiles de l’Europe de l’Est et Russie.”

“Waters, sweet and salt, are poisoned; soils are degraded in many areas; the air has become dangerous to breathe; the destruction of the ozone layer could transform our daily sunshine into a deadly menace; and as Maurice Strong, secretary-general of UNEP, has stated, we live under the threat of ’40 Chernobyls’, and that on the threshold on Eastern Europe and Russia.”

Is it not ironic indeed, JMG wrote, that

“. . . la plus florissante époque de production matérielle qu’ait connue l’humanité ait provoqué un effondrement social et que, a l’apogée de ces succès technologiques et scientifiques, l’humanité voie se déstabiliser les conditions mêmes de la vie?” [15]

“. . . the most productive period of material production that humanity has ever known has triggered a social collapse and that, at the zenith of its technological and scientific success, humanity should see the very conditions of life become destabilised?” [15]

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Free Trade

JMG accepted the principle of free trade, but it had to be within a regional market such as that provided by the European Union rather than a global one. In addition, it should only occur among countries enjoying a similar standard of living. For this reason he would have bitterly opposed the present decision to expand the European Union to include Poland, Czechoslovakia, and even Turkey. JMG proposed instead that the East European countries should be encouraged to form their own trading block.

The experience we have had of linking the highly prosperous northern Italy with the much poorer south, and the more recent experience of linking highly prosperous West Germany with impoverished East Germany, should make it clear what to expect from an expanded European Union linked by a single currency and a single financial policy set by a single politically independent central bank.

As in Italy and in Germany, there would be a massive flow of migrants from the poor areas to the richer ones. These people would be uprooted from their socio-cultural environment – itself a traumatic experience – and would in turn destabilize the highly populated areas in which they would seek to earn a precarious living. They would also be increasingly resented, if for no other reason than that the host population would be made to pay higher taxes in order to subsidize the weaker economies of the countries from which they had migrated. This is not a situation that could last. It could only lead to social and political upheavals.

Another aspect of free trade that JMG opposed – and a very fundamental one – was the application to modern conditions of the principle of ‘comparative advantage’. For him the main problem is the specialization it gives rise to, which is vaunted as a means of increasing efficiency and competition. For JMG specialization can only lead to the total abandonment of specific sectors of a country’s economy, with serious and social consequences.

Already, rich countries are forced to specialize in capital-intensive activities. This means that the goods that they export are those that require the least labour to produce. On the other hand, the goods that they import from the poorer countries, whose comparative or absolute advantage lies in labour-intensive industries, are likely to require the least labour to produce. It follows that even though trade between the rich and the poor countries may be in equilibrium from the monetary point of view, they are certainly not from the point of view of the labour-content of the products exchanged:

“Conséquence: l’installation d’un chômage chronique chez nous avec toutes ses conséquences sociales.” [16]

“The result : chronic unemployment among us with all its social consequences.” [16]

As already mentioned, JMG realized that free trade at a global level, as set up by the GATT Uruguay Rounds treaty, would be a human, social, and ecological disaster.

“Pour ma part, je pense que le GATT, et avec lui la pensée sur laquelle il repose, est vicié irrémédiablement et qu’il appauvrira et déstabilisera le monde industrialisé, tout en ravageant cruellement le tiers monde.” [17]

“For my part, I think that GATT and the thinking on which it is based, is irremediably contaminated, and that it will impoverish and destabilise the industrialised world, while cruelly ravaging the Third World.” [17]

In his speech to the European Parliament he lambasted those who had voted in favour of the ratification of this treaty.

“J’espère que chaque fois qu’un emploi en Europe sera détruit, que chaque fois qu’une famille sera brisée à la suite de sa dispersion à la recherché de travail devenue rare, que chaque fois qu’un paysan sera déraciné et projeté en ville, que chaque fois qu’une petite entreprise ou un artisanat sera forcé de fermer ses portes, que chaque fois que la violence éclatera dans les concentrations urbaines, j’espère que ceux qui en auront souffert, c’est-à-dire la société tout entière, garderont en mémoire le nom des responsables, membres de cette assemblée et membres des assemblées nationales qui auront voté la ratification du GATT.” [18]

“I hope that every time a job in Europe is destroyed, every time a family is broken and dispersed in the search of ever-rarer work, every time that a peasant is uprooted and forced into the city, every time a small business or cottage industry is forced to close its doors, every time violence breaks out among concentrated urban populations, I hope that those that suffer, that is to say all society, will remember the names of those responsible, members of this Parliament and members of national Parliaments, who voted in favour of GATT.” [18]

He said much the same to the hundred or so congressmen that Ralph Nader and Lori Wallach managed to assemble for him in Washington DC before the ratification of that treaty. There are various versions of his statement on this subject. Lori Wallach quotes one of them. Another I heard suggests that he was even more outspoken on that occasion. He is said to have told the congressmen:

“If you ratify this treaty, no body of people in human history will have created as much poverty, misery, and destitution as you would have done. And who are the beneficiaries? I might add the sole beneficiaries? The answer is the super-rich – people like myself – and what good would that do me if I am to be surrounded by hordes of destitute and half-starved people? I feel like someone who has been dealt a winning hand at poker when sailing on the Titanic.”

It is astonishing just how few people with money, power, and influence, have understood the real implications of the GATT treaty, and of course of the setting up of the World Trade Organization, to take over its functions, or perhaps it is that they just do not care. In any case civil society as a whole is now beginning to react. It did so in Seattle this week (30th November to 6th December 1999). At least 50,000 people, including environmentalists, farmers, truck drivers, steel workers, Third World activists, indigenous people, members of animal liberation groups, religious groups, and students from colleges all around the USA, thronged to Seattle, where they braved tear gas and rubber bullets in their determination to disrupt the Ministerial meeting of the WTO and prevent this organization from pursuing its utterly irresponsible agenda.

At last too, the official government delegates of Third World countries in Africa, South America, and the Pacific region who, since the beginning of the Uruguay Rounds, had been bullied, indeed bulldozed, into accepting the rich countries’ agenda, realized that they were not as impotent as they previously assumed, and that it was simply a question of getting together and cooperating in defending themselves against the economic imperialism of the USA, the EU and Japan. They booed Arlene Barchevsky, the United States’ Trade representative and co-chairman of the meeting, and Michael Moore, the new Director of the WTO, and to the horror of the delegates from the industrial countries, refused to sign the final draft of the WTO declaration.

What is more, the way they joined forces to undertake this action suggests that there is now a distinct possibility that they may join forces to form their own trading blocks and thereby reduce their dependence on the American and European markets, and hence on the control that the US government in particular exerts on them.

Seattle also revealed the chasm between the US and the European view as to what extent the public interest should be sacrificed on the altar of free trade. The European Union, as we all know refuses to remove subsidies from its beleaguered agriculture. It refuses too to import beef derived from cattle injected with artificial hormones or genetically modified food products. Nor, for that matter, will it import bananas from American TNCs that operate in Central America, in spite of the fact that they are cheaper than those obtainable from the former British and French colonies in the West Indies to which we feel we have some moral obligations.

What also separates the West European countries from the USA and the UK is the importance the former attach to the preservation of their respective cultures. It is also their refusal to cut salaries and dismantle the welfare state to the extent the latter countries have done – as required in order to maximize the competitivity of their multinationals, to achieve the sort economic success they have recently experienced, as well as the strengthening of their respective currencies vis-à-vis the Euro.

The issue is not only an ideological one; it is largely that a government in France or Germany that did likewise would almost certainly lose heavily at the polls, could be faced with a general strike, and even worse. These difference between the EU, the US, and Third World countries, can only grow, and as this occurs so is it likely that efforts will be made to reduce their dependence on each other. The global economy may then well lose its lustre and gradually disintegrate, to be replaced by a world of separate trading blocks, as Jimmy proposed.

Tony Blair’s contention that “globalisation is irreversible and irresistible” is simply not serious. There is nothing irreversible or irresistible about it. It may appear that the constitution of the WTO is legalistically inviolable, but what government is going to brave what could eventually be a massive popular revolt against an unjust economic system that has been imposed without any popular debate and of which the only beneficiaries are the largely foreign multinational corporations? It is more than likely that the WTO constitution will simply be ignored when it ceases to be politically expedient for governments to adhere to it.

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We have really made a mess of things, as JMG intimated throughout his book, and at times stated fairly explicitly. It seems that our society is incapable of solving any of its problems. Crime, delinquency, drug addiction, the growing incidence of degenerative diseases like cancer and heart disease, of infectious diseases that science was supposed to have largely eliminated, the incidence of wars, the degradation of the environment, and, worst of all, the destabilization of world climate are all increasingly out of control.

This is not explicable in terms of minor flaws in the way we deal with these problems. It can only be that the world-view with which we have been imbued, and on which our socio-economic policies are based, is fundamentally flawed – not just in its details but in the very principles that underlie it.

This world-view, one might say, this secular religion, is still in its essence that which was introduced to us with the Enlightenment, Its most basic dogma is still that science, technology, and industry can create a material paradise on earth from which all the problems that have confronted us since we first inhabited this planet will have been eliminated once and for all. Whatever mainstream religion we may affect to adhere to, this is clearly our effective religion – the one that colours all our thinking and determines the basic features of our socio-economic policies.

These policies are of course a new development in terms of our total experience on this planet. In the traditional societies, in which we have spent more than 95 percent of this experience science was very much under social and hence under religio-cultural control, but it is no longer. JMG admits that

“La science est utile pour autant qu’elle contribue à la stabilité et au bien-être de la société.”

“Science is useful so far as it contributes to the wellbeing of society.”

However, science,

“. . . après avoir été libérée de la contrainte morale, elle a fait son chemin en toute indépendance, avec l’absolue conviction qu’elle avait le droit et le devoir de chercher, de découvrir et d’inventer, sans s’occuper des effets ultimes de ses innovations sur la biosphère et sur toutes les force de vie, y compris bien entendu, sur les sociétés humaines. Des générations successives d’étudiants ont été éduquées dans la croyance inconditionnelle en la capacité de la science de résoudre tous les problèmes. Mais, au fur et à mesure que certains problèmes se résolvaient, d’autres – nouveaux et inattendus – se créaient. Aussi sommes-nous confrontes a une crise qui ne cesse de s’approfondir. [19]

“. . . after its liberation from moral constraints, it has made it own path with complete independence, with the absolute conviction that it had the right to search, to discover and invent, without worrying about the eventual effects of its innovations on the biosphere and all the forces of life, including of course human societies. Generations of students have been educated to believe unconditionally in science’s ability to solve all problems. But while some problems have indeed been solved, others – new and unexpected – have emerged. So it is that we are confronted with an ever-deepening crisis.” [19]

The same of course can be said for today’s runaway economic development. Its ability to combat poverty, provide jobs, increase general prosperity and welfare is unquestioned today. This process too, especially now that it is in the hands of vast, powerful, transnational corporations, has freed itself from all social and moral constraints, if something promotes our economic interests then it must be done regardless of its social, ecological, and human costs and however morally repulsive it might be, a situation that is clearly intolerable. For JMG the question was simply:

“Comment imposer une discipline à ces deux demi-dieux modernes, la science et l’économie?” [20]

“How to impose discipline on these two modern half-gods, science and the economy?” [20]

The answer can only be to see them as we once did in their total social, ecological and spiritual context. This requires, as JMG put it “un engagement spirituel” (“a spritual engagement”). Without it human societies “ne sont que des machines à calculer” (“are no more than calculating machines”). [21]

There is no alternative but to re-embed science and the economy in a religio-culture – but one in which our moral duties are not merely to a remote otherworldly God but to his creation the cosmos as a whole, as traditional religio-cultures used to be. This means subordinating these “demi-dieux modernes” (“modern half-gods”) to something that is incomparably more important and which we must regard as sacred – something too that, with the current euphoria for technology and material prosperity, we have almost completely lost sight of.


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