Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Two Worlds Converging

January 31, 2002

Today capitalists in New York City and anarchists, socialists and radicals of every stripe in Porto Alegre, Brazil, will take on the same big issue: how to convince rich nations to invest in the well- being of poor people in poor countries. There is precious little common ground between the powerful men and women attending the World Economic Forum and the angry outsiders convening for Porto Alegre's World Social Forum. But it's encouraging that the latter group, which vehemently opposes corporate globalization, has matured to the point that it's seeking legal and nonviolent means to achieve change. More heartening still is that the people meeting in New York seem to acknowledge that while globalization is now a fact of life, the world won't fully accept--and free trade and international cooperation won't truly thrive--until power brokers address the monumental matter of social and economic inequity.

The 30-year-old World Economic Forum, traditionally held in Davos, Switzerland, is a well-known platform for debate and action on key global issues. About 3,000 invitees, including 30 heads of government, the archbishop of Canterbury and Hamid Karzai, the interim leader of Afghanistan, will attend this year's event.

The so-called global justice movement is a hodgepodge of activists within a very loosely knit network in the United States, Europe and the Third World. Some participants come from labor, others from religious or peasants' organizations, with environmentalists, students and teachers swelling the ranks. What unites them is the fight to rid the world of sweatshops and the overuse of fossil fuels and their support for the rights of workers, indigenous people, women and immigrants. About 60,000 of these folks are due today in Porto Alegre, where discussions will center on alternatives to corporation-led globalization.

With luck, the Social Forum organizers will be able to avert the street violence that has marred anti-globalization protests from Seattle to Davos to Genoa. And while the power brokers meeting in New York will certainly--and should certainly--ignore the naive anti-capitalist ravings of the fringe protesters, they'd be well advised to pay attention to certain underlying themes.

Opponents of globalization, for instance, encourage the strategic cancellation of poor nations' debt. Already some labor groups are working with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to this end. This is not just a give-away. It can have positive reverberations even in the strongest economies. In 1999, the leaders of the seven major industrial countries agreed to erase up to $27 billion in debts owed by as many as 41 impoverished countries. To qualify, the countries had to funnel the savings into health and education programs. The participants at the Economic Forum should look at this as a blueprint for addressing the Social Forum's concerns.

Another thing: At the World Trade Organization meeting last fall, governments agreed to give poor countries better discounts on drugs for AIDS and other killer diseases. This is the sort of progress that can occur when people with competing visions let their fiery rhetoric cool and start to listen. Let's hope that happens again this week.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|