Sunday, March 28, 2004

Prescriptions for changing the world
Himmat Singh Gill

The Age Of Consent
by George Monbiot. HarperCollins. Pages 274. Rs 1,365.

The Age Of ConsentGEORGE Monbiot, writer for the Guardian and author of the best-selling Captive State, certainly has my consent to much of what he has written in his hard-hitting, downright honest and radically different dispensation for a new world order.

Arguing for a Global Democratic Revolution, a World Parliament, an International Clearing House and a Fair Trade Organisation, besides a host of other unheard-of measures that would break the back of the status quo-ist regime, this thinker on the lines of another Marx or an Engels issues a bugle call for action instead of pontificating at all levels of human enterprise, so that we are able to make our planet a better place to live. If not during our lifetime than at least for the coming generations.

A fearless realist much ahead of his times, Monbiot’s prescriptions can truly change the world commercially, fiscally and politically, once these have been openly debated and become universally known and, hence, popular.

Monbiot’s views and recommendations on world institutions and movements are best described in his own words. On Globalisation and its interface with democracy on a planetary scale, he writes: "Our task surely is not to overthrow globalisation, but to capture it and use it as a vehicle for humanity’s first global democratic revolution."

He goes on to say: "Globalisation is not the problem. The problem is in fact the release from globalisation, which both economic agents and nation states have been able to negotiate." Strongly advocating a World Parliament, Manbiot quotes the example of the Romans and their first People’s Parliament when the plebeians or the working people suddenly "disappeared" and met at the Sacred Mount to constitute the Consilium Plebis and elected two "Tribunes" or Representatives (the Voice of the People), just as The Tribune daily here highlights on its masthead, and passed Resolutions which gradually began to be codified into unwritten and written law.

In the initial years, Monbiot’s World Parliament would have no police, no army, no courts, no Cabinet or president. What it would, however, possess would be an overwhelming legitimacy, difficult to ignore or be discarded by anyone. Directly elected and owned by the People of the World, it would possess a moral authority that most other international institutions of the world today lack.

Many of his thoughts are chillingly prophetic, as he warns us to be wary of striving for perfection in the democratic model. "We must accept that democracy will always be something of a mess." How true in our own case, in India. Talking of the elected members in this system, he says: "We elect them once, yet they continue to represent us throughout their term of office, even if we later change our mind."

Leading this reviewer to suggest some system of a recall, whereby the bulk of the voters can ease out an elected member before the expiry of his or her term, if he or she does not perform up to an acceptable standard.

Another dispensation Manbiot proposes is salary cut for the parliamentarians. "In countries where the parliamentary wage is much greater than the national average wage, the representatives are removed from the people. Their salary encourages them to see themselves as a ruling class." How about making a start with our own MPs and MLAs.

Writing about the trade policies being forced upon the poor world, Manbiot says that in the 19th century, Britain "used its military and economic power to force ‘unequal treaties’ upon weaker nations, such as Brazil (1810) and a host of other countries."

About the exploitation of farmers, he says: "A cup of coffee in the rich world may cost us $ 3, but the farmer who produced the component which makes it worth drinking received between two and three cents." Much the same is happening in India, where due to wrong fiscal policies, the middlemen siphon off much of the farmer’s profit. Fair trade, he says, requires that "the rich nations, like the fastest racehorses, carry a handicap."

Manbiot is truly a visionary when he suggests a "new international security system, which protects us from the tyranny of the strong as well as terrorism of the weak." Will the day come when we will "dump" the Security Council and replace it with a democratised General Assembly, and have a more-all-nation friendly IMF and World Bank, where even the poor nations will have a say.

This book, Manbiot himself says, does not cover many other issues like the erosion of the tax base, global power of the dollar or denomination of foreign-exchange reserves. However, it certainly sets you thinking about a vast majority of these.

In the ultimate analysis, however, "governments will not act on our behalf until we force them to do so". In his typically challenging style, Manbiot says to his readers: "It depends on your willingness to act. Well, what are you waiting for?"