This must be a contender for the Worst-Title-Ever for an activist book, but don’t let that put you off. It’s a constructive, thought provoking read. Although I’m posting my notes here, it’s not a particularly long book and reading it wll be more valuable.
Monbiot starts with the proposition that we need to end capitalism to have a sustainable and just world order, and works backward from that to establish the steps he sees as being necessary to achieve this aim. If you’re from a wealthy democratic nation, expect to find the section of global democracy challenging!
Notes on ‘The Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world order’
By George Monbiot
“Everything has been globalized except our consent. Democracy alone has been confined to the nation state.”
1.Monbiot’s programme, as outlined in this book, has four stages (which he addresses in reverse order):
1.1. Change the rules of trade between nations
1.2. Address the balance of trade between nations
1.3 .Hold global elections for a world parliament
1.4. End capitalism
2.1. Fundamental changes to the way the people of the world think don’t happen often – metaphysical mutations. Monbiot believes we may be on the verge of a new one.
2.2. Humans throughout history loyal to various exclusive communities. The unit of identity has grown from family to nation.
2.3. The new mutation will force us to abandon nationhood and see ourselves as a species.
2.4. Corporate and financial globalisation is compelling the people it oppresses to acknowledge their commonality – a planetary class interest; and is placing the means of overthrow into the hands of the people:
2.4.1. Crushing grand ideologies creates space for new global politics to grow
2.4.2. Governments operating in the interests of capital manufactures disenchantment feeding the new politics
2.4.3. Endless debt hands the poor the power to control the world’s financial systems
2.4.4. Communications and transport links for trade are also open to organisation and activism
2.5. The mutation needs to be catalysed.
2.6. The issues are global, so we need to take control of global politics.
2.7. Anti-globalisation movement will need to become pro-something, even though differences submerged in opposition will re-emerge in this process – but being for something cogent will raise far greater support in general public.
2.8. Power exists, so we can’t ignore it or deny it. Anarchism won’t cut it. We must reclaim the power and hold it to account.
2.9. The problem is simply formulated: there is, at the global level, no effective restraint of the ability of the rich and powerful to control the lives of the poor and weak.
2.9.1. U.N controlled by Security Council, World Bank and IMF have effective US veto power, WTO dominated by rich nations in secret “Green Room” negotiations.
2.10. In some respects the world is suffering from a deficit of globalisation and a surfeit of internationalism.
2.10.1. Internationalism implies interaction between nations; globalisation denotes interaction beyond nations, unmediated by the state.
2.10.2. 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, because the people of the world have no means of restraining them.
2.10.3. So we need not to overthrow globalisation but to capture it and use it as a vehicle for the first global democratic revolution.
3.1. Why democracy?
3.1.1. Because it is the least worst system.
3.1.2. Anarchism wishes power away. While the anarchist critique of the state is strong, the absence of state has not been shown to be better – power then devolves not to people and community but to warlords and gangsters.
3.1.3. Marxism is overly simplistic in its analysis of society, and ignores the question of ‘who will guard the guardians?’
3.1.4. The best – imperfect – defence against abuse of power we have yet developed is functioning democracy
3.2. Democracy of nations is not sufficient – democratic nations still attack weaker nations, and the voice of the people – brokered through the state – doesn’t seem to get heard much in international decisions, and brokerage by nations reduces our sense of global collectivity.
3.3. An attempt to replace the global economy with a local economy likely to lock the poor into poverty, while fudging the issue of political power (i.e. that it requires political globalisation to enforce); while consumer democracy and voluntary simplicity avoid power rather than confronting it – we can’t re-democratise the world by withdrawing from globalisation.
3.4. We need a global transformation – a global democratic system.
3.5. Reform or revolution?
3.5.1. Problem with reform is that meaningful change is impossible (power is never given away easily)
3.5.2. Revolutions are always unrealistic until they happen – we have to change reality.
4.A World Parliament.
4.1. U.N. theoretically global monopoly of power, but is dominated practically and constitutionally by the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (U.S, Russia, U.K., France, China) who have veto power.
4.2. General Assembly often has different P.O.V than SC, but has no way to enforce it.
4.3. Even GA far from perfect
4.3.1. Many undemocratic nations, and little public focus on the actions of nations U.N. ambassadors (who are appointed not elected).
4.3.2. Tiny nations have same vote as huge nations
4.4. Suggestions to let Parliaments or NGOs influence UN also not so good, as the problems of representation and accountability re-emerge. (e.g. who would decide which NGOs to consult?)
4.5. Monbiot suggests a directly elected World Parliament
4.5.1. To deal with global issues and to provide a global voice of the people to rein in powerful global actors who can’t be dealt with by lone nations.
4.5.2. Directly elected and thus accountable
4.5.3. To help us see ourselves as a united species
4.6. Suggests we choose a simple model – say constituencies of 10 million (some straddling national borders)
4.7. How to arrange this?
4.7.1. Work to popularise the idea
4.7.2. Consult to see if people actually want it
4.7.3. Set up Global Electoral Commission
4.7.4. Find funding for election (Global Lottery?)
4.7.5. Start electing – even use underground or exile elections where free ones not possible
4.7.6. Initially has no powers, no police…just moral legitimacy…but this can be quite powerful. Role is to hold others to account. May also propose solutions to some global issues (e.g. Climate Change)
4.8. In rich world we may find we struggle to genuinely accept that a Haitian has the same vote as us, even if we’re there intellectually, in our hearts we know we benefit from the system. And we may have a residual irrational fear of “the yellow peril” – a distrust of the world’s masses of “others”.
4.9. But we probably don’t need to worry as much as we do – poor people want better labour standards and environmental standards too, and they can most effectively seek them in a global union.
4.10. Still, we can suggest a referendum on the future continuance of the World Parliament every ten or twenty years.
4.11. Will need to try to limit opportunities for corruption by plutocracy by limiting campaign spending, perhaps by funding candidates via Parliament’s own funds (see below), limiting Parliamentary salaries, establishing competing sources of information to counter Corporate media.
4.12. Possibly need to invent a replacement to Security Council – suggests a Council with membership weighted by population and democratic legitimacy of nation, and with no veto.
5.The Balance of Trade – an International Clearing Union.
5.1. International trading system is always, in total, in balance, so for one nation to run a surplus, some other nation must be in deficit.
5.2. It is easy for nations to end up in a vicious circle of debt.
5.3. IMF and World Bank set up after WWII to stabilise international trade, but reflected the interests of the dominant USA, and are inherently and irredeemably flawed.
5.4. Critique of IMF & World Bank, based on Stiglitz, follows.
5.5. In the end, the problem with IMF & WB is that they are controlled by the rich, and specifically the U.S.
5.6. Also, the design of IMF and WB puts all onus of balance of trade on debtor nations – the ones least able to change their situation.
5.7. But there is a better plan available – one designed by Keynes, but defeated by the Americans at Bretton Woods.
5.8. Keynes suggested all trade should be settled in an international currency issued by an International Clearing Union.
5.9. Each country would have an account with ICU with an overdraft facility equivalent to half average value of trade over past 5 years.
5.10. Incentive to clear accounts because of interest charge on overdraft if it got too large, plus forced devaluation (up to 5 percent); on the other side, interest charge on too large accounts and forced re-valuation also.
5.11. System designed to spend surpluses back into circulation, and to limit destructive currency speculation.
5.12. Changes we might make? Need to issue enough currency to allow for liquidity of trade; need to control speculation.
5.13. ICU would reduce pressure on nations to trade to fund deficits
5.14. ICU reserve fund for collection of net payments of interest would allow us to fund World Parliament or any development, humanitarian, or sustainability project so chosen
5.15. Poor/debtor nations could force this change if they all threatened to default at the same time. [not sure of likelihood of this, or that the discounted loans would worry the banks enough to put the kind of pressure on governments that Monbiot imagines]
6.The Rules of Trade – a Fair Trade Organisation.
6.1. Monbiot spends some time arguing that reducing trade per-se is not helpful to the poor, but that it is the best system we have for transmitting wealth – what we need is fair trade, which can transform economies and lives.
6.2. This he argues will probably need a system of unequal opportunity initially to allow a reduction in the vast disparities between the rich and poor.
6.3. Critique of WTO and trade policies of rich nations – familiar stuff.
6.4. Argues for allowing protection of developing industries (a method widely used and well-proven by rich and newly rich nations – brief discussion of the evidence); and of other methods such as controls of conditions of foreign investment, tarriffs…until they have escaped poverty trap – then would have to start to liberalise.
6.5. Need to regulate transnational corporations at an international level – Fair Trade Organisation might license corporations to trade, so they’d be excluded if they didn’t meet standards; directors to be prosecuted in International Criminal Court. Standards would include safety, worker treatment, environment, social externalities etc.
6.6. Governments would need to do policy and regulatory work to control black-market in non-licensed goods.
6.7. FTO would also seek to implement competition rules at a global level, thus limiting the power of companies like Microsoft.
6.8. i.e., We would slowly turn corporations into our slaves – devices to organise production efficiently but in a socially acceptable way.
6.9. FTO would probably need to be set up before ICU, as we’d need to allow poor nations to run surpluses and rich deficits to transfer wealth for a while.
6.10. We need, also, to go further, eventually, and devise a way to end capitalism and the incessant need for growth.
6.11. Monbiot tentatively links the problem to fractional reserve banking, and suggests negative interest (demurrage) as a solution [not convinced].
6.12. How? Well at least WTO is formally more democratic and open to input of all nations than IMF/WB.
7.The contingency of power, and how to go about the programme.
7.1. ‘A revolutionary is someone who recognises the contingency of power. What sustains coercive power is not force of arms, or even capital, but belief. When people cease to believe – to believe in it as they would believe in a god, in its omnipotence, its unassailability and its validity -and when they act upon that belief, an empire can collapse, almost overnight.’ (Monbiot)
7.2. History shows that even apparently inflexible rulers sometimes give up, for no obvious material reason. Perhaps because they are tired of the psychological effort of sturggling against ‘the unbelief of their people’. Obviously this doesn’t always happen. But we should watch out for it, because it can happen.
7.3 Finally, Monbiot suggests that there is something about this period of history which is favourable to the passing of estalished orders. It is a time of great change, and we should be prepared to seize our moment when it comes.