"Davos 2001," the Star Tribune's Jan. 30 editorial on the World Economic Forum, accurately points out the growing consensus that the global economy is leaving many behind. But the solution is not to defer to invisible hands of a handful of elites, as the editorial suggests. Instead, there needs to be more citizen involvement, more opportunities for democratic participation, and less closed-door, behind-the-scenes, power brokering by a self-selected few.
The World Economic Forum is a by-invitation-only gathering organized annually since 1971. It's an opportunity for the world's power elite to talk business. Davos has consistently provided a uniform vision of what globalization should look like -- an approach that values the profits of a handful of corporations above all other considerations. For the last two years, citizen groups from around the world concerned about hunger, the environment, workers' rights and local economic development have protested outside the meeting to voice their objection to the Davos worldview.
This year, instead of protesting outside the gates of Davos, some 12,000 representatives from citizens groups from around the world held an alternative conference titled the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The World Social Forum was designed to consider another architecture for globalization -- one that at its core respects the rights of local democracies and social justice.
The theme of the event, "Another World is Possible," captured the heart of the ambitious agenda which included five days of workshops and roundtable discussions covering developing countries' debt, child workers, genetically engineered food and the negative economic impacts of globalization. The meeting stressed strategies to "lay the foundations for a fairer economic model."
A few of the numerous concrete proposals proposed in Porto Alegre included: the urgent need to end export dumping of food into developing countries, which is undermining local farmers; expanding public transportation to improve access to jobs and limit environmental degradation; and policies that ensure essential drugs are affordable to all.
The globalization path that we are barreling toward is not sustainable. It coldly brushes aside the interests of too many of the world's inhabitants, in some cases exacerbating some of our most difficult problems. The foundation for globalization is cracking -- and for these efforts to survive they must be restructured to reflect the interests of all affected constituencies. In other words, we must take a dramatic step away from the Davos approach. The World Social Forum was a critical first step toward a more democratic approach to the global economy.
If a new global order is going to succeed for all citizens, the answers are going to come from open debate, not from behind closed doors. I was proud to be a delegate and keynote speaker in Porto Alegre. I feel as if we are on a path toward a new, more democratic world order. As one of the other speakers eloquently put it, "Davos is about the past, Porto Alegre is about the future." I'm casting my vote for the future.
Mark Ritchie, Minneapolis. President, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
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