AS STUDENTS around the country mark their graduations, they are hearing a common refrain: ''You are entering a different world.''
This sentiment will seem less of a cliche to us than to other classes, owing to the tragic events of the past year. We invest commencement with expectations of catharsis, reflecting a desire for reassurance that we are ready for the ''real world.'' We at MIT are fortunate then to have as our commencement speaker James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank. He is a reminder that in many ways nothing has changed.
On June 7, Wolfensohn will reassure us that we are the elite, gifted with unparalleled education and resources; he will remind us that this entails responsibilities to those who are less fortunate. He will inspire us with his own story, the story of the World Bank, which represents the collective good will of the industrialized West, atoning for centuries of colonialism by working to vanquish poverty from the developing world.
Wolfensohn is the perfect speaker because we are a society blinded by our own mythology. We are taught that our public institutions embody democratic principles and pursue freedom and equality for all. We are told by our representatives that we are doing all we can to make life better for everyone. At MIT, we are also taught that hypotheses must not be accepted on faith but measured by their ability to explain observations.
After the World Bank's creation in 1944, America devoted 2 percent of its GDP to rebuild Europe. Fifty years later, half the world's population lives on less than $2 a day, and America spends a fraction of a percent of its GDP to help.
About 30,000 children below the age of 5 die every day of preventable causes. While the basic social services required to end this suffering would cost only $80 billion, the United States is spending $344 billion for the military and ''Homeland Security.''
The United States is the richest nation on the planet, yet 31 million Americans live in poverty - what kind of security is that?
These data seem to undermine the hypotheses above: Surely a wealthy and democratic society would not tolerate the preventable deaths of 10 million children every year, would not allow 31 million of its members to live in poverty and the rest of the world to get by on pocket change. History teaches us, however, that we hold certain truths to be self-evident and will do anything to protect them.
World Bank policies have a profound effect on the lives of millions of people throughout the developing world. World Bank dam projects have dislocated tens of thousands; World Bank structural adjustment policies and fees for basic services have denied even more people the access to health care, education, and clean water that would lift them from poverty.
In no case, however, do the people affected by these policies participate in those decisions. At the World Bank, the underlying logic of our society is laid bare - quite literally, one dollar equals one vote.
World Bank-initiated reviews, such as the World Commission on Dams, find the bank's policies destructive and unsuccessful.
External reviews, such as the congressional Meltzer Commission, also find the bank inefficient and ineffective at alleviating poverty. It is the World Bank's lack of transparency, lack of democracy, and ultimate lack of effectiveness that leads us to protest.
Wolfensohn's presence at MIT this Friday is an opportunity to consider a truly ''different world'' from the one he represents.
His World Bank is inextricably tied to the corporate and financial interests of the countries that dominate it. As the case of Enron illustrates so well, an unaccountable society chartered on the principle of profit maximization serves a very narrow subset of its population. We recognize the need for a profound change in the nature of governance; whether in a university, workplace, or developing country, people must participate in the decisions that affect their lives.
It is this understanding that is universal to what is disparagingly referred to as ''the protest movement.'' In a world eternally and painfully seeking to justify its injustices, we aim instead to rectify them.
Michael Borucke will receive his master's degree from MIT on Friday. Oren Weinrib is a resident of Cambridge.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company