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OPINION | Sunday, 27 January 2008

Globalisation in the dock

JOHN DALLI

Davos is freezing. This must be having a cooling effect to the hundreds of intelligentsia, business leaders, politicians and general hangers-on that congregate on this ski resort town in Switzerland to discuss the world’s woes and debate and propose a cure.
 Sometimes the agenda features trendy issues – those which the media has been focusing upon, and which, through massive global media exposure, could put the World Economic Forum into the headlines and Prime Time.
This year, the theme is world recession.
The media is treating this frightening and potentially devastating subject as if it were a run-of-the-mill sensational saga that is beaten to death to fill the hours, attract anxious (sometimes masochistic) viewers who want to hear more doom and gloom and are sometimes led to panic investment decisions right in the hands of stock exchange manipulative speculators, who glean their hard-earned money much faster and deeper than any minister of finance.
The international media are continuously repeated the words “world recession”. It is the way in which a world recession comes about. Because after all, economic dynamics are a factor of perception not facts, expectation not prophecy, feel-good factor not be-good reality. So the more one talks about world recession, the more one foments the perceptions and expectations that make people act to bring recession about.
The word is out that globalisation is to blame for the major catastrophe that is befalling us all.  In the same World Economic Forum of some years ago, globalisation was hailed as the salvation of the world.  It was beatified and sanctified as economic miracles were being reported in breathtaking sequence.  World leaders entrusted the World Trade Organisation to work at extra speed to bring down trade barriers of whatever kind, to eliminate subsidised trade exchanges and to promote free trade as a dogma.
In this it has succeeded in some way, although it did not manage to move the European Union to shift its stance of allocating more than half of its budget to farm subsidies that mainly go to rich farmers.  The world was the better for it and many countries that liberalised their economies in fact fared better.
However, there were the bandits: the greedy opportunists and the shortsighted speculators who were eager to turn a quick buck, rather than build a solid system of efficient economic activity and exchange. On top of this the politicians were generally slow to react to what was happening around them, to clear the way for opportunities and close the way for opportunists. This created unemployment in some areas, as workers were not retrained fast enough for other jobs that could have been created. It also caused an enormous increase in the price of essential foods such as cereals, commodities such as oil and steel, and services such as shipping. This was partly driven by increased demand created by economic growth in many countries that had been lethargic in the past, and in part created by artificial speculation by moguls playing the stock exchange, politicians playing politics and stock exchange traders gazing at their screens and acting on indications given by a common computer software.
So the question on whether globalisation is right or wrong is totally misplaced.  I believe that the real question should be, have we implemented globalisation in the right way?  What lessons have we learnt?  Have we programmed a course of action for the future?  How should we concentrate on enforcing real and effective liberalisation by all?
The way ahead is to keep pushing competitively, be more efficient in what we do, use our resources in activities in which we are more efficient and seek the markets that give us the best added value.
 
An open-air prison
 It was a sad story indeed that which is unfolding today as I am writing this piece.
Palestinians living in Gaza were blockaded in their houses by the Israelis who, fed up by the constant rocket attacks on their territory, closed all borders even to essential goods.  In this way they are trying to force a change in a government which was democratically elected, but which many believe should be seeking dialogue rather than belligerence.
The people were without food, without medicine, without fuel, without electricity, without water. Faced with a wall on the Israeli border they ran to the opposite side on the Egyptian border. Literally fighting for their lives they breached the wall and ran out of what they call their open air prison. They carried gas cylinders on their shoulders to exchange for filled cylinders across the border.  They ran to pharmacies to buy their medicines and to shops to buy their food.
I do not want to stand in judgment.  This is indeed a sight devoid of all humane aspects.  But then why is it happening? The Palestinians at Gaza exercised their democratic right to elect a government to lead them. They chose a group that was declared in favour of force and not of peace. To me this is living proof on how we, all of us, shoulder the consequences of a decision reached by the majority on who should lead the country.



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