The year 2008 came to a dramatic end. It demonstrated to nearly everyone that the world was in trouble - under the strains and stresses of a financial meltdown.
The year also saw a great deal of discussion on how to solve this economic crisis. On the one hand, we have people, especially those working in the media, blaming governments, institutions, or individuals for the mess. On the other, we have those who are beginning to question how the world has been run thus far. What they have seen is an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor, which has in turn led to a significant increase in global violence in the form of criminal activities, hunger riots, war and civil unrest. And it is women and children everywhere who have had to bear the consequences of these catastrophes. It is common knowledge that 80 per cent of all food grown in Africa is grown by women. However, civil unrest is taking away the land used for this purpose. Grandmothers and young girls are forced to take care of and provide for families left without parents because of HIV/AIDS; and widows and young children are flocking into refugee camps.
Many, having understood the deep structural causes for the present crisis, are demanding radical change. There are others who claim that the situation demands only slight adjustments, requiring bailouts to banks and minor tweaking of the way financial institutions are run.
Take the stance adopted by British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who was former Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is calling on fellow world leaders to use the current worldwide economic "downtown" as an opportunity to thoroughly reform international financial institutions. Brown proposes that a new "truly global society" be created with Britain, the US and Europe providing the leadership. But what will Brown's "thorough reform plan for international financial institutions" achieve, when the major players who brought us into this financial crisis in the first place are being asked by him to be the leaders of this new reform package?
In 2009, the number of people, unemployed in the North (Italy, Germany and the UK) is expected to rise. In November 2008, 600,000 people lost their jobs and another 400,000 were looking for employment in the US (US Bureau of Labor Statistics). The poor in developing countries face a future of absolute destitution. According to data (June 2008) from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the number of hungry people has grown to 900 million. In 2008, the prices of wheat, rice, maize and other staples in the developing countries rose dramatically. In Somalia, food prices rose by 300 per cent and the price of maize in South Africa rose by 40 to 65 per cent. There is no reason to believe that the prices of food will fall dramatically in 2009.
Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, Vice-President of Spain, remarked at a recent meeting of the International Economic Forum, "This financial crisis has taught us a lesson which we must never forget. We must remember that this global economic village is also political and social. The economic interests of the State and the economic interests of the market must go in the same direction...."
So, what are some of the ideas being put forward? Economists who are calling for a radical solution believe that the current model is an economic development model dependent on speculation, manipulation and dishonesty. Dishonest dealings are being introduced under the banner of the promotion of "true" democracy, free and fair elections and the full participation of civil society. This is by no means true democracy based on the full participation of civil society.
Professors Raymond Fisman and Edward Miguel, in their book 'Economy Gangsters - Corruption, Violence and the Poverty of Nations', say that "someone needs to keep watch to make sure the money is spent to serve the interests of the common 'man' rather than 'The Man in the president's mansion'". The authors add "what is needed is well functioning government institutions and civil society organizations, like media and communications associations, that will hold the government accountable and prevent economic gangsters from coming to power".
This requirement of the private sector to control the fiscal budgetary policies of as many governments as possible began in the 1970s, from President Nixon to the present time. It became the main driving force and foreign policy tool for the US. At first, it was used as the main economic policy tool for the US. Later, this economic development model was incorporated into the thinking and actions of the G8, the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
As we enter into a new year - the year 2009 - it is clear that we have a global economic system in place which intends to continue for as long as it takes to get rich, even if this process of "getting rich" entails bails-out, bribery, corruption, the selling of arms, drugs, human trafficking and the undermining of mass movements involved in promoting social and economic justice.
Good long-term planning requires that governments recognize their responsibility to offer citizens a long-term vision. According to the ancient Romans, all those with responsibilities in State and local affairs should take care of their duties in the same way as that of a father dealing with his children: he would not steal from them and would plan well for their future.
One must hope that 2009 will usher in such a vision for our future.