Susan George in Berlin, May 2000, for the 5th birthday panel discussion and celebration of Le Monde diplomatique - German editio

What would you do if you wanted to make sure capitalism maintained its dominant position in the world? How about calling together a working party made up of experts across a range of fields, finding them somewhere nice and quiet to work - say a pretty little Swiss lakeside town - and asking them to find a solution to the system's problems. Author Susan George imagined just such a scenario and then proceeded to put herself in the place of the men chosen to form the Working Party. The result is a book, The Lugano Report: On Preserving Capitalism in the Twenty-first Century which is at the same time darkly humorous and chillingly logical. Below, Spectre interviews Susan George about her book, its message, and how we can stop an imagined if plausible scenario from becoming a deadly reality.



SPECTRE: You say of the Lugano Report that it is neither sensationalist, nor satire, nor science fiction, nor 0ther kind of fiction. It is, nevertheless, a work of your imagination. Are there people of influence willing to advocate the Report's conclusions?

I don't think anyone would advocate these solutions in public, but it's already happening in private and in some quarters where onemight not expect it, for example within environmentalist organisations such as the Sierra Club in the United States, which has now really come out for population control and reduction. As the rich consume more and more, they are clearly not going to want to downgrade their own status and they are going to find themselves and the planet on which they depend threatened. And I think their solution will be exactly the one in the book: to say that there are a lot of people who don't contribute anything to consumption and production. We, the rich, do. We are the people who keep things running and organised, and we must be allowed to continue to do that. So I don't think it's so much a matter of asking whether this is being advocated now, more of finding out whether this logic is going to prevail. In the book I was trying to get into a logical stream and ask whether if premises A, B and C were true. then did conclusions X. Y and Z not necessarily follow?

SPECTRE: This is the logic of trade liberalisation, isn't it? Or, at least, trade liberalisation is a big part of it. Since Seattle I've noticed that papers like the Financial Times and the New York Times have been really hammering the argument that trade liberalisation benefits everyone. Clearly you don't agree.

No. It really is -very amusing that suddenly The Economist puts this winsome picture of an Indian child on its front cover with the caption that this is the real loser from Seattle, and then goes into a song and dance about how the opposition to the WTO is against the poor. I am very touched that The Economist should show this sudden concern for the poor. There's overwhelming evidence that the gap between the rich and poor has grown much larger, both within and between countries. The gap in wealth between the richer countries of the North and the poorer countries of the South was 30:1 at the beginning of the twentieth century - by 1960 it had risen to 60:1. Now it's 74:1. In other words, there are a lot of people who are not in the stream. Trade is not going to help them. Why? Because trade is carried out for two-thirds by Transnational Corporations (TNCs. TNCs do not provide employment. They have increased their sales by 20% whilst slightly reducing employment - some, like the car industry, have really downsized in a very big way. Much ot what is called inv estment is actually nothing more than mergers and acquisitions, and of course mergers and acquisitions are generally accompanied by downsizing. I don't see how anyone can say that these TNCs, which largely control world trade, are going to benefit the poor in any way. In no country except possibly Singapore and Hong Kong do Transnationals provide more than 2% ot employment. What you need if you want jobs are small and medium sized enterprises, local initiatives, labour intensive work, community development, service providers and the like.

SPECTRE: Your Working Party the purported author of the Report, recognises that prosperous people have fewer children, and that those who can rely on a welfare state have fewer reasons to have large families. Why don 't they consider how prosperity might be more evenly distributed?

They wouldn't consider it because it would imply diverting resources from immediately profitable pursuits. And what's immediatels profitable is the only kind of logic that capitalism understands. Redistribution of wealth would require enormous amounts of investment. The only time an elite has accepted this has been during crises, such as in America in the 1930s under Roosevelt. There may be some understanding of what's needed, but the logic of the system imposes short-termism and precludes any sort of international Keynesianism

SPECTRE: So is the 21st Century going to offer a choice of authoritarianisms?

No. I have never subscribed to authoritarianism, and I think if the twenty-first century is going to be authoritarian then we're all done for. On the contrary, I think it has to be much more democratic. Everything has to be done to build some sort of international democracy. We've seen only the tiniest beginnings of that, but that's why Seattle was so important. The Working Party bases its approach on Malthusianism, the idea, in a nutshell, that population will grow geometrically while food production grows arithmetically. Isn't this argument demonstrably unsound? Food production has grown sufficiently to keep pace with population growth. Can't it contunue to do so? Why doesn't the Working Party turn its mind to how this could be achieved in a way which would be advantageous to capitalism? I used to work a lot on food issues and every time somebody predicted that production would be inadequate they got egg on their face a year or two later. However there is now a trend which is apparently downward, or at least stationary, because of a physical backlash to the Green Revolution. There's been a huge urbanisation and building over of decent farmland, so there's not that much good land left to exploit. Only around 2% of the earth's surface is cultivatable land. The land tenure changes that could have enhanced production in places like Mexico have not taken place or have been reversed. There are already a lot of factors militating against increased food production, and if we get anything resembling what the World Trade Organisation (WTO) wants then we're going to kill off an awful lot of small farmers. So I think there will be a decline as population grows and that people will have less and less control over their food supply. Many people realise this and there are places where resistance is growing as a result. I think there's a good chance, however, that there will be decreased production but also increased use of what grain there is to feed rich people. The question is not only what is grown but what it's used for. There's not going to be a mass transformation of dietary habits in rich countries - on the contrary the first thing people do when they become more prosperous is to buy more meat.

SPECTRE So you do see overpopulation as a genuine problem?

Oh, I don't call it overpopulation. I always say, over in relation to what? I think that this pressure is going to create such a box for the rich that they'll be inclined to Lugano type solutions. Looked at from the point of view of this class, what are their alternatives? The alternative solution, real development, was the original rationale of the World Bank, but now the Bank is the biggest culprit in the debt crisis. And the debt has wiped out a lot of what was previously achieved - it's the biggest and best method of neo-colonialisrn. There is no degree of human suffering which in and of itself is going to bring about change. Only organisation can change things. Lugano envisages a process which begins with the re-education of western opinion and philosophy through what you call "ideological opinion moulding, ethical transformation and the creation of a new cultural hegemony." Are we already witnessing the beginnings of this? We've been in it for 25 years. I've done some work on how this neo-liberal ideology has been shaped. After the war there was none of this about. Even right wing Republicans like Barry Goldwater in the l960s did not promote such ideas. Everybody was some sort of Social or Christian Democrat. There has been a brilliant ideological offensive, foundations have spent hundreds of millions of dollars, created university chairs, financed magazines, and pumped out propaganda about privatisation. This has been very strong in America but also moved to the other Anglo-Saxon countries and on from there. They finance professors. PR people, thinktanks that make proposals and know how to get them through, lobbyists, columnist sindicated to hundreds of newspapers. The left has failed to combat this, and a hegemony has been established 'which can hardly be questioned. Now we nave seen fashioned the idea that people are dispensable, and the potential is there for this to be given philosophical respectability - you could build up an ethical systern which begins by pointing out that the idea that every individual is sacred is really recent, an 18th century idea.

SPECTRE: Is what you call 'identity politics' part of this?

I don't know if it was ever consciously part of this offensive - all I know is that if I were trying to lay the ground to implement the Lugano programme then I would invest a great deal in supporting everyone who had a grievance - you can always find a grievance, and you'd better base a grievance against people on much the same level as yourself, then we'll let you fight it out. This is an endless question - with identity politics you can never be satisfied.

SPECTRE: The Report suggests that food aid can be used to increase hunger. How does this work, and has it already been used in this way?

Oh yes. You arrive with the aid just after the harvest, ruining small farmers so that there are fewer around to produce food the following year. You create a taste for foods which cannot be produced locally making the eating of bread a status symbol, for example, in places where wheat cannot be grown. Well if having enough to eat, being able to educate your children, have reasonably stable employment, and being able to live in a society which isn't collapsing around you is what you want then, yes. All of these things, which have been generally eroded, become possible again, for the winners. through Lugano. This erosion of the middle class is happening all over the place. The opening of a wider gap between rich and poor is always accompanied by such a process, but Lugano might make it possible to reverse this, to leave a populatIon which on average would be more employable, less likely to need welfare.

SPECTRE The question you say that you are always asked is, What can we do.? I'm afraid - because Spectre is above all a magine for activists - that I going to have to pose it again. You mention a number of ideas in the annexe and afterword of the Report: the development of imaginative transnational alliances; a Tobin tax; an alternative, cooperative globalisation involving people working together across frontiers and cultures. Most of our readers live in the UK, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and North America - in, in other words, the world's richest countries. What practically can people In these countries do to try to stop the Lugano Report from becoming a reality?

The most important thing right now is the construction of the bases of international democracy. If you believe, as I do, that globalisation is led and driven by TNCs, then you have to deal with what they want and don't want: they don't want to govern by themselves, because they don't want to be bothered with the messy world of politics - but they want freedom of investment, freedom of circulation of capital. goods and services. The message is 'Don't bug us, I want to get on with it. I want to be able to produce as much as 1 want of what I want where I want and for as long as I want and I don't want any backtalk from the rest of you'. In order to get governments TNCs need international institutions such as the WTO, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund [IMF] - that's why there's been such an enormous hue and cry about the setback to the WTO. Combating the WTO is the most urgent thing - expose what the TNCS are doing, who they are, what they are. It's not what they produce or whatever that's the problem - it's what they are. We must not let them get the rules that they want. For example, we should never talk about deregulation - things are not being deregulated but reregulated in the interests of the TNCs. Get into a movement - the World Development Movement, to take just one example, is doing good work. Some political parties are, too - don't have anything to do with the Third Way! How do we get democracy at the international level when we haven't even begun to do that? That's our problem. and it's essentially the same problem people faced in the 18th C when they tried to get democracy nationally. Now w need it internationally.

SPECTRE Spectre, and most of our readers, would add the European Union to your list of international institutions which must be combated? Do you agree with this view?

Absolutely! Though I am not against 'Europe', just this Europe. There are no existing institutions that do not serve the interests of the TNCs, apart from toothless ones such as the International Labour Organisation or the European Parliament.

SPECTRE What, then, can we do about the clear erosion of democracy at the level of the nation state?

The state is currently giving up power voluntarily. in The Communist Manifesto, the nation state is described as the executive committee of the bourgeoisie. Now, it's fulfilling that role by managing affairs for the TNCs. So we have to force governments to stop giving up so much. If we push, we can do this. We made it too hot for France to stay in the Multilateral Agreement on Investments. A lot of legislators have to be elected, they want to keep their jobs, and they won't get elected because they support the WTO, but they niight just get elected because they don't. Parliamentarians can do a lot to help, putting pressure on governments - they have a terrible, almost impossible job. For example, French parliamentarians got the WTO text in 1994 on a Friday evening, it's hundreds of pages long, and they had to vote Tuesday morning. This is part of the smashing through of new laws.

SPECTRE The Working Party says that it is no part of it's brief to speculate on alternative systems . It is, however, implicit in what you have written that such alternatives can and must be created. What would a just world be like?

In his book. The Great Transfornation -Karl Polanyi, looking at the industrial revolution, shows that if the economy becomes disembodied from society it can only lead to disaster. Every society in the past has made the economy subservient to its ends. Of course, those ends can be horrible. But now we are flying off into outer space, there is no clear curb on what can be done in the name of the economy. There is a need to re-embed the economy within the society, to ask ourselves what the economy is for. There needs to be a focus on inclusion. The Welfare State was a good template. The problem is becoming more urgent, because of ecological considerations. One thing the Lugano working party was right about was that - we can't go on like this. I have no definite programme. I am only sure that we can't go on as we are doing. When the French Revolution began they had no blueprint. Susan George doesn't have all the answers - that's why we're all needed, why we need democracy, why we all need to he subjected to democratic procedures.

Susan George has written widely on development issues and international affairs. She is Associate Director of the Transnational Institute and the author of a long list of books including How the Other Half Dies, A Fate Worse than Debt, The Debt Boomerang and Faith and Credit: The World Bank's Secular Empire. A selection of shorter works, as well as further information on her books and other activities, is available on her website

Susan George was speaking to Steve McGiffen and Marjorie Tonge.

The Lugano Report is published by Pluto Press, London and is available at £9.99/ US$14.99. To order online - click here