World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil

February 6, 2009 at 9:21 pm | Posted in Economy, International Affairs | Leave a comment
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Twentieth century transportation / E.S. Yates, des. Chi. (circa 1910)

Twentieth century transportation / E.S. Yates, des. Chi. (circa 1910)

BBC has an article about the 9th meeting of the World Social Forum (WSF) held this year in Belem, Brazil. The WSF meets yearly, at the same time as the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss alternative answers to world economic problems.

A popular slogan at the Forums in the past has been “another world is possible”. This year, at a moment of deepening global financial crisis, a global reconsideration and reshaping of economy and society seems to have moved squarely into mainstream debate. So the slogan may have to be altered to “another world is probable”.

Forum participants who attended some of the hundreds of meetings on the crisis, argued that it was interrelated with the crises of food, climate and energy, and that any responses to to the crisis must address these issues as well.

Solutions to the current crisis ranged from the global to the local, with many participants emphasising the importance of a “toolkit” of solutions rather than a single monolithic change.

  • Across countless Forum events, environmentalists and labour leaders alike called for a “green New Deal” based on massive public investment in the environmental sector to stimulate job creation as well as environmental preservation.
  • For more than a decade, forum-goers have been pushing the idea of the Tobin Tax – a tax on international currency transactions. Named after Nobel Laureate economist James Tobin, who first proposed the idea in the 1970s, the funds collected from the tax (a fraction of 1% of the transaction) would be used as a global fund for development, and for recovering from crises like today’s.
  • The Bank of the South, launched in 2007 as a development bank by and for Latin America, was also touted as an important ingredient in the toolkit of solutions to the global crisis. Giving the region more independence from existing international financial institutions, the bank would also offer the region added insulation from global shocks.
  • “Food sovereignty” – a term adopted instead of the better-known notion of “food security” – was hailed by many as a key step for developing nations to become more resilient to emerging food crises. By focusing less on export-led agricultural policies and instead forging strategic local and regional agricultural policies, activists argued, nations would be able to better meet the nutritional needs of their populations.
  • Participatory budgeting – a programme for mass participation in municipal budget allocation – is another major ingredient in the toolkit. It was pioneered in the 1990s in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre where the Forum was conceived but has spread across the world. This experiment emphasises the democratisation of financial decision-making – giving every community access to and control over public banks.

Underlying much of the discussion was the sense that the current neoliberal economic model which privileges unbridled competition between nations, companies and peoples is not a sustainable path for the future.


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