Share the World's Resources
As the 21st Century unfolds, humanity is faced with a stark reality. Following the world stock market crash in 2008, people everywhere are questioning the unbridled greed, selfishness and competition that has driven the dominant economic model for decades. But the economic meltdown is just one of a long series of interrelated crises that have combined to leave billions of people in the Global South without access to the basic necessities of life.
As the devastating costs of climate change and financial turmoil continue to unfold, it is no longer possible to ignore the urgent need for transforming our social, political and economic structures along more just and sustainable lines.To meet the challenges that lie ahead, we need a new understanding of what it means for humanity to evolve and progress. Our economic systems are based on outdated assumptions about human nature, and must instead become rooted in universal values and ethics that reflect our highest ideals. Scientists now accept that human beings are naturally predisposed to cooperate and share – and these simple principles hold the key to transforming economic relationships between governments.
Nothing less than a program for survival is required, based on a clear understanding of the interdependence of all nations and the structural causes of poverty, inequality and climate change.
We urgently need to implement new strategies for managing and sustainably consuming the world’s natural resources, and to ensure a more equitable distribution of essential goods and services. The task ahead is unprecedented and formidable, requiring a radical transformation of the global economy – but this is the only way to co-create a more peaceful and harmonious world without insecurity or deprivation.
Together, the ideas in this article provide a practical vision of a sustainable future world guided by the enduring principles of cooperation and sharing.
We are facing an unparalleled series of crises. The old obsession with protecting national interests, the drive to maximize profits at all costs, and the materialistic pursuit of economic growth has failed to benefit the world’s poor and led to catastrophic consequences for planet earth. The incidence of hunger is more widespread than ever before in human history, surpassing one billion people in 2009 despite the record harvests of food being reaped in recent years. At least 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty, a number equivalent to more than four times the population of the United States. One out of every five people does not have access to clean drinking water. More than a billion people lack access to basic health care services, while over a billion people – the majority of them women – lack a basic education. Every week, more than 115,000 people move into a slum somewhere in Africa, Asia or Latin America. Every day, around 50,000 people die needlessly as a result of being denied the essentials of life. In response to these immense challenges, international aid has proven largely ineffective, inadequate, and incapable of enabling governments to secure the basic needs of all citizens.
When several trillion dollars was rapidly summoned to bail out failed banks in late 2008, it became impossible to understand why the governments of rich nations could not afford a fraction of this sum to ‘bail out’ the world’s poor.
The enduring gap between rich and poor, both within and between countries, is a crisis that lies at the heart of our political and economic problems. For decades, 20 per cent of the world population have controlled 80 per cent of the economy and resources.
By 2008, more than half of the world’s assets were owned by the richest 2 per cent of adults, while the bottom half of the world adult population owned only 1 per cent of wealth. The vast discrepancies in living standards between the Global North and South, which provides no basis for a stable and secure future, can only be redressed through a more equitable distribution of resources at the international level. This will require more inclusive structures of global governance and a new economic framework that goes far beyond existing development efforts to reduce poverty, decrease poor country debt and provide overseas aid.
In both the richest and poorest nations, commercialization has infiltrated every aspect of life and compromised spiritual, ethical and moral values. We urgently need a new paradigm for human advancement, beginning with a fundamental reordering of world priorities: an immediate end to hunger, the securing of universal basic needs, and a rapid safeguarding of the environment and atmosphere. No longer can national self-interest, international competition and excessive commercialization form the foundation of our global economic framework.
A sustainable and peaceful future begins with a fairer sharing of the world’s resources, requiring a shift in power relations from North to South, and from financial and commercial interests to the world’s majority population.
The multiple crises that confront the world are urging nations to acknowledge our global interdependence, and to accept that humankind is part of an extended family that shares the same basic needs and rights. This holistic understanding of our relationship to each other and the planet transcends nations and cultures, and builds on ethics and values common to faith groups around the world. It also reflects the strong sense of solidarity and internationalism which lies at the heart of the global justice movement.
The first true political expression of our global unity was embodied in the establishment of the United Nations. Since then, international laws have been devised to help govern relationships between nations and uphold human rights. Cross-border issues such as climate change, global poverty and conflict are uniting world public opinion and compelling governments to cooperate and plan for our collective future. The globalization of knowledge and cultures, and the ease with which we can communicate and travel around the world, has further served to unite diverse people in distant countries.
But the fact of our global unity is still not sufficiently expressed in our political and economic structures. The international community has yet to ensure that basic human needs, such as access to staple food, clean water and primary healthcare, are universally secured. This cannot be achieved until nations cooperate more effectively, share their natural and economic resources, and ensure that global governance mechanisms reflect and directly support our common needs and rights.
A more inclusive international framework urgently needs to be established through the United Nations (UN) and its agencies. Although in need of being significantly strengthened and renewed, the UN is the only multilateral governmental agency with the necessary experience and resources to coordinate the process of restructuring the world economy. The UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been adopted by all member states and embody some of the highest ideals expressed by humanity. If the UN is rendered more democratic and entrusted with more authority, it would be in a position to foster the growing sense of community between nations and harmonize global economic relationships.
Mainstream economists have assumed that human beings are inherently selfish, competitive, acquisitive and individualistic. Such notions about human nature are now firmly established as the principles upon which modern economies are built, and have been used to justify the proliferation of free markets as the best way to organize societies.
Particularly since the 1980s, these basic economic assumptions have increasingly dominated public policy and pushed aside ethical considerations in the pursuit of efficiency, short-term growth and profit maximization. But the ‘neoliberal’ ideology that institutionalized greed and self-interest was fundamentally discredited by the collapse of banks and a world stock market crash in 2008. As a consequence, the global financial crisis reinvigorated a long-standing debate about the importance of morality and ethics in relation to the market economy.
At the same time, recent experiments by evolutionary biologists and neuro-cognitive scientists have demonstrated that human beings are biologically predisposed to cooperate and share. Without this evolutionary advantage, we may not have survived as a species. Anthropological findings have long supported this view of human nature with case studies revealing that sharing and gifting often formed the basis of economic life in traditional societies, leading individuals to prioritize their social relationships above all other concerns. As a whole, these findings challenge many of the core assumptions of classical economic theory – in particular the firmly held belief that people in any society will always act competitively to maximize their economic interests.
The time is now ripe to overhaul our outdated assumptions about human nature, to reconnect our public life with fundamental values, and to rethink the role of markets in achieving the common good.
As a starting point, integrating the principle of sharing into our economic system would have far-reaching implications for how we distribute and consume the planet’s wealth and resources. If humanity is to survive the formidable challenges that define our generation – including climate change, diminishing fossil fuels and global conflict – it is necessary to forge new ethical understandings that embrace our collective values and global interdependence. Most of all, it is time to build a more sustainable, cooperative and equitable international economy – one that reflects and supports what it really means to be human.
For countless generations, economic activities and social relationships within small towns and communities have been closely interrelated. These traditional ways of living and working enabled members of a community to participate in local economic activity and share its benefits more equitably.
Strengthening local economies also has the potential to significantly reduce poverty in the developing world. For example, by encouraging the building of small rural and city farms, millions of people could benefit from sustainable local food production. An increased focus on domestic markets would also boost opportunities for stable employment in local industries. International aid could assist in this process by empowering people to re-establish local economies that supply many goods and services to the community. In this way, development efforts can directly focus on securing basic needs, rather than upholding the unequal power relationships that underlie a globalized system of finance and trade.
More self-reliant local communities are a key part of the transition to a people-centred, environmentally sustainable way of life. But the revival of local economies must be part of a wider transformation of the global economy – a process that should also be guided by the principles of cooperation and sharing.
It is clear that united action on an unprecedented scale is the only option left to humanity. A crucial first step is for governments to redistribute the resources needed to immediately eradicate hunger and extreme poverty. This fundamental reordering of global priorities should form the first part of a more comprehensive program of economic reform that can provide universal access to essential goods and services, and end conflict over the world’s natural resources.
Without fundamental reform of the institutions, structures and practices that determine global economic activity, it is impossible to create a fair and sustainable world. An emergency program of redistribution must be followed by measures that reduce dependency on international assistance and enable countries to become largely self-sufficient in securing their basic needs.
Economic sharing can be directly applied to how we manage the world’s natural resources. Water, seeds, oil, gas, forests, minerals and even the atmosphere are all forms of ‘global commons’ that can be shared more equitably and sustainably. One option is to ensure that such resources are recognized as a shared commons and protected through a ‘trust’ or similar international mechanism.
If such an agreement is negotiated between nations or through a global body (such as the United Nations), a shared resource could be managed in the interests of all citizens, protected from exploitation by the private sector, and managed in an environmentally sustainable manner that preserves it for future generations.
At the national level, legal and structural reforms could ensure that land is made available for small-scale agriculture and public housing programs.
As world leaders seek to resurrect the old economic order, millions of people are calling for a better world that ensures all people live in dignity, with the basics guaranteed. Social movements in every country are campaigning for justice and a more humane form of development – one that protects the vulnerable, sustains the environment and promotes peaceful international relations.
This growing, diverse movement identifies its interests with global society as a whole and not just the citizens of any one nation. Through utilizing the communications revolution and adopting collective forms of spontaneous action across national borders, it is considered by many to be the new superpower in world affairs. The movement is still in its infancy and disparate, and its voice remains uncoordinated. But when fused and directed, world public opinion has the potential to influence government decisions through its demands for fundamental, far-reaching change.
The principle of sharing is a basic human value that policymakers can instinctively grasp and advocate for. Not only can it be adopted by civil society to hold political leaders to account, but it also provides a moral compass for governments that can help inform their position on a range of issues and guide the process of economic reform.
Humanity has reached an impasse.
A new blueprint for a fair and sustainable world is urgently needed. Nation states must move beyond the old pursuits of self interest and competition, and embrace an alternative approach to managing the world’s resources based upon the principles of sharing and cooperation. At this critical juncture in human history, only a united global public can pressure governments to reorder their distorted priorities, cooperate more effectively, and share the resources of the world more equitably.
A crucial first step is for governments to implement an international program of emergency assistance to eliminate hunger and unnecessary deprivation, followed by a longer-term transformation of the global economy in order to secure an adequate standard of living for all within ecological limits.
To read the entire booklet and other resources, see Share the World’s Resources, www.stwr.org
Share The World’s Resources is an advocacy organization with consultative status at the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
Share The World’s Resources
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