4 March 2008

Mending our Global Relationships

I was inspired by listening to Doreen Massey last week - especially by her approach to positive globalisation and her ability to make space and distance seem exciting rather than threatening.

One of her key themes was restitution. She raised the troubling issue of people's seeming need to apologise for things they had nothing to do with. An example is the apology by the contemporary citizens of Liverpool for the slave trade. Interesting, isn't it, how this phrase is so rarely used now - usually substituted for 'slavery'. Of course we wouldn't want to think of all trade as slavery would we?

But back to my theme of pointless apologies, I am left wondering what it is we think we are achieving by this. Is it any more than wearing a badge of postmodern right-on-ness, much as we used to wear lapel badges and as many still do where a rainbow of ribbons? How does it help that they tell us they know that breast cancer is a horrible disease?

But to action. Doreen drew my attention to an interesting piece of research from Medact which discusses the perverse subsidy that poor countries make to rich countries when health-care workers who have been trained at the public expense become the sorts of economic migrants we are happy to accept. Medact have designed a plan for genuine restitution: a reverse transfer to balance the subsidy.

This is similar to schemes proposed under the Contraction and Convergence framework for emissions trading and technology transfer. To balance the negative effects of our fossil greed, and the unfair share of the global climate commons we in the richer countries consume, the plan is that we should share sustainable technologies and expertise, as well as paying cash.

According to a letter to the BMJ from Robin Stott, vice-chair of Medact, 'Evidence from Mozambique suggests that this money will help trigger the latent entrepreneurial skills of the recipients. Given the likely market value of a tonne of carbon dioxide, it will more than provide the $110 dollars/person/year that the UN millennium project believes necessary to reach the millennium development goals in Africa.'

Doreen also mentioned a project to create a map of the Niger Delta-- in London, in other words raising awareness of the exploitation of people in this oil-rich African country that is necessary to feed our oil addiction. And also bringing this home to the City of London, which provides the finance for most of the world's trade-based enterprises.

Her final example was of the link being forged between Caracas, Venezuela and London--another form of local-to-local exchange and perhaps 'a form of alternative globalisation' cooked up by two ageing Marxists: Hugo Chavez and Ken Livingstone. Caracas is sending us cheap diesel, which fuels London's public transport and allows concessionary fares for the poor. Our contribution is more intangible-- sharing 'the capital's expertise in policing, tourism, transport, housing and waste disposal'--but it is a gesture in the right direction.

I wonder how long it took the Liberal Democrats in London to regret their comment that 'It makes us feel like a Third World country'!

1 comment:

  1. Ageing Marxists? Perhaps Hugo, but not Ken.

    These kinds of deals are the way to go, I think, because poverty is a problem in London as well as Caracas and these deals recognise it.