The Axis of Feeble

05/25/2011 01:25 pm ET

Throughout history the word "axis" has been commonly used in the West to denote the enemy that must be defeated. During World War II the enemy represented by Germany, Italy and Japan was denoted "the Axis Powers." In the aftermath of September-11 former US President George W. Bush embraced the expression "Axis of evil" to denote the threat of international terrorism. We must today acknowledge the existence of an axis that has remained ignored. It is a lethal axis that originates and perpetuates poverty. It is an axis that feeds and fosters mafias, corruption, crime and terrorism. The Axis of feeble is our new enemy if we are to redefine capitalism and build a new economic architecture that works for the extreme poor.

On 11 March 2006 The Economist published an article entitled "Axis of Feeble." In words of the British magazine:

They have been improbable soul-mates, the silver-tongued British barrister and the drawling Republican from Texas. But the partnership between Tony Blair and George Bush has shaped world events in the nearly five years since the attacks of September 11th. Over the past year, however, the debacle in Iraq and problems at home have turned both leaders from soaring hawks into the lamest of ducks.

George W. Bush and Tony Blair alongside Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar are the fallen angels of the West. Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero are the runners up that have substituted the political Axis of Feeble.

In his best-selling book "Capitalism's Achilles Heel" Raymond Baker, Director of the Washington-based think tank Global Financial Integrity Project, identifies well one of the components of the Axis of feeble: the international financial architecture with its loopholes, its tax havens and its banking secrecy. The remaining five components of the Axis of feeble are: agriculture and climate change, trade and labour rights, the small arms trade and military spending, the mining and extractive industries and the brain drain. I enjoy Raymond's company. He is a giant on whose shoulders I can envision a fairer capitalism. He is an expert dreamer who says why not instead of waiting for others to change the world. He is a fighter ready to defeat the pirates of heartless capitalism.

Our political leaders have emphasized that reform is needed in the developing world. The structural reform attached to the lending packages of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund during the 1980s and early 1990s advised developing countries on the rules to follow according to a user's manual that the economist John Williamson coined as the Washington Consensus. Williamson is now promoting a revised version of his consensus, hoping to leave behind "the stale ideological rhetoric of the 1990s." Williamson, an economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, enumerated in a 2002 speech under the name Did the Washington Consensus Fail? The ten reforms that I originally presented as a summary of what most people in Washington believed Latin America ought to be undertaking as of 1989": fiscal discipline, reordering public expenditure priorities, tax reform, liberalizing interest rates, a competitive exchange rate, trade liberalization, liberalization of inward foreign direct investment, privatization, deregulation, and property rights.

Free trade has now been substituted by the "buy American" and other protectionist proposals. The privatization of health care and education and the shrinking of the social fabric of developing countries emphasized during the Cold War have now been substituted by the nationalization of the banking industry. The West has largely played a game of left versus right with the developing world. The whole notion of what was positive for development and economic growth in the 1990s is being rewritten in the current environment.

The major concern is that the G20 summits of Washington and London only addressed one of the components of the Axis of feeble. The G20 technocrats that met in the United States and the United Kingdom did not speak about agriculture, fair trade or the brain drain. The G20 technocrats that met in the United States and the United Kingdom did not speak about the small arms trade or labour rights. It is like trying to defeat the Axis powers fighting only Italy and Japan and forgetting Hitler's Nazi Germany. It is like trying to defeat the Axis of evil focusing solely on Afghanistan.

Our men and women in politics are creatures that lack the political stature their counterparties of the twentieth century showed once upon a time. We continue to defend national priorities and forget that the global priorities will sooner or later have to be addressed if we are to prevail. George Kennan said:

We of this generation did not create the civilization of which we are part and, only too obviously, it is not we who are destined to complete it. We are not the owners of the planet we inhabit; we are only its custodians. There are limitations on the extent to which we should be permitted to devastate or pollute it. Our own safety and convenience is not the ultimate of what is at stake in the judgment of these problems. People did not struggle and sacrifice and endure over the course of several thousand years to produce this civilization merely in order to make it possible for us, the contemporaries of 1959, to make an end to it or to place it in jeopardy at our pleasure for the sake of our personal safety.

Hazel Henderson, James Canton or Ross Jackson are futurists that have been thinking about the future of the World and the human king for decades. Their testimony is inspiring. If we do not incorporate how we imagine the World of 2050, we will fail to write the history of tomorrow, we will fail to construct a policy-making process conducive to the establishment of a new architecture.

Inspired by Kennan, Mikhail Gorbachev reminded that "We are the guests, not masters, of nature and must develop a new paradigm for development and conflict resolution, based on the costs and benefits to all people and bound by the limits of nature herself rather than the limits of technology and consumerism".

Never were we as a society closer to start the journey of our lifetime. Never were we as a society closer to take off to explore new territory that has remained in the imagination of the expert dreamers. I met the expert dreamers of our time at the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. They are afraid. They are afraid to open their mouths and have a say because their thinking has been constrained to the armor of the orthodox literature.

Gorbachev rescued Kennan's words in an environment in desperate need of alternative thinking. We have the obligation to move ahead inspired by the great men and women of the twentieth century, to whom we owe the stability and prosperity we have lived in since World War II. It is time to prioritize the interest of the extreme poor and the environment. It is time to start the journey that will lead us to the World of 2050.


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