Amerika

A plutocrat prescribes for the planet (Mark Wegierski)

A plutocrat prescribes for the planet

Mark Wegierski

Small is better, says Sir James Goldsmith, and Global Free Trade dangerous

THE TRAP
By Sir James Goldsmith
Carroll & Graf, New York
207 pages; hardcover; $20 US

In that extremely select group, the billionaires of this planet, Sir James (Jimmy) Goldsmith appears to be one of the more reflective, intelligent and decent-minded. Withdrawing from active business in 1990, he has since dedicated himself to public endeavours. With French aristocrat Philippe de Villiers, he was co-founder of a political movement, L’Autre Europe, and now leads a new grouping in the European Parliament, L’Europe des Nations.

The book’s first section critically examines the current habit of looking at the world, and society, strictly in terms of Gross National Product–i.e. economics alone. As the author notes, for example, the activity of a mother bringing up her own children, although critical to society, counts for nothing in terms of GNP.

The second section, “The New Utopia: GATT and Global Free Trade” is a powerful attack on these two latter-day liberal/capitalist dogmas. Sir James observes that “forty-seven Vietnamese…can be employed for the cost of one person in a developed country.” Thus global free trade would be disastrous for the middle and working-classes of the West; trans-national corporations would simply move their production offshore. Even so, the Third World poor would benefit very little. Because “a small handful of people” controls most resources there, and assembles the cheap labour, “it is the poor in the rich countries who will subsidize the rich in the poor countries.” Instead, he proposes regional free trade blocs between countries roughly equivalent in development.

The effect of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) on Third World agriculture may be even more disastrous, the author maintains. An estimated 3.1 billion people still live from the land. If GATT achieves the productivity of intensive agriculture worldwide, “about 2 billion of these people will become redundant.” Many will be forced into mass migration.

Section 3 discusses the increasingly acute issue of nationalism, defining a nation as “a land whose citizens, in their overwhelming majority, share a common culture, sense of identity, heritage, and traditional roots.” Thus Sir James is profoundly sceptical about U.S. immigration policy since 1965, when legislative amendments “abolished the policy which previously had organized immigration in a manner that reflected the pattern of cultural origin already established.” By 2020 Americans of European descent will in a minority and “it will be impossible to avoid social torment [and] widespread disorientation.” The two main contrasting responses are separatism, a search for historic roots outside America; and homogenization, especially the attempt to “build a homogenized society by denying the existence of cultural, ethnic and even gender differences.”

Turning to Europe, he calls for greater emphasis on nations and regions, rather than the centralized European Union bureaucracy in Brussels. He particularly opposes the single-currency model. Similarly, in discussing the welfare state (Section 4), Sir James embraces the principle of subsidiarity, meaning that problems should be addressed, as far as possible, at the family, local or regional level. “The idea that society consists of a multitude of individuals is wrong. In reality a robust society consists of families and local communities. These are the true building blocks…” And in support of this vision he proposes such things as education vouchers.

Section 5 is a cogent indictment of agribusiness. Industrialized food production causes profound social dislocation. It also causes many food products to be increasingly unhealthy (high in saturated fat and chemicals); increasingly prone to disease (due to lack of genetic diversity); and vulnerable to new and fearsome plagues that could move to humans. (A culprit here is the common practise of feeding industrially produced animals on ground-up remains of their own species.) In Section 6 Sir James excoriates “the nucleocrats”. Not one commercial nuclear plant has been completely decommissioned, he charges–a process he believes will cost billions per facility, if it is possible at all. This should be factored into the actual cost of nuclear energy.

Foreseeing a social and ecological apocalypse, he seeks in conclusion for its intellectual sources. He chiefly indicts the Enlightenment movement of the 17th and 18th Centuries, and Marxism Leninism, which he considers a particularly virulent form of the same philosophy. The principal Enlightenment belief was that human reason, freed from tradition and prejudice, could “emancipate man from the constraints of religion, history and the natural world.”

What followed, however, was scientism, out-of-control technological development, anthropocentrism and universalism.

Sir James also blames that perennial scapegoat, the Judeo-Christian tradition, which he says called on man “to subdue the Earth.” Nevertheless, he would like to reinterpret this outlook, rather than throw it out entirely.

He then moves, however, from the stewardship model of nature, which can easily be inferred from the Judeo-Christian tradition, to a wholly naturalistic vision. The book ends with a letter attributed to the American Indian, Chief Seattle, a call for re-integrating humankind and nature. This fits with James Goldsmith’s own twofold message: The final worldwide effort to save nature (with humankind attuned to her cycles, rhythms and imperatives) and history (thus preserving a sense of genuine community and identity) is just beginning.

Mr. Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and researcher.

[Alberta Report / Newsmagazine; 7/10/95, Vol. 22 Issue 30, p29, 1p, 2bw]

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