Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The Philosophy of Cant - Monbiot

Oh, how I wish I could say it as well as Monbiot:

George Monbiot: "The Philosophy of Cant"

Europe wrecked the world trade talks, but it may accidentally have forced the poor world to assert its power.
By George Monbiot

Were there a Nobel Prize for Hypocrisy, it would be awarded this year to the European trade negotiator, Pascal Lamy. A week ago, in the Guardian's trade supplement, he argued that the World Trade Organisation "helps us move from a Hobbesian world of lawlessness, into a more Kantian world -- perhaps not exactly of perpetual peace, but at least one where trade relations are subject to the rule of law".1 On Sunday, by treating the trade talks as if, in Thomas Hobbes's words, they were "a war of every man against every man", Lamy scuppered the negotiations, and very possibly destroyed the organisation as a result. If so, one result could be a conflict, in which, as Hobbes observed, "force and fraud are ... the two cardinal virtues."2 Relations between countries would then revert to the state of nature the philosopher feared, where the nasty and brutish behaviour of the powerful ensures that the lives of the poor remain short.

At the talks in Cancun, in Mexico, Lamy made the poor nations an offer they couldn't possibly accept. He appears to have been seeking to resurrect, by means of an "investment treaty", the infamous Multilateral Agreement on Investment. This was a proposal which would have allowed corporations to force a government to remove any laws which interfered with their ability to make money, and which was crushed by a worldwide revolt in 1998. In return for granting corporations power over their governments, the poor nations would receive precisely nothing. The concessions on farm subsidies Lamy was offering amounted to little more than a reshuffling of the money paid to European farmers. They would continue to permit the subsidy barons of Europe to dump their artificially cheap produce into the poor world, destroying the livelihoods of the farmers there.

Of course, as Hobbes knew, "if other men will not lay down their right ... then there is no reason for anyone to divest himself of his: for that were to expose himself to prey." A contract, he noted, is "the mutual transferring of right", which a man enters into "either in consideration of some right reciprocally transferred to himself, or for some other good he hopeth for thereby."3 By offering the poorer nations nothing in return for almost everything, Lamy forced them to walk out. ...Article Continued

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