3) Manifesto for a New World Order, by George Monbiot
I usually read Monbiot’s articles in the Guardian (including the very silly one about the Wright brothers) but, thanks to my sister, this is the first time I’ve tried him at book length.
It’s a mixed bag, written really for people who already count themselves as sympathisers with the anti-globalisation movement (and I suspect Monbiot would classify me as on the inside pissing out, rather than like him on the outside pissing in). There are four substantive chapters each with a different proposal. The first of these I completely agreed with, a rousing defence of democracy against communism and anarchism, though I myself do not move in circles where this is much debated.
The second is a proposal for a World Parliament of 600 single-member transnational constituencies of 10 million people. Hmm. I’d have liked to see some actual figures here, for what such a parliament would look like. By country, as of 2002, there would be 128 Chinese MPs, 105 Indian, 29 from the United States, 21 from Indonesia, 17 from Brazil, 14 from Pakistan, Russia and Bangladesh, 13 from Nigeria and Japan. Monbiot quite reasonably snarls at those who would object to thus empowering the poor, but there is also the matter of empowering dictatorships by giving them representation (and his idea of handicapping less democratic regimes in an upper chamber is ludicrously unrealistic even by the standards of his other proposals). It’s not an evil idea, but the way he puts it forward indicates to me how unfamiliar he is with the range of democratic practices worldwide.
The third is an appeal to implement Keynes’ rather than Dexter White’s plans for the Bretton Woods institutions. I don’t know enough about the history or economics of this to comment properly, but several aspects of Monbiot’s presentation seemed to me dishonest. Lumping together the IMF, World Bank and currency speculators as if they were one evil mass signed up to the same agenda is simply not fair. My personal experience of the World Bank has been rather positive, of an organisation of able people who could be earning far more in the private sector but instead are trying to reduce poverty; he seems to be writing about some other institution entirely. Likewise, the only currency speculator Monbiot actually names is one whom I happen to know, George Soros, who indeed gets a duly positive write-up. That the IMF sometimes behaves with crass insensitivity is well known, but to say that it is also evil is a step further and I don’t find the case convincing. My conclusion is that I must read Skidelsky’s biography of Keynes, and decide for myself.
The fourth is about the international trade system. Here I found the presentation unsatisfactory because it has been slightly overtaken by events, specifically the Cancún débâcle of last September. But it’s unarguable to me at least that many poor countries need some trade barriers, and that rich countries tend to cheat on the arrangements. I’ve even put my name to a 114 kb pdf file which makes that argument, though within the paradigm of trade liberalisation all round rather than just for the rich. A crucial aspect that is omitted from Monbiot’s calculation, but is more and more something I’m saying in private to my official contacts and increasingly also in public, is the question of the movement of people as well as goods, services and capital. “Fortress Europe” penalises the honest traveller and rewards the trafficker of human beings. So of the three policy-oriented chapters, this one came closest to my own views.
In the short concluding chapter, Monbiot wonders if he got it the wrong way round and should have started off with his thoughts on trade and then moved on to Bretton Woods and finished with the World Parliament. For me, it doesn’t really matter. The book’s big failing is its lack of engagement with what the “enemy” actually say about themselves. Its success is that at least it puts forward ideas.