Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 20, 2000
Is democracy harmed by informed citizens?
Perhaps it was a mistake to hold the November 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) conference in Seattle, the birthplace of the voluntary simplicity movement. The movement advocates that we learn to live more simply so that others may simply live.
The WTO agenda was far from voluntary and its simplicity proposals were primarily to institute new rules to facilitate corporate investment, without running the risk of financial loss or opposition from governments wanting to protect the well-being of their own citizens.
We all agree that we must have world trade and most of us believe this trade ought to be regulated, but in favour of justice instead of avarice. Right now the WTO is primarily an instrument of global control by huge transnational corporations and their political and bureaucratic servants.
An economy which serves a minority interest exacerbates the growing chasm between rich and poor and threatens the source of all our health and wealth: the earth itself.
Thousands of Canadians joined people from all over the world to support the Third World claim that further exploitation of the poor nations' vulnerability would amount to economic necrophilia.
In Seattle the corporate powerplay was stopped in its tracks by a well-organized coalition of Church groups, NGOs, labour unions, seniors, women, students and environmentalists who believe that the world is more than potential money - it is a living organic system which needs to be nurtured in order to nurture us.
For a number of years a growing number of citizens have warned that the hard-won human rights and civil liberties gained over the last 50 years are being eroded by a concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a faceless transnational technocracy which has no democratic responsibility to the common good.
Citizen's groups and non-governmental organizations are no longer just digging wells and latrines to help the poor, they are beginning to dig in their heels to address the root cause of poverty.
People who believe privatization is the way to greater prosperity don't agree with the growing vigilance of a more militant civil society. A December issue of The Economist suggests that NGOs "represent a dangerous shift of power to unelected and unaccountable special interest groups."
"It is hard to say which was worse," they write, "watching the militant dunces parade their ignorance through the streets or listening to their lamebrained governments respond to their arguments."
I happen to know some respectable, educated, well-informed friends who paid their own way to Seattle to urge "their" government not to cave in to the WTO demands.
"The real losers," The Economist suggests, are not just the inter-governmental institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the WTO, but the poor. There is a black and white photograph of a sad eyed girl in rags on the cover of the magazine to prove that point.
It is an interesting twist to suggest that volunteers are special interest groups and that informed citizens are a threat to democracy. Even more fascinating is the idea that the poor of this world will benefit from institutions like the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO.
But who knows? With an awakened civil society in the street, miracles may yet happen.
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