THIS WORLD of OURS – December 2011


By Bob Harwood

Unfinished Business


world-peace-in-our-handsAs I write my final column in this series, I see much unfinished business in This World of Ours.

OUR ENVIRONMENT. Climate change will become a survival issue for millions as growing urbanization and consumerism strain fragile ecosystems despite a leveling of population as fertility rates fall. Devastating droughts, floods and other weather extremes will become the norm. Australia, Canada and America, in that order, are now the West’s top CO2 emitters per capita. Australia has just instituted a carbon tax bitterly resisted by business interests. This continent’s global warming skeptics must finally be discredited and short term economic concerns must not delay North America following suit.

A FAIRER ECONOMIC PYRAMID. Wall Street protestors have spread world wide as the West’s echo of the continuing Arab Spring. As their dreams of a better future fade young people rally around the cry “We are the 99%” to protest corporate corruptionand the growing gap between the ultra rich and all others. Warren Buffet, whose income tax rate is less than that of his secretary, volunteered that he should pay more. But needed action does not stop with the ultra rich. Unions are still a path to greater fairness in the Third World but in our world their members have joined the upper middle class. In the public sector they impede reducing the cost of government. Citizens have grown impatient with strikes that interrupt vital services or threaten local industries.

With millions unemployed or on minimum wage a far better focus would be on raising the minimum wage. An aging demographic and rising health costs will necessitate deferring retirements and personal finances must be far more prudently managed. Too often credit debt is rolled over endlessly at usurious interest rates. Mortgage defaults leave millions homeless or with negative equity. Post secondary students graduate with huge debt and diminished job prospects. A pay-as-you-go ethos must be instilled at an early age and practiced throughout life. Growing up in the Great Depression my generation has fared better than any before it and, sadly, probably any that will follow.

ECONOMIC RECESSION AND FINANCIAL REFORM. Market volatility continues as attention shifts from disgust with fiscal brinkmanship in America to Europe’s struggle to stem spread of the Greek crisis and fears that Italy could be next. The EU and G20 pulled Europe back from the brink with a number of stern measures requiring and measuring progress in Greece and Italy. After days of turmoil and uncertainty Greece’s Prime Minister stepped down to facilitate formation of a new unity government and anxieties shifted to fears about Italy’s much larger economy under Berlusconi. Broad reforms are needed at every level. Under-regulated financial institutions selling exotic derivatives must be curbed and corporate criminals brought to justice. James Tobin, born 100 years ago, won the Nobel Prize in economics for proposing a tax on foreign exchange transactions.

I propose that such a tax be applied to stock trading as well. At a mere fraction of 1% it would not inhibit legitimate trades but would discourage outright speculation and high speed in and out trading that exacerbates market volatility. It would also be a painless way to achieve the First World’s 2005 Millennium Development Goal commitment to donate a mere 0.7% of Gross National Incomes to eliminate world poverty by 2015. At the G20 Bill Gates recommended a Tobin type tax, a concept embraced by many of the heads of state present but opposed by others.

FINDING COMMON GROUND. This year’s Arab Spring also brought into sharp focus that we must move beyond religious and ethnic conflicts including fairly resolving the Israeli Palestinian dispute on its doorstep. Palestine is seeking UN recognition of its statehood and Israel has become increasingly isolated as once again humanitarian flotillas challenge its economic strangulation of Palestine. Netanyahu has become Israel’s own worst enemy as he delays vital tax transfers to Palestine and continues preemptive settlement building likened by some to two people discussing how to share a pizza while one continues to eat it! This is counterproductive to Israel’s own security long term. On a totally different front we must also continue to advance gender equity to embrace the other half of humanity. Our world will be a better place as more women bring their collegial attributes to the seats of power in every sphere.

FOSTERING INTERNATIONALISM. The current global crisis simply underscores how essential it is that nations work together to find viable solutions in our interconnected world. In short, we must advance meaningful world governance. I set out below Tennyson’s prophetic vision written in 1842 that adorned the wall of my childhood home. In the 1940’s I was actively involved in inter university forums focused on the emerging United Nations. With the Cold War looming we grudgingly accepted the pragmatic necessity then of the now obsolete veto. As but one example it is America’s constant use of that veto that has postponed resolution of the Israeli Palestinian dispute for decades. After the most devastating war of all time Europeans chose to cede significant elements of national sovereignty that a continent that had warred forever might war no more.

Perhaps they were not yet ready for the Euro as a common currency but it would be tragic indeed if the EU concept itself were now derailed. In the 1960’s I followed the Union’s evolution while working in the UK as Britain weighed the pros and cons of coming from behind its channel moat to share that vision.

Great figures through the ages from Socrates to Einstein, from Nehru to Churchill have expressed this vision of one world in specific terms. In poetic language Tennyson’s Locksley Hall prophetically anticipated civil aviation and aerial commerce, military aviation, the atomic bomb, atomic radiation and the obscenity of collateral damage. He closed with,  Till the war drums throbbed no longer and the battle flags were furled in the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World.

In closing, my thanks to my readers for bearing with me over the years as I have shared my passions and thoughts on so many of these issues through my columns and books.

(Ed. Note: It is with deep regret that we bid farewell to Bob. He has been an Ojo columnist for well over a decade, and is foremost among the many fine writers that have contributed so much to our success. Vaya con Dios, Bob.)


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