Review by Susan Chenelle
In his new book, mega-philanthropist George Soros says he was spurred to set down his thoughts on globalization by what he calls the “unwitting alliance” between antiglobalization activists on the Left and market fundamentalists on the far Right. The fact that he opens with this reductive and ill-informed premise is almost enough cause to dismiss the book altogether. However, if one presses on, there are some ideas and insights worth the effort.
First, Soros argues that international institutions like the IMF and the WTO can be fixed, and should be supplemented with other far-reaching arrangements that would facilitate the more equitable distribution of wealth around the world. He contends that globalization has exacerbated the inequities between the world’s rich and poor because “[t]he development of our international institutions has not kept pace with the development of international financial markets and our political arrangements have lagged behind the globalization of the economy.” Furthermore, Soros insists that when projects funded by international aid and philanthropic initiatives like those of his Open Society foundations fail, it is largely due to weak and corrupt governments or poorly conceived or executed projects, i.e., nothing worth questioning the legitimacy of global capitalism itself about.
To sidestep these pitfalls, he proposes a system of international aid where all countries would be allocated “special drawing rights” or SDRs. Rich countries could donate their SDRs to poor countries, which could then apply those funds to pre-approved projects and organizations that have met certain quality control standards. Poor countries could use their own SDRs to stabilize their money supply. Amid all of Soros’s economic jargon, complete with charts and graphs, the most difficult concept for the non-economist to grasp is that SDRs are essentially money created out of thin air. The powers that be collectively decide that there is money, and there is money. The fact that this is so and yet poverty exists on the scale that it does today is baffling.
For those of us on the global justice left, the real reason to consider Soros’s concise treatise is that it offers insight into what happens inside those international forums, when they manage to occur, while we’re protesting outside. According to Soros, when he suggests his modest proposals to his fellow elite, he is scoffed at. The idea that we should let anything but the market govern the distribution of wealth is still anathema among many, an arrogant and selfish narrow-mindedness that Soros condems.
In the end, however, he still argues that, thanks in part to the questions raised by those concerned with global justice, changes have been made to international institutions like the IMF and WTO that will make them kinder and gentler; we just have to be patient and allow them to work. Likewise, Soros admits that the projects he and his society of benevolent billionaires fund will sometimes go awry from time to time, as they did so catastrophically in Russia. That’s to be expected of any experimental attempt addressing so many complicated factors, he says. The bottom line, however, is that in the meantime, people die. Millions of men, women, and children go without adequate food, clean water, quality education, accessible medical care, and a safe place to live every day. This is unacceptable, and while it’s nice to see that someone with great wealth and good intentions has dedicated himself to doing something about it, it’s our job to keep telling him and his fellow elite that their efforts thus far are not remotely good enough.
(Originally published in the November/December 2002 issue of Clamor Magazine.)