Friday, July 17, 2009

What's the new 'ism after Capitalism?

Neither Communism nor Capitalism has worked well for the majority of women in the world. What new ‘ism’ will come from a new Gender Balanced approach to world economics?

This was the theme of my talk on 14th July in the session titled ‘The cost of capitalism’ at Wilton Park British-German Forum 2009. The theme of the 5 day Forum hosted by Wilton Park at Wiston House, Steyning, West Sussex in co-operation with The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London, The British Embassy and Berlin Deutsche Bank, was, ‘Can we shape capitalism to suit our future?’
The underlying rationale for the conference was that following recent little difficulties in the Capitalist world the proponents of Capitalism assert that ‘Capitalism is the worst of all economic systems except all the others that have been tried’
Camilla Fenning, Programme Director, Wilton Park ‘s briefing to me was :
“In this session we really want to challenge the participants in their thinking about capitalism, and to encourage them to see how certain sectors of society may not always benefit from unbridled capitalism as much as others.”
I decided to pick up on the first 3 words in the descriptive paragraph: “Capitalism reduces inequalities...” Well try telling that to the women of the world!
Back in 1995 I was seconded by the British Council to ‘The Beijing Express’, a 500-metre-long train sponsored by UNDP to travel the 8000 kilometres along the trans-Siberian Express Route from Warsaw to Beijing for the 4th United Nations Global Conference on Women.
Aboard the train were 200 women from 29 former Soviet Union and satellite Communist states. During the last part of our journey when we were chugging through Mongolia and China I was invited to chair the final meeting. The purpose of this meeting was to formulate the 11 points of what became known as the Beijing Express Declaration.
The first point was called - The New '-ism'. It said:
“Neither Communism nor Capitalism has worked well for the majority of women in the world. We believe the new ‘ism’ will come from a new approach to world economics.
Many economic policies have been disastrous for women. It is often women who bear the brunt of economic restructuring policies made by organisations who too often overlook the way their policies could impact on millions of women.
Under both Communism and Capitalism the quality of people’s lives is all too often sacrificed for the goal of wealth creation. Human development should not be sacrificed in the name of economic growth but rather economic growth should be used as a tool to help people achieve a healthy and creative life.”
Both Communism and Capitalism have ill served the world’s women. Capitalism as a model may be neutral, but the consequences of the ways in which Capitalism have been used and misused has been deadly.
A significant reason why billions of women have failed to benefit from capitalism since 1945 can be put down to one simple critical fact which is that much of the immense economic contribution women make to the world is not counted in statistics because the entire capitalist system of values and data collection was designed by men.
The Feminist Economist Marilyn Waring gives a brilliant example of a man sitting in a nuclear missile silo in the American Middle West waiting to press the nuclear button. He was paid a high salary and therefore was counted in official economic statistics, but the economic contribution of a woman in Africa walking 7 kilometres to a well and back to fetch water was paid zero and her economic contribution was therefore not included in global statistics.

Marilyn Waring has pointed out that these post-war rules imposed on all countries through the UN system of National Accounts (UNSNA) means that any country that doesn’t conform to these rules of economic measurement :
· cannot belong to the UN
· cannot borrow from the World Bank
· and cannot secure loans from the IMF.
The final point of my talk was that in the past year or so as we watched the world economy crashing the figures who time and again who bubble to the surface as the perpetrators, were pretty well all men. These men at the top were driven by short –term greed, ego and extraordinary overwhelming competitive drive.
By contrast the two people who blew the whistle on ENRON and corruption in the European Commission were both women.
Perhaps the point I am making is that if politicians are speaking of the need for a new, morally renewed, better regulated capitalist society it might best be achieved if the new Capitalist model is Gender Balanced.
I’d like to hear your ideas for coming up with this new model of Capitalism.

© copyright Lesley Abdela July 2009

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