3rd Conference of the International Environment Forum
organized jointly with the
Bahá'í Agency for Social and Economic Development - United Kingdom (BASED-UK)
15-18 August 1999, Sidcot, United Kingdom
Rethinking Social and Economic Development and the Environment
Global Governance in the 21st Century
[The notes below have been prepared in connection with the above two presentations at the Baha'i Development and Environment Summit, Sidcot School, Sidcot, Avon, 15th-18th August, 1999. The presentations themselves will draw upon many of the thoughts contained in these pages, as well as others, not included here explicitly. Readers should be aware that no attempt has been made below to give these notes a final, polished look and they should be regarded mainly as materials for the presentations.]
The current age is one of expectations and hope as well as deepening contradictions and uncertainties. On the one hand, there is evidence of a number of processes that are fundamentally constructive and that permit many to envision the future with a sense of optimism and promise. The softening of political tensions between the major powers in the last few years has had a number of beneficial implications and has provided us a renewed sense of hope for the future. However keenly the threat of nuclear confrontation may have been felt verily 15 years ago there is a broadly shared sense that, at least on this account, the world is a safer place today than it used to be. The end of the Cold War has also made it possible (at least in principle) for governments to set in motion processes aimed at allocating fewer resources to building up machineries of war and destruction and to maintaining military establishments, thus permitting their allocation to more productive ends that are more conducive to the welfare and, to use the words of Bahá'u'lláh, the Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, to "that which would conduce to the happiness to mankind."
Moreover, there is increasing evidence throughout the world of a move toward the establishment of democratic regimes and representative governments and the rule of law. This has been a positive development because it is only in the context of representative governments that have derived their legitimacy through some form of popular vote that their policies can be expected to be sensitive to the needs of their populations. Furthermore, there has been continued and remarkable progress in the fields of transport and communications, which has contributed to bringing human beings closer to each other and has forced them to reexamine many of their long-held prejudices. Further progress in the field of medicine, agriculture, and science in general, suggests that in a gradual, evolutionary way science and technology are being used to alleviate many long-established economic and social problems. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of the present age is the belief that the application of the scientific method and the onward march of technological progress will eventually allow us to satisfy the vast majority of the material needs of humankind.
However, at the same time, and notwithstanding these favorable trends and processes, there are other forces at work that give cause for concern and lead many to view these as being especially dangerous times. For example, the rapid deterioration of our environment, including deforestation, soil erosion, the thinning of the ozone layer, global warming, and so on give a sense of the precariousness of the world's ecological system and the extent to which unrestrained industrialization and narrowly defined economic growth can undermine the basis for sustainable development. Moreover, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, has, in many parts of the world, become an increasing threat to domestic peace and stability.
Yet another unfavorable trend is the weakening of religion, which has ceased to be, for the most part, the traditional source of spiritual guidance and inspiration and has sometimes become, instead, a force for disunity and the source of much confusion and conflict among the peoples of the world. Burdened by traditions of paternalism, prevailing religious thought seems incapable of translating an expressed faith in the spiritual dimensions of human nature into confidence in humanity's collective capacity to transcend material conditions. The weakening of religion, in turn, has resulted in a general sense of disaffection and moral disorientation that transcends geographic and cultural barriers.1
The forces released by the clash of these opposing tendencies, some constructive and some destructive, have given many a sense that not only is the current age a very special (albeit dangerous) period but also one filled with a number of historical challenges and opportunities.
The world has been transformed during the last several decades by technological progress, which, in turn, has had a dramatic impact on the nature of economic and political phenomena and in the way nations relate to each other. Greater economic integration made possible by rapid developments in transport and communications in particular have made evident the need for greater international cooperation. Jean Monnet, the father of the European Union, observed perceptively that economic integration was forcing nations to accept voluntarily the same rules and the same institutions and that, as a result, their behavior toward each other was also changing. This, he said, was permanently modifying relations between nations and could be seen as part of the "process of civilization itself."2
But greater interdependence has also created tensions arising out of the potential conflict between national sovereignty and collective welfare. Indeed, it is not inaccurate to say that at present most countries' commitment to integration and increased international cooperation coexists with a reluctance, stemming from a desire to safeguard national and local interests, to transfer sovereignty to supranational institutions. Therefore, one key question in the years immediately ahead is whether greater economic integration (fueled by further technological change, no longer under the control of any single sovereign state) will inevitably lead countries to seek common ground and to consult on the kinds of institutional structures that should be built to support an increasingly interdependent community of nations. Underlying these processes is the assumption that the world's economy must continue to grow to meet the material needs and growing aspirations of its diverse members and the role of economics is essentially seen in that light. Indeed, the drive to expand the scale of the global economy is so strong that, from the point of view of political leaders, their economic advisors and the peoples whose material interests they have been elected to protect, no economic policy which failed to deliver continued growth would ever be considered a "success."
The question of what constitutes "economic success" (and how to measure it) is central to the debate about the role of economics in the emerging global community. During much of the post-war period economic policy has been geared to encouraging the growth of the gross national product (GNP) and the efficacy of any given policy has tended to be judged by the extent to which it contributed to boosting this aggregate measure of the monetary value of goods and services produced by the economy. GNP figures are used by the international financial institutions to assess the relative merits of particular approaches to development and their policies are shaped by close monitoring of the evolution over time of this indicator. It is not unfair to say that, as perceived by the professional economic establishment, "successful" economic development essentially is taken to mean an adequate growth of GNP per capita. The adequacy of this approach, however, is increasingly coming into question, partly stemming from concerns about the burdens on the environment associated with growth beyond the present scale and, more fundamentally, from new insights about the relationship between growth in the economy and communities' well-being. There are at least two aspects to this issue. The first pertains to certain serious shortcomings in the indicator itself and the implications that disregard for these in the development debate has had for human welfare during the last several decades. The second, more general one, concerns the role of economics in the development process and in enhancing well-being.
Any income accounting system which treats the depletion of natural resources as current income and thus as a positive contribution to the growth of GNP is obviously one which provides perverse incentives. Countries engaged in policies which result in the rapid exhaustion of their nonrenewable natural resource base may experience high rates of economic growth in the short-term (and have often been raised to the status of models to be followed by others) although persistent implementation of these policies will imply that future generations may no longer have access to those resources and would thus see their standard of living correspondingly reduced. The pollution and environmental degradation that may come as a result of these policies will also be accounted with a positive sign on the GNP balance because they are likely to be accompanied by a high rate of growth of industry in the intervening period. The economic activity associated with the medical bills that would accumulate as the result of the public health implications of environmental problems also contribute positively to the growth of GNP. Indeed these particular shortcomings in the measurement of economic growth (and hence in public perceptions of the validity of a given policy) have led to the emergence of a false dichotomy, where protection of natural resources in many parts of the developing world is tragically seen as a constraint on growth rather than as a means to safeguard its sustainability.3 The focus here is not a critique of the system of national accounts. Nevertheless, while these weaknesses are well known and even acknowledged by policy makers, they find little echo in the debate over what constitutes successful economic development and virtually nothing has been done, in fact, to shift the focus of debate to the development of alternative measures of economic success.4
It is of course the case that GNP can grow rapidly and income distribution worsen simultaneously, as has happened in many countries (including in the industrial world) during the last quarter century. This process has also affected traditionally egalitarian societies, for instance in Central and Eastern Europe which have also seen over a short period of time a very marked worsening of income distribution in recent years. High GNP growth is also not inconsistent with scant regard for and lack of respect for basic human and civil rights, as the experience of a number of "high performing" countries (in GNP terms) during the last twenty years clearly demonstrates.
A broader perspective
Baha'is would argue that these observations suggest the need to broaden the definition of what constitutes "well-being" and investigate more closely the relationship between increasing market activity and the welfare of the people participating in the economic system. One starting point is to establish a more clear mental demarcation between the concepts of "growth" and "development." The first is essentially a quantitative concept which captures the expansion in the scale of the economic system, while the latter refers to qualitative changes in this system and in its relationships with the environment and other aspects of life in the community. Properly understood, economics should concern itself less with how to add to the physical dimension of the economic system and more with the long-term welfare of the community whose interests the "system" is ultimately intended to serve. A culture which attaches absolute value to expansion, to acquisition, and to the satisfaction of people's wants is being compelled to recognize that such goals are not, by themselves, realistic guides to policy. As the experience of recent decades has demonstrated, material benefits and endeavors cannot be regarded as ends in themselves. Their value consists not only in providing for humanity's basic needs in housing, food, health care, and the like, but in extending the reach of human abilities. The most important role that economics must play in development lies, therefore, in equipping people and institutions with the means through which they can achieve the real purpose of development: that is, laying foundations for a new social order that can cultivate the limitless potentialities latent in human consciousness.
One crucial aspect of this broadening of the conception of what constitutes economic development concerns the role of government in general and, more to the point, the exercise of political authority in a society for the management of its resources. Governance is the term that increasingly is used in the development community to underscore the fundamental role of the quality of government in this process. The broadening of development objectives to include equity and social justice, civil and other basic human rights, establishes a natural linkage between governance on the one hand and development on the other.
A useful way to approach the question of what constitutes good governance is to identify a minimal set of characteristics on which there might be broad international agreement. Attempts have been made to link such minimal set to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as representing the consensus of the international community on some fundamental, broadly held values. Various articles of the Declaration address such concepts as: the will of the people as the basis of government authority and hence the need for the periodic establishment of the legitimacy of governments through elections (Article 21); the safety of citizens and the right to equal protection under the law (Article 7); the availability of information, and freedoms of association and expression (Article 19); the ownership of property (Article 17); and the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of the individual and his/her family (Article 25). All of these would appear to be essential components of good governance and may well be used as the "raw material" with which to formulate the underlying conceptual framework. There is an emerging international consensus on the core characteristics of good governance.
The exercise of power must be guided by the need to improve the standard of living and well-being of the population. In His writings Baha'u'llah admonishes political leaders to make every effort to "safeguard the rights of the downtrodden" and to guide their actions by criteria which puts the well being of the population at the center of their concerns. Adequate safeguards must be introduced to prevent the emergence of situations where ruling elites use political power for personal gain rather than public benefit. Recent trends toward democracy and political pluralism should facilitate this task which, at a minimum, involves the periodic legitimization of governments through popular choice, making them thus more responsive to the needs of society.5 The issue of accountability is closely linked to that of participatory development. Unless people feel that they have a say on who they are ruled by, they cannot be expected to fully support the government's development strategies and policies. Without such public support, even well-designed plans will in the end amount to very little.
There is a role for external aid agencies in promoting political accountability. For instance, financial support can be withheld form governments that have lost popular support to an extent that severely undermines the implementation of policies. Such support can be restored when credible measures to legitimize the government have been introduced. Continued dealings with governments that lack minimal levels of public support--particularly in cases where the exercise of power is linked to widespread corruption and mismanagement--are likely to retard the development process and undermine the credibility of external assistance. The fact that, in specific instances, these issues inevitably will involve an element of judgement should not be used as justification for inaction on the part of the international community. Acceptance by the vast majority of countries of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights involves an element of collective responsibility for good governance and underscores the need to develop an internationally agreed framework for actions involving aid-giving and aid-receiving countries.
Closely linked to the issue of accountability is the need for the rule of law, the notion that the rules which govern a society--and hence those that regulate economic activity--are applicable to all. There is increasing recognition that without a reasonably objective, efficient, and predictable judicial system and legal framework, accountability will have no legal underpinnings and the goals of good governance will be undermined.6 Baha'i teachings state that justice is to be the ruling principle of social organization. Only development programs that are perceived as meeting people's needs and as being just and equitable in objective can hope to engage the commitment of the people, upon whom successful implementation ultimately depends. The relevant human qualities such as honesty, a willingness to work, and a spirit of cooperation are successfully harnessed to the accomplishment of enormously demanding collective goals when every member of society--indeed every component group within society--can trust that they are protected by standards and assured of benefits that apply equally to all. Baha'u'llah refers to justice as "the best beloved of all things" in the sight of God.
At the core of good governance is the willingness of governments to open to public scrutiny the accounts and activities of public institutions and to institute reliable systems of auditing and financial management. Lack of openness, more often than not, does not serve useful public ends but has instead been used to hide unlawful practices and abuse. Transparency is particularly important in the case of the tax system where the ability of governments to collect revenues will depend on public perceptions of the fairness of its operation as much as of the use that is made of public funds.7 A valuable recent example on the importance of transparency in public actions concerns efforts in a number of countries--especially in Central and Eastern Europe--to privatize hitherto publicly held assets. The process has at times run into difficulties as a result of public perceptions that assets were being liquidated at bargain prices and in ways which unduly favored certain groups.
The recent trend towards the establishment of more market oriented systems, with a significantly reduced role for state intervention and discretion, should improve the climate for transparency in economic management. Donor financial support to countries engaged in such processes of transformation can play a key role in contributing to their success. Beyond this, bilateral donors may also contribute to better governance by instituting disbursement practices that minimize the opportunities for corruption; these might include competitive procurement procedures, greater untying of aid, and the elimination of financing of commissions by export credit agencies. The stakes here are high; the scarcity of aid resources imposes on the development community the responsibility to ensure that such resources are not wasted and reach their intended recipients.
Consensus and consultation
Successful and lasting economic development depends to a great extent on the government's ability to generate a broad consensus for change. A process of consultation whereby the government elicits the views of various sectors of society--trade unions, business, professional organizations, NGOs and other organizations of civil society--is likely to result in greater understanding of and commitment on the part of the population to what are often painful measures. Consultation is also likely to result in a more equitable distribution of the costs of adjustment and thereby enhance the chances of sustainable reforms. The building of consensus through consultation is at the root of participatory development and facilitates transparency and accountability. Baha'is view consultation as the operating expression of justice in human affairs. So vital is it to the success of collective endeavor that it must constitute a basic feature of a viable strategy of social and economic development. Indeed, the participation of the people on whose commitment and efforts the success of such a strategy depends becomes effective only as consultation is made the organizing principle in every project, supported by a strengthening of the mechanisms of community organization.
From the above discussion, it is clear that these various elements of good governance are not independent; interactions are inevitable and conflicts could arise in the short run. Participatory processes implemented in an environment of political pluralism and openness may add an element of unpredictability to the decision-making process. But this does not detract from their intrinsic value and the overriding need to pursue them as essential ingredients of good governance. Only to the extent that all parties jointly cooperate to nurture the growth of these key elements will the international community be able to contribute in a meaningful way to unleash processes aimed at both, improving the welfare of its most needy members and enhancing people's capacities to manage change.
From a Bahá'í perspective all these are central issues. Baha'is believe that human beings are essentially spiritual and social and that economics should incorporate this reality into its very foundations. Indeed, the Baha'i teachings argue that solutions to many economic problems will be found in the application of spiritual principles. "For the vast majority of the world's population, the idea that human nature has a spiritual dimension--indeed that its fundamental identity is spiritual--is a truth requiring no demonstration. It is a perception of reality that can be discovered in the earliest records of civilization and that has been cultivated for several millennia by every one of the great religious traditions of humanity's past. Its enduring achievements in law, the fine arts, and the civilizing of human intercourse are what give substance and meaning to history. In one form or another its promptings are a daily influence in the lives of most people on earth and, as events around the world today dramatically show, the longings it awakens are both inextinguishable and incalculably potent."
"One key question in this respect is: why have spiritual issues facing humanity not been central to the development discourse? Why have most of the priorities--indeed most of the underlying assumptions--of the international development agenda been determined so far by materialistic world views to which only small minorities of the earth's population subscribe and what has been the role of religion in the emergence of this state of affairs? One possible answer to this question would argue that, since spiritual and moral issues have historically been bound up with contending theological doctrines which are not susceptible of objective proof, these issues lie outside the framework of the international community's development concerns. To accord them any significant role would be to open the door to precisely those dogmatic influences that have nurtured social conflict and blocked human progress. There is doubtless a measure of truth in such an argument. Exponents of the world's various theological systems bear a heavy responsibility not only for the disrepute into which faith itself has fallen among many progressive thinkers, but for the inhibitions and distortions produced in humanity's continuing discourse on spiritual meaning and development. To conclude, however, that the answer lies in discouraging the investigation of spiritual reality and ignoring the deepest roots of human motivation is a self-evident delusion. The sole effect, to the degree that such censorship has been achieved in recent history, has been to deliver the shaping of humanity's future into the hands of a new orthodoxy, one which argues that truth is amoral and facts are independent of values." 8
Bahá'í teachings view man as having both a material and a spiritual nature which are closely interconnected. The Bahá'í writings tell us that the purpose of life on this material plane is to acquire virtues and that our ultimate success as human beings depends on our ability to transcend the purely material and aspire to the spiritual. In fact, in one of his writings Baha'u'llah says that the purpose underlying all religions of the past has been to educate human beings "that they may, at the hour of death, ascend, in the utmost purity and sanctity and with absolute detachment to the throne of the Most High." So Bahá'ís would reject an approach which was based on an exclusive concern with purely material aspects of life. Unfortunately, this is precisely the approach taken by contemporary economics which views man as a rational being pursuing his own self-interest, which is defined in strictly material terms. "Indeed, the assumptions directing most of current development thinking are essentially materialistic. That is to say, the purpose of development is defined in terms of the successful cultivation in all societies of those means for the achievement of material prosperity that have, through trial and error, already come to characterize certain regions of the world. Modifications in development discourse do sometimes occur, accommodating differences of culture and political system and responding to the alarming dangers posed, for instance, by environmental degradation. Yet the underlying materialistic assumptions remain essentially unchallenged."
"Baha'i teachings suggest that a community cannot be understood if the "unit of analysis" is the individual and his particular interests and that hence development strategies which ignore broader community concerns are destined to fail. Among these one might include the extent of participation by its members in the decisions which govern life in the community, the responsibility of the community for the well-being of its members and respect for individuality and appreciation of its diversity. Society will find itself increasingly challenged to develop new economic models shaped by insights that arise from a sympathetic understanding of shared experience, from viewing human beings in relation to others, and from a recognition of the centrality to social well-being of the role of the family and the community." 9
What Bahá'ís would propose is that rather than studying human behavior as it is now observed and deducing economic principles from these observations, a vision must be offered of what people can be and then ask what sort of institutions, systems, and laws are needed to help people develop their latent capacities. Baha'u'llah put it well when he said that we must regard men and women as "mines rich in gems of inestimable value" and that the purpose of life and civilization is to generate creative processes which facilitate the development of mankind's innate capacities. One direct implication of this is that we would want an economic system which allowed individuals to bring out those treasures which lie potentially within their inner selves. The Bahá'í writings say that "legal standards, political and economic theories are solely designed to safeguard the interests of humanity as a whole, and not humanity to be crucified for the preservation of the integrity of any particular law or doctrine." So Bahá'ís would look at the end objectives and goals--against a background of a passionate commitment to justice and a concern for the interests of the community--and then devise and adopt institutions to achieve those ends. Regrettably, the approach actually followed during much of the 20th century has been to come up with the theory or the system first and then fit it to society, by brute force if necessary. And if reality occasionally suggested that this approach was not leading to human happiness or progress, then attempts were simply intensified. This approach to development has been especially painful and evident in totalitarian societies where, notwithstanding the rapidly accumulating body of information and evidence suggesting that allegiance to certain ideological postulates was not leading to increased prosperity and well-being for the population, governments, nevertheless, intensified their efforts to achieve those very aims, as though having lost sight of their primary objectives the response was to redouble their efforts.
Baha'u'llah teaches that the material world is a reflection of spiritual realities. Spiritual teachings and principles cannot be divorced from daily material life. Spiritual progress does not take place in a vacuum. It is not the result of a monastic life of contemplation and self-absorption. It takes place in the context of family life and the office, the business, and the market place. For this reason we see the enormous emphasis that is placed in the Bahá'í writings on such things as: service to others, which in the Bahá'í faith is regarded as the fulfillment of our highest nature, trustworthiness and truthfulness, as prerequisites for commerce and prosperity in trade, integrity and honesty as the basis for all human interaction, and dignity and self-reliance. Baha'u'llah also elevated work, if performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship. In this approach there is an implicit challenge to established religions, namely, to free themselves from the obsessions of the past: contentment is not fatalism; morality has nothing in common with the life-denying puritanism that has so often presumed to speak in its name; and a genuine devotion to duty brings feelings not of self-righteousness but of self-worth.
"As the twentieth century draws to a close, it is no longer possible to maintain the belief that the approach to social and economic development to which the materialistic conception of life has given rise is capable of meeting humanity's needs. As measured by the usual indicators, industrialization and modernization has mainly contributed to optimistic forecasts about the changes it would generate, forecasts which have then vanished into the ever-widening abyss that separates the living standards of a small and relatively diminishing minority of the world's inhabitants from the poverty experienced by the vast majority of the globe's population. This unprecedented economic crisis, together with the social breakdown it has helped to engender, reflects a profound error of conception about human nature itself. For the levels of response elicited from human beings by the incentives of the prevailing order are not only inadequate, but seem almost irrelevant in the face of world events. We are being shown that, unless the development of society finds a purpose beyond the mere amelioration of material conditions, it will fail of attaining even these goals."
"Religion will be severely hampered in contributing to a fundamental rethinking and reorientation of the development process so long as it is held prisoner by sectarian doctrines which cannot distinguish between contentment and mere passivity and which teach that poverty is an inherent feature of earthly life, escape from which lies only in the world beyond. To participate actively in the struggle to bring material well-being to humanity, the religious spirit must find--in the Source of inspiration from which it flows--new spiritual concepts and principles relevant to an age that seeks to establish unity and justice in human affairs." 10
Baha'u'llah's teachings are visionary in their anticipation of and call for a global economic and governmental system involving the free flow of goods and services and factors of production (e.g., labor and capital), a single global currency, a single system of weights and measures, a single code of international law, an universal auxiliary language and the emergence of institutions with jurisdiction over aspects of the global economy. This global system would develop within the framework of government based upon federal principles and supported by collective security agreements, ensuring the maintenance of peace.
[Need here section on some aspects of Baha'i economy, including cooperation, perhaps agriculture, perhaps aspects of taxation]
Most people the world over have come to recognize the need for the existence of a certain number of institutions at the national level to guarantee the effective working of society. Everybody understands the need for a legislature to pass laws, for an executive branch to implement the laws, and for a judicial branch to interpret the law and to pass judgment whenever differences of interpretation arise. Most would agree with the notion that a central bank and other financial institutions are needed to regulate different aspects of the economic life of a nation. Indeed, it is not inaccurate to say that a sign of development and civilization is the extent to which such institutions in a particular nation have been allowed to develop and, in the process, managed to bring stability and a measure of prosperity to the life of a nation. Conversely, the absence of such institutional progress undermines the creative energies and the vitality of a nation and holds back its development.
At the same time it is also clear that national institutions and governments, in an increasingly interdependent world, are less and less able to address key problems, many of which have acquired an important international dimension. First, governments are increasingly unable to do the kinds of things that they used to be able to do in the past and that, in people's minds, came to be identified with the very essence of government. Or as a noted international economist puts it "the increasing internationalization of the economy has led to an erosion of our government's capacity to do things the way it used to." This, in turn, can, and sometimes has, led to a kind of paralysis on the part of governments, a sense that since the world has changed and it is no longer under their control--or at least they have less control over it than used to be case--the optimal policy response is to do nothing.11 Yet, publics have vastly higher expectations about economic policy and are unlikely to be placated by their leaders telling them that there is very little that can be done because the effectiveness of traditional policies has been greatly reduced by processes outside their control. The result is a profound sense of public dissatisfaction and/or apathy that one can perceive in many countries.
The failings of the present international institutional arrangements in the political sphere are even more obvious. From Rwanda to Yugoslavia to Chechnya, one can see increasing evidences of the failure of the international community to address urgent and sometimes tragic problems because of the absence of international institutions charged with the power and jurisdiction to act in instances or situations that lie beyond the jurisdiction of national bodies. When half a million people in Rwanda are butchered within a brief span of time, and the images of the carnage are relayed to every corner of the world, there seems very little that the international community can do, other than wring its hands, express regret, and helplessly stand by lamenting its impotence. This is an eloquent indictment of the tragic shortcomings of the present international political system.12
The realization that, in an increasingly interdependent world, national institutions are less and less able to address problems that are fundamentally international in character and the implications that the realization carries for the exercise of political authority are the motivating forces behind many of the present experiments in many parts of the world with integrative processes and the building of supranational institutions to support and direct such processes. Chief among these experiments one must note the economic, political, and institutional developments in the context of the European Union.
Albert Einstein and others who gave a great deal of thought to the political requirements in the new climate created by the arrival of nuclear weapons, believed that one way one could address the evident failings of the international institutional framework was to create truly supranational organizations. In 1946, soon after the creation of the United Nations and very much aware of this organization's limitations, he wrote:
"The development of technology and of the implements of war has brought about something akin to a shrinking of our planet. Economic interlinking has made the destinies of nations interdependent to a degree far greater than in previous years. . . . The only hope for protection lies in the securing of peace in a supranational way. A world government must be created which is able to solve conflicts between nations by judicial decision. This government must be based on a clear-cut constitution which is approved by the governments and the nations and which gives it the sole disposition of offensive weapons. A person or a nation can be considered peace loving only if it is ready to cede its military force to the international authorities and to renounce every attempt or even the means, of achieving its interests abroad by the use of force."13
In the aftermath of the chaos and destruction unleashed by World War II Einstein, Russell, and others laid out an important argument in favor of the creation of an international authority, explaining that the time had passed when military conflicts and their associated damage could be reasonably contained. In earlier times, because of the limited destructive power of weapons, a war between, say, France and Germany, did not, on the whole, disturb the peace and tranquility of the Incas in South America or of certain tribes in Africa. In the nuclear age, however, war had become unthinkable and its consequences universal. National sovereignty, which had always been understood to mean the right of a country to defend its interests by the use of force if necessary, but the exercise of which had assumed that conflicts would remain largely confined to given geographic areas, no longer served the interests of anyone. On the contrary, thus understood, national sovereignty cast a dark shadow over the future of everyone. Hence the notion eventually emerged that lasting international peace will be feasible only in the context of the creation of a global institution based on the principle of collective security.
An additional argument supporting the creation of global institutions stems from the flowering of science and technology. Since this is irreversible and no longer under the control of any one government or power, the process of global integration and interdependence will continue to bring nations and peoples together and will increasingly expose the weaknesses of prevailing international political and economic arrangements. As problems became more global in nature--from the environment to the functioning of the international economy--situations could emerge where important areas of human endeavor no longer receive adequate attention, creating the risks of ever more intense crises. Thus the creation of supranational institutions can be seen as fundamentally a preventive measure, designed to bring into being bodies with the appropriate jurisdiction over problems no longer under the control of today's sovereign states.
Yet another argument for the creation of global institutions is the enormous cost of maintaining military establishments associated with the present system of sovereign states. According to the United Nations Human Development Report 1990, by the mid-1980s military spending in developing countries--some U.S.$200 billion per year--exceeded spending on health and education combined. This telling statistic brings to mind the intense policy debates at the beginning of the decade on the scope that would be created by savings in defense spending, the so-called "peace dividend," and the uses to which it could be put.14 One cannot help reflecting on the words of Bahá'u'lláh, Who, in the early 1890s, when visited by the Cambridge orientalist Professor Edward G. Browne, said, "we see your kings and rulers lavishing their treasures more freely on means for the destruction of the human race than on that which would conduce to the happiness to humanity," an observation that has remained tragically relevant during the next one hundred years.
1. How far religion has moved from its originally intended role was described by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of Bahá'u'lláh and the interpreter of His writings, at a large gathering of students and faculty at Stanford University in October 1912: "If religious belief proves to be the cause of discord and dissension, its absence would be preferable; for religion was intended to be the divine remedy and panacea for the ailments of humanity, the healing balm for the wounds of mankind. If its misapprehension and defilement have brought about warfare and bloodshed instead of remedy and cure, the world would be better under irreligious conditions." ('Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by 'Abdu'l-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912, comp. Howard MacNutt, 2d ed. (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982) 354.)
2. The philosopher Bertrand Russell, who wrote about the implications of interdependence, said that "In the new world the kindly feelings towards others which religion has advocated will be not only a moral duty but an indispensable condition of survival. A human body could not long continue to live if the hands were in conflict with the feet and the stomach were at war with the liver. Human society as a whole is becoming in this respect more and more like a single human body and if we are to continue to exist, we shall have to acquire feelings directed toward the welfare of the whole in the same sort of way in which feelings of individual welfare concern the whole body and not only this or that portion of it. At any time, such a way of feeling would have been admirable, but now, for the first time in human history, it is becoming necessary if any human being is to be able to achieve anything of what he would wish to enjoy."
3. Other "GNP friendly" activities include: citizens spending vast sums of money to buy elaborate security systems for their homes to protect themselves against rising crime; overeating, as a result of which a thriving diet industry is born to help people fight against its ill effects. There are also many activities which might be regarded as welfare-creating which actually are entered as "negatives" in the elaboration of GNP accounts. For instance, when mothers decide to stay temporarily at home to take care of their children rather than go out into the labor force, when parents turn off the television set at dinner time to talk to their children, and perhaps more tellingly, when countries, perhaps in the context of a much changed outlook for international political relations, decide to close down weapons facilities and factories.
4. This is not to say that no attempts have been made to construct such alternative measures. An excellent example of efforts in this area is the Human Development Index (HDI) compiled by the UNDP which, by using measures of life expectancy, adult literacy and per capita income, tries to capture broader aspects of socio-economic development. Important as these initiatives have been, by an large, they have had no practical implications for the lending operations of the main international development organizations whose work is overwhelmingly guided by traditional measures of GNP growth.
5. To say this, however, is not to endorse the ideology of partisanship that has everywhere boldly assumed democracy's name and which, despite impressive contributions to human progress in the past, today finds itself mired in the cynicism, apathy, and corruption to which it has given rise.
6. It has long been recognized that the absence of an adequate legal framework and judicial system will increase business costs, discourage investment, and introduce an element of uncertainty into economic activity which will be detrimental to the development process.
7. As noted by Etzioni (1988): "Studies have found a relatively close association between the sense that taxes are fairly imposed, the sense of the legitimacy of the government and the purposes for which revenues are used, and the extent of tax evasion."
11. Many would argue that similar processes are at work on a global scale. The proliferation of forces (or variables) no longer under the control and/or jurisdiction of even the most powerful sovereign states including: capital flows, contamination, drug trafficking, smuggling of radioactive substances, communications technology, among others, highlight not only the very circumscribed sphere of influence of the nation-state but also the risks that the resulting "no one is in charge" phenomenon poses for our future.
12. It was this kind of insight that led two Harvard professors, Grenville Clark and Louis. B. Sohn, in the 1950s to write about the need for the "establishment of world institutions which correspond to those which maintain law and order within local and national communities."
14. Staff at the International Monetary Fund have recently estimated that every 1 percent increase in the efficiency of government spending worldwide (much defense spending falls under the category of "unproductive" expenditure) releases about U.S.$100 billion in resources that can be allocated to such things as human capital investment, social protection, and deficit reduction.
Last updated 13 August 1999