Gordon Brown's Four Problems

Economics Environment Science and Tech

On September 20, I attended a lecture by former UK Prime Minster Gordon Brown at The New School University. As he paced the stage, Brown outlined the themes of his new book, Beyond the Crash: Overcoming the First Crisis of Globalization.

Quite a title! I am sure we could come up with a globalization crisis that precedes the contemporary one he speaks of, but that's not the point of this post.

In brief, Brown says there are four fundamental problems facing the world today. First, those problems, then a meta-problem, and concluding thoughts and questions:

BROWN's FOUR PROBLEMS (paraphrased!)

1. The lack of a Growth Pact. By this, Brown recognizes that global economic growth is at a standstill, mostly because economic engines like the U.S., Europe, China, and, to an extent, India, are pursuing economic policies inimical to growth. A global growth pact is needed, where China and India agree to open their markets to Western imports, which puts money in the pockets of Westerners, which lets them spend more money on Asian imports to the West, and a virtuous cycle of growth is started.

2. The Environment. We must recognize that a global treaty to mitigate climate change (like Kyoto) cannot be achieved. Rather than aim for a treaty, then, he suggests states come up with a framework of climate change mitigation goals, and work toward them individually, which will at least start the process of improving global environmental conditions.

3. Financial Reform. The world needs increased transparency, cooperation, and international standards in financial markets, or we are doomed to repeat our current global recession again and again (up to 3 more times in 20 years, by one account, he cites). Without this global financial reform, we are racing toward the bottom.

4. Rising Inequality and Poverty. With youth bulges in the Middle East combined with high unemployment rates (20-40%) giving way to revolutionary fervor, it's only a matter of time before the same concoctions catch fire elsewhere in the world. (Youth unemployment rate is 20% in the USA, he says.)1 MDG goals of poverty alleviation are nowhere close to being met. A solution is for Western and richer states to spend large amounts of capital in developing countries (mostly Africa) investing in capital projects and transferring knowledge and technology. These moves will help alleviate poverty in poor places, which further stabilizes countries, thus causing a rising tide that helps to lift all boats.

Greater global cooperation is needed to solve the four problems mentioned above, but there is a larger problem hindering such progress. This meta-problem (my word choice, his idea) is that currently states are becoming more protectionist, thereby moving in opposite directions, away from global cooperation, and thereby exacerbating current problems (catastrophes).

How do we reverse current protectionist trends and encourage global cooperation?

How does one - or how do we all - move beyond nativism and protectionist rhetoric and instill a sense of global responsibility for global problems? And more philosophically, how have we failed to do this in the first place?

An audience member asked of Mr. Brown: How do we make the global solution process more inclusive, especially by reforming the Core-structures of international institutions (e.g. UNSC, IMF, World Bank) dominated by Western powers? (paraphrased!)

Another audience member asked: Aren't Mr. Brown's proposals for global reforms mythical, in the sense that past and current international relations that claim benevolent ends really end up being charades for Western, neoliberal dominance? (paraphrased!)

Brown gave some pretty stock, Western politician answers to the above, almost dismissively. Yet the questions are good and valid, so what do you think?

1. Brown seems to exaggerate his statistics, with ease. His claim that 20% of American youth are unemployed may be a stretch. During the summer, that number was 18%, no telling what it is now (http://bls.gov/news.release/youth.nr0.htm). A 2% difference represents about 850,000 youths. Earlier in his talk, Brown claimed a million people died in the Rwandan genocide. While the numbers are in contention, the number generally does go above 800,000 actual deaths. By his account, then,  another 200,000+ people died, not an insignificant sum.

Africa, Finance, Gordon Brown, Labor, Middle East, Poverty