This column first appeared in The Christian Science Monitor on September 13, 2000 and is reproduced with permission.
Last week, the largest gathering of heads of state in history missed a golden opportunity. Meeting under United Nations auspices in a Millennium Summit, most leaders spouted the usual platitudes about making globalization work for everyone. But a lack of results came as no great surprise. Those same "leaders" have created a global economic system geared toward efficiency über alles, with painful consequences for the poor. They've dithered on climate change while the polar ice sheets melt. And they've vastly sped up the pace of international trade without devising effective border controls. These failures to manage global issues are leaving people around the world vulnerable to everything from financial panics to large-scale environmental disasters.
The new challenges are too big to be left solely to governments or intergovernmental
organizations like the UN. Thousands of intergovernmental treaties and declarations
of pious intent in the past have done more to salve the conscience than to save
the world. Governments are bound to put the interests of their domestic constituents
first, and globalization has raised so many complex problems that governments
Fortunately, new tools for managing the world are available. The first is the
massive involvement of citizens' groups - civil society - in global decisionmaking.
All sorts of groups are coming together to make and even enforce global rules.
Examples abound, from the international network that sparked the Landmines Treaty
to partnerships between businesses and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)
that are setting labor and environmental standards with no recourse to governments
at all. But these networks are sometimes accused of lacking legitimacy and broad
That is why we need the second new tool: transparency.The information revolution
and spreading ideas about democracy are combining to press governments, corporations,
civil society groups, and international organizations to explain their actions
and policies to citizens and consumers.Corporations are beginning to issue environmental
and social reports alongside their financial ones.The World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund have adopted disclosure policies.Freedom-of-information laws that
guarantee public access to most governmental files are being enacted or debated
in scores of countries.
The new nongovernmental policy networks can take the newly available information,
disseminate it broadly to stir up public support, and use it to negotiate new
policies directly with particular corporations and governments.This is not democracy
in the electoral terms to which we are accustomed, but it offers a highly accountable,
flexible, and dynamic basis for running a globalized world.
The Millennium Summit ended with a declaration. Governments aspired to reduce
poverty, educate all children, reverse the spread of AIDS - the usual worthy
goals, regularly asserted in such declarations and then ignored when it comes
to making policy.
The next time leaders gather for a global gabfest, here's what their declaration
should say:"We governments recognize that we can't manage everything ourselves,
and realistically we're not going to put serious resources into meeting all
those worthy goals. So here's what we really will do: Within our countries,
we will actively encourage the formation of strong civil societies that can
connect to one another across national borders.We will also promote transparency,
requiring corporations and intergovernmental bodies to provide information on
their policies and activities to the public. We'll even try to practice transparency
ourselves, and we'll continue struggling forward with our negotiations and treaties.
The rest is up to you, the peoples of the world."
Then we the peoples had better get cracking.
Copyright 2000 The Christian Science Publishing Society. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved."