Wednesday Night #1225

Written by  //  August 24, 2005  //  Reports, Science & Technology, Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

Incoming Class of 2009
As the media love to remind us every Fall, the incoming university Freshman class does not share our points of reference. Thus, for those born in 1987: Laptops and voice mail have always been here. Icons such as Andy Worhol, Jackie Gleason and Liberace are unknowns and Bill Gates has always been a billionaire. Mention names and events from our past and the response is ‘whatever’. What these filler features fail to emphasize is that this cultural divide implies a need to constantly review our bases of communication with the rising generations.

Globalization
For most, globalization is a familiar term, but is it perceived as good or bad? It is not an absolute. Undeniably in many respects ‘locals’ better understand their economic and cultural needs. Globalization must, therefore, take into account the specificity of each country/ region. The fear among many demonstrators against globalization is that it will deprive the ‘little people’ of all they have in favor of the multinationals like Monsanto.
The TripleG/School of Athens is a pre-negotiating forum whose ultimate clients are the formal negotiators legally empowered to modify the world order through international agreements. It has obtained significant funding in the last few months and, more important, commitments to create the permanent organization whose shape will increasingly be a 21st century version of Plato’s Academy around the issues of globalization, governance and democracy, thus the evolution of the entity’s name to the New School of Athens. This is to be backed-up by a world-wide think tank backed by Canada and France. One of the partners will be the University of Athens where Kimon has accepted a 4-month position as professor of business.
The concept is not to obtain consensus but to fully explore the pros and cons of globalization through Socratic dialogues, innovative workshops, Olympic debates, pedagogical devices. As there are many other activities involving examination of globalization, it is important that the School of Athens differentiate itself both through content and processes, thus it aims to be a laboratory of innovative technology in terms of meeting processes, avoiding the pitfalls of boring people in standard plenary sessions, etc. The tripartite nature of the Triple-G (governments, corporate sector, civil society) also differentiates it from the Davos (corporate), Porto Alegre (civil society) and government (OECD) concepts.
As with most new ideas, the Triple-G has had its share of skeptics, detractors, saboteurs. There are those who believe that global governance is already happening through a network of hidden actors. For these, transparent dialogue and process are abhorrent . There have also been those who have wished to hijack the project. Finally, there are others, such as Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative , which are welcome. No one organization can connect all the dots and each will contribute to developing the complete picture. The annual Athens meeting at the end of each calendar year will be able to consider the outcomes of other initiatives and present summaries.
The first Athens meeting (Athens-1) of some 50 bore significant fruit, particularly through the intellectual crossing of swords between the Chairman of the Greek Federation of Industries and the head of the Fondation Pour le Progrès de l’Homme who, despite their differences, liked each other and are both supporters of the Triple-G. The end result is that the head of the Foundation challenged the Federations of Industries to come up with a Charter of Rights and Responsibilities for Greek corporations , outlining corporate social responsibility and in the long-term leading to an enhancement of moral capitalism.Globalization is like water – you need water to live, but too much water and you drown. The need for balance between the positive aspects of globalization and the tsunami effect of too much globalization. At present the tsunami aspects are prevalent and dominant, the aim of Triple G is to control that tsunami. Like the tsunami, demonstrations will not stop globalization; debate is moving from pro and anti-globalization to what type of globalization do we want and what type do we reject? That is the focus of School of Athens.
In response to the question raised in the invitation to this Wednesday Night, Kimon pointed out that the theme of Athens II is Beyond the Millennium Development Goals, noting that the MDGs contain no reference to Democracy and only indirect reference to good governance.
One area of particular interest, partly as a result of the French Referendum of May 29, is Democracy in the 21st century, including referenda (What do they mean? Do they meet the needs of democracy?) – this is another dimension.

  • Everyone talks about Democracy – it is a mantra – but how do we adapt it to the 21st century without making many, many mistakes?
  • Democracy is a mantra; nobody can afford be against democracy and as a result we have a lot of ‘dumb democracy’. Dumb democracy can lead to dumping democracy in favor of totalitarianism
  • There are key words like Democracy, Sovereignty, Sustainable Development; then there is the jigsaw puzzle of other words and they all have to be put together

National sovereignty, taxation and control versus the multinationals. Sovereignty is at the heart of the dilemma of the School of Athens. The 191 nations of the world cannot manage global governance well. Thus there must be a redefinition of sovereignty – who holds it, who applies it, what is its legitimacy … but sovereignty is also a mantra. The UN Charter endorses the sovereign equality of all members, however, the Security Council veers from that philosophy. Worse still is the current American policy that holds U.S. sovereignty of the United States as more valuable than the sovereignty of other nations (see Iraq).

The Economy

There is no doubt that Oil is the principal engine driving North American markets,- oil prices go up and the markets go down (despite the thesis maintained by one Wednesday Nighter that there is no correlation). As world demand increases, we may see the U.S. switching to other energy sources, possibly coal. One Wednesday Nighter suggests that when in doubt about the market fundamentals, he turns to charting, and according to the charts, oil prices will go higher.
Gold is strong and is related to the U.S. dollar which will weaken next year, but gold mining companies are having a rough time because of costs of energy, pollution costs, but as the price of gold rises.
It will not take much for the American market to go through a major correction. The major concerns are the deficit and Consumer credit. In addition, there is concern that China is now strong enough to control the U.S. economy. And even if it were not a hostile act, as the euro becomes a reserve currency for oil, In Canada, it’s late to buy oil stocks and the financial services (banks), which were strong, are beginning to break down. There’s no growth in Europe – too many problems. Looking around the world, Japan is turning around the emerging markets are looking good, notably Korea, Mexico, Chile and Brazil. Brazil economy and exports are going up and it is reaching self-sufficiency in oil, which is going to help balance of payments and be very good for the currency. Interest rates are around 20%, but will be coming down. Argentina offers some good opportunities over the coming year, but ‘you have to be a good stock picker’.

  • There is political scandal in Brazil and I love it – it brings excellent opportunities (for investment)
  • If the Chinese and others who hold U.S. bonds decide to dump them, then we have a global crisis. This is the beginning of a fascinating new (economic) era of the cold war- the Chinese need raw materials and commodities and they are developing relationships in the ‘Stans’

The housing bubble has not yet burst, although Alan Greenspan has warned the Jackson (WYO) meeting that consumer confidence is being boosted by a real estate surge that can’t possibly last. He predicted that “house turnover will decline from historic levels, while home price increases will slow and prices could even decrease”, which, if interest rates also rise sharply, could hit both homeowners and mortgage lenders very hard.
Rising prices have helped make many people feel wealthier and thus more inclined to spend, leading to concern that individuals – frequently retirees -have withdrawn equity from their homes to fuel their consumer spending.
While there is much agonizing about rising costs of energy, there is little if any focus on consumer spending which accounts for roughly two-thirds of all economic activity in the United States. Consumer credit, or non-mortgage loans to individuals, rose $14.5 billion to $2.146 trillion in June, according to the Fed.

  • Consumer debt is the elephant in the room

[Note: Since the early 1980s, all categories of debt – government, business and consumer – have grown faster than the economy. But consumer debt has been the fastest-growing segment. And a major portion of that consumer debt, about 70 percent, is in the form of home mortgages. That’s because rising home prices and lower interest rates have encouraged consumers to withdraw equity from their homes to buy other things. Because consumers have been able to pull money out of their homes, rising energy prices have had little overall effect on consumer spending – so far. That’s critical, because consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of total economic activity and a serious cutback would quickly slow economic growth.]
This oil shock, unlike previous ones, is demand-based rather than supply based. In the view of at least one economist, this is not a temporary phenomenon, but is a structural problem, which will force the world to develop alternate sources of energy. Another believes that predictions of oil prices at $100 bbl do not take in to account the effect of an American announcement that they are releasing some of their oil reserves (equivalent to 40 days of world production), nor that as current prices are not supported by costs of production, a lowering of price would reduce speculation. This, however, does not take into account long-term demands for oil, nor the fact that there IS a limited supply of fossil fuel.

  • Only when Americans pay full price for gas (comparable to European prices) will they stop driving their SUVs or watering their gardens in the desert – the same is true for water
  • There is no correlation between oil prices and stock prices
  • In Alberta we are using natural gas – a relatively clean fuel – to extract oil – a relatively dirty fuel – There is something wrong with this picture

Google
Having raised $20 billion, they have now raised another $4. Some wonder whether this diminishes the image of the stock. The company is offering an array of programs, including the new Google Talk which (according to Google) enables you to call or send instant messages to your friends for free-anytime, anywhere in the world. Of course, this only works if your friends/contacts also have Gmail. But this is just one more offering in a field that is becoming crowded with all sorts of hard-to-differentiate offers. The one conclusion? Bell Canada has been gouging its long distance clients for years!

  • We are overwhelmed with a tsunami of data. There is a hierarchy: data, information, knowledge, wisdom, understanding; we need more philosophers
  • Information overload leads to information underuse

The drawback with many of the new services is that Customer Service has disappeared. As one Wednesday Nighter pointed out, having reduced his Long Distance charges from $1,000 to $50 a month, “I cannot expect good customer service at $50 a month”.
It is difficult at this stage to determine what is the ultimate goal of Google’s array of disparate programs and services, but it seems that the company is aiming to create comprehensive online universal portal to become the premier destination. Some individuals are concerned that Gmail coupled with all of Google’s other services make it a very powerful, and dangerous centralized information source.

THE  PROLOGUE

The hot topic in the Untied States seems to be the teaching of creationism alongside – if not in lieu of – evolution. While this is a serious issue, deserving of the attention and active critique of the citizenry, we have been entertained by some of the reactions to President Bush’s declarations on the subject, notably the parody religion, created in response to the decision of the Kansas School Board , “Flying Spaghetti Monsterism (FSM)” whose devotees call themselves Pastafarians. Humour is always the best medicine, but unfortunately the humourless targets may not appreciate the underlying validity of the mockery.
In the same vein, we commend Linwood Barclay’s great piece in Monday’s Toronto Star suggesting that there is an “unintelligent design theory” responsible for guiding the Bush Administration’s policies.
More seriously – much more seriously – there IS room for intelligent design in a world where too often governance is the product of an evolution that frequently leads to the survival of the least fit to govern, NOT the fittest.
We are proud of the success of Kimon Valskakis, who has devoted his efforts and considerable talents to the creation of the Global Governance Group and we are very pleased to welcome him back after an absence in Europe of more than two months. We are looking forward to his progress report and to hearing his views on President Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative
On a parallel topic, the latest issue of the National Geographic “Africa” is devoted to the 7-month odyssey of conservationist Michael Flynn, mapping the human footprint on that continent. In his view, Bono, Live 8 and the G-8 have been misguided and it is not poverty alleviation, but sustainable development which must be the focus of our efforts .
Where and how do Global Governance and Sustainable Development meet and mesh?

 

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