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Towards an Economic System That Works for People and the Planet

A civil society statement on the G20 summit from IPS Director John Cavanagh and coalition members.

On November 15, the leaders of 20 nations and the major multilateral financial institutions will gather behind closed doors in Washington to discuss the future of the global economy. Led by outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush, this group includes many of the people, governments, and institutions whose policies are responsible for the current financial meltdown. As such, we believe they are the wrong group to be charged with reworking global economic rules and institutions. The world needs a process that is much more inclusive of other nations and the peoples of those nations.

This statement begins to sketch an agenda for change that would resolve the crisis by putting people and the planet first. It starts from the experiences of groups and communities around the world. It speaks to a financial meltdown triggered in the very heart of the globalized capitalist economy that has combined with the growing crises of climate chaos and hunger, and that now reaches into every corner of the planet. This new crisis of predatory and unregulated "casino capitalism" is destroying jobs, lives and livelihoods, while wreaking havoc on currencies and stock markets around the world. It has taken resources from the many, while concentrating wealth in the hands of the few.

To date, governments have largely responded by spending more than one trillion dollars bailing out private financial institutions and corporations. Meanwhile, the crushing needs of communities, ordinary citizens and fragile ecosystems have been largely ignored.

Now is the time to learn from this experience and from the consequences and devastating impacts of other recent crises, such as the debt crisis unleashed in 1982 and the financial crises in Mexico (1994-95), Asia (1997-98), Russia (1998), and Argentina (1999-2002). History continues to repeat itself. This pattern, culminating in the current global crisis, demonstrates quite definitively that a real transformation of the system is required.

New rules and institutions should be created in an open and inclusive process of dialogue. They should be based on a new set of principles to guide economic activity. We offer an overview of those principles and an outline of new rules and institutions.

1. We need a new set of principles to support new national, regional and global financial institutions. The following principles should underpin new rules and institutions:

• Economic democracy and equity, including the development of local economies, and community control and protection of water, seeds, genes, air, communal lands, fisheries, and other "commons";

• ecological sustainability and environmental justice, including promoting long term, productive green investment;

• the fulfillment, protection, and promotion of all human rights, including the right to food, air, and water, and the rights of workers, small-hold food producers, rural and urban communities, indigenous peoples, women, children, and the elderly;

• gender, racial, ethnic and intergenerational justice and equality;

• self-determination and sovereignty of peoples and nations; and

• non-interference, mutual cooperation, complementarity and solidarity.

On the basis of such principles, finance should be aimed at and linked to strengthening national and local real economies to meet the requirement of sustainable and equitable development. And governments should support innovative new regional financial bodies such as the South Bank in South America, which has the potential to serve the needs of those regions more effectively than the IMF and World Bank. Regional emergency funds are also needed to help ensure the food and energy sovereignty of nations.

2. Enough with market fundamentalism: The world doesn't need another "Washington Consensus." The so-called "Washington Consensus" that has preached deregulation, privatization, the over-leveraging of banks, and trade and capital liberalization over the past 30 years has been extremely damaging to workers, communities and the environment. It is discredited and should be officially abandoned. It should not be replaced with any new "one-size-fits-all" dogma.