The Age of Consent Paperback – 4 Oct 2004
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George Monbiot's reputation as a campaigning journalist and proponent of social justice makes The Age of Consent a fascinating prospect. And so it proves. It is nothing less than what its subtitle calls a manifesto for a new world order, a proposal to change the way everything works. This is aiming very high indeed. Monbiot is interested in the global mechanisms that control war, peace, trade and development, and his manifesto explores the practical means by which the control of these mechanisms can be removed from the hands of the unelected rich and put into those of truly representative democratic bodies. (Many campaigners within what he calls "our movement" will be disconcerted by the briskness with which he dismisses the parallel options of anarchism and doctrinaire Marxism as useless to his purposes, concluding that a democratically elected World Parliament is the only possible solution.)
Corporations figure largely in his arguments, as you might expect, but Monbiot's analysis of their current and possible future role in a reformed world system is more nuanced than some offered by his anti-globalisation cohorts. He recognises that global trade is a necessity and that global corporations are best placed to carry this out, but only if they are properly policed, their ability to "externalise" (i.e., dump on someone else) hidden costs, such as environmental damage, rigorously controlled. As Monbiot vividly remarks, a corporation is merely a tool. When it starts demanding, or usurping, the rights of a person, it must be destroyed.
This is thought-provoking stuff. So too is his account of the creation of the World Bank and the IMF in 1944. Above all, The Age of Consent is a call to action: all its research and analysis will amount to nothing, says Monbiot, if it doesn't contribute to the process of change for which he sees a vast global will developing. He genuinely believes, and communicates strongly his belief, that the monolithic political and economic forms that constrain the poor world to its subordinate position can be changed, and offers suggestive and practical ways in which this might be achieved by direct and indirect action. Most powerful among weapons to bring about the transformation of the world is the belief in the effectiveness of collective action. This is fighting talk, powerfully delivered. --Robin Davidson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'A bracing challenge to the complacency of all varieties of establishment thinking. Argues powerfully that protest is not enough. An arresting contribution to new thinking.' Independent
‘A book that must be engaged with. A simple and revolutionary Manifesto, a weighty political vision. At last, the global justice movement has found a vision as expansive and planet-wide as that of the US neoconservatives. Let the battle of ideas commence.' Independent on Sunday
'An extremely important book. A searchingly rigorous analysis of the sources of American power. Monbiot presents a package of proposals that would radically redraw the present world order. It is breathtaking in its radicalism, but for anyone who is serious about tackling the current US hegemony, it is difficult to fault the logic. This is not a whinge, but a very well argued statement of a positive alternative agenda. And if it is far too radical for some tastes, can they suggest any lesser options that will produce the same vast improvement in world justice and prosperity? The floor is theirs.' Michael Meacher, GuardianSee all Product description
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This book is worth reading (in my view) for the following quote alone.
''...almost everything I was brought up to believe is untrue. I don't blame my parents for this - they were brought up with the same self-justificatory myths of the British Middle Classes.
All nations, all classes, all tribes tell themselves stories that validate and centralize their existence. These stories are always false.''
The idea is basically that globalisation is not necessarily a harmful process per se, but without proper democratic structures in place on a global scale, it is manipulated so as to favour powerful vested interests. This idea should really have confronted anyone who has thought seriously about the future of popular sovereignty in an increasingly inter-connected world. It is unthinkable that GATS, for example, effectively hands over control of business regulation to a secret body of WTO officials - but if the proposed alternative is to throw up barriers to trade in every country that feels like it, there is enormous scope for abuse and over-protectionism. For the poorest countries, blocking and distorting trade on the part of rich countries would be disastrous, as countries receiving ultra-cheap agricultural products from Europe and the US are currently learning. The process needs regulation on a global level.
This book has received rather a cool response so far, which I don't think it really deserves (though admittedly I'm dubious about Monbiot's theory that some form of metaphysical paradigm is developing) but on the whole the proposals seem eminently worth pursuing. I would imagine that many people are keen to write off George Monbiot as a quack; and, conversely, I imagine that for many in the global justice campaign, formulating policies and so on smacks of the party political machinery that many are suspicious of. But slogan-shouting and banner-waving are surely never enough - if alternatives to the current model of globalisation do not make sense, or are simply not developed, then it seems to me there is little point in protesting at all. To get beyond all that, this book is a good place to start.
In The Age of Consent he puts the current democratic world under scrutiny having also written about this on a more detailed level in his earlier book The Captive State and makes the fact that we can even call it democratic questionable, he suggests new systems to unselected world powers such as. WTO, World Bank with real democratic alternatives, and that power should be changed on a worldwide scale so that the worlds power was more equally distributed in terms of population rather than a countries trade or economic position.
He suggests that globalisation should continue but in a different, more fair way. He sees no need for us to be confined within our national border and asks why our sense of community and common interest should rarely go further than the national border. He asks why we do not forget our geographical differences and recognise that if we began to see our similarities and shared interests it would benefit us all. There are a few revolutionary changes he thinks should be done.
Power should be given to people with the creation of a world parliament whereby the world would be divided up in terms of its population and each part elected a representative. These would then meet and discuss world issues. There power would be immense for the sole fact that they would actually be representative of the worlds people and would therefore have huge lobbying weight influencing global institutional and national decisions, and opposing regimes. He estimated the cost to be almost 1 Billion Dollars, but suggested this could be raised from JM Keynes’s idea of an International Clearing Union (ICU) raised at Bretton Woods Conference in 1944. It was accepted by all members except the States, as Monbiot believes, it would have destroyed their dominant trading and economic position taking away the dollar as the international currency for trade.
The ICU would be a global bank replacing the IMF and World Bank whose purpose would be to equalise the power of international trade, reduce the growing disparity between rich and poor countries, prevent the third world ‘debt trap‘ and at the same time raise money for the world parliament. It would monitor worldwide trade where all trade would be done in its own currency, a bancor. Each nation would have an account with a fixed exchange rate and where exports would add bancors and imports would take them away providing an incentive for each country to end up at the end of a year with an account of zero bancors. If a country had bancors left over it would be confiscated to the ICU reserve fund encouraging the country to use up all the bancors by buying from other countries before the end of the year. Countries with an account deficit would have their currency depreciated, encouraging others to buy the next year.
Overall I think this is a well researched book with good ideas, but it does do something much more powerful than the ideas it proposes. It addresses that there are fundamental problems with the global order and gives us groundwork for change. For example why do we sit back and watch food surpluses grow (beef and butter mountains) in rich countries whilst millions starve in poor. It is naïve for us to think that how the world is run now is how it will be run in, even as soon as, a couple of decades. Without proper global democratic systems in place globalisation will further to benefit the rich over the poor.
The question as to why we should stop using democratic systems past the national scale is a very good one in terms of how to create fairer world regulatory systems, I think the one person, one vote World Parliament is a good start, and little more. The problem with representatives of the World Parliament is that they will always be very distant and I think the belief that democracy becomes less and less democratic the more people it represents is true. The system would be strongly weighted to countries of larger populations such as China and India having over 20 seats at the world parliament whereas the whole of Europe would have less than half of that. It seems this unfair weighting would misrepresent the many contrasting views of those smaller countries. A very interesting book I think the subjects will become of increasing relevance.
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