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Caliifornia State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: December 31, 2001
Latest Update: December 31, 2001

E-Mail jeannecurran@habermas.org
E-Mail takata@uwp.edu

Victory Over Want 2002

Journal entry by jeanne on December 31, 2001

Teaching Essay by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors. December 2001. "Fair Use" encouraged.

On Monday, December 31, 2001, jeanne received the following e-mail:

VOW 2002: Expressions of Support

We are gathering expressions of support for the Democratic Initiative for Victory Over Want 2002 (VOW). These expressions may be at any level of interest and intensity. They may be expressions of general support in principle, of moral or ethical approval or of support for more specific parts of the Initiative such as universal education or health care, help for the homeless, protection of the environment or other elements. Support may also be expressed through offers of time, labour or expertise. Some may wish to prepare papers for consideration by one or other of the various Preparatory Commissions or the World Conference. Others may offer to help, for example, with design and maintenance of the website and other technical services; still others may offer to serve on one or other of the Commissions or act as Convenor. Any expressions and offers of support will be free in every sense. We are NOT seeking expressions or pledges of financial support although any funds volunteered to meet expenses will be gratefully acknowledged.

VOW 2002 already has basic expressions of support from Europe, north America and Australia. We want similar expressions from Africa, Asia, South America and other areas. Our objective is to gather reinforcement from people throughout the world, at all economic and social levels and from a variety of political and other persuasions. VOW 2002 also aims to ensure that every continent and major region will have a direct, participatory role in its activities, that is, in drafting papers, engaging in debates, working actively in the Preparatory Commissions and attending the World Conference.

VOW 2002 envisages a series of stages for its development. The initial stage of formulation has now matured into this gathering of worldwide support. That will be followed by the establishment of Preparatory Commissions and then by the World Conference. However, it is intended that the World Conference be only the beginning and not the end. We envisage the World Conference establishing a continuing organisation which may be called the Agency for Victory over Want at All Levels (AVOWAL). AVOWAL will implement the practical programs emerging from the World Conference and be representative of the wide range of governmental and non-governmental participants in the Conference and its continuing activities.

In brief, the purpose of VOW 2002 is to give democratic expression to the views of all people on current national and international economic and social problems and to find practical ways of dealing with them.

The problems with which human communities are confronted emanate from the downturn in the world's largest economies on the one hand and, on the other, the long-term problems of want, not only in the poor and poorest countries but also in communities within even the richest countries. Apart from recession in the world's three largest economies of the United States, Japan and Germany, desperate economic and social situations exist in a wide variety of widely-separated countries extending, for example, from Afghanistan to Argentina to Zimbabwe.

VOW 2002 contemplates that a solution to the shorter-term problem of economic recession be utilised as an instrument to help solve the chronic problem of want and that, at the same time, the longer-term problem of want be used to turn around the recession in the largest of the world economies and avoid the catastrophic worldwide depression that could result from inaction.

In his BBC Dimbleby Lecture on 29 December 2001, former President Clinton told us that "the burdens of the twenty-first century...are formidable. Global poverty - half the people on earth are not part of the new economy...Half the people on earth live on less than two dollars a day. A billion people, less than a dollar a day. A billion people go to bed hungry every night and a billion and a half people - one quarter of the people on earth - never get a glass of clean water. One woman dies every minute in childbirth....We have to reduce global poverty and increase the economic empowerment of poor people. We know how to do this and it doesn't cost that much money."

Action on the Democratic Initiative for Victory over Want will, in real terms, cost us virtually nothing and will, indeed, bring us all enormous benefits. Failure to act could mean the loss of everything we now have or aspire to for the future. We are attaching a paper setting out the terms of VOW 2002. We would appreciate your expression of support for those terms along with any comment you may have on them.

Your response may be sent by email to cresscourt@chello.at or by snailmail to the address given in the VOW paper, that is - VOW, Veithgasse 6, 1030 Vienna, Austria We look forward to hearing from you.

James Cumes Initiator of VOW 2002

A Democratic Initiative for VICTORY OVER WANT (VOW)
"³In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential freedoms.

  • The first is freedom of speech and expression - everywhere in the world.
  • The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way - everywhere in the world.
  • The third is freedom from want...
  • The fourth is freedom from fear.²

Address to Congress by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 6 January 1941

Victory over Want seeks to realise President Rooseveltıs goal of freedom from want - everywhere in the world. It is a peopleıs initiative for the recovery and re-launch of the world economy, and, through working to abolish want, to move more securely also in the direction of the other three freedoms - of speech, of religion and from fear - everywhere in the world.

Before he left office a year ago, President Clinton said, "We have seen how abject poverty accelerates conflict, how it creates recruits for terrorists and those who incite ethnic and religious hatred, how it fuels a violent rejection of the social order on which our future depends."

In recent decades, despite the acknowledgement by President Clinton and other world leaders, governments have not only failed to give their own people - and others - freedom from want but have, indeed, moved further away from President Rooseveltıs objective instead of closer to his goal. As a consequence of their failure to take the urgent and effective action that is vital, people outside government but working wherever practicable with governments of goodwill, must now take matters into their own hands in order to avoid what threatens to be economic, social and political catastrophe. They must supply the vision and inspiration that governments have shown themselves to lack and provide the stimulus for everyone to act with the urgency required.

The process that enables people to grow richer - to move towards freedom from want - is based upon real investment leading through higher productivity to higher production of those things we all need - including those basic items that Franklin Roosevelt said would ensure that we are not ³ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.²

If this essential real investment fails or falls short, our economy will stagnate or shrink, people will lose their jobs, profits will slide and the final production available to satisfy our needs will decline, perhaps slowly and marginally, perhaps sharply and catastrophically.

Multitudes of voices of dissent with government policies have already been raised around the world. Some governments have been overturned, as recently in Argentina, but most governments and international institutions have refused to listen or, at best, have failed to give those voices the respect they warrant or to make effective changes in or undertake serious reconsideration of their policies. They have attempted to evade or close down dissent - to leave it outside - rather than admit either the voices or the content of dissent to their policy-making councils.

It becomes urgent therefore for those voices to create their own forum in which the dissenters can have their say and the content of dissent can be fully and fairly debated. It will be a forum in or to which our governors will be obliged to listen and, beyond listening, to attend responsibly to the views of those they purport to govern.

The movement for Victory over Want puts this in the context that a mismanaged world economy has already been stumbling for several years, in some ways before but at least since the Asian financial crisis of 1997, and could now be racing towards deep and long-lasting depression. Economic and social divisions within individual economies are acute. Similar sharp economic and social divisions among national economies within the world economy are intensifying human misery and hatreds. The latter threaten social and political stability ever more acutely throughout the world.

As a democratic initiative, VOW will ensure that no longer will only governments and international institutions under their control be represented in decision-making councils and in the policy-making process. No longer will there be a separation in which governments meet to assert and reinforce their power along with their misjudgements, while the voices of dissent are heard only distantly in the streets. VOW proposes that those voices be heard as a vital, prominent and respected part of the policy-making process and that a World Conference be convened as quickly as practicable at which all responsible elements in the human community, government and non-government, will participate. The focus of this World Conference will be on public investment to fight worldwide want on a long-term basis and, in so doing, to modify or eliminate the fears, hatreds and conflicts now plaguing virtually all human societies.

The Slide Towards Economic Collapse

The worldıs three most powerful economies - the United States, Japan and Germany - are already in recession. So are others or they teeter on the brink. In the United States, savings and real investment, as distinct from financial and stockmarket dealing and often highly speculative capital movements, have been low, negative or in decline for some years. Indeed, real investment has tended to be less than real depreciation, a trend likely to intensify. Individuals and businesses stagger under record burdens of debt. A high proportion of businesses are either profitless or their profits, often inflated, are so small that they bear little relation to their stockmarket values. The Japanese economy, stagnant or in recession for more than a decade, still shows no convincing signs of recovery. Germany continues to struggle under the twin burdens of reunification and the artificial rigidities of European Union.

This has come at a time when inequalities have been increasing, within the rich as well as among rich and poor countries. Recessionary trends will intensify these inequalities or, at best, deepen the poverty of the already poor. Social and political tensions and turmoil will reinforce and deepen the tragic consequences of economic distress.

To preserve what is best in our democratic and essentially free-enterprise system, we must act quickly and not solely through failed governments and failed international institutions but through a peopleıs grassroots initiative.

This initiative outside normal governmental processes is all the more essential because governments and international institutions have failed in circumstances in which they should have confirmed a future for humanity more promising than ever before. We are in the midst of three of the greatest revolutions ever. The Information, Biotechnology and Quantum Revolutions promise to extend human horizons, satisfy human aspirations and assuage human discomforts in ways never possible before; but our political, social and economic management threatens not only to deny us these unprecedented benefits but also to create such tensions and conflict that the very survival of the human and other species on our planet are increasingly put at risk.

We must therefore act to make good the omissions and commissions of governments and international institutions. We must act quickly. We must act over a sufficient range of issues. We must act through as many and as varied a group of participants as practicable.

The Restoration of Real Investment, Productivity and Production

Real private investment has failed, profits are low and falling, and prospects for overall economic growth are, at best, dismal. This is so despite large cuts in interest rates in much of the world, including the United States and Europe, and near-zero rates in Japan for much of the last decade. The United States has already cut taxes, though largely for the rich. However, despite the measures so far taken by governments, unemployment mounts, production declines and the trend towards widespread economic collapse gathers pace.

The failure of private investment comes at a time when public investment has already declined to low levels through privatisation, the philosophy of small government and ideological addiction to lower taxes and balanced budgets. Private investment can therefore hope for little reinforcement from public investment. This creates a situation of the most acute danger for the world economy.

Aggregate real investment must be increased quickly before the momentum of decline becomes so great that it cannot be arrested even by powerful, radical and widespread counter-measures.

Within that aggregate, private investment will increase, if at all in the short term, only slowly and that sluggishness will itself be a major factor restraining revival of the world economy.

Therefore, the only solution in the short term - a solution that also offers great benefits in the longer term - is through public investment. That must be direct investment, especially through provision of infrastructure and direct supply of goods and services. It will meet an emergency while at the same time installing a basis for a more productive and more fully employed economy continuing without interruption, well into the future.

Fields for Public Investment

The need for public investment, in all countries, rich and poor, is massive and covers a wide variety of fields.

These needs include:

  1. Measures to abolish physical poverty by raising minimum income levels and improving support for those disadvantaged because of disability, chronic illness and other causes. This can be pursued only through enhanced and continuing real investment most of which must come initially from public sources and be managed by public national or international institutions. Valuable as the market and private enterprise are, they cannot do the job alone. This is especially so in the circumstances of worldwide recession/depression now confronting us.
  2. Construction of new primary, secondary and tertiary schools, universities and training centres; repairing, renovating, upgrading and modernising existing educational centres; and providing educational equipment, for example, to ensure that all students achieve familiarity with computing and other modern technology.
  3. Housing for the homeless and better housing for the poorly housed. Even in such a rich country as the United States, millions are homeless or live in sub- standard accommodation. The homeless and poorly housed include children whose future value to themselves and their society is grossly and unfairly diminished. In India and China, hundreds of millions lack any or adequate housing. Throughout the world, housing may be the largest and most pressing need for public investment. Resources should be mobilised worldwide to raise housing standards, including levels of home hygiene (see clean water and waste disposal below).
  4. Construction of more hospitals, modernising existing hospitals and, at least as a goal, equipping all with state-of-the-art diagnostic, treatment and surgical facilities. Investment, including funds to compensate private individuals and companies for free or low- price supply of their prescription drugs and other products, should aim to halt the resurgence of such old plagues as tuberculosis and malaria as well as deal effectively with such newer scourges as AIDS.
  5. As a long-term goal, the provision of free and equal medical services and educational opportunities to all people throughout the world.
  6. The rehabilitation and reconstruction of depressed and dismal urban areas so as to afford an environment in which talent and human energy may flourish and the goals adopted for housing, health, education and welfare may be met.
  7. Provision of clean fresh water and construction of hygienic sewerage and trash-disposal systems. At least a billion people have no access to clean water. Drought is a constant menace to many millions, flood a constant menace to millions more. Desertification extends in Africa and elsewhere every day. Few countries reclaim much land lost through shortage of water or its misuse. As well as providing clean water and hygienic waste-disposal systems to all, a goal should be to make the deserts bloom. Research to enable cheap desalination and distribution through pipelines, canals and other means should be undertaken by public enterprise in cooperation where practicable with private enterprise and investment.
  8. The planting and replanting of forests for commercial use and environmental protection. The goal should be to re-create world forests so as to occupy an area at least as extensive as at the beginning of the 20th century.
  9. Direct investment in roads, railways, airports, telephone and other modern communications systems with the goal of bringing all countries and regions up to a standard comparable with the developed regions, bearing in mind not only commercial imperatives but also and especially the reasonable aspirations of all humankind.
  10. Generation of power through renewable sources - including solar, wind and tide - throughout the world. In his BBC Dimbleby Lecture on 29 December 2001, President Clinton reminded us that "there is a trillion dollar market today in alternate energy sources and presently available energy conservation technologies that will create jobs in Europe, America, in the developing world and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We're being hurt by denial there."

    These are intended only as examples of the enormous extent of the worldwide need for public investment and the need to mobilise all our resources in the attempt to meet a significant part of them. One observer has calculated that the gap between the United States potential gross domestic product - what it would be if the United States had been able to maintain an unemployment rate of around 4 percent - and what is actually being produced is enormous. By his calculations, the gap was already, in November 2001, upwards of $350 billion a year! This is an enormous waste of resources, a waste we can ill afford - and it is growing every day as we sink more deeply into economic recession.

    Indeed, these needs are so great and so urgent that there can be no rational justification for leaving any resources idle so long as they remain unsatisfied. National governments and international institutions must manage their affairs and deploy their resources so as to meet the needs as quickly and completely as practicable, without allowing economic, political or other prejudices, irrationalities, dogmas or vested interests to stand in the way.

    VOWıs Overriding Purposes

    With that as background, VOW has two overriding purposes:

    1. To halt the slide of the world economy into recession or depression and to re-launch it, through direct public investment, in ways that are effective, sustainable and equitable for all the worldıs people.

    2. To enhance the economic and, with it, the social and political infrastructure of all countries and regions, at whatever stage of development, so that both individuals and their societies can realise their potential in economic, social, political, cultural and other terms.

    Within these overriding purposes, VOW asserts the right of all societies to invest their human and material resources in peaceful purposes which they see as of fundamental importance to themselves and to vary the mix of public and private enterprise and investment in ways that they freely and democratically determine.

    VOW is directed to serve all countries and regions around the world. It is concerned with the developed countries and regions as well as with the less and the least developed. Even in the richest areas of Europe, such as the South of France, many people are poor and homeless. Appeals for donations of food - ³Marchons contre la faim² - are a regular feature of daily life.

    In North America, millions, including children, are homeless and millions more live in sub-standard accommodation. Many are educated to levels far below their potential and some fifty million people - equal to almost the total population of Britain, France or Italy - have no medical insurance at all.

    The need for action is urgent.

    Governments and international institutions have been unable and/or unwilling to take that urgent action.

    We must therefore take action ourselves.

    Injustice and Poverty

    We have referred above to the three watershed revolutions occurring at this time: the Information Revolution, the Biotechnology Revolution and the Quantum Revolution. These revolutions which have already brought substantial benefits and promise many more in the future, should be shared by everyone on the planet. Benefits must not be allowed to be placed in jeopardy or delayed by economic, social and political mismanagement.

    Arrangements are therefore needed so that all the people from all regions may exchange ideas and so that, for example, the gap arising from shortfalls in private investment may be filled by moving substantial public investment into areas where the need is great and where it can provide a major stimulus for national economies and for the world economy as a whole.

    As always, timing is vital. Therefore, it is crucial that public investment, expanded nationally and internationally, be planned and implemented as a matter of the greatest urgency.

    In this way, not only will a severe and possibly catastrophic downturn in the world economy be moderated, but the poverty and injustice that have plagued and continue to plague the world will also be moderated and, in the longer term we hope, eliminated, so that all, and not just select groups, may enjoy the benefits of scientific and technological progress.

    This is a huge task whose accomplishment should be in the hands of all those people who can fairly expect to benefit from it, from whatever place in their economy or society they may come.

    Pledges for Victory against Want

    All communities will derive benefit from recovery of the world economy. But the further objective is to re-launch the world economy and that contemplates setting in motion a major campaign whereby the rich may help the poor and, in so doing, promote their own well-being as well as benefitting those they help.

    Accordingly, Victory over Want contemplates that the richer countries, such as those in North America and Western Europe, will pledge themselves to finance the eradication of want in their own countries and help eradicate poverty, homelessness, disease and the rest in the poorer countries.

    Those pledges may be made both by private individuals, companies and associations and by governments and other public agencies. Pledges may be expressed in financial terms but should not consist of simple financial transfers but of real resources to be brought together to achieve rapid and substantial expansion of public investment.

    A process is contemplated along the lines of that used to implement the Marshall Plan in Europe after World War Two. VOW has in mind that the Marshall Plan, operating through the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation, brought substantial benefits to the Americans who pledged funds, as well as to the war-devastated countries who were the recipients of American aid.

    VOW contemplates therefore that a body will be set up similar to OEEC which, however, will take account of the more diverse character of the world economies, societies and political entities operating within it.

    Contributors of resources will formulate practical programs for the elimination of poverty, homelessness, disease and other specific ills, in close working cooperation with a particular country or region. Each contributor will then make its direct investment in that countryıs or regionıs agreed program. The resources contributed in terms of goods and services will be integrated with those of the recipient to boost productivity and production for the market and, through the market, to confer economic and social benefit on the community.

    In his lecture of 29 December 2001, President Clinton told us that "we're spending - America - about a billion dollars a month in Afghanistan; that's as cheap as a war gets....For twelve billion dollars a year, we can pay America's share of all those initiatives I just mentioned [in education, health, economic development, the environment and elimination of poverty] and have money left over. So I urge you to think about that."

    A World Conference

    To achieve VOWıs purposes and to act quickly, a World Conference will be convened as quickly as logistics permit. It will aim at comprehensive representation of individuals, societies and groups as well as those governments wishing to participate.

    While VOW hopes that all governments will accept its invitation, the Conference will proceed even though some governments, including some from the larger and/or richer countries, may decline to be represented or to offer support.

    International organisations will also be invited to attend. These will include the United Nations, the World Bank and Fund, WHO, UNESCO, the International Refugee Organisation, the Commission for Human Rights and others.

    Non-governmental organisations will also be invited so as to enable a free exchange of views and productive debate in a fully representative, secure and egalitarian environment.

    That environment will ensure in particular that those who have expressed views divergent from mainstream policies will be able to participate on equal terms in exchange of views and formulation of conclusions of the World Conference.

    Commissions will be set up, representative of all regions and peoples at all stages of development, to prepare the agenda and discussion papers and formulate recommendations on participation so as to produce a wide and convincing expression of views and a democratic formulation of Conference conclusions.

    These preparatory bodies will include, for example -

    • A Commission on Economic Growth and Employment
    • A Commission on Wealth, Income and Inequality
    • A Commission on Mobilising Financial Resources in the War against Want
    • A Commission on Financial and Other Pledges for the War against Want
    • A Commission on Priority Destinations for Public Investment
    • A Commission on Housing the Homeless
    • A Commission on Free, Universal Education
    • A Commission on Free, Universal Health Care
    • A Commission on Water Resources
    • A Commission on Rights of Economic Migrants and Asylum Seekers and Regulation of Economic, Social and Political Migration
    • A Commission on Logistics for the World Conference on VOW
    • A Commission on Conference Participation and Issue of Invitations

    A Convenor will be appointed for each Commission to draft an issues-and-options paper and bring together a small group of up to six members to complete and submit the paper to the full Commission of twenty members. Preparatory groups and Commissions will balance membership among regions, as well as among developing/developed, radical/mainstream and non-government/government participants. Each Commission will submit its conclusions and recommendations to the Plenary of the World Conference for adoption. p> The preparatory groups will meet at sites selected by each Convenor. Immediately before and during the World Conference, the Commissions will meet at the site of the Conference.

    Before consideration and adoption of Commission recommendations, the Plenary of the World Conference will hear theme statements from distinguished representatives from around the world. These statements, by non-government as well as by some government representatives, will reflect a wide spread of opinion on a variety of issues. The theme statements will be included in the documentation to be distributed worldwide, in print and electronic form, at the conclusion of the Conference.

    Site of World Conference

    The World Conference for Victory over Want will be held at a location that does not evoke recollections of meetings and institutions, such as the Group of Seven and the IMF, which have failed or fallen short in the past.

    The World Conference will also avoid the institutional and intellectual rigidities and may appraise critically the philosophical orientation of international institutions. The participation of the latter will offer them an opportunity to contribute to but not dominate or unduly influence the proceedings or outcome of the Conference.

    In other words, the Conference is designed to enable fresh minds to take a fresh look at issues and make a fresh start in dealing with them. It must be free of the ideological and narcissistic drag of traditional bureaucracies, political parties and international institutions.

    At the same time, the Conference must be held at a location that can accommodate one of the worldıs most inclusive and significant gatherings. It must be able to conduct its business efficiently and in security.

    We already have in mind a location which meets these criteria. Its identity will be conveyed as arrangements proceed.

    The Conference will look towards the establishment of a permanent organisation for Victory over Want. The headquarters of the organisation and its constitution will be determined by the Conference.

    Administration

    In the interests of speed and efficiency, administration will be in the hands of the initiator* of VOW in the initial stages. Functions will be delegated as programs develop and offers of assistance are received, especially in anticipation of appointments to the Preparatory Groups planned for early 2002.

    Expressions of Support

    Expressions of support for VOW are welcome and will be sought actively from individuals, associations, institutions and other entities from all around the world. We anticipate bringing together a comprehensively diverse body of those who support peaceful democratic change and enhanced human wellbeing.

    Support may take the form of broad moral approval or may focus on a particular aspect of the VOW program, such as health, education or economic stability and growth.

    VOW looks to this moral endorsement as the most precious element in ensuring its success. However, those who wish to volunteer their time and expertise are encouraged to advise their specific offers which will be taken up, to the extent practicable, by the relevant Commissions or in other appropriate ways, as programs develop.

    No financial obligations are involved in offering moral or time-and-expertise support. However, those who wish may contribute to expenses (see below).

    Expressions of support may be made by e-mail, at the VOW website when it is set up or to the postal address in Vienna (again, see below under Subscriptions).

    Subscriptions

    Costs will be kept to a minimum. We plan that participants, including governments, will pay their own way to the World Conference and, where possible, contribute to the cost of Conference facilities and other VOW activities.

    However, we do not want to exclude from the Conference or other VOW activities, such as the work of the preparatory groups or the Commissions, any participants solely on the grounds that they lack funding. Indeed, we regard it as vitally important that those to whom an adequate forum has been denied in the past should now be admitted to such a forum and be enabled to express their views freely and without any restraint imposed by financial exigencies.

    Administration, office and other costs, such as travel, publicity, preparation of issues-and-options papers, issue of invitations and other expenditures, will also require funding.

    Contributions on a wholly voluntary basis, from private individuals, associations and endowments, as well as from more official sources, will therefore be welcome and may be made to Account No. BLZ14000 05410-923-558 with the Bank für Arbeit und Wirtschaft (BAWAG), at Rennweg 1, 1030 Vienna, Austria. The postal address for correspondence and contributions is VOW, Veithgasse 6, 1030 Vienna, Austria.



    * The initiator is Dr James Cumes, former Australian Ambassador and High Commissioner, former First Assistant Secretary of the Economic and International Organisations Divisions of the Australian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Permanent Representative to the United Nations and UNIDO Vienna, Governor on the Board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Representative at United Nations and many other international gatherings around the world. Author of several books on economics, government, history and behavioural psychology/philosophy.