Another World is Possible: Thoughts from the World Social Forum

I attended the World Social Forum in Mumbai in January 2004. It became clear to me during the five days of the WSF that there is a common theme underlying many of concerns and campaigns that make up the anti-globalisation movement. There is anxiety that globalisation entails the rolling back of the boundaries of the state, to the benefit of business; and that businesses now enjoy political power which is too great.

The critiques of privatisation, public private partnerships, liberalisation, intellectual property and patents and trade liberalisation all have at their heart a sense of disquiet that the balance of power between the state and business is tilting in favour of business and away from the citizen.

Most of all, however, I came away feeling challenged and energised in roughly equal measure.

I am immensely fortunate to have a job in which I have the opportunity to think about these issues, and make some contribution to their solution.

You can read a full account here.

Published by Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and

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1 Comment

  1. An extremely interesting account (well, I would say that, wouldn’t I?). How to give the poor (poor countries, the poor within countries — including the poor within rich countries?) greater political power to enable them to enjoy a fairer share of resources and the means to influence the distribution of resources looks to me a daunting challenge. It’s almost against nature for the powerful voluntarily to give away some of their power in what is effectively a zero sum game. Yet by definition the less powerful have few means of forcing the more powerful to act against their own interests, or what they perceive, perhaps rightly, as being against their short-term interests.

    In the same way, it’s difficult to see how anyone can arrest and reverse the steady growth of the power of business at the expense of the supervisory and regulatory power of democratic governments and the citizens whom they represent. On a very trivial level, we are all, I suspect, increasingly angered and frustrated by the rapidly growing difficulty of establishing meaningful contact with big companies, especially when the company concerned has acted incompetently or even dishonestly. Increasingly companies try to conceal their postal and e-mail addresses and telephone numbers, apart from (often fantastically expensive) premium charge numbers to call centres pretending to provide “customer services” but who are in practice unable to rectify the company’s negligent mistakes or even to put the customer in touch with someone who can. Call centres and accounts offices and company headquarters and technical departments all seem to be situated in different parts of the country, using different uncoordinated databases, unable to communicate with each other. It is virtually impossible to get to speak to the same person twice about any problem. None of the staff possess surnames, or if they do, they are kept secret. Their managers are never available to speak to you, and even if they promise to call you back, they never do. Ordinary people’s rage at being fobbed off in this way is aggravated by many major companies’ extraordinary incompetence in handling even the simplest transactions and by the rapacious greed of their top executives and directors in awarding each other grotesque rewards. You don’t have to be poor to feel utterly and humiliatingly powerless in the face of these faceless and arrogant behemoths. How do we get our own power back, still less share some of it with the truly poor of the world? Blessed if I know!

    B.
    27 Jan 04

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