Occupying the World
by Bhaskar Menon on 25 Mar 2013 6 Comments

Small elite groups dominate the world because they have the economic and political power that comes from an unmatched capacity to raise and spend vast amounts of money. The institutional centre of that capacity is the profitable corporation, the primary vehicle of elite power over the last four centuries.

The 99% has a broad and vital range of collective interests, but no similar institution to focus and promote them coherently. As a result, it is always on the defensive, forced to protest negative developments after the fact.

The potential to change this situation has grown in recent years with the spread of information connectivity. It is now possible for individual activists and community groups to cooperate globally, but there is no institution yet to resolve the perennial issues of who will control the process, set priorities and aims, and decide on the scope of action. In addition, the question of how exactly we structure change to avoid major economic and social disruptions has remained largely unanswered. The proposal below addresses all those issues.


The Essential Requirements


There are a number of essential requirements in giving institutional coherence to the interests of the human majority.  


-     Direction and management must be decentralized to the community level at which people best understand issues and mobilize to meet them.


-      The narrowness of local approaches must meld into a promotion of collective interests and norms centered on a broadly liberal understanding of individual rights and democratic freedoms.


-   The mechanism of cooperation must have self-sustaining synergy: it must be driven by individual self-interest as is the corporation, while ensuring there is no damage to collective interests.


-        The mechanism must address the full range of issues affecting the welfare of communities.


-    It must be able to grow within the existing world economy, transforming its corporate-set patterns without disrupting employment or wealth creation. 

Such a mechanism would give democratic structure and content to the new social connectivity spreading around the world. It would undermine all oligarchic and tyrannical power structures, and set in place a democratic, non-bureaucratic system of global governance supportive of all forms of creativity, including – and especially – business.


-     Such a system can come to grips quickly with all global crises, for it can deal with them in their community-level manifestations and create a synergy spreading from the bottom up. The process would work beneficially for the same reason that MK Gandhi and Adam Smith believed respectively in a country of “village republics” and the free market: human beings are essentially good and, all things being equal, most will make morally correct decisions. (Smith was an early critique of the hugely corrupting effect of corporations on the free market.)


The Institution of the 99%


There is no existing institution that can serve as the vehicle for the interests of the human majority. To create one we would have to do the following:


-     Agree on a template for a community-level organization to be established by local activists and entrepreneurs running small and medium-level businesses. The template would include a Charter of Values and Aims establishing the democratic nature and purpose of the institution, which could be called the “Community Corporation (CC).” The template would allow CCs to be established in any economically viable community ranging from villages and small towns to neighborhoods in big cities. (In big cities, people could define their own “community,” which could be no more than a few blocks in size depending on where they shop.)


-    The Charter would provide for the organic growth of a CC network, with each local unit helping others get started. The aim would be to extend the network globally as rapidly as possible. The network would also have a corporate identity, and its management would be distributed in nodes that could most conveniently follow existing patterns of local, district, provincial and national governance. Beyond national borders, the network would follow existing arrangements for sub-regional and regional cooperation; globally, the networks would tie in with a reformed UN System (more on that below).


-        The mandate of all CCs and their online cooperative network (CCN) would be to protect and promote the full range of community interests. On the economic front, a primary aim would be to develop local and regional commerce with particular emphasis on patterns of boutique trade neglected by mega corporations. Local initiatives would follow a strategic framework overseen by the Network aimed at moving the world economy away from intercontinental exchanges of bulk commodities and mass produced items, towards regionalized trade. Intercontinental trade would be mainly in high value products and services that reflect the optimum use of local resources. This would bring back the concept of comparative advantage that mega corporations have destroyed with their cookie-cutter version of globalization.


-     Each CC would support socially beneficial activities and enterprises. Financing productive economic and social activity could increasingly devolve to systems that mobilize the enormous capital of the connected collective. This would accelerate wealth and job creation without initially reducing the contribution of mega corporations. As Big Business adapts to the new economic realities, the world economy could grow at unprecedented rates without creating inequalities or damaging ecosystems. In fact, the growth would correct social imbalances and heal environmental damage.


-    To ensure the flow of beneficial effects the CCN would promote education and technical assistance in support of community-level action to protect vulnerable sections of society and to conserve the global ecosystem. The process could create the synergy among creative initiatives that is now lacking. On the social front, the agenda of CC activities would include all matters of interest to members, including support for the disadvantaged, initiatives to ensure good quality affordable education, and help for those seeking employment.


-    The Network would be actively involved in providing a regular community-oriented news service run by professional journalists but open to input by all who want to contribute. The aim would be to provide a balanced coverage of all parts of the globe and covering all themes of interest to communities.


-      The economic, social and news services provided by each CC and the Network would make the system’s websites an important economic and social resource and attract a high volume of local traffic and generate revenue from advertising.


-        While remaining politically nonpartisan CCs and the Network would promote understanding of local, national and international issues. They would have an ongoing program of political education in collaboration with relevant academic institutions and non-governmental organizations. The aim would be to give people an honest assessment of all political issues affecting their lives. Every Community Corporation would arrange for space to allow “town-hall” type meetings and establish rules for their orderly conduct.


-    CCs would make arrangements to monitor local environmental trends, provide periodic reports and analytical studies when necessary. The reports could pass up the Network for consideration by district, provincial, national and international authorities, and bring back expert guidance and support. This could be the basis for a coordinated move to reform polluting industries or push them out of existence.


-     The CCN would be committed to the conversion of military industries to civilian purposes where possible, and failing that, their closure.


-   In democratic countries each CC would be committed to working with local security authorities to ensure maintenance of law and order. The Network would connect with national government security agencies and globally with the UN Security Council to get and respond to information on threats to national and international peace and security. In undemocratic countries, the creation of CCs and the growth of the CCN will exert a steady, peaceful pressure on ruling elites to democratize.


-        The CCN would pursue vigorously the goal of general and complete disarmament that has been a long-standing aim of peace activists and the declared intention of the United Nations. It would be guided by the principles and sequencing for that process set out in the General Assembly’s 1961 resolution affirming the US-Soviet McCloy-Zorin accords. The steps are as follows: (a) Disband armed forces, dismantle military establishments including bases, cease the production of armaments, liquidate or convert facilities to peaceful uses. (b) Eliminate all stockpiles of nuclear, chemical, bacteriological, and other weapons of mass destruction and cease the production of such weapons. (c) Eliminate all means of delivery of weapons of mass destruction. (d) Abolish the organization of, and institutions designed to organize, the military effort of States, cease military training, and close all military training institutions. (e) Discontinue military expenditures.


-        As disarmament progresses within a stable international order, the CCN would press for the public declaration of all information on security threats gathered by official intelligence agencies, enabling remedial action by the appropriate CCs and the Network. At some point the CCN would press for States to cease their clandestine collection of intelligence, and depend for information on the news media and other commercial services.


A New United Nations


The measures above would have major implications for the structure and functioning of the United Nations. While retaining its existing intergovernmental structures for policy-making and oversight functions the UN System would need to become the global hub of the CCN. That would radically change the agenda and procedures of the organization’s main organs:


-   The General Assembly would give up entirely the nitpicking negotiations on repetitive resolutions. Agreed initiatives would pass to the CCN and associated specialized networks responsible for implementation; periodic feedback would indicate the need for course corrections. As the deliberative hub of the entire United Nations system and of CCN, the Assembly could decide to receive reports as and when necessary (rather than annually), from the Security Council, ECOSOC, and all Specialized Agencies, including a redesigned World Bank and IMF. Decisions would pass immediately to the implementation stage through the CCN.


-        The work of the UN Secretariat would change radically. Instead of writing formal reports for discussion by diplomats, it would be engaged in writing reports for and responding to input from CCN. The Secretary-General’s Report on the Work of the Organization would be a Web product providing updates in real time on the implementation of UN resolutions.


-        As the hub of the CCN security service, the Security Council would coordinate disarmament action by governments and guide the way to the evolution of a global system sensitive to potential trouble and capable of effective response at all levels of the Network.


-        ECOSOC would be the global operational hub of the CCN, with the UN Country Offices and the Regional and Functional Commissions serving as intermediary hubs. The focus in all of ECOSOC’s subsidiary intergovernmental bodies would shift to problem solving through the relevant networks.


-        The Specialized Agencies would become thematic hubs to promote and guide cooperation through the CC Networks (reporting through ECOSOC to the General Assembly, as noted above).


This piece is distilled from the final chapter of “1001 Things Every Indian Should Know” and was written for an Indian audience. Hope to hear from interested readers at bhaskarpmenon@gmail.com

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