5: Subject: Monbiot's attack on localisation
This is a response by the Green Party Press officer to George Monbiot.
I'm writing this as someone who has always had tremendous respect for you and your work.
I feel your latest Guardian article severely misrepresents the Green Party and its views on localisation. In effect, the article gives a fundamentally
flawed description of the localisation concept, which portrays it as obviously stupid, and on that unreasonable basis criticises it.
This seems completely against the grain of just about everything I thought you'd ever stood for.
Your article starts to be misleading from the subheading onwards. You say: "Our aim should not be to abolish the World Trade Organisation, but to transform it". In the process of arguing this you condemn the concept of localisation, attack Colin Hines and single out the Green Party - yet the Green Party's report Time To Replace Globalisation - co-authored by Colin Hines - "challenges head on the idea that the choice before us is between WTO rules on one hand, or the chaos of no rules on the other".
Effectively, you've taken the idea that WE'VE been promoting for years, and used that idea to attack us.
I just searched our website for "WTO + reform" and it threw up 35 references. The first it found was this:
"24 October 2001
"REFORM OF WTO IS PRECONDITION FOR NEW ROUND, PARLIAMENT TOLD
"At a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg today (Weds) Green MEP
Caroline Lucas will insist that fundamental reform of the World Trade Organisation's processes and rules must be a precondition for any new round of trade negotiations that will demanded by the EU and US in November at Doha, Qatar."
And the policy the Green Party took into the 2001 general election included this:
"S12 In the long term, the WTO should be replaced with a more accountable, decentralised body, which aims to protect and enhance social and environmental conditions, and to develop strong self-reliant regions where individual communities meet more of their own needs.
"S13 In the medium term, WTO rules must take more account of social and ecological requirements, giving them precedence over the dubious benefits of free trade." (Global Justice, Not Globalisation,http://www.greenparty.org.uk/reports/2001/globalisation/global.html )
So you are not arguing for something new, but you are making false criticisms of people who said it before you did, as though they hadn't said it but had said something else.
In other words, having had a road to Damascus conversion, and eager to recant your sins, you're accusing others of things they haven't done.
Part of your confession is that "Our problem arises from the fact that, being a diverse movement, we have hesitated to describe precisely what we want." But in fact the Green Party has been describing what it wants, and offering people the chance to vote for it. Indeed the very first words of Time To Replace Globalisation (November 2001) are:
"For too long the debate surrounding economic globalisation has been dominated by its fervent apologists and by its equally fervent detractors. It is now time to move from opposition to proposition by setting out a detailed alternative to globalisation."
You say "We have called for fair trade" as though that's all we've called for. In fact the Green Party has been calling for far more than fair trade - for a holistic concept of Green economics based on social justice and ecological sustainability. Fair trade alone couldn't hope to bring either of those. As a briefing we published last year says:
"Localisation is about moving economies onto a sustainable footing, and the first step is to re-localise the production of staples, both North and South. That way, the South will not have to be exploited by the North when we want carrots, and exploited again when buying corn with the money that they got from selling us the carrots! When we localise a globalised food distribution system and assist the poor to achieve their own independence, then they will no longer need to try and flog us their food, because they'll be able to afford to keep it to eat themselves." (Matthew Wootton, Internationalism and Localisation - Not Globalisation,http://www.greenparty.org.uk/reports/2002/not_globalisation.htm .)
We simply do NOT argue for "a global cessation of most kinds of trade". We do envisage a kind of world economy in which there is less trade, simply because there is less pressure to trade. As our economics spokesperson Dr Molly Scott Cato says, "the real problem with trade is the loss of control over product. The further the distance between producer and consumer the more profits can be made - this is the explanation for globalisation. If you reunite producer and consumer through cooperatives organised at the local level you increase the value of the product going to the producer by cutting out the middle man. This is the real benefit of localisation."
To say that Green economics is comparable to the sanctions against Iraq is both highly inaccurate and, frankly, outrageous. Inaccurate because in a world of localised economies those sanctions could not have wreaked such havoc, because most of the things which were subject to the sanctions could have been produced locally (assuming a localised, sustainable economy to start with). Outrageous because you've just compared people who are strongly motivated by internationalism and social justice with the perpetrators of a more or less genocidal form of siege warfare which is merely euphemised "economic sanctions".
You describe the policy of economic localisation as "coercive, destructive and unjust".
How can it be "coercive" when it's based on the idea of empowering nations to be economically self-reliant in a fundamentally cooperative world? What on earth could be wrong with that?
Consider "destructive" in the context of climate change. You more or less acknowledge in your article that trade has massive external costs, not least the cost of climate change. But you go on to say that under localisation, poorer countries would have to export even more. Now this really is inexplicable. We are advocating a world of relatively balanced, relatively self-reliant economies. That ultimately means the poorer country manufacturing its own frying pans and computers and pencils, not selling corn to earn money to buy them from the rich countries. In other words, it means precisely the opposite of what you describe.
Perhaps you overlook the fact that in a Green economy there would be far less demand for raw materials anyway. The other major factor here is economies of scale. Whether one considers these just or unjust or merely a normal factor of capitalist economics, surely it's beyond dispute that production tends to centralise, and capital tends to flow to wherever costs are lowest. Hence globalisation's "race to the bottom". Even allowing for fair trade rules covering everything, companies will still want to move production to wherever it's cheapest - and this will still mean that goods tend to travel unnecessarily long distances (with all the resulting environmental impacts and external costs), and factories will keep shutting down in one place and reopening somewhere else (which means perpetual economic instability and, in practice, a requirement on at least a significant proportion of the workforce to be prepared to move anywhere to accept any job on offer, regardless of any ethical or environmental considerations - this is NOT freedom).
I'm amazed at your approach to "choosing their own path to development". Surely now we recognise that we all have responsibilities and that these must influence our choices? Surely it's not a good thing that people or nations could "choose" to make climate change worse? Yet the localisation concept would impose rules only to the extent that these were founded on solid arguments regarding minimising harm - which is surely the very basis of libertarian concepts of rules.
You've accused Colin of self-contradiction, but your own article contradicts itself too. You say that developing nations must be allowed "to follow the routes to development taken by the rich" - yet you would impose rules on them to ensure their "contractors were not employing slaves, using banned pesticides or exposing their workers to asbestos". That is, NOT following the way the rich countries made their money.
This leads me to think that (entirely uncharasterically) you haven't thought this one through. But you weren't merely airing doubts and challenging your own or other people's preconceptions here - on the basis that you've seen the light, you've attacked a lot of people who are on your side, not only implying that they're stupid but likening them to Bush in advocating coercive, destructive and unjust" policies.
I think that you have probably damaged the anti-globalisation movement considerably. Because you have greater access to the national media than we do, your argument has been heard and our counter-argument hasn't. Therefore you may well have knocked people's confidence in the Green Party. In fact you've given ammunition to the neoliberal spindoctors who talk about "making globalisation work for the poor" when their mission is really to make it work for the rich. I can just imagine their line: "Even the highly respected radical George Monbiot now admits the Green Party's policies are 'coercive, destructive and unjust'." I think we deserve better treatment than that.
Best wishes Spencer