London’s famous Ritz Hotel boarded its windows, construction sites were cleared of rubble and bankers were warned to stay home. The event was the April 2009 meeting of the Group of 20, and no effort was spared to protect the visiting dignitaries — and financial district — from demonstrations by anti- globalization protesters determined to get their message across to a global audience.
While protesters stormed the barricades, some smashing bank windows and attacking police, the world leaders worked to devise a trillion-dollar stimulus package for the battered global economy. But for American international activist Laurence J. Brahm, the best action they could have taken would have been to pull the plug on the whole system.
“People worldwide have had enough of the Washington Consensus, with its combined neoliberal economics and neoconservative politics,” he writes in “The Anti-Globalization Breakfast Club.” Instead, Brahm argues that “our world [must] move from its current era of violence driven by greed, shortsightedness and frustration, into a new era of peace, respect for the environment and human dignity.”
Originally conceived as a set of policy prescriptions to help Latin America recover from the economic crisis of the 1980s, the so-called Washington Consensus is said to have become a “market fundamentalist” agenda shared by Washington-based institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the U.S. Treasury Department.
This is the main but not the only target of Brahm’s book, in which he argues he is not anti-globalization but instead part of a “global justice movement.” Reflecting the author’s lifestyle changes, the book marks a major departure from his earlier works, which include texts on business in China and a fawning biography of former Premier Zhu Rongji.
After a successful career as a China business negotiator and commercial lawyer for nearly two decades, Brahm reached an epiphany in the Himalayan peaks, moving to Lhasa, Tibet, in 2005, to set up the Shambhala Foundation in support of ethnic diversity and culturally sustainable development.
Despite praising the rapid economic development that has seen millions of Chinese escape poverty — ironically aided by the rise of globalization — Brahm appears to have lost faith in the Chinese miracle, criticizing the country’s “materialist, consumption-driven values.”
Brahm’s response to these values and the Washington Consensus is the Himalayan Consensus, which draws on the region’s indigenous philosophies such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. Its main principles are an end to economic fundamentalism and adoption of indigenous solutions; social interaction without violence and equality; and that every country has the right to self-determination.
The last principle is particularly interesting, given Brahm’s residence in Lhasa. Perhaps due to his work as a negotiator between the Dalai Lama and Beijing, he ignores the issue of Tibetan independence and also the corrupt, undemocratic nature of many regional governments.
A former adviser to the socialist states of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia on their market-oriented reforms, in addition to China, Brahm has little positive to say about the so-called “cookie-cutter” solutions of the IMF and World Bank, while he slams the World Trade Organization for working in the interests of the richer nations.
On a more positive note, Brahm devotes a chapter to Muhammad Yunus, in whose development of micro-credit loans for the poor he sees an “Asian-initiated model for sustainable development that could provide an alternative to the Washington model.”
It is easy to dismiss the author’s idealism, and the many motherhood statements invite criticism for a lack of substance and concrete examples. But there are some valid points, including the need for the developed world to open its markets to the farm products of the less developed countries, the need for environmentally sensitive development in China and India, and how economic growth is not the be-all and end-all of human existence.
Japan trod its own path to industrialization and there are few new lessons in the book for this country, apart, perhaps, from the need to support sustainable development in the region through such mechanisms as the purchase of carbon credits.
Subtitled “Manifesto for a Peaceful Revolution,” it can only be hoped that this work inspires the anti-globalization movement to seek a peaceful alternative, like Brahm’s desired Buddhist paradise of Shangri La.