Summary Report of the World Financial and Economic Crisis Conference (Paper) held 24-26 June 2009

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To: IU ExCom and IU UN NGO Representatives
From: Alanna Hartzok
Date: July 29, 2009
Re: Summary Report of the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development held 24-26 June at UN headquarters in New York.
Included in this report:
Conference Overview and Highlights
Reports from Hal Friedman and Teckla Negga
Report on Alanna and Quisia Gonzalez activities.
Proposed follow-up.
Other documents accompanying this report attached:
UN General Assembly President Miquel D'Escoto’s Opening General Assembly Address
UN General Assembly President Miquel D'Escoto’s Speech to NGOs June 2009.
Pres. Correa of Ecuador Finance Crisis Speech news stories.
Extracts from Stiglitz Com. Financial Crisis document.
AP Summary Story Financial Crisis Conference by Edith M. Lederer.

The World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development was held 24-26 June at UN headquarters in New York. Participating were more IU UN NGO representatives than at any previous conference. Hal Friedman attended the first day; George Collins for two days; and Quisia Gonzalez, Teckla Negga and Alanna Hartzok were there all three days. They had many significant one-on-one conversations, gave short but substantive input, asked penetrating questions at several sessions, and distributed hundreds of attractive large postcards on Land Rights and Land Value Capture that listed several Georgist resources and succinctly described our economic policy approach.

UN General Assembly President Miquel d’Escoto Brockmann, in his June 1 communication announcing that the conference would be rescheduled from earlier in June to the later dates, stated:
“…the June Conference will be an opportunity to launch a truly inclusive process on the global economic crisis, focused on the proposals for lines of action presented by the President of the General Assembly to the Conference, and should provide impetus to moving forward together to avert what portends to be a great human tragedy.”
Official UN documents reveal little of what went on behind the scenes before the beginning of this conference. NGOs are less constrained in their capacity to state what they observe. Ingrid Srinath, the Secretary General UN NGO CIVICUS – the World Alliance for Citizen Participation – said in her 19 June communication in answer to the question “Whose crisis is it anyway? that
“… one issue is at the heart of the debate: who has the right to determine our collective responses to the financial and economic crisis? Is it the UN, the most broadly multilateral forum currently available, or entities like the G20, a handpicked group of the most powerful economies, accountable to nobody except themselves? Ever since the conference was first proposed, a small group of countries has sought to derail it. A number of hurdles have been raised since late last year when the President of the General Assembly first mooted the idea. At first the necessity for such a meeting was challenged, then its scope was sought to be limited. Process issues were raised around the first draft outcome document and the President of the GA made the target of personal attacks. Finally, an attempt has been launched to limit the meeting to a one-off event with no follow-up mechanisms and any references to a UN entity with responsibility for global economic oversight have been blocked.”

This conference would not have occurred without the shear determination, courage and persistence of GA President d’Escoto, described in several press stories as “a Roman Catholic priest from Nicaragua with openly leftist views.” Although the GA is by far the most democratic body of the UN where all UN member states have a voice, since the formation of the UN it has been the Security Council, with representatives of the countries that won WW II, which have held the reins of power at the UN. Considering the obstacles put up by elites accustomed to getting their way, the fact that the GA did in fact convene this conference is a breakthrough in global governance.

President d’Escoto is a Maryknoll priest and founder of Maryknoll’s Orbis books, publisher of Ownership: Early Christian Teachings by Charles Avila. The introduction to this powerful volume gives to Henry George the honor of being the political economist whose ideas align most closely to the original Christian teachings on land justice. We can view d’Escoto as being attuned to liberation theology and his deep earth centered spirituality shone throughout his opening speech of the conference.
D’Escoto’s Opening Session Address begins by recognizing that “We are citizens of different nations, and the same time, we are citizens of the planet; we all have multiple and interdependent relationships with each other…. It is neither human nor responsible to build a Noah’s Ark only to save the existing economic system, leaving the vast majority of humanity to their fate and to suffer the negative effects of a system imposed by an irresponsible but powerful minority. We must take decisions that affect us all collectively to the greatest extent possible including the broad community of life and our common home, Mother Earth.”
Under the “Mother Earth and Global Ethics” section of his speech, d’Escoto says: “A new ethic assumes a new way of seeing. In other words, a different vision of the world also creates a different ethic, a new way for us to relate. The viewpoint that comes to us from the so-called earth sciences, that the Earth is contained within a vast, complex and evolving cosmos, must be incorporated. This Mother Earth, the term approved by the General Assembly this past 22 April, is alive…. She produces a unique community of life from which the community of human life – humanity -- emerged, as the aware and intelligent part of the Earth herself. This contemporary concept agrees with the ancestral vision of humanity and of the native peoples for whom the Earth always was and is venerated as Mother, Magna Mater, Inana, Tonantzin, as the Nahuatl of my country, Nicaragua, call it, or Pacha Mama, as the Aymaras in Bolivia name it. There is a growing awareness that we are all sons and daughter of Earth and that we belong to her.”

Under the “Axioms of an Ethics of the Common Good” section he continues: “What are the fundamental goods that constitute the common good of humanity and the Earth? The first is undoubtedly the Earth itself. Who does the Earth belong to? The Earth belongs, not to the powerful who appripriate its goods and services, but to all the ecosystems that make up the whole. It is a gift of the universe that arose out of our Milky Way from an ancestral sun….”

D’Escoto said that the Earth’s biosphere, the water, oceans and forests “belong to the common good of humanity and the Earth….But the greatest common good of humanity and the Earth is humanity as a whole.”
The outline of the sections of his speech on “Strategies for Overcoming the Crisis” and “Fundamental Ethical Principles” is found in Hal Friedman’s report.
In his concluding section, “This is Not a Tragedy But a Crisis,” d’Escoto says: “As we all have our origin in the heart of the great red stars where the elements that form us were forged, it is clear that we were born to shine our light and not to suffer. And we will shine our light again – that is my strong expectation – in a planetary civiliation which is more respectful of Mother Earth, more inclusive of all people and with more solidarity with the poorest, which is more spiritual and full of reverence for the splendour of the universe and which is much happier.”
While as might be expected, some commentators found the speech to be “too flowery”, I concur with Hal and share his experience that this was one of the most inspiring and enlightened speeches I have ever heard, certainly at the UN, and that it sets the stage for a global introduction to Georgist earth-centered economics. Full version of the speech is attached.
Lastly, regarding d’Escoto, it should be noted that he was in the plane when ousted Honduran President Herrera made the attempt to enter Honduras to take back his presidency, this just a day or two after the UN Financial Crisis ended.
President Rafael Correa of Ecuador gave a dynamic and stirring speech at a plenary session of this conference. When he said he would like the IMF to disappear he received a standing ovation. Correa is firmly in the camp of the Latin American countries breaking away from the Washington Consensus. He told us how several Latin American countries are distancing themselves from the IFIs (International Financial Institutions) and forming their own Bank of the South and regional trading block. Correa presented a clear vision of some of the proactive steps that developing countries can take to become economically sovereign and autonomous and out from under the control of the super power of the North. Media articles about Correa’s speech attached. It caused quite a stir in the lesser developed countries.
Appointed by d’Escoto, Joseph Stiglitz, professor of economics at Columbia University, chairs the Commission of Experts on reforms of the international monetary and financial system. Here are statements of interest to Georgists from the Stiglitz Commission paper on the Global Financial Crisis, which was the main output document of the June 2009 UN conference by that name:
“There have also been suggestions to auction global natural resources – such as ocean fishing rights and pollution emission permits – for global environmental programs…. Some suggestions aim at both raising funds for global objectives and mitigating a negative externality at the global. Two suggestions deserve special attention: a carbon tax and a levy on financial transactions.”
Stiglitz article titled “UN conference Agreement Seeks to Tackle Economic Crisis” (July 06, 2009) page nine states the following:
“The most sensitive issue touched upon by the UN conference - too sensitive to be discussed at the G20 – was reform of the global reserve system…. Not surprisingly, the US, which benefits by getting trillions of dollars of loans from developing countries – now at almost no interest – was not enthusiastic about the discussion. But whether the US likes it or not, the dollar reserve system is fraying…. On the last day of the conference, as the US was expressing its reservations about even discussing at the UN this issue which affects all countries’ well being, China was once again reiterating that the time had come to begin working on a global reserve currency. Since a country’s currency can be a reserve currency only if others are willing to accept it as such, time may be running out for the dollar….
(Stiglitz cont.) Emblematic of the difference between the UN and the G20 conferences was the discussion of bank secrecy: whereas the G20 focused on tax evasion, the UN conference addressed corruption, too, which some experts contend gives rise to outflows from some of the poorest countries that are greater than the foreign assistance they receive…. The UN, not withstanding all of its flaws, is the one inclusive international institution. This UN conference, like an earlier one on financing for developing countries, demonstrated the key role that the UN must play in any global discussion about reforming the global financial and economic system.”
From UN Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs (ECOSOC) Background Note on The Global Financial and Economic Crisis, Its Impact on Development, and How the World Should Respond, March 2009, we find this statement on page 10:
“Apart from deep reforms of existing regulatory frameworks, strengthened internatonal tax cooperation should form a critical element of a more effective global system of financial regulation. The establishment of an international mechanism for sovereign debt restructuring and relief is also urgently needed. While urgent, it should be stressed that financial reform will only be part of the solution. It would be a mistake to limit attention to “fix” the financial markets, as these cannot be repaired fully as long as there are deeper problems in the global economy.”

Hal Friedman’s Report
I was only able to attend one day of the Conference but it was worth it since I heard the leadoff speech by General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto. His speech called for "earth-centric ethics". D'escoto believes that humans can't be seen as apart from the Earth. Rather, human energy makes up the self-conscious "intelligent" part of the biosphere.
D'Escoto broke down global ethics into three aspects:
1. Safeguarding our heritage.
2. Sharing assets-not privately appropriated.
3. Resources are freely given by nature to all, sound positively Georgian!
From this, he derived 4 principles:
1. Respect
2. Care
3. Universal responsibility.
4. Cooperation.
D'Escoto insisted that the financial crisis need not be a tragedy. The crisis can purify us, mature us. The pain of the crisis are birth pangs, not the agony of death. D'escoto said that this possible new earth civilization has five pillars:
1. Sustainable responsible use of natural resources-no more consuming 40% more energy and resources than can be renewed.
2. Give the economy its rightful place-adopt the recovery concept-no eco-banditry.
3. Spread democracy-not just to political systems but throughout the economy and cultural institutions.
4. More cultural exchanges and partnerships.
5. Empower a spiritual vision of the world.
He concluded with the statement that human beings were born to shine, not suffer. Humanity could be the splendor of the universe if it could move beyond selfish attitudes.
This was one of the most inspiring speeches I've ever heard. My extremely brief summary does not do it justice. I recommend everyone read the speech.
(attached with this report and also on UN website.)
The rest of the day was spent hearing more speeches, mostly from delegates from Third World countries who sounded common themes of they're not being responsible for the financial crisis but they were the ones who were suffering the most.
Representative of these speeches was the one given by the economics minister of Belize who said his country was caught in a vice of lower commodity prices, lower tourism revenues, declines in remittances sent in by emigrants working in developed countries and a drop in foreign aid.  Poor countries like Belize can't employ Keynesian policies as developed countries can to mitigate the crisis because they do not have the financial resources. They need foreign help. He called for international agencies like the IMF to expand their missions beyond currency stabilization to helping poor countries deal with the crisis. More international public banks like the World Bank are needed.  
The minister also called for more powerful international regulatory agencies so as to prevent a similar crisis from happening again. The IMF now warns poor countries when they are acting to destabilize their currencies, but it does not monitor, let alone warn, developed countries whose economic actors are causing much more consequential economic disruption. In general, private resources have proven inadequate to fund development; more must come from international public agencies. More action, less talk. 
I would have liked to have heard from a delegate from the US responding to these issues. I would be hopeful that such a response would be markedly different from the one that would have been given by the last Administration.
All in all, it was quite interesting and I regret I was not able to attend the rest of the conference.
(end of Hal Friedman report)

From Teckla Negga: I was most productive and made quite a few contacts.  It is rather unfortunate I will not be in Geneva in early July as I would have liked to continue discussions with some of the delegates and officials that expressed interest in Georgist paradigms.  Nevertheless, I have some ideas as to how to present the IUs’ position and will work out a formal presentation.  I will make contact with HQ in London  and you, when I am close to the final draft for direction and suggestions.  Although there was a bit of scepticism expressed by some of the attendees at first, and the words utopic and incomplete came up, the absolute rejection of the status quo was unanimous. 
It is unfortunate that a global collapse is the means by which the Georgist doctrine may be considered! Anyway, as it has been said before: “If not now when? And, if not us who?”
(end from Teckla, noting that she will write more at a later date.)
Quisia and I attended several side events including Urban Ecology and Land Teure sponsored by UNHABITAT NGO Committee on Human Settlements; Commission of Experts of the President of the UN General Assembly on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System – Dialogue with Civil Society; Peoples Rights Not Corporate Profits; and Reaching the MDGs amidst a Financial and Economic Crisis moderated by Bernice Romero, Advocacy Director, Oxfam International.
We met with officials at the Nicaraguan and Honduran Missions to the UN (this just the morning after the Honduran coup d’etat, the staff was late and frazzled and note, we did not schedule these meetings, just dropped into their offices) and paid a visit to the UN HABITAT New York office to leave our Land Rights and Land Value Capture postcard and pick up some of their literature.
We also attended an interesting press conference with NGO leaders who had been closely following the preparations for the conference as well as the proceedings. Gemma Adaba, NGO rep. for the International Trade Union Confederation, said that the Stiglitiz Commission paper was good on description of the financial crisis, but the solutions proposed had been diluted considerably during the UN document consensus proceedings and she and the others stated their disappointment with the results.
During several of these sessions we made substantive short statements during the Q and A periods, including a question to Stiglitz about resource rent as an innovative source of financing development. He pointed out the statements from his 134 page Commission report (previously noted) in response.
I think it is fair to say that the Stiglitz Commission is just nibbling at the edge of both the root cause of the global financial crisis and our key policy approach to its solution. In a 2001 interview with Gregory Palast, a writer for The Observer (London), Stiglitz described in detail the four-step plan used by the international banking institutions to extract wealth from around the world. In his view the process leads to financial barbarism, pillage, and plunder and has resulted in immense suffering, starvation and destruction. “It has condemned people to death,” he said. When Palast asked this former World Bank Chief Economist and Nobel Prize winning economist what he would do to help developing nations, Stiglitz proposed radical land reform and an attack at the heart of “landlordism,” including excessive rents charged by propertied oligarchies worldwide. When Palast asked why the Bank didn’t follow his advice, Stiglitz answered that challenging the elites’ property rights in land was a threat to their power. “That’s not high on their agenda,” he said, according to Palast. However, despite several approaches to Stiglitz by Georgists, we have not yet succeeded in getting him to grasp the full picture of the land problem and what to do about it.
Several of our IU UN NGO reps reported significant conversations with individuals of high rank within the world community. My favourite was a brief but exchange with Mauricio Escanero, Advisor, Vice-Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Mexico. Escanero chaired the Financing for Development global conference in Monterey, Mexico a few years ago. Pat Aller and I and at one point Tatiana had participated in the prepcoms for this, and Jeffrey Smith led an NGO event in Monterey. Quisia and I heard Escanero speak at a side event during this Financial Crisis conference during which he said that the global financial crisis was very complex, would take a generation to resolve, and he was thankful for small positive steps. After he listened carefully to my short one-on-one presentation to him at the Vienna Café (the UN downstairs café) about land rights and land value capture policy, he stood up, put his hand on his heart, bowed to me and said “Thank you so very much.” For my part, it was a miracle to have had this coincidental opportunity to talk to him.
Proposed follow up:
If the other four – Hal, George, Quisia, and Teckla – who attended the conference would like to add more to this report, that would be most welcome. Just send your statement to me and I will forward to the IU ExCom and other NGO reps.
I have made a copy of a number of business cards from the conference and will be sending this to Ole along with UN world liason offices contact info. If others of you have business cards, please copy and send them to Ole as well as to me thank you, or to me to send to Ole.
I suggest that each of us who participated in the Financial Crisis Conference also think about our own individual next steps and state those intentions to the rest of us. I will follow up with email, phone, and/or information packets to several people that I met including Beverly Keene, International Coordinator for Jubilee South based in Buenas Aires, as well as to other organizational leaders whose contact information is on documents that were at the conference. Quisia intends to arrange a meeting with Gemma Adaba, rep for the Intl. Trade Union Confederation. She is also keeping abreast of the situation in Honduras, her country of origin.
Your comments or questions on this report are welcome. Note the several other items attached as Addendum to this report.
Last but not least, recognition and appreciation goes to Ole Lefmann for all of his registration and other logistics support necessary for our attendance at this important conference.
End of Summary Report.

 

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