Reforming institutions?
The 39th Letter of an Autonomous Thinker

Amsterdam, October 16 2003

Dear reader, 

I will use again some quotes from Joseph Stiglitz’ book about Globalisation. He makes sharp remarks but misses out on any solution. He still thinks you can convince leaders when you advance the right arguments.

He says on page 272 of the Penguin edition: "The most disappointing but least surprising response was from the IMF …… I thought my book might provoke them into a debate on the many issues I raised."
My dear Stiglitz – and with him all people who still believe that masspeople have some influence in our democracy – do read again what you wrote on page 247: "Of equal concern is what globalisation does to democracy. Globalisation, as it has been advocated, often seems to replace the old dictatorships of national elites with new dictatorships of international finance."

It can mean that in the Third World national elites (from war lords to oil sheikhs) are being replaced by stooges of Western financial powers. But I do not think that Stiglitz believes that this international financial dictatorship is restricted to Third World countries. In the home countries of the highest dictators, our countries, the elite has always been the decisive factor. It is now regaining control over the rest of the world. Globalisation restores the past when a few colonial powers controlled the world. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq prove that nothing has changed since the Dutch opened the markets of Indonesia in the 17th century. "When I saw the pictures of the signing of "agreements" I wondered how similar these scenes were to those marking the "opening up of Japan" by Admiral Perry’s gunboat diplomacy of the end of the Opium Wars or the surrender of the maharajas in India" (page 41).

All solutions Stiglitz proposes are based on quicksand and nothing can change fundamentally when the power of the financial elite is not curtailed. Nobody can believe that what is said in the next quote will help: "The most fundamental change that is required to make globalisation work in the way it should is a change in government. This entails, at the IMF and the World Bank, a change in voting rights ……" (page 226).
Again the belief in the beneficial possibilities of institutions as we also see on page 214: "Part of the problem lies with the international economic institutions, with the IMF, World Bank and WTO, which help set the rules of the game. They have done so in ways that, all too often, have served the interests of the more advanced industrialised countries – and particular interests within those countries."

Does Stiglitz really believe that the representatives in these institutions that look after the interests of the elite will step aside and give power to people (maybe people like Stiglitz) that promote the interests of the world’s poor? Stiglitz writes on the same page "Globalisation today is not working for many of the world’s poor." That will not change by a simple change of the voting rights in institutions (when this ever could be reached). Institutions only change when the people change who control them. When the "international bureaucrats – the faceless symbols of the world economic order" (page 3) come under direct control of people for whom these institutions should work.

About how the minds of leading people can be changed I have written more on my site. You may call it real democracy, direct democracy or which name whatsoever, I am convinced that fundamental changes only occur when the unequal division of power in the world changes. That can only happen when the living place of the powerful people at the top is directly invaded by masspeople, when elitepersons cannot anymore rule the world for their own benefit from the safe heaven that I call the eliteworld.

Yours truly, Joost van Steenis

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40. The road to the future
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