Thursday, July 17, 2008

the Age of Consent - A Manifesto For a New World Order

by George Monbiot
Flamingo 2003

A couple of paragraphs into this book and my mind was reeling. I found myself repeatedly checking the cover details, amazed to be holding a Harper Collins imprint. It seems someone at least is still publishing some truly outrageous writing. After all, it's not everyday you read something that consciously claims to be a manifesto.

Monbiot writes like he is holding a lecture, constructing a rambling discourse that leaps from subject to subject. Consequently it's very inspiring, and the first couple of chapters are extremely seductive, hitting a lot of key notes highly attractive to anarchists. For example, he suggests that mankind is on the verge of a “mutation” from whence it will begin to see itself as a species. The people of the world will begin to have influence over global affairs. The new age he proposes, will not be an age of coercion, but an age of consent (no it has nothing to do with sex).

The governance of this world will be principally democratic, rather than socialist or anarcho-syndicalist. To Monbiot, democracy is the “least worst system”. Strategies of reform, or “thinking local” will not suffice. What is required is the first world democratic revolution.

He then goes on to describe the functioning of the United Nations, and details the many failures of the current model. It must be scrapped and replaced by a World Parliament, the first election of which will cost in the vicinity of five billion dollars. He goes into some details about the formation of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and shows how they are inherently flawed. He proposes they are replaced by an “International Clearing Union”, something devised by economist Martin Keynes at the end of World War Two. In order to establish such a system, the third world will hold the rich world to ransom by simultaneously refusing to pay their debts. The massive debts they have accrued under the current system amount to over two trillion dollars, and defaulting on these payments would cause the collapse of every economy in the world.

After this Monbiot loses his way somewhat. He defends international trade, which has allowed many poor countries to develop to the point where they can fend for themselves. Localization will not work he says, what poor countries require is the right to protect their own economies. Preserving this right will be a “Fair Trade Organization”. He neglects to explain how such a thing might be created, or in what way it would be less corruptible than the World Trade Organization. One day he hopes the economies of the world will be governed by the principle of “demurrage”, which means that liquid capital will be subject to a negative interest rate, hence encouraging preservation of real resources. He concludes by reiterating some of his earlier points and demands action, finishing with the words: “Well? What are you waiting for?”.

There are several obvious points that I felt Monbiot failed to address. For example, the poorest people of the earth probably lack access to the advances in communication that might facilitate a global election. Monbiot also seems curiously blind to his own hypocrisies. While happily criticizing the plans of other dreamers, he doesn't explain why his own models are any less flawed, or less likely to be subverted.

His off-the-cuff writing style might also serve to alienate some readers. I was forced to question his use of bizarre metaphors, such as his likening of  international corporations to omnivorous animals moving from tree to tree. Citing Houllebecq's “Atomised” (a literary novel), as inspiration also seemed a little bit weird. Maybe an abridged version of this manifesto should be distributed.

Ultimately however, the positive elements of the book win through. I suspect that to the radically minded, many of these ideas will sound downright glorious. It's also a great introduction to the current functioning of the UN, IMF and WTO, for those who usually find these bodies too complex to understand. The Age of Consent is great. Give it a read.

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