Great slogans usually involve three aspirations. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are inalienable rights according to the 1776 US Declaration of Independence. A few years later, the French people would execute their king and queen in the name of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. In 1917, millions of workers, peasants and soldiers joined the Russian Revolution with the much more pragmatic aims of “Peace, Bread and Land” ("measurable outcomes", according to fellow blogger Brian Keeley, who only reads OECD books).
No, I’m not going to expose myself to ridicule by suggesting in these personal comments that the OECD with its slogan of “Stronger, Cleaner, Fairer” should be up there with movements that changed history. Especially since in this final post from the Forum, I’d like to add a word that is missing from our trinity, but was strikingly evident in many of the sessions I covered: angrier.
Anger isn’t usually a feature of OECD meetings. We work by consensus. When there is disagreement, we try to find the best deal that everybody is prepared to implement.
But time and again at the Forum, participants from NGOs and trade unions voiced the opinion that there was something profoundly unjust about trillion dollar bailouts for the people who caused the crisis, but nothing for those who were paying the price in terms of lost jobs, lost homes, lost pensions.
A lot of the anger was directed against the financiers in OECD countries and the governments who helped them, but not all. Former ANC Chair Cobus de Swardt, now of Transparency International, was outraged by corruption in his native South Africa. He cited the case of a small community of 350 people where in one month, 7 babies aged under 3 died of malnutrition in hospital. Not because there was no money to treat them – the government had set aside a special budget. But because the money never got down to the local level.
Even the solutions being proposed were criticised. Talking about calls for greater transparency in financial markets, a Canadian trade unionist said “Workers are saying: last time we got screwed. This time we’re going to get screwed again, but it’ll be with transparency added”.
I hope the anger came as no surprise to the government and business leaders and representatives of international organisations, and that they’ll act on it. Otherwise, as many participants warned, we’re heading for a social crisis to match the financial one.