The last shall be first, 1980s style

An emerging view in the third world sees the growing instabilities in nations of the Northern Hemisphere -- their monetary stress, inflation, unemployment, military escalations, and confrontations over depleting resources -- all as crises of industrialism itself. No longer is the development debate limited to the terms of the 19th century, as capitalism versus socialism. Both are seen now as differing styles of industrialism and its single-minded goal of maximizing production and economic growth (whether defined in dollars, rubles, yen, or francs) regarding of social and environmental disruption and erosion of traditional values.

This lesson is now clear, because the commonality of interests of resource-dependent industrial nations is demonstrated at many international meeting. For instance, at the 1978 UN Conference on Science and Technology for Development in Vienna this mutuality was already visible. There, in spite of speeches supporting more equitable sharing of technological resources and information with less-developed countries, the US and the Soviet Union voted togetherm with other East and West European nations -- as an industrial bloc -- to thwart these goals.

The new view is much in evidence in Africa, for example, in the recommendations of the 1979 meeting in Liberia of the Organization of African Unity on "Africa in the year 2000." The African states called for a radical break with the imitation of Northern Hemisphere-style industrialism and its obsessive materialism.

In the same vein the First Congress of the World Social Prospects Study Association in Dakar, Senegal, in January, 1980, convened some 200 leaders, futurists, and scientists with diverse views, from North and South, East and West, but predominantly from the third world. The association, founded by Albert Tevoedjre, an African director of the International Institute for Labor Studies and author of "Poverty: The Riches of Peoples," will study alternative social development paths to the future, rather than the "trickledown" industrial , economic, and technological models which have so clearly run out of steam.

I found the discussions in Dakar quite different from those I encountered in 1973, visiting Malaysia, India, and Africa, when the goals of rapid industrialization were rarely questioned. Today, the social, human, and environmental costs are visible, whether spectacular, such as Three Mile Island, or insidious, such as the "stagflation syndrome," disease, and mental illness.

The issues hotly debated at Dakar included how third-world countries could deal with the next stage of the crack-up of the Northern Hemisphere's vulnerable industrial machine which is already in evidence: that of "exporting our crises" to the rest of the world. Thus, if our multinational corporations cannot sell nuclear plants in the US or Europe because of public opinion demanding safer, renewable energy alternatives, they try to sell the nukes to Brazil, Pakistan, and the Philippines. As hazardous pesticides and drugs are banned in the US, they are dumped in countries with no experience or regulation of them. And, as toxic dumps cause illness and protests here, companies seek dump sites in Africa and elsewhere.

But the most damaging crisis the Northern Hemisphere is now exporting is its monetary systems' instabilities, inflation, and soaring interest rates, which devastate the economies of the third world at the same time that we slam the doors on their export goods. As debtor countries reel from these blows, Northern-controlled financial institutions and the International Monetary fund offer financial "assistance" with such harsh strings that the cure is worse than the disease -- like those which caused Jamaica's Prime Minister Michael Manley to refuse such assistance and break off talks with the IMF in March, 1980.

These intolerable stresses may force third- world debtor countries to stand together and "call the bluff" of the Northern-dominated international monetary and world-trade game -- and declare bankruptcy en masse, in what might be called a "negative OPEC." They would say, in effect: "Repossess us and our countries. Now the ball is in your court."

The debtor countries are well aware that this might precipitate a replay of the 1920s when Germany defaulted and threw the international monetary system into a crisis, followed by world depression. Thus the mutual necessity and advantage of redistributing the world's wealth and building a more equitable international economic order are now clear to all.

The third world's futurists -- much in evidence now at international conferences on the future, such as that to be held in Toronto in July -- are seeking a "third way" composed of many alternative futures for their own countries and regions.

From the conference in Dakar came a declaration including such recommendations as: "The notion of development as synonymous withmere economic growth should be denounced and abandoned and replaced by the concept of an all-embracing endogenous development covering the economic, social, political and cultural fields and permitting the full development of the individual and humankind"; and "it is essential to define the genuine needsm of humans, be they material or spiritual, and to oppose consumer societies, which are symbols of all that is superfluous, unessential and fortuitous and which can lead human beings on the path to ruin."

The new iconoclastic view of "trickle-down" industrialism and technology transfer sees them as processes of "colonialism by other means." It calls for all people marginalized by these processes to form contracts of solidarity (both those within industrial countries and in the third world) to work together for a more peaceful, equitable world order -- affirming their right to break with the existing order. The North must now learn from the Southern Hemisphere about sustainability, endurance, basic values of family, and simple joys of community sharing and cooperation, as well as about working morehumbly with nature.

IF there is a "third way," the third world will devise it, together with the subordinated populations in industrial countries, blacks, native peoples, and ethnic minorities, as well as the "developing nation" of the world's women. Social scientists refer to the eternal trade-off between adaptation to past conditions and the loss of adaptability to face newm conditions as the Law of the Retarding Lead. Theologians sum it up as "the last shall be first."

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