January 2010
Crises and Opportunities in changing times
Carlos Lopes, Ignacy Sachs, Ladislau Dowbor

We all have our favorite crises. There are crises of values, pandemics, population growth, economic chaos, energy paradigm change, financial speculation, gaps in education, cultural pasteurization, poverty prevalent in the world, hunger, and lack of access to such prosaic a luxury as clean water. The issue is not to chose which crisis seems to be more threatening. The real threat comes from an impressive convergence of critical tendencies, the synergy of behaviors that may be understandable, but are certainly irresponsible, and frequently criminal, and which are destroying our fragile spaceship.

In recent decades we have closed the statistical horizon of the planet. Despite never-ending interpretations in detail, we know overall what is happening. And the image that emerges is simply tragic. Initially it was seen in fragments. In Rio de Janeiro, in 1992, we realized what was happening with the environment; in Vienna, with human rights; in Cairo, with population growth; in Beijing, with families; in Istanbul, with urbanization; in Copenhagen 1996, the social situation of the planet, and now we have seen, again in Copenhagen, the challenges of global warming. Today, even without planetary gatherings, we realize, from reports that cover areas from extinction of species to acidification of the oceans and the disappearance of rare metals, that we now face systemic challenges, where simple arrangements in the way we organize what we can call the overall management of society are not up to the task. Another world is possible, but most of all another management is necessary. The challenges are simply vital, in the most direct meaning of the word.

We are all adverse to catastrophism. We do not want to look like prophets of doom who only paint a bleak future. The Club of Rome went some way toward turning us against alerts that seemed premature. Today we are starting to evaluate the realism of these predictions in a more rational way. With information easily exchanged, the generalization and improvement of models, online accessibility to the most varied scientific data, allowing for the comparison of results from innumerous research centers, the future is no longer a vague threat, a wavering outline. In a way, and in our consciousness, the future has already arrived. In the strong stance adopted for the title of the Salvador Forum, it is a crisis of civilization.

We do also worry about keeping our feet on the ground, maybe not in our social dreams which may be infinite, but at least in our proposals. This realism has to be qualified. In most cases, as we see how difficult it is to obtain some tiny progress in pollution reduction or some protection for children in critical situations, we tend to think that setting high objectives is good for dreams but does not ensure good policies. Today, with the intensity of the threats to the planet, this view tends to change. We have to place on our realistic horizon actions which ensure the survival of species on land and in the oceans, the sustainability of our own civilization. What is the minimum that ensures survival? A politician can afford the luxury of thinking how to reduce his aspirations to obtain a favorable vote. He is being realistic. We, as visionaries, or concerned scientists, have to make clear what are the minimum necessary measures to avoid catastrophes and to guarantee a sustainable and dignified life.

Our task, in this sense, is to define the horizons of systemic results we have to achieve, not any longer as a dream for the “possible world”, but as an imperative for what is absolutely necessary. Armed with these systemic results, we will contribute to define strategies, proposals and agendas.

There is no doubt that we are all tired of having to do this. And tired of seeing proposals rejected or postponed, analyses being diluted due to supposed (and often well funded) scientific doubts, and the planet rocked in the cover-up so well qualified as business as usual. What is taking us away from business as usual, and transforming the crises into opportunities, is the fact that the crises affects a multitude of people and are becoming clearly evident. As the good human race we are, we are reacting in a realistic way; in other words, we are reacting, not when the water was around our ankles, but now that it is reaching our necks.

The intended exercise in this text, as we present arguments to stimulate discussion and trigger proposals, is to pinpoint the main areas of change and possible convergence of action plans. What we have ahead of us is an immense planetary task of drawing our efforts together, improving our knowledge of the challenges, and organizing an effective wide ranging scientific communication network, with the aim of generating a critical mass of knowledge for a variety of stakeholders. Paulo Freire defined our task well: we are peddlers of the obvious (andarilhos do óbvio). He used to say this in a humorous way, because good humor is part of the process. We want to stop killing ourselves from overwork in building useless things and destroying the planet. We want the prosaic quality of life, the pleasure of daily challenges, in peace, for everyone, and in a sustainable manner.

We made use of varied documents, contributions from numerous researchers, because our effort consists essentially in systematizing key points, to make joining forces easier. We relied particularly on the contributions of the Brasilia Conference on Crisis and Development, in March 2009, trying to build on progress already made.

Here we shall focus on what seem to be four main trends that threaten us. We have to save the planet, to reduce inequalities, to ensure access to decent jobs and to correct production priorities. Too big a challenge? We are not concerned in reducing our fall from the 20th to the 15th floor. We are concerned with not destroying ourselves.

Balancing Convergence

The chart we show below constitutes a summary of macro-tendencies during the historic period from 1750 until the present day. The scales had to be made compatible and some lines represent the processes for which we have only more recent figures. But as a whole, the chart shows the coming together of areas traditionally studied separately, such as demography, climate, automobile production, paper consumption, water contamination, extinction of ocean life and others. The synergy of the process becomes obvious, as does the size of the environmental challenges.

Science tells us that if we are serious about saving the Earth, we must reshape our economy. This, of course, is economic heresy. Growth to most economists is as essential as the air we breathe: it is, they claim, the only force capable of lifting the poor out of poverty, feeding the world’s growing population, meeting the costs of rising public spending and stimulating technological development – not to mention funding increasingly expensive lifestyles. They see no limits to growth, ever. In recent weeks it has become clear just how terrified governments are of anything that threatens growth, as they pour billions of public money into a failing financial system. Amid the confusion, any challenge to the growth dogma needs to be looked at very carefully. This one is built on a long standing question: how do we square Earth’s finite resources with the fact that as the economy grows, the amount of natural resources needed to sustain that activity must grow too? It has taken all of human history for the economy to reach its current size. On current form, it will take just two decades to double.

The convergence of tensions generated for the planet becomes evident. We cannot congratulate ourselves anymore for the increased fishing catches when we are extinguishing life in the oceans or when the increase in crop production is eliminating the aquifers and contaminating the planet’s fresh water resources. Not to speak of automobile production and the expansion of other production chains which generate climate change. The solutions have to be systemic. This broader view can – and it is only a possibility – trigger profound changes as we raise the overall level of awareness of the challenges.

The dilemma is clear: what development do we want? And for this development, what kind of State and regulatory mechanisms will be necessary? There is no way to minimize the size of the challenges. With 7 billion inhabitants – and 75 million extra per year – who adopt a steadily expanding level of consumption and utilize more and more powerful technology, our planet shows all its vulnerability. And we, our irresponsibility or helplessness.

The scandal of inequality

The eonomic expansion of recent decades has been fed on the earnings from productivity that new technologies have brought about. The distribution has been radically unbalanced. It is not the place here to study this process, but it is important to remember that the concentration of income on the planet is reaching absolutely obscene limits.

The richest 20% get 82.7% of the income. The poorest two thirds have access to only 6%. In 1960, the income earned by the richest 20% was 70 times the equivalent of the poorest 20%; in 1989 it was 140 times more. The concentration of income is absolutely scandalous and forces us to face the ethical question of justice, and social and economic drama of billions of people who could not only be living better, but also contributing to sustainable development. There will be no stability on this planet while the economy is organized around the interests of one third of the world’s population.

This unjust concentration is not due only to financial speculation, but its contribution is significant and, above all, it is absurd to divert the capital from obvious planetary priorities. The Economist brings strong figures concerning economic growth, generated essentially by technological progress in the production area, but appropriated by the so called “financial services industry”: “The financial-services industry is condemned to suffer a horrible contraction. In America the industry’s share of total corporate profits climbed from 10% in the early 1980s to 40% at its peak in 2007.”

A clear gap is generated between those who generate technological innovations with the potential of producing socially useful goods and services – the engineers of the process, so to speak – and the financial intermediaries who take over the surplus and limit the options to short term profit maximization. The engineers of the process create important technological advances, but their use and commercialization are handled by financial, marketing and legal departments which dominate companies and take over their final destination. It is a system which has generated a deep divide between those who contribute to new potentials and those who take over the surplus.

When putting both charts together, the one from New Scientist concerning historic megatrends and the “champaign glass” from the Human Development Report, we reach a very obvious conclusion: we are destroying the planet for the benefit of one third of the world’s population. This is the basic reference which guides our future actions: revert the march of the destruction of the planet and reduce accumulated inequality.

It is important to remember that our main instrument to measure progress, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), measures neither one nor the other. It does not take into account the planet’s natural capital reduction, and in reality only shows us the national average intensity of the use of the production machine, not what is produced, for whom and at what costs. And the main motivator of private investments, profit, acts against both: it has everything to gain from the maximum extraction of natural resources and externalizing pollution costs, and has nothing to gain from producing for those who do not have money to spend. The fantastic possibilities that new technologies open to us are simply wasted.

The challenge of access to decent jobs

Inequality and sustainability are directly linked to the imbalances of inclusion in the production process. Manpower, our immense unused production capacity, looks more like a problem than an opportunity. In the present form of use of production factors and technologies, the productive inclusion is an exception. In Brazil, there are 190 million inhabitants. Of these, 130 million are of active age, of between 15 and 64 years. In the economically active population, there are 100 million people, which already shows us under-utilization. The employment statistics, on the other hand, show that there are only 31 million people formally employed in the private sector. We can add 9 million public servants to this number in the country and we reach 40 million. We are still a long way from the total. What do the others do? There are entrepreneurs, no doubt, as well as a mass classified as “autonomous”, besides approximately 15 million unemployed. As a whole, a huge mass of people are classified under the vague concept of “informal sector”, measured at 51% of the economically active population by IPEA (Institute of Applied Economic Research). The study underlines that “the existence of this portion of workers on the edge of the system cannot, under any circumstances, be seen as a solution for the market” (IPEA p. 346). This “portion” represents half the country.

The essential fact for us is that the present model under-utilizes half of the country’s production capacity. And to imagine that the growth centered in multinational companies, huge plantations of soya beans (200 hectares to generate one job) or even in a hypothetical increase of public jobs, will allow it to absorb this manpower is not realistic. To evolve to alternative forms of organization becomes absolutely necessary.

The drama in Brazil is representative of a broader universe: “Informal employment accounts for between one half and three quarters of non-agricultural employment in the majority of developng countries. The share of informal workers in the non-agricultural labour force ranges from 48% in North Africa and 51% in Latin America and the Caribbean, to 65% in Asia and 78% in sub-Saharan Africa”.

In this way, the inequality drama seen above does not only constitute a problem of fair distribution of income and wealth: it also involves the productive inclusion of the majority of the population that is unemployed, under-employed or trapped in different types of informal activities. The ILO proposals concerning decent jobs, the World Bank concerns about the 4 billion that are excluded from the “benefits of globalization”, and the numerous initiatives centred on local development belong to the same drama: economic growth that leaves a huge part of the population out of the process is not sustainable. We are talking about almost two thirds of the world’s population to whom we block the access to finance, technologies, and the right of each individual to provide for his family.

Deformation of Priorities

The table below, extracted from the Human Development Report 1998, represents the deformation of priorities of the the use of our production capacity. The reading is simple: we cannot obtain the supplementary 6 billion to universalize basic education, but we can obtain 8 billion for cosmetics in the USA, and so on. The values are low because they are in dollars which were worth more at the time, but the contrast is evident. The 780 billion dollars spent on the military already added up to 1.5 trillion in 2008. And if we think about the trillions of dollars of public resources transferred during the 2008 financial crisis, we will have a real idea of the absurd disregard for human and environmental priorities.

(Annual Expeniture) in Dollars
Basic Education for all $6 billion
Cosmetics in the USA $8 billion
Water and sanitation for all 9 billion
Ice-cream in Europe $11 billion
Reproductive health for all women $12 billion
Perfumes in Europe and the USA $12 billion
Basic health and nutrition $13 billion
Pet Foods in Europe and the USABusiness Entertainment in Japan $17 billion
Cigarettes in Europe $ 50 billion
Alcoholic drinks in Europe $ 105 billion
Narcotic drugs in the world $ 400 billion
Military spending in the world $ 780 billion

In reality, what needs to be expanded in the world today are basic services for the billions who barely survive, much more than diversified and fancy consumer goods. Some things should be accessible to everyone. The planet produces almost a kilo of grain per day per inhabitant and we have more than one billion people going hungry. The ten million children who die of hunger, no access to clean water and other absurd causes constitutes an unbearable scandal. But from the private investment point of view, solving essential problems generates no profits, and the orientation of our production capacity is radically deformed.

In terms of economic, social and environmental megatrends, we are drifting. We are destroying the planet in favor of a minority, in order to increase the supply of goods without any other criteria than monetary capacity, creating advanced technologies without allowing free access, reducing, instead of fostering, the capacity of people to make a living. The level of accumulated imbalances is exceeding the bearable limit. And we have as a background the huge task of organizing the transition to another productive energy paradigm, the post-petroleum era. There will always be people who expect an invisible hand to solve these challenges. Who are the dreamers here?


In the discussion of another world which we hope is possible, we have to evolve more towards the “how to” questions, the corresponding management mechanisms, the discovery of breaches that exist in the system, the opportunities for transformation. The world will not stop at a given time to start working in another way. It is up to us to introduce or reinforce the trends of change. Analysis of the decision making process and the search for instruments of change have become vital.

What emerges as the central line of thought, therefore, is the inadequacy of the decision making processes in various critical situations we have to face. Confronting the planetary environmental challenge demands collaborative processes and the building of negotiated agreements for the common good, or at least to avoid the common disaster. Interrupting the inequality cycle implies the displacement of the traditional vision that attracts investments to where the purchasing power is located, and therefore involves a radical change of the so called corporate governance, far beyond the present social responsibility cosmetics. Organizing productive inclusion of almost two thirds of the excluded population involves another logic for jobs, multiple and differentiated forms of insertion in the production of goods and services. Rescuing real priorities of the planet and humanity involves a more significant participation from the State, which with all its weaknesses, still constitutes the best instrument to coordinate the social efforts we make. But we need a State acting more as a regulator of society’s collective efforts. We have to rescue the systemic and long term vision, and the corresponding planning mechanisms. We are, in reality, talking about the creation of another political culture.

Naturally, we all feel small when faced with changing processes of this magnitude. And we might think that setting such high challenges is not realistic. The fact is that no one is asking us if we want or not to face up to such tasks. Global warming is not waiting for us to agree, nor is the end of easy petroleum as the energetic cornerstone, nor the extinction of ocean life, nor the loss of forests, not even the Aids virus, not even…Reality is there, it is happening, whether we like it or not. Other forms of management are inevitable; the only realistic question is if we want to pay the small price now or a much higher one in the future.

A stronger and more democratic State

Criticisms concerning the size of the public sector usually result from ideological bias and little knowledge of reality. In the words of a director from the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, the famous ENA, improving the productivity of the public sector constitutes the best way to improve the systemic productivity of the society as a whole. The 2005 United Nations World Report on the Public Sector, shows the evolution that occurred from the traditional vision of “public administration” based on obedience, strict controls and concept of “authorities”, transiting through a phase where we appeared to have a more entrepreneurial form of administration, in the line of “public management” which, for example, gave us the concept of “city manager” in place of the mayor; and now the emerging modern viewpoint the report calls “responsive governance”.

This last form of organization implies that in public realms good management is obtained through intelligent and balanced articulation of the group of players interested in development, the so called “stakeholders”. It is a type of management looking to “respond” to the different interests in society. It is centred on widely participatory systems, and in any case, more democratic, in the line of “participatory governance”.

The evolution from traditional Public Administration to New Public Management was based on a private management view, supposing it would be more efficient. The more recent evolution towards Responsive Governance is based on a more public proposal, where the managers listen more to citizens, and where the citizens’ participation, through more democratic processes, is what ensures that administrators will be more efficient since they are more tuned in to what is expected of them. It is the difference between the authoritarian efficiency coming from above and the democratic efficiency of bottom-up decisiona making. The efficiency is measured not only by the results, but also by the process.

The table below helps visualize this evolution:

Evolution of the concept of government

Public Administration New Public Management Responsive Governance
Citizen-state relationship Obedience Entitlement Empowerment
Accountability of senior officials Politicians Customers Citizens and stakeholders
Guiding principles Compliance with rules and regulations Efficiency and results Accountability, transparency and participation
Criteria for success Output Outcome Process
Key attribute Impartiality Professionalism Responsiveness

(UN, World Public Sector Report 2005, p. 7)

“The governance model… emphasizes a government that is open and responsive to civil society, more accountable and better regulated by external controls and the law. There is a proposal that society should have a voice through non-governmental organizations and community participation. Therefore the governance models tend to focus more on incorporating and including citizens in all their stakeholder roles, and not being limited to satisfying customers, in an alignment with the notion of “creating public value”… “The governance theory looks beyond management and service reform by pointing to new kinds of state-society links and new, more multilayered and decentralized forms of governing”…” Openness and transparency are thus part of this emerging model.” (UN, World Public Sector Report 2005, p.13)

The new emerging model is essentially centered on a more democratic vision, with direct participation of the stakeholders, more transparency, with a clear opening for new information and communication technologies, and organized solutions to ensure interactivity between government and citizens. The vision involves “more sophisticated knowledge of management systems”, with an important role for the use of new information and communication technologies.

For the discussion in Brazil and Latin America, these points are very important. They have the added value of bypassing long gone authoritarian visions, and also the pseudo-modernization that places a manager where we had a politician, resulting in a superficial cosmetic change. It is a postive evolution, pointing at a real problem solving capacity through the necessary pacts with civil society. This systematization of world trends gives more credibility to those who fight for the re-appropriation of policies by citizens at the base end of society, instead of the substitution of one authoritarian solution for another.

The Rational Allocation of Resources

The allocation of resources is made through intermediaries, whether government, banks, insurance companies, pension funds, health plans or the planetary giants we call institutional investors. All of these institutions capture funds under varied justifications. But they are intermediaries, which means they should allocate the resources to end activities.

The government, a key intermediary, allocates resources according to a budget discussed in parliament and approved by law. Important fact: the government has to guarantee the funding it will spend. The fiscal policy (treasury) and the expenditures (planning) have to be aligned to the budget. In the planet as a whole, the governments are the largest resource managers, and the richer the country, the stronger the government’s participation in this arbitration.

The table below is interesting, because it shows the strict correlation between the level of development and the participation of the public sector. In countries with low income, the portion of the GDP that falls under central government control is 17.7% increasing progressively as we reach the high income countries. To bad mouth the governments seems to be a planetary consensus, but we need them more and more, including in the United States.

Country with: Central government, GDP percentage, early 2000
Low income 17.7
Low to Average income 21.4
Average to high income 26.9
High Income 31.9

Source: Finance and Development, IMF, Dec. 2006, p. 46

It should be noted that in the table above, only central government expenditures are included; total public expenditures are much greater. “A decade ago American government spending stood at 34.3% of GDP compared with 48.2% in the euro zone, a gap of 14 points; in 2010 it is expected to be 39,9% of GDP compared with 47.1%, a gap of less than eight points”. Let us remember that in Brazil the equivalent figure is 36%. In Sweden, which no one accuses of being poorly managed, it is 66%. And these are numbers taken before the recent state intervention to save the banks.

Therefore, no matter which policy will be adopted, it is essential do ensure the quality of allocation of resources by the largest stakeholder, the government. This correlation between the country’s prosperity level and the participation of the public sector is not a mystery; in simple terms, the world is changing. In the past, we were made up of dispersed rural populations, and the families solved most of their problems individually, with water available from the well and the trash dumped in the bush. In the city, social investments are generalized because we need water and sewage networks, security systems, public transportation, garbage collecting and so on, all of which are carried out with the strong presence of the public sector. They are collective consumption services.

One has to take into equal consideration, with this increasing presence of public sectors throughout the planet, the change of the relative weight of our different activities. A few decades ago, what we used to call production activities consisted mainly of manufacture, agriculture and commerce. Today social policies are in the center of the economy. The largest economic sector in the United States is not the military complex nor the automotive industry, but health, with 16% of GDP and growing. In Brazil, the educational area, including the student population, the teachers and the administration occupy about 60 million people, almost one third of the country’s population. The social policies are becoming a powerful factor of social restructuring, through its capillary characteristic (health has to reach every person) and its labor intensity. They are areas in which, with the exception of the high income niches, the public sector simply is more performant, frequently associated with civil society organizations. These are usually linked to social policy sectors, and are building a new nongovernmental public sector. The social economy and its variations occupy a growing place in the whole of economic activities, and contribute strongly to the expansion of the public sector.

A third line of social transformation is the growing knowledge intensity of all activities. Today almost all activities involve a high input of technology, of the most varied types of knowledge, and of the so-called “intangibles”. When the essential value of a product comes from the incorporated knowledge, the corresponding system of organization changes. It is based on a wide range of collaborative social processes which involve research and development, universal access to education, and information diffusion systems that increase knowledge intensity in society as a whole, with a very significant participation of public resources at all levels. The natural tendency is for knowledge to become a public domain (creative commons) because of the dissemination conveniences that modern technology allows and because of the undesrstanding, which gradually penetrates society, that knowledge multiplies better when shared. Knowledge is a product whose consumption does not reduce how much we have of it, on the contrary.

These are megatrends that transform society and that demand more diversified, decentralized and flexible management systems from us. We are evolving towards a network society, with densely interactive and collaborative systems. Alliances and partnerships between various levels of territorial organizations are becoming generalized. Urbanization leads to an accelerated expansion of the local management capacity, where communities are taking control over their own development. Social policies generate participatory management. Knowledge society leads us to networking and colllaborative processes, however strong the resistance (copyrights, patents etc.) may be.

What is happening in reality is a generalized future shock, and the fall of the Berlin wall as well as the irresponsible swindling on Wall Street only managed to arouse, and not only on the left, the understanding that changes need to be systemic. The business as usual (BAU) from both sides of the political spectrum, is starting to leave the scene. It is production relationships in the broad sense that change, and the result is that most of the current social mechanisms are losing their regulation capacity.

The role of the State appears to be central, inclusively in the face of the global critical trends. Given the extreme fragility of planetary governance instruments, the strategic instrument to build new regulatory systems will pass through national policies much more than global ones. The State will thus have a stronger role both in national regulation and in the redefinition of the rules of the game between nations.

The potential of local management Humanity has become dominantly urban with the passing of the millennium. This implies a different rationality in the decision making processes and in the institutions which govern us, for today any region has an urban center that can manage many of the development issues, and this includes the articulation with the rural surroundings. Cities have thus become a key actor in the integrated regional development and planning issues. Intitially the sectorial view tended to dominate, with initiatives such as Healthy Cities, Educational Cities, City Agenda XXI and so on, but we are gradually evolving towards integrated initiatives such as Bogotá Como Vamos, Nossa São Paulo and the like. This is a key issue, for local authorities are the basic blocs with which we can build deeply embedded change. It is certainly not sufficient, but essential.

Local development allows for an effective empowerment of communities, and mobilization of these capacities is vital for a participatory development. Innumerous experiences around the world have demonstrated that the individual interest of people for their program works more effectively when anchored in the collective self-interest of the integrated development of the territory. With simple information systems on local quality of life, communities are redefining priorities. The time has long gone when we believed in “parachute” projects: development works when it is participatory, with a reasonable balance between the external fostering and the endogenous dimension of the process.

Rational allocation of resources demands an efficient evaluation of the end use of investments, which is more detailed and difficult a job than speculating on hedge funds. The credit agent at the local level, who knows his neighbourhood, and also knows the needs and potentials of the region, in a way becomes a key factor of project efficiency. It is hard work, demands knowing the reality and the persons involved, with permanent follow up, but it is the only way to transform the savings of some into better production systems for all, through the so-called systemic productivity of the territory.

Experience in this area is enormous; from the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh to the NGOs financial intermediation in France, the constitution of Community Development Banks and the credit “Oscips” (Civil Society Organization of Public Interest) in numerous municipalities in Brazil, the micro-credit large-scale experience by the Banco do Nordeste (Bank of the Northeast). The requirement of local investment of the population’s savings, with wider ranging compensation rules between rich and poor regions through public networks, should allow for finance both to micro and to small companies, such as civil society organizations committed socially and environmentally, and also local and regional public investments in sanitation, urban maintenance and similar.

The government’s various social programs, from Bolsa Família (a cash transfer program) to Luz para todos, (a social infrastructure program), converge in their impact to boost local access to resources even in the poorest regions of the country. This convergence is now strengthened with the Territórios da Cidadania, an anti-recession program with “Rooseveltian” characteristics capable of putting together – alongside the PAC – a powerful tool, not only to resist the current turbulence, but also to initiate new dynamic growth, more balanced from the regional point of view, and certainly capable of incorporating rural populations. Territórios da cidadania has a 20 billion reais budget for 120 of the poorest regions in the country. This vision, of supporting local development, simultaneously supports the anti-cyclical policy as well as the reduction of inequality, while promoting a more democratic decision process.

What is gradually showing on the political horizon – as a result in part of the 2008 financial crisis, but above all, due to the accumulation of critical unbalances – is a more decentralized State, more responsive to people’s demands, more democratic in the decision making processes, more transparent in the information area, and one that plays the role of balancing interests of the varied agents of social transformation.


It is fashionable to say that state rule came down with the Berlin Wall and neo-liberalism with Wall Street. In reality, what we are seeing is the demise of the simplified visions of the social decision making process. The dichotomic view which gave us the bureaucratic state of Eastern Europe on the one hand and the corporate arrogance exemplified in the United States on the other is what is in crisis. Our complex modern society cannot bear these types of simplifications any longer. We need to develop more flexible and differentiated regulatory processes, not strangling the decision making process through excessive control, but bringing it closer to the real needs of society, with more democracy and transparency. As a society, we don’t want just to survive, but to live with better quality of life. And this means organizing, in an orderly manner, the challenges and answers. These are the minimum results we need to achieve, with the corresponding decision making processes.

The proposals or lines of action suggested below, have a common denominator: they have all been tried and are being applied in various regions of the world, sectors or different activity levels. They are initiatives that have been tested, and can become widespread policiies, with the evident flexibility due to the diversity of situations in the world. We have no illusions as to the distance between our political realities and the ambition of the measures we advocate. But it seemed essential, in every way, to set the necessary measures down in an organized way, because having a clearer north helps to create new planetary governance. They are not listed in any particular order, for most of them have simultaneous implications for several others.

1 – Rescue the public dimension of the State

How can we have regulatory mechanisms that work if our politicians are elected with the money of the corporations they are supposed to regulate? If the agencies that evaluate risks are paid by those who create the risk? If those responsible for a central bank come from the companies that need to be regulated and then return to get their jobs back? One of the clearest proposals of the current crisis and one that we find mentioned in almost the entire political spectrum is the need to reduce the capacity of the corporations to dictate the rules of the game. The number of laws approved to reduce taxes on financial transactions, to reduce the regulations of the Central Bank, to authorize banks to make all and any operations, added to the power of financial lobbies (for example, the Brazilian case of Febraban pressuring the judiciary to declare banks free from having to submit to complaints via Procon) make the need to restore the regulatory power of the state evident and for that reason, the politicians should be elected by real people, and not by corporate entities that are a fiction in terms of human rights.

2 – Redesign our national accounting system

The national (and local) accounting system has to be centered on the objectives we are aiming for. The GDP indicates the intensity of the use of the productive apparatus, but does not indicate what is produced, for whom and at what cost to the stock of natural resources the planet has at its disposal. It counts as an increase to GDP: a natural disaster, the increase of disease, the restriction of access to free goods. The HDI was already a great progress, but we have to evolve to an integrated accounting of the effective results of our efforts, and particularly to the allocation of financial resources, ensuring a development that is not only economically viable, but also socially fair and environmentally sustainable. The methodologies exist, partially applied in several countries, sectors or researches. The expansion of the international indicators like the HDI, the generalization of national indicators like Calvert-Hendersen Quality of Life in the United States, the proposal of the Stiglitz/Sen/Fitoussi Commission, the GDH – Gross Domestic Happiness – all champion a reformulation of accounts. The adoption in all cities of local quality of life indicators, as the the Jacksonville Quality of Life Progress Indicators, or indicators developed by the Movimento Nossa São Paulo – has become essential to measure what really matters: a sustainable development, improvement of the quality of life of the population. Much more than restricting measuring to commercial output, it’s all about the outcome.

3 – Guarantee basic income

Some things have to be accessible to everyone, it is that simple. Critical poverty is the biggest drama, as much because of the suffering it causes as for the links with the environmental drama, lack of access to information and knowledge, as well as the deformation of the production profile: business is not interested in the needs of those who do not have purchasing power. The UN calculates it would cost 300 billion dollars (in 2000 value ) to take 1 billion people who live on less than one dollar per day, out of the worst state of poverty. A ridiculously low cost when you consider the trillions transferred to financial groups during the financial crisis. The ethical benefit is immense, because it is a planetary scandal that 10 million children die every year of ridiculous causes; these children have nothing to do with our political and corporate infamy. The short and medium term benefit of redistribution is big as money at the bottom of the pyramid immediately boosts micro and small production, acting as a anti-cyclical process, as has been noted in Brazil’s social policies. In the long run, it will be a generation of children who will have been decently fed, who will turn into better students at school and live a better adult life. In terms of political stability and general security, the impacts are obvious. It is the best financial investment we can imagine, and the Brazilian, Mexican and other countries’ experiences have already given us all the necessary know-how. The theory that the poor will sit back if they receive subsidies is simply denied by the facts: the poor do not lack initiative, they lack opportunities.

4 – Guarantee the right to make a living

Every person who wants to make a living to provide for his family has the right to work. In a planet where there is a world of things to be done, including rescuing the environment, it is absurd to keep so many people out of organized forms of production and income generation. We have the resources and the technical and organizational knowledge to ensure, in each village or city, access to a decent and socially useful job. The experiences in Maharashtra (India) have demonstrated its viability, as have numerous Brazilian experiences, without even mentioning the New Deal of the 1930s crisis. They are options where everyone wins: the municipality improves basic sanitation, housing, urban maintenance and food production in the “green belts”. The families can live in a decent way; and society becomes better structured and less tense. The costs of unemployment benefit are reduced. In the Indian case, each village and city is obliged to draw up labor intensive projects. Money lent or created in this way represents investment, improvement in quality of life and gives an excellent return. More fundamental, it guarantees that everyone has a role in the building of sustainable development. In the economic activity, besides the productive result, it is essential to think about the social restructuring involved, the creation of social capital. The industrial fishing in the oceans can be more productive in volume of catch, but the outcome is disastrous, both because of the diminishing stocks of life in the oceans, and of the hundreds of millions of people who lived from traditional fishing practice and are loosing their means of subsistance. The dimension of the jobs creating impact of all economic initiatives has to become a central concern.

5 – Reduction of working hours

The under-utilization of the work force is a planetary problem, even if unequal in its scale. In Brazil, as we have seen, with 100 million people in the economically active population (PEA), we have only 31 million people formally employed in the private sector and 9 million public servants. The numbers do not add up. The informal sector lies in the order of 50% of PEA. A large section of the nation “manages” to survive. Regarding top jobs, people do not live well because of the excessive work loads. It is not a luxury demand: the number of suicides in companies where the race for efficiency has become inhuman is impressive. Professional stress is becoming a planetary illness and the issue regarding quality of life in the workspace is becoming central. The social redistribution of the workload has become a necessity. Resistance is understandable, but reality shows that with technological advances, the productive processes become less labor intensive, and reducing the working day is a question of time. We cannot have a minority in possession of extremely modern equipment and technology that carries out mass production for a mass of spectators, especially because it’s about balancing salaries and consequently, demand, as well as ensuring a place for everyone. The reduction of the working day will not reduce the well-being or the wealth of the population, but will shift it to new sectors more centered on the use of free time, with more cultural and leisure activities. We do not necessarily need more cars or plastic; we need more quality of life.

6 – Promoting style of life change

On this planet of 7 billion inhabitants, with an annual increase in the order of 75 million, every policy also involves a change in individual behavior and consumption culture. Respecting environment regulations, moderating consumption, debt awareness, intelligent use of means of transportation, generalization of recycling processes, waste reduction – there is a wide range of initiatives in our daily life that involves a change in values and attitude when faced with economic, social and environmental challenges. During the Brazilian energy blackout at the end of the 90s a good informative campaign was employed, the collaborative role of the media and the systematic punishment of excesses allowed for a general rationalization of the domestic use of energy. Practically everybody found one could live with much less energy. This aspect of problem solving is essential and involves not only appropriate legislation, but above all effective participation from the media. Today, 95% of the homes in Brazil have television, and an intelligent informative use of this and other media has become fundamental. In the face of the necessary efforts, it is not enough just to reduce the marketing assault which stimulates consummerism, it is necessary to rescue the informative dimensions of the means of communication. The scientific media has practically disappeared, the news follows the attraction and sensation of crime news, when what we fundamentally need is a population well informed about the real challenges we face. A big part of the change in individual behavior depends on public actions: people will not leave the car at home (or decide not to have one) if there is no public transporation; they will not recycle if there are no adequate collection systems. We need a public policy for changes in individual behavior.

7 – Rationalize the financial intermediation systems The final allocation of financial resources is no longer organized according to end use and social needs, it has been reorganized according to the interests of the financial intermediaries themselves. Credit activity is always a public activity, it can be in the sphere of public institutions or the sphere of private banks, but they work with public money. This is why they are formally under control of a central bank, and they need an authorization since they make money with other people’s money. The recent 2008 financial crisis clearly demonstrated the chaos generated by the lack of trustworthy regulatory mechanisms in the sector. In recent decades, we have jumped from one bubble to the next, from crisis to crisis, and governments have not had the will or the strength to update the regulatory system in order to ensure improved systemic productivity of our savings. While a more favorable balance of power is not generated at the global level, we need to promote improved national financial regulatory systems. Money allocation is not most productive where the intermediaries earn the most. It is a public resource, and we must generate regulations where the outcome for society is optimized. South Korea recently opened a 36 billion dollar fund to finance collective transportation and energy alternatives, generating 960 thousand jobs. The positive impact is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissisons, but it is also a way to face the global crisis by boosting internal demand. It is again environmentally friendly by improving the consumption profile (collective transportation). From the social perspective, it reduces unemployment and generates income. From the technological perspective it generates innovations in the area od clean energy use, emissions control, cleaner production proocess and so forth. It even has an impact seldom considered, which is reducing the time people waste commuting to work. We are dealing with public funding here, commercial banks would not have seek this systemic view of the positive use of money. (Global Green New Deal, UNEP). Resources must be made more accessible according to the greater social, economic and environmental results. Financial intermediation is a means, not an end.

8 – Taxation of speculative transactions One of the suggestions most frequently made, is the taxation of speculative transactions. An old fashioned suggestion, proposed by James Tobin, was to tax for example every transaction at 0,20%, which would dramatically reduce profits for those who work with speculation. Speculation has been said to increase the fluidity in the market, when in reality it generates a herd movement that throws the prices of financial papers and commodities up and down and disorganizes any planning of production and investment. Besides reducing speculation, a second important effect of this type of tax is that all transactions will be registered, which would drastically reduce the huge numbers of illegal movements, in particular tax evasion, corporate and political corruption and the use of tax havens. It is a necessary measure; even if not sufficient, to reduce intermediation in transactions and the various types of activities (carry trade, etc.) that generate profits for middle men and costs for everyone else. The recent implementation of a 2% tax on capital that enters Brazil shows the potential of national rationalization policies to face speculative flows.

Special attention needs to be given to the pyramid of intermediaries which organize other intermediaries – with papers that represent rights over other papers – and have everything to gain from the maximization of flows, since their commissions and bonuses are linked to volatility and pro-cyclicality, with monumental volumes that take us, for example, to values in derivatives in the order of 863 trillion dollars in June 2008, 15 times the world’s GDP. The speculative intermediation only generates speculative gains and insecurity, and also disorganizes the markets and economic policies.

9 – Reconsidering the logic of the tax systems

Tax policy is clearly one of the mains instruments we have to balance the whole system, above all because it can be promoted by democratic mechanisms. The key issue is not the reduction of taxes (the eternal “big government” scarecrow) but in the socially fair form of taxation and the productive allocation in social and environmental terms. The taxation of speculative transactions (national or international) should generate funds to finance a series of essential policies for social and environmental equilibrium. Taxation of the rich is currently essential to reduce the political power of economic dynasties (10% of the planet’s families own 90% of the accumulated household assets on the planet). Inheritance tax is fundamental for more balanced opportunites between generations. Income tax should obtain more weight relative to indirect taxes, with progressivity which allow efficient income redistribution. It is important to remember that the planet’s greatest fortunes in general are not connected to an increase of the planet’s productive capacities but the increase in corporate acquisitions, generating even more unstable and less governable empires where the quest is for control of the financial, political and media power and the appropriation of natural resources. The tax system needs to be reformulated in the anti-cyclical sense, privileging productive activities and penalizing speculations; in the social aspect by being highly progressive; and in the sense of environmental protection by taxing toxic or climate changing emissions, as well as the use of non-renewable natural resources.

10 – Rethinking the budget logic The redistribution power of the State is big, both through the policies it carries out – for example, health policies, leisure, sanitation and other social infrastructure which improve the level of collective consumption – and through those it can foster, like energy options, digital access and so on. The redistribution policy which involves policies relating to salaries, welfare, credit, prices and jobs is also fundamental.

The strong presence of corporations with political power constitutes one of the main obstacles to a more balancee allocation of resources. It is essential do ensure that all resource allocation proposals are analyzed with the triple economic, social and environmental focuses in mind. In the case of Brazil it was made clear with some recent social policies (Bolsa Familia , welfare policies, etc.) that relatively limited volumes of resources, when they are distributed to the bottom of the pyramid, are incomparably more productive, both in terms of reduction of critical situations and consequent increase in quality of life, and in boosting economic activities induced by the local demand.

Special attention should be paid to taxes over greenhouse effect emission which should play an important role in terms of fund raising, and would allow for the creation of a vitally important fund for the environmental balance. It is becoming evident that the carbon market is simply not sufficient as a mechanism of dissuasion against emissions. The application of taxes over emissions – already ongoing in Sweden, Norway, Italy and other countries – is technically simple, and its generalized use forces private or industrial users to incorporate the real costs into their economic decisions, which are indirectly generated for the whole society, including future generations. Many attempts were rejected in the 1990s, but during a phase when awareness of the threats to the planet was not so widespread. Opportunistic politicians attack such attempts under the pretext of defending the consumers from the voracity of the State. In general, it is about protesting against public voracity to guarantee more private voracity. A progressive tax over emissions would more than likely have an impact on consumer behavior, the automobile industry, research on renewable energy and so forth, by making it economically interesting to search for alternatives and cost reductions.

11 – Access to knowledge and sustainable technologies Effective participation of populations in the sustainable development processes involves keeping a wide ranging and free public access system for required information. The planetary online connectivity that new technologies allow can be made a highway for democracy, social balance and sustainability. The cost/benefit of generalized digital inclusion is simply unbeatable. Communities with access to information are much more empowered, become responsible for their own development.. The speed of expansion of this type of technology (ICT) even in the poorest regions has been noticed with the widespread use of mobile phones, of popular internet cafes. The productive impact is immense for the small producers who begin to have direct access to various markets, both in terms of inputs and for their own products, escaping from the varied financial and commercial intermediation systems. Generalized digital inclusion is a powerful opening in the changing process which has today become indispensable.

The world frequently forgets that 2 billion people still cook with firewood, in areas where there are significant innovations in the heating systems with the use of improved stoves. Technologies like the cistern system in the Northeast, use of bio-mass, less aggressive crop protection systems, etc., constitute a change vector in the productive processes culture. The creation of a network of online technological support centers, with great capillarity, can be inspired from India’s experience, where centers were created in practically all of the country’s villages. The World Economic and Social Survey 2009 is particularly eloquent when defending flexibility of patents in the sense of ensuring the world population access to information for the technological changes demanded by a sustainable development.

12 – Democratize communication

Communication is one of the most dynamic areas in terms of its impact on social transformation. We are permanently surrounded by messages. Our children spend hours watching marketing campaigns. The communication industry, with its impressive national and international concentration of control, generated a global way of life industry, obsessive consummerism which in turn reinforces elitism, inequality, the waste of resources as a symbol of success. The integrated system permits the costs of media and marketing campaigns to be thrown in with the production costs of the products we are called upon to purchase, and we end up bombarded by a permanent idiotic chatter paid out of our pocket. More recently, corporations use this road to generate a positive image of themselves, as if they were green, nice and concerned persons. The electromagnetic spectrum these messages use is a natural, public asset, and access to public, free and intelligent information for the whole planet is simply on our doorstep. By gradually expanding the numerous alternative forms of communication that are popping up in so many ways, we can introduce a new culture, another vision of the world, a more diversified and less pasteurized culture, pluralism in place of religious, political or commercial fundamentalism.

The list of proposals and suggestions could of course grow and grow. The fact that most gives us hope, is the impressive multiplication of initiatives in the technological area, of the local management systems, of internet use to democratize knowledge, discovery of new less aggressive forms of production, and a more balanced access to resources. In this area Brazil has shown that to start building a more dignified life for the people below, for the forgotten two thirds of humanity, does not create a tragedy for the rich. In fact, in a balanced society, everyone will live better.

Carlos Lopes is UN Assistant Secretary-General in charge of UNITAR, based in Geneva (www.unitar.org), and the UN Staff College, based in Turin (unssc.org). A development specialist trained at the Geneva University’s Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies, ha has also a PhD in History from Paris 1 University, Panthéon-Sorbonne. He has published extensively and participates in 12 academic councils. Views expressed herewith are personal.

Ignacy Sachs, eco-socioeconomist, born in Poland in 1927. Studied in Brazil, India and Poland. Since 1968 1968, professor at the School of Advanced Social Studies (E.H.E.S.S.) in Paris, where he funded and directed sucessively the International Research Centre on Environment and Development (C.I.R.E.D.) and the Research Centre on Contemporary Brazil (C.R.B.C.). Consultant on various ocasions for the United Nations, having taken part in the preparation of the 1972 Stockholm Conference on Environment and the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit. His bibliography is available on the site: http://bit.ly/4AYaHu .

Ladislau Dowbor is a professor in economics at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo. He is a frequent consultant to different UN agencies, governments and municipalities, as well as Sebrae, Polis and other institutions. Contact: ladislau@dowbor.org – His numerous books and papers can be found at http://dowbor.org , under the Creative Commons License (free non-commercial use and reproduction)

Publicado em Conjuntura econômica Article published in Seminario Dez anos depois website