Prolegomena to a New Society

Trevor Rogers

April 2000

Many people around the world dread the apparently irresistible onslaught of globalization; others applaud it, down playing any perceived negative consequences.  Perhaps what we need is a new social institution that takes advantage of the new technologies but represents and supports individuals rather than corporations or nation states. The new structure must be global in scope, democratic, and financially viable, but mostly based on mutual obligations on both the givers and receivers.


Over the past few years, there seems to be more and more intense public discussion in many countries about the effects – for good or ill – of globalization. The rise of economic rationalism, the end of the cold war, the expansion of the Internet and mega-sized mergers between already large corporations seem to have combined to bring globalization and its opponents to the fore.  How should we react?

The Multilateral Agreement on Investment was quietly scuttled when the depth and breadth of popular opposition became apparent, after news of the secret negotiations leaked out.  The meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle in 1999 was violently opposed (by “Seattle Man”), and the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in 2000 was severely criticized as an elite self-serving gathering of the wealthy and powerful (“Davos Man”).  Paul Krugman, at the opening session at Davos, suggested there were two major global threats at the beginning of the twenty first century: financial instability and a widespread backlash against globalization.  Demonstrations in April 2000 at meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund were organized by an umbrella group called "Mobilisation Against Globalisation".

Are these milestones in the containment of globalization, minor hiccups in an irresistible trend, or learning points for a moderated response that controls the excesses while fostering the benefits?  Can we devise a response to globalization that doesn’t throw out the baby with the bath water?  Is there a response that mere individuals can make which is ethically sound, politically achievable, financially viable, and globally effective?  What can we do?

What Are The Main Issues?

Some observers see only benefits in globalization, particularly the economic rationalists and business people involved in international trade, whose justification is that globalization leads to cheaper goods and services overall, and that it distributes technology and wealth to developing countries.  They say that as globalization increases, even as the rich get richer, there is a “trickle down effect”, so that even the poor benefit from increased overall wealth.  Increased volumes of trade mean more jobs for the locals, greater demand, rising salaries, greater spending power, more affordable goods and services. 

Some support globalization by claiming the increased trade and mutual dependence increases the prospects of peace between the trading nations.  Others approve of the increased opportunity to be exposed to diverse cultures and ideas, directly experienced in travel and tourism, or vicariously in books, magazines, TV and radio.  Some simply justify it because it improves shareholder returns, and that, to them, appears to be a self-evident good!

On the other hand, many people express concerns regarding the increasing power and influence of multinational corporations.  A major aspect is the rapid movement of capital, which can ruin national economies, as we have seen in the Asian economic crisis in 1998.  National governments phrase fiscal and monetary policies based on their expectations of the reactions of the 20-30 year old screen jocks who staff the front office of the global money markets.

To attract and keep globally mobile capital investment, State and provincial governments must compete with each other to give the best deal to the multinationals, so that they will set up business locally.  To “create jobs” they may reduce taxes, restrict environmental regulations or labour laws, or sell state provided goods and services at a cheaper rate.

Many on the left oppose the “export of jobs” to countries with cheaper labour, and increased employment overseas is not seen as a beneficial outcome of "the level playing field". 

Even within nations, there is serious doubt of the reality of the “trickle down effect”.  In western countries over the past decade, the rich have got richer and there is greater inequality.  While the poor may not have got poorer in absolute terms, they are little better off and the middle classes are shrinking.

The perception of increasing wealth for the few while the many are left by the wayside causes resentment, perhaps rebellion. Perceived economic inequality can cause an increase in ethnic tensions.

Some environmentalists perceive global corporations as rapacious plunderers, who exploit the local people and their environs while they profit the company, in way that would be rejected by management or even prohibited by law in their home countries.

Those who publish their beliefs regarding the adverse consequences of a particular global corporation can be sued for libel.  Multinationals can afford, and do use, “private investigators” to infiltrate and spy on social reform groups whose activities could be contrary to the company’s interest, and they use their financial strength in legal "wars" of attrition, so ordinary people cannot afford to resist.

Another worrying trend is the increasing power of nation states over individuals (in contrast to their reducing influence over global corporations).  More and more information is gathered by various government agencies about individuals, and this disparate data is being linked (using tax file numbers, social security numbers, or even telephone numbers!).  Freedom of Information laws are not universal, and even where the do exist are limited in scope and often poorly enforced. Big Brother is almost here. The epitome of this kind of control is totalitarian communism or National Socialism (Nazism).

If Big Brother is the government, the credit reference associations are his Little Brothers, and they are outgrowing their sibling. Modern “democratic” countries are following the totalitarian's example, and the consequences are potentially devastating.

Many are concerned at the culturally deadening impact of globalization, particularly in the arts and the media, public debate, political style, macroeconomic policy and management (“World's Best”) practices.  Disney takes a classic fairy story and copyrights its retelling.  TV with bland unflappable talking heads, where the host is more important than the message, appear on most TV screens in the world.

Management consultants advise government agencies and corporations how to restructure (downsize) their business, then return 5 years later to report on the success of the devastation and self delusion.  Mao has no need to promote Five Year Plans, or the Great Leap Forward, in the West.

Some corporations – such as major tobacco companies – are simply immoral, profiting by promoting death, encouraging addiction to dangerous drugs, exposing workers and the community to industrial hazards, denying any knowledge of harmful effects, supporting smuggling and tax evasion, and justifying this behavior in the name of “free choice”, but driven solely by shareholder value and profits.  Remember Bhopal?

Another aspect of the concerns with globalization relates to the payment of a fair amount of tax.  Tax evasion is rife: “Every body does it”.  The mega sized News Corporation, through its 700 subsidiaries, paid about 7% of its profit in tax in 1997/98.  Despite the coercive power of national governments, for the very rich, tax is almost optional.

Countries are now competing to reduce their top marginal income tax rates, which have declined from over 80% in some countries some decades ago to a “consensus” of around 30-35% now, to enable major local companies to attract and keep senior executives, professionals and technical specialists in a global market. 

The national taxes are not only supposed to cover the cost of providing equity within the country but the developed countries are obliged to provide aid to developing countries.  The UN target for foreign aid is a mere 0.7% of GDP: most countries don't even come close.

Many believe that foreign aid provided through governments to other governments is mostly wasted on bureaucracy, logistics, and corruption.  There is little prospect of realistic redistribution either within nations or around the world under these circumstances.

In the meantime, the poor are still with us, and great injustice continues.

Will Existing Institutions Help

A recurrent theme in many discussions of globalization is the perceived lack of effective institutions that counterbalance the power of the nation state, the major corporations, and the global market economy.  Reactions to the rampant rise of global capitalism have been varied. 

International socialism was a fine ideal, but to succeed it needed whole communities to support it and that was not forthcoming.  Rising standards of living have allowed the capitalists to push the “trickle down” theory, and diluted the motivation for socialist cooperation. 

The rise of totalitarian communism, which added central control, censorship and coercion to the socialist ideal, is also thankfully collapsing. 

National Socialism, which links socialist ideals to a preference for specific national or ethnic groups, with overtones of a militaristic elite, was discredited for decades after World War II but is becoming more attractive to the disenchanted – the poor, the ignorant, the unemployed.

The less radical welfare state, exemplified in some European countries, has been discredited, and is being dismantled even by supposedly leftist governments.  Can we address the global problem by improving these existing institutions?

The United Nations:

Is the iceberg drifting in the right direction?

Many idealists hope for greater regulation of global corporations and markets through unions between nation states.  The United Nations, the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation, the International Court of Justice, the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, and many other international bodies, perhaps even the United States of Europe, are seen as components in an overall strategy to civilize both the rogue states and free wheeling capitalism.  Perhaps we could have various universal tax schemes, for example on international money market transactions, to restore the financial viability of nation states. 

Major treaties - the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, the UN Conventions on Civil and Political Rights – reinforce peace and human rights – at least in those countries that ratify the treaties and enact enabling legislation!  Much good work is done by the UN without much fanfare in areas we don't normally see.  The UN's role in population control and public health has been a significant success.

But the UN approach is limited and many believe that it has been tried and found wanting, or at least needs substantial re-engineering. 

· The UN generally cannot, or chooses not, to take any action in a country without permission of the national government - even an abusive, totalitarian dictatorship.

· Any proposed UN action can be vetoed by any one of the 5 countries that are permanent members of the Security Council, who may oppose a reasonable action on the basis of ideology or national self-interest.

· Because decisions must be made by consensus and with wide consultation, the UN is seen as clumsy, bureaucratic, slow, timid and ineffectual.

· The UN has very limited influence over a rogue state - or a major power - that chooses to deny it legitimacy and refuses to comply with its requests.

· Even the better member states can choose to ignore certain conventions or interpret them in arbitrary ways to suit themselves.

· The UN has virtually no power over individuals - even for crimes against humanity, the UN success rate is not impressive.

· Most member countries, particularly the richest - the USA- are well behind in their dues, so there are limited funds available for the actual work.

· At its best, the UN and its agencies will remain servants of the nation states of which they comprise, subject to the economic clout of the major donor nations (the United States of America and Europe) who are in turn are subject to the whims of their local electorates.

· Attempts to reform the UN, to overcome these limitations, are seen as threats by conservative politicians and right wing militias alike, who see the UN and its agencies as a threat to their national sovereignty, which is assigned almost sacred reverence as an end in itself.

The UN is broke & we can't fix it.

National Governments:

Can We Trust the Politicians?

A more nationalistic reaction in many countries is to contain the corporations by enforcing competition; especially with “anti trust” legislation such as that used in the USA to break up oil and telephone companies - and Microsoft?  Despite the break ups, the “Seven Sisters” group of oil companies still dominates global oil production, distribution and sale, the “Baby Bells” remain dominant in the USA, and mega mergers are on the rise. 

On the contrary side, with more and more multinationals domiciled in a range of home countries, especially the USA and Europe, the increased diversity restricts the ability of any one nation to control the market just as much as it promotes a freer (supposedly better) market.

In most countries even left leaning governments are adopting the philosophy that it is government’s role “to steer, not row”, and that governments should provide only the lowest safety net. 

The “Third Way”, as epitomized by Tony Blair’s government in the UK, is promoted as a compromise between the radical left and right, which welcomes globalization, competition, privatization and free enterprise, and accepts that the traditional socialist policies – of nationalization, protectionism, controlled markets, high welfare levels – are now inadequate.  Their solution appears to cover improved efficiencies in government, micro-economic reform, re-skilling the work force and judicious support for key (“high tech”) industries: is that all there is?

Although state or national governments are seen by many to be the natural institutions to address inequality, the post war history of the developed countries vividly shows the inherent contradictions.  Why do we have such little faith in our politicians' ability to solve our global problems?

· State and national governments are expected to rule with the consent of the people, but apply their coercive powers to all persons within their border, even if they don't consent, and many object;

· Democratic elections allow a notional 50.1% of the voters on the day to elect the government - so 49.9% of voters may not want the elected government, and when there is a low turnout, the government may have as little as about 25% explicit support;

· Sovereign states have no limits on their coercive power over individuals, except where there is a "Bill of Rights" in the local constitution, but even this can be modified by the Supreme Court, or overturned by a referendum or a coup d'etat.

· Some national governments commit genocide and even democratic countries may support violent despots and oppressive regimes for some misguided perception of the national interest;

· Once elected, state and national governments often enact or enforce legislation that is discriminatory against ethnic groups, the unemployed or other minority groups, or which is contrary even to the wishes of the majority;

· Much of government expenditure is seen to be not only wasted because of inefficiency, incompetence and laziness, but also fundamentally misdirected and misinformed;

· Some government expenditure, a high proportion in some countries, is devoted to the armed forces, business cronies and corrupt officials - who in turn support the government - rather than on desperately needed services to the poor;

· Promises made by state and national politicians are notoriously unreliable, and politicians often make radical changes for which they have no mandate; we accept this as inevitable, but it's not!

· There is no contractual basis for the delivery of the promised government services;

· Service delivery when it does occur is usually fragmented, remote, limited, temporary, bureaucratic, apparently arbitrary, uncaring, impersonal and dehumanizing;

· Appeals against the denial of government services are usually too complex and costly, and there is little local support for an aggrieved welfare recipient;

· Swings in the electoral mood which result in a new government can result in social advances being reversed for ideological reasons divorced from any reality;

· Many effective social policies cannot be implemented, and some regressive policies are implemented, because state and national politicians need to appeal to the lowest common denominator as well as the vocal single issue groups who can influence perhaps 1-2% of the electorate;

· Social planning is extremely short term where there is a 2-4 year electoral cycle, perhaps involving a total turnover of the political leaders and senior bureaucrats;

· Vote rigging is worth while, when the winner takes all, and possible in larger electorates with unknown candidates and secret ballots which can be tampered with, and in the best of countries gerrymanders of electoral boundaries are common;

· Taxes are unfair when the wealthy can avoid them by choosing the country which best suits their tax needs - the coercive power of the state is ineffective;

· Government handouts are often not made only to the deserving. After natural disasters, grants to the uninsured are often the same amounts as those to the insured;

· As Thurber said, that government which governs best governs least.  The socialists can't accept the maxim, but are losing the war;

· Finally, even with the most enlightened and well run state, the benefits only apply within the borders and leave out most of the world.

Can we, in good conscience, knowing these sorts of facts, depend on national governments, or any aggregation of them, to resolve the world's global problems?


In Unions There is Weakness

Unions and the labour movement have been the traditional counterweight to errant capitalism – at least in those countries with freedom of association and the right to strike.  Where unions could be most effective, the workers suffer severe oppression from the government and large corporations.

Despite their best efforts over the past century, union power has almost always only been effective within national boundaries, and the dream of international unity remains elusive.  Even within nations, demarcation disputes and other internecine conflict reduces the effectiveness of the movement.  A good proportion of union members vote against the labour candidates endorsed or financially supported by their own union. 

Attempts to broaden the unions’ role, to include environmental and social concerns have limited success.  Many members prefer their subscriptions to be devoted purely to better wages and conditions.  Employers also support a narrow interpretation of the unions’ role, and governments (even those of the supposed left) often further reduce the scope of unions' effectiveness to the local enterprise, to minimize their impact on national issues and politics.  Many workers fail to see that union subscriptions provides any benefit - struggles for better wages and conditions have improved the lot of all workers (in the country) not just the union members.

Union influence now seems to be effective only when some other interested party is also pushing in the same direction: employers opposing environmental controls or containing competition, racists resisting foreign workers and immigration, insurers seeking to reduce work related accidents and workers compensation costs.  Recent recessions have seen the effective destruction of unions as effective centres of power, and union membership is declining almost everywhere.

Privatised Service Providers:

They Care, Don't They?

Some will say the effects of globalization, just like any other adverse effects, can be minimized with the support of major corporations themselves. One can insure against almost all possibilities.  New corporations will tailor products to suit your requirements: order over the Internet and it will be delivered within a few days. But these services are tailored to the wealthiest 20%, who control over 80% of the total wealth - the poor miss out entirely. 

If your personal property, privacy or safety is at risk, in most countries you can hire a security firm to provide the appropriate degree of assertiveness.  In South Africa, if you fear robbery or rape in your home, you can arrange cover with a rapid response team, who will smash into your house within two minutes of being called, machine guns at the ready.  If you need to quell a rebellion in a local province, Executive Solutions will provide a small army to terminate it.

Commercial organizations will also assist you in selecting the best and cheapest product to by - as consumer agents, especially on the Internet. But such companies are based on consumption: they must encourage more purchases to increase profits.  Some obtain commissions or "kick backs", which may not be disclosed to the consumer, and may or influence their recommendation.

Commercial organizations try to increase profits by adding more value: more elaborate goods command higher prices, greater margins and increased profits.  But it is hard to obtain corporate funding for medical research into additional uses for commodity drugs (such as aspirin) because even if the new application is extremely beneficial there is no money in it: anyone can make and sell aspirin cheaply. 

Most corporations are not committed, of their own accord, to provide useful and safe products.  Tobacco companies are an obvious example.  Fast food, in small amounts, is not a health risk, but isn’t suitable every day. Few corporations promote locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables.  Yet in affluent countries about half the deaths are linked to lifestyle - especially smoking and obesity - while in other parts of the world people starve.

National and State governments try to counteract these negatives of "free enterprise" by education in schools and public awareness campaigns, but some issues are not vigorously pursued. In many countries government colludes with the corporations, often secretly, to obtain bribes, because of shared ideology amongst the rich and powerful or because of narrow-minded views that business must be encouraged to create wealth.

Self Defeating Reactions

Some of the reactions to globalization, rampant capitalism and the perceived meanness of the human spirit appear to be well intentioned, but in essence are self-defeating.  Shouldn’t we look after our own community first?  Isn’t the major problem better training and job opportunity for the young?  Is it worth donating to the Red Cross?  Does Amnesty International actually help? 

Nationalistic Reactions:

Blow You Jack,

We'll Be All right!

The socialist left and the loony right both struggle valiantly to stop the global tide, with calls for higher tariffs and other trade barriers and increased government subsidies to local business.  Even conservative economically rationalist governments who fear an electoral backlash, particularly from country electorates, support some subsidies.  These often become so ridiculous that the subsidy forms the major part of the income of the worker, the foreign multinational still pays minimal tax while repatriating profits and producers are paid by government to produce fewer goods, or to produce goods we don't need.

Workers and employers unite in opposition to any environmental restrictions that may impact on their jobs – or profits – often ignoring the long-term impact on the very resource they are exploiting.  Timber workers and sawmills combine to resist constraints on logging designed to foster sustainable development, then lose their jobs anyway to increased mechanization.

With higher subsidies to be paid out of ordinary peoples' taxes there are less funds for government support of health, education and welfare. Tariffs on imports, paid into consolidated revenue, are ultimately paid by consumers, but only part is returned to the consumer. In many cases it is the rich (the multi-nationals) who benefit from these arrangements at the expense of the poor (ordinary consumers).

Another typical reaction in developed countries with “conservative” governments wishing to compete with developing countries is to attack labour standards – reduce wages and conditions so that the lowest paid worker is effectively at subsistence level, and the work environment is little more than an unregulated sweat shop. Unions who struggle against this trend to lower their members’ standard of living are accused of feathering their own nest and selfishly resisting the “reforms” required to reduce unemployment (even if it is at subsistence wages).  The “race to the bottom” could be won by the country with the greatest inequality within its borders, with its consequent social disruption.

Education in modern states is driven by globalization, where specific skills – technology, engineering, management, economics, marketing, law and finance –  are seen to be required in a modern technological world. The humanities are being left by the wayside: is our humanity being left too?

NGOs: Don Quixotes

Local charities can do much good work.  As they evolve into large non-government organizations (NGOs) their influence spreads.  The Society of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Medecins Sans Frontiers, Amnesty International, World Vision and other church based NGOs save many lives and provide a moral dimension to international affairs. 

Most NGOs appear to focus on short-term aid in acute situations (war, flood, famine, fire), restoring the recipients’ ability to help themselves, to avoid the demeaning aspects of long term dependency.  It’s cheaper too.  There's always another crisis competing for resources.

There is an ongoing debate within NGOs as to whether their funds should be expended on actually delivering programs to the needy or advocacy - persuading governments to provide the services rather than the NGO.  The move to professionalism in human support organizations can also cause disquiet. CEOs of NGOs focus on budgets, strategies, marketing, resources, efficiency and effectiveness: there sometimes appears to be little room for love or compassion.

There is also a major concern that a lot of the income of NGOs is "lost" in fund raising costs, administration and corruption.

Major disadvantages of the traditional NGOs are that they are:

· Not universal - they provide benefits only to the poor, so the affluent have little reason other than pure altruism to be involved;

· Not comprehensive - they usually provide limited or fragmented services;

· Not contractual - management makes the decision on whether a particular individual will receive services, and the potential recipient has few rights to any benefits;

· Not democratic - the recipients and the donors actually have little say in the process, which is often run by a religious group or some other hierarchy;

· Not forceful - they tend to be apolitical in order to be permitted to act in the local state;

· Not reciprocal - in most cases there is no obligation placed on the recipient

· Under capitalized - they have few business investments to provide ongoing funds to redistribute to the needy, and all gifts are applied to operating expenses.

Some would say that by continually applying band aids NGOs inhibit long term solutions and become part of the problem.


The Lone Rangers


Others take a more desperate, personal view while trying to be proactive.  They contribute to charities, support civil rights groups, participate in local community groups – kindergartens, schools, youth groups, civic groups, local councils – and join “national clean up” or “national tree planting” days.  They believe the personal is political; they think global and act local.  On the personal side, they take out medical, life, house and car insurance, save for retirement, spend prudently and hope for the best.

What’s wrong with this?  It does not solve the global problem.  The charity work is at the fringes of society, specialized, or localized.  The personal insurance business generates profits for increasingly global financial corporations.  This sensible, personal approach addresses some of the concerns for those educated, prudent, affluent people who have the wherewithal to plan in this way. 

But to really think globally, individuals need to do more than these piecemeal feel good and self-interested actions.

At the same time, as levels of technical education and access to wider sources of information increase, faith in religious beliefs is declining, the average age of church congregations is increasing, and applications for entry into the priesthood have fallen to below replacement level.

The Existentialist and Post Modernist approaches are based on ignorance (we don't know) and amorality, and ultimately lead to despair. Most of us need a core set of beliefs, but the major religions fail to provide a mythological structure that we can actually believe.  Despite dramatic increases in knowledge, the anti-science/anti-technology reaction that permeates the modern world results in dogmatic, paternalistic religious sects or political parties, often controlled by an apparently charismatic leader.


The march of globalization seems unassailable, but the major proposals to humanize the global economy have all been found wanting.  State welfare is being decimated, because tax is becoming optional for the rich and countries compete to lower their individual and corporate tax rates.  Union and church membership is declining, NGOs supply charity to some but are toothless, the UN is dominated by powerful nations acting in their own self interest, personal responses are ineffectual and many people just despair.


The institution we need must thrive in the context of globalization. It must become powerful, to enable it to acquire the resources to effectively resist its powerful opponents, yet it must retain close links with its constituents, so that it remains part of the solution and does not regress to become part of the problem. It must provide a comprehensive and integrated, well defined set of benefits to all members as of right, not as acts of charity, and not based on their ability to pay, to the degree practical while remaining financially viable.  It must redistribute wealth and income effectively, with active support from the affluent and the wealthy who accept their obligations.  It must impose obligations on the net recipients of benefits to return the favour if and when they are able.  It must provide (even to the affluent) services to which all people are entitled but in practice cannot sometimes obtain.  It must remain sensitive to the needs of the poor.  It must conserve resources and preserve & sustain the environment.  It must be open and democratic.  It must do this on a global scale, independent of local nationality, without imposing a single culture.  It must provide a structure for all of us to manage our global obligations to humanity, where the obligations are seen and felt to be mutual.  It must be practical.  It must have teeth.  It must inspire.  The Global Obligations Organization is intended to meet these goals.

Global Obligations

Global Obligations can begin, and function well in many parts of the globe, as a small society, but should also strive to grow into a major organization. 

Its goal is to redress the balance in favour of individuals – to give to each according to their needs, funded by contributions from each according to their ability. Global Obligations will “guarantee” (where it is within its capability) the basic necessities of life, will provide restitution for homes and livelihood lost by flood, famine, fire or war, will provide medical care and legal aid, a consumer protection service, and advocacy where abuses are inflicted “legally” by government agencies or corporations. Benefits are provided to members only, not to non-members: this is not a “charity”.

Global Obligations must have an appropriate structure, with a separation of powers to provide protection against abuses:

1. A representative structure, that provides for members to contribute to the formulation of policy and rules for the organization;

2. A professional executive body to manage the business of the organization, implementing policy determined by the representatives;

3. A service structure that is comprehensive, integrated and personal;

4. An independent arbitration structure to resolve disputes.

Global Obligations can be established in a number of phases:

1.      Establishment:

A preliminary phase to establish the legal structures, define initial policies and procedures, and set up the financial management, commercial partners and other infrastructure systems;

2.      Initiation:

The initial phase when Global Obligations is actually providing benefits to a small number of members, during which policies and procedures can be refined;

3.      Expansion:

A growth phase, when the organization exceeds a defined size and implements fully its structure and policies, and markets itself widely.

Benefits and Membership

Global Obligations must maintain a prudent investment and risk management strategy, so that it can meets its commitments to its constituents. The key difference between Global Obligations and other NGOs is that Global Obligations is obliged, by contract, to deliver the services: though it may satisfy the taxman’s definition of charity it is not optional “charity”.  To deliver these obligations, the society must be well managed, and have appropriate policies to handle the risks, balancing the demand for services with income from regular contributions and donations, while containing costs and meeting the obligations of a good corporate citizen.

On the cost side, actuaries dedicate their skills to determining the probability and cost of defined sets of events, and can achieve this with sufficient accuracy to allow insurance companies to make profits.  Similarly, Global Obligations needs to budget to receive sufficient income to cover the expected costs and maintain provisions for future contingencies. It must have a definition of “cover” that applies equally to the affluent and the poorer members of the organization, so the affluent perceive that they also receive tangible benefits from membership.

Global Obligations will need to control the admission of members so that it can maintain its obligations without being swamped by demand, with an obvious bias towards admitting net donors.  Its membership policy must be non-discriminatory, and ensure the membership covers a wide ethnic background in its early phases. Once admitted, membership would be valid for life, provided the member continues to meet their obligations, and appropriate provisions must be made to cover future expected costs.

Some may deem this admissions policy to be unfair, denying people their natural rights, or discriminating against those most in need.  However unfortunate, the policy is essential to prevent the organization going bankrupt: if that occurred it would be useless to everyone. 

Moderately affluent members will receive as an integrated package benefits, which includes housing, health, income protection and legal liability insurance, consumer protection and added security services in some circumstances.  Provision of some of these benefits can be outsourced to commercial organizations. Global Obligations would initially act as a kind of insurance broker providing bulk purchased cover. 

A proportion of the affluents contribution – comparable to the broker’s commission – is redirected to subsidize the contributions of the more needy members.  Another proportion (higher for the more affluent) would be a regular “gift” to also be applied to the redistribution.  The proportion would be progressive.  Some Christians tithe themselves 10% of their income.  Islam suggests 1/40th of one’s income to give to the poor, which seems a more achievable target.  The actual amount will need to be determined based on market research and in the context of the net benefit to the society.

The poorer members of Global Obligations would receive benefits as defined, but contribute financially at a lower rate. In some cases the regular contribution may be almost negligible but it should remain non-zero to confirm the member’s commitment. The ability to pay includes not just actual income over a recent period, but expected income and the member's ability to earn or their earning rate.

The provision of any net benefits to a member places a reciprocal obligation on the member to continue to contribute under the standard policies after they have recovered, or obtained, satisfactory circumstances.  This may be effected as a legally enforceable contract, to be rescinded on the member’s death, which is payable on demand if the member wishes to resign their membership when their fortunes improve and their resignation is judged to be to avoid meeting their reciprocal obligations.

The tithe must take into account the taxes paid to area governments and the degree to which the government services overlap the services provided by Global Obligations.  For instance, if a state government provides adequate health care, the calculation of the tithe for individuals from that state must be reduced to reflect the reduced costs.  For a significant donor, particularly a very wealthy donor, Global Obligations must retain the option to negotiate on details - after all the contribution is voluntary, and some donation may be better than none.

Global Obligations would need to manage the claims made on it to reduce the demand on resource to a minimum.  Service delivery will be arranged through local Service Officers who will be familiar with their local members’ circumstances, and will have the explicit authority to cease specific benefits where there is no ongoing need. Costs may be minimized by using other service providers, government agencies, NGOs, and volunteers. Part of the member’s obligations would be to provide services, when appropriate.

As a general approach, Global Obligations would attempt to minimize demands for resources by adopting a somewhat ascetic approach, consistent with minimizing the impact on the environment.  If Global Obligations encourages a member to reduce their consumption, this saves the member some cash, is better for the environment, and leaves the member with an increased ability to contribute to Global Obligations.

Electoral Groups

Each member of Global Obligations may elect to join a particular electoral group, defined according to any criteria whatsoever and may at any time change their electoral group. An electoral group is entitled to elect one representative to act on their behalf for each 500 members.  An election may be held on a periodical basis, organized by independent electoral officers, perhaps using a form of (optionally electronic) postal voting.  The nominated representatives consequently will represent essentially all their constituents, not just 51% - or less, and the constituents may live anywhere in the world.

Representatives elected directly by members will elect "higher level" representatives on the same basis, similarly allowing for dynamic choice of the higher level electoral group.  As each level exceeds another threshold size, it will spawn a new level, where the minimum number of representatives at the higher level is say 10, thus permitting dynamic growth. A maximum of 3 levels would be required to cover the whole human population.

The highest level of elected representatives constitutes the parliament of Global Obligations, and appoints the Executive.  Representatives should be adequately remunerated, as determined by an independent tribunal, taking into account various issues including the local cost of living and the level of income of the constituents.

Service Officers

A major concern with many national welfare service providers and large corporations is that there is no single point of contact, and no one is responsible.  Welfare recipients are expected to divulge sometimes sensitive personal information to complete strangers, sometime repeatedly, and in semi-public places.  A potential global organization established to counter the adverse effects of globalization must adopt specific measures to avoid the same offence.  These strategies may appear to be contrary to efficient management principles, but are essential. 

There is also a concern related to the ability of the service provider to advocate what the client actually needs.  NGOs who contract to governments to provide some services have been threatened with reduced funding or access if they criticize government policy.  Staff at government agencies are usually bound by secrecy laws (perhaps supposedly in the client's interest) or simply threatened with no advancement, demotion or the sack.  The professionals most informed about the needs are often least able to speak about them. 

For these reasons, Global Obligations is based on a service structure that involves locally available, comprehensively skilled, Service Officers, rather like a priest is appointed to a parish, who may work in consultation with the elected representatives from the electoral group.  After an appropriate probation period and training, Service Officers should have some security of tenure that allows for criticism of policy.

As a component of the strategy to avoid becoming “just another impersonal, imperious, global corporation”, Global Obligations should provide a structure to support particular Special Interest Groups (SIGs).  These may be based on religion, ethnicity, locality, politics, the arts, or whatever basis the members see fit, consistent with the key principles of the society.  With the economies of scale, the support costs can be minimized, so small groups that might not have been viable may be able to flourish and counter the drab sameness of modern media’s global cultural imperialism.

Global Obligations must maintain a system of independent arbitration, which has the authority to direct the executive and Service Officers.  Arbiters should be able to strike out a resolution passed at any level which is inconsistent with the key principles of Global Obligations, and will resolve disputes between members and the service officers, disputes related to the electoral process and any other matters. The executive should include “internal auditors” whose role is to ensure that the services delivered to members conform to the agreed entitlements and are delivered efficiently and effectively.

Capital Investments

A key principle of Global Obligations is that is should accrue a sound capital base.  This will provide the organization with income from the investments as well as provide commercial and political influence.  The capital investments account should be kept distinct from ongoing expenses.  Operating expenses will mostly be obtained from ongoing subscriptions from members.  Fund raising drives, major donations and bequests should, in general, be applied to increasing the capital rather than to operating expenses.  Too often, a person’s life savings, bequeathed after their death to some cause, have been quickly consumed with little significant impact.  Global Obligations will benefit from the donations for the foreseeable future.

Donations to the capital fund, the proportion of the subscription which is applied to other members, and the proportion which relates to income protection insurance should be should also be tax deductible in many national jurisdictions. That component which is for certain insurance like benefits (for one’s house) would not be tax deductible without changes to tax law.

Global Obligations will have one stream of its capital investments dedicated to controlling the worst excesses of capitalism via share ownership.  All the income from these investments will be ploughed back into the same Strategic Investments Fund.  The profits from tobacco companies will be used to promote quit campaigns, from gambling companies to promote "responsible" gambling, and from polluting companies to promote better environmental laws, and so on.  Global Obligations would pursue a harm minimization approach rather than a punitive approach to such issues,

Who Would Contribute?

There is a general sense of despair and cynicism which generally increases as one descends the socioeconomic scale.  Donor fatigue is now a risk to campaigns for emergency relief for major natural disasters.  A widespread consensus would be that while it is easy to understand that the poor and needy would willingly join an institution such as Global Obligations, the vast majority of the affluent, who would be net donors, would not be involved - Global Obligations would be lucky to attract even 1% of them.

But a key feature of Global Obligations is that it does not need the support of 50% of any group of voters to begin. A small group of individuals would be sufficient for Global Obligations to start. If Global Obligations does obtain a membership approaching 1% of the population that would be OK.  1% of 6 billion is larger than all but a handful of countries.  With 1%, Global Obligations would have an influence far beyond its absolute size or wealth.

As Global Obligations grows in influence, it can encourage national and state governments to provide incentives for even the wealthy to join.  And again it needs to be emphasized that tax for the very wealthy is already partly optional.

But the cynical despairing view of human nature is not completely true.  Many individuals and groups could find good reasons to support Global Obligations:

· Many major corporations do try to govern themselves openly and transparently and could take seriously Krugman’s warning at Davos.  To improve their image, and to be (seen to be?) a good “corporate citizen”, many corporations donate to worthy causes;

· Some forward-looking companies may contribute to Global Obligations to cultivate partnership arrangements in anticipation of being considered for outsourced services;

· There are many, many wealthy philanthropists who contribute millions of dollars to favoured causes;

· Some national governments, such as home countries of multinationals, could see that the goals and effects of Global Obligations are consistent with their national interests.  Capitalist countries should see Global Obligations as a development that requires substantial and open support because it mitigates the negative effects of global corporations;

· Minority groups - many of whom can be affluent or even wealthy - who desire a more effective counterweight to oppression by the rest of the community;

· Democratic socialists, who support the need to share according to our ability;

· Economic rationalists, who support the reduction in area government services and advocate volunteer bodies providing an increasing share of the safety net;

· Anarchists who believe that the power concentrated in nation states, and also in major corporations, is corrupting, so they seek to limit the power of national governments;

· Religious people – Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Wicans and many others– who share the sense of mutual obligation to fellow humans, even if the foundation of their beliefs differ profoundly;

· Environmentalists who see the need to contain global corporations and nations;

· Peace activists who wish to reduce the linkage between geography and morality;

· The idealistic young who typically see national politics and conventional religion as based on lies and deception, and need something more to believe in;

· Ordinary families on modest incomes, who have difficulty determining the appropriate level of insurance, or are bewildered by the range of choice, or feel helpless in the face of major retailers, or are dubious that the providers will pay up when required;

· Ordinary people who feel that they should contribute to the community, or who simply desire to create a more secure but more diverse environment for their children.

Members and Services

For example, Global Obligations as an institution could provide:

· Clean water and a balanced diet to members and their families in a famine;

· Protection against racial discrimination or "ethnic cleansing" by negotiation, legal appeals, publicity, relocation, or local security support;

· Health services - medical and hospital treatment and health promotion strategies;

· Legal aid services for criminal and civil matters;

· Legal and financial support to prisoners of conscience or others arbitrarily imprisoned or abused outside the rule of law;

· Re-establishment of an owner operated subsistence farm or small business after a natural disaster such as earthquake, flood or bush fire;

· Consumer advice prior to and after purchasing a product, particularly where large corporations fail to take responsibility for major harm they have caused.

Area Government

What impact would Global Obligations have on national and state governments?

Sovereign states in the past have had unfettered authority over the local citizenry and any visitors within their borders.  Though some countries have self-imposed restrictions in their constitutions the local citizens are entitled to change their constitutions as they see fit, without foreign interference. Rousseau's “social contract” is achieved by allowing all (or most) adults to vote for the government, but it fails where there are not free and fair elections, and fails where the majority abuses a minority. But even in the best states, for a local born person, citizenship is effectively not optional (moving country is too costly), and where majority rules, the minority remains unrepresented. The only true social contract applies when membership is optional, and participation is available to all.

We must accept that area governments are not the only legitimate sources of authority: in fact they are often illegitimate. The principle of sovereignty must be accepted by all nations with respect to each other to reduce the likelihood of war, but that does not imply or require sole, supreme, or unrestricted authority within national borders. The moral force cannot be confined to particular patches of land and water. Aggregations of states, such as the UN, are not the only logical alternatives to national law.

Given that some compulsory area government is required, it should be restricted to the human rights essentials and the area based issues that relate to geography: infrastructure such as roads, communications channels, clean air, land and water, civil order, public health, markets, the monetary system.

Preservation of the environment is mandatory on all individuals and organisations, including Global Obligations.  Because the environment and the acts that degrade the environment are essentially geographical, coercive area based government must be the primary institution which monitors and maintains the physical environment.  Global Obligations is thus only part of a strategy to preserve the global environment.

Similarly, issues such as the elimination of weapons of mass destruction would be strongly supported by Global Obligations, but must be resolved by the United Nations and its member countries. Wars seem to be moving to guerilla warfare rather than mass mobilization of organized military forces.  Global Obligations could improve the chances of world peace by reducing the linkage between what is perceived to be morally right or defensible and geographical areas and improving the lot of the disenfranchised.

Taxes based on the location of a transaction, including property taxes, poll taxes, and goods and services or value added taxes naturally are linked to area governments.  Progressive taxes imposed by one state on the total of an individual’s income become less viable in a global environment, and to some degree are voluntary, so these will diminish.  One of Global Obligations strategies would be to persuade national governments to provide generous tax treatment of contributions to Global Obligations by the affluent.

The intensity of various separatists' movements could be reduced if the minority group can dissociate the perceived benefits of separation from geography. Global Obligations' Special Interest Groups can provide additional services to the separatists that they desire. On the other hand, Global Obligations would in general support separation from a larger entity where a majority of the locals support the split, there is no intent to oppress local minorities and the split is not motivated by a selfish desire to exploit local rich resources.

Why should I share services, political representation with another, just because they live within a certain distance of my home?  Why should I be denied representation if my party’s candidate lost the local electorate?  Why should I have to fund services with which I disagree, or have withdrawn from me benefits that I require, because some proportion of my neighbours say so?

As we become more mobile and have access to faster communications, geographical ties mean less and less. Shared interests and commitment to a cause, rather than geographical proximity, will more and more define our community.  Even with the best we can expect in national governments, a reformed United Nations, ethical (or controlled) corporations and more effective NGOs, there will still be a need for a counter balance to the power and uniformity of big government and big business.


So what is different or new about Global Obligations?  In contrast to state or national governments, corporations, and non-government organisations, Global Obligations is based on a set of key principles which ensure it is:

· Global - members can participate regardless of where they live;

· Reciprocal - receipt of a benefit imposes reciprocal obligations;

· Comprehensive - covering civil and political rights, personal property and consumer support;

· Contractual - policy benefits must be delivered under binding legally binding contracts;

· Universal - all members, rich and poor, are entitled to the same benefits;

· Progressive - members' contributions are discounted for their ability to pay;

· Participative - donors and beneficiaries elect representatives who define the policies;

· Representative - most members will actually have their candidate as their representative;

· Personal - with small electoral groups and accessible tenured service officers;

· Extendible - special interest groups may address environmental, peace, social or other community activities;

· Directed - small electoral groups allow representatives to focus on services or policy without the distraction and dislocation of regular massive elections;

· Assertive - as the capital base and membership numbers grow, commercial and political influence will follow;

· Financially Viable - the admission of new members is controlled, and risks managed, to ensure policy obligations can be met;

· Transparent - open, public, with independent, authoritative dispute resolution;

· Inspiring - because it is global, personal, assertive, universal, comprehensive, progressive, participative, and reciprocal

· Achievable - can be established without a majority or support from any politicians.


If you agree Global Obligations is addressing the right problem but you are doubtful about this proposed solution then consider the alternatives. 

· You can join an armed struggle, in an attempt to force others to be good. Large corporations and wealthy democratic countries will not, and should not, succumb to violence. Even with the coercive power of the State, for the rich taxes are partly optional.  Global Obligations must be voluntary. 

· You can continue the (non-violent) struggle to persuade the general populous and the politicians to be more generous, by being active in politics (where this is permitted).  Campaigning and compromising may over time lead to global improvements.

· You can join all of The Red Cross, Amnesty International, the local Consumers Association, Greenpeace, and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (if the government will let you), and take out health, home, legal and income protection insurance (if you can afford it).  In some counties, you’ll have to leave.

· You can join Global Obligations.

· Or you can shut up.


Global Obligations' immediate need is for inaugural members who can actively contribute to the establishment of the organization - with legal issues, policy development, actuarial assessments, administration and marketing.  It also needs benefactors to provide the funds to cover the costs of consultants and staff to coordinate and complete these tasks.

There are two main components to joining Global Obligations: looking after yourself (and the society will help you when required); and helping the society to look after others.

In the face of the seemingly irresistible forces of globalization, we as individuals can make a difference, perhaps not to the whole world, but definitely to each other, to those who share our Global Obligations. 

All people – from all countries, all backgrounds, and all degrees of wealth or poverty – have obligations to themselves, their families, their familiars and humanity as a whole.  By being part of Global Obligations we are declaring that our fellow members at least will be treated with equity, regardless of where they live, providing they accept their obligations to us, according to the Key Principles of the society. 

And this is not just a fervent wish, it does not require a revolution, it is not just a goal we believe the majority should accept.  We can do it now.

To contact send email to:  Home

Address: Global Obligations Establishment Trust, G.P.O. Box 2004, Melbourne, 3001 Australia