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Victory Over Want


Victory Over Want and the Four Freedoms

By James Cumes / About the author

(previously released in "On Line Opinion", February 2002)

In his famous Four Freedoms speech in 1941, President Roosevelt called for Freedom from Want. Sixty years later, his successor, President Clinton, in his BBC Dimbleby Lecture, reminded us that billions, including many in the richest countries on earth, still live in dire poverty, are homeless or poorly housed, are educated far below their potential, and lack adequate medical care. He told us that one and a half billion people - a quarter of the world's population - never get to drink a glass of clean water.

Isn't it time we determined to remedy this tragic situation, to strive to reach the 60-year-old goal and free the world from want?

If governments won't do it, should not the people, in the exercise of direct democracy, take the matter into their own hands?

That is the essential concept behind "A Democratic Initiative for Victory Over Want (VOW)."

To realise worldwide victory over want is a sufficient challenge in itself. It is a sufficient reason for us to bend all our efforts to achieve it. However, there are other, compelling reasons why we must accept the challenge.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will not bring an end to terrorism or deliver us the peaceful change we need. Nothing can justify the monstrous acts of September the Eleventh and Bali; but we must be positive in our response. We need to show vision in acknowledging the extent of human poverty and deprivation. We must acknowledge our failure to respect human aspirations and ensure that people are not, in Roosevelt's words, "ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished."

We are right now in the paradoxically "fortunate" position that we can be both hard-headed and humanitarian. We can help ourselves while we help others. For once, we can "globalise" in our own self-interest while we lift up the lives of billions of our fellow human beings. We can do that especially now because the world's three largest economies - the United States, Japan and Germany - are already in a recession that, in the coming months, could deepen and spread.Other major economies in Western Europe are in or at the edge of recession.

Only the elderly now have personal memories of the Great Depression of the 1930s. The entire economic, social and political systems of old, proud and powerful societies seemed then to be crumbling. Many had a quarter or more of their workers idle. From the Okies who trudged to California to the tramps on the dusty roads of the Australian outback, the story was of people who had little left except courage and a will to endure.

We sought desperate remedies. Communism and other left-wing ideologies gained support and authority. Fascism, nazism and militarism took over in several of the most powerful countries. By the end of the 1930s, countries still crippled by economic distress and insecurity stumbled into the most widespread, destructive and murderous war the world has ever known.

Only the elderly remember; but none of us should ever forget.

Nothing we did to solve the long economic crisis really worked – or not enough. Some expedients – balancing budgets and cutting public expenditures, for example – served only to dig the depression deeper. However, some policies did lighten the dark clouds. They were projects of public investment mostly forced on unwilling governments in order to give some relief, however inadequate, to the armies of unemployed.

Britain had its public housing projects. In the United States, the famous Tennessee Valley Authority showed what public enterprise could do to help private enterprise get back on its feet. In Australia, parts of our cities were sewered for the first time by relief workers toiling with pick and shovel for a day or two each week, earning 75 cents a day.

In the last twenty years, public investment has gone out of fashion, but we must be clear that it is not the enemy of private investment and enterprise. On the contrary, and especially when times are tough, public investment is, for the private sector, a close, stalwart and indispensable friend. So we have a need to re-launch the world economy back to prosperity and a simultaneous long-term, global need to lift the quality of life and meet the aspirations of billions of our fellow human beings. Those are the imperatives that Victory Over Want is designed to meet. Can we meet them? Do we have the resources?

President Clinton is confident that we do. For the cost of the "cheap war" in Afghanistan, costing $12 billion a year, the United States can meet its share of the cost of abolishing poverty, he said, and still have "money left over." On 30 January 2002, he told an international audience in Dubai that "technology can accelerate by a generation" victory over want everywhere.

Our crime is that we waste our resources. We throw them away. It has been estimated that the rise in unemployment from about four to nearly six per cent cost the American economy about $350 billion. Just consider how that cost compares with the total gross national product of many small and middle-ranking countries. Consider the contribution elimination of this waste could make to the abolition of poverty, homelessness, disease, environmental pollution and the rest, not only in the United States but around the world.

We must bear in mind that the rise in unemployment in the major economies might be far from over. We might be only at the start. The recent tendency for the jobless rate in the United States to level out might be temporary. If the United States rate were to reach 8 or even 10 per cent, the impact would be devastating. In Germany, the workless now number more than 4 million. In Japan, unemployment is at record post-war highs and could go higher still.

If governments won't act to stop this waste and turn our resources into productive channels, then private individuals – exercising their right to direct democracy - must act or force them to act in ways that they, the people, direct. That is what VOW proposes. VOW envisages a process whereby people of all races, religions and secular beliefs will work together for the common good – to accelerate, as President Clinton suggested, our reaching the goal of freedom from want "by a generation" – and perhaps more. The process involves, first, a gathering of moral support from all around the world. Then Commissions will be convened on a wide range of issues.

We will have Commissions on, for example, Economic Growth and Employment; Wealth, Income and Inequality; Mobilising Financial Resources for the War against Want; Financial and Other Pledges for the War against Want; Priority Destinations for Public Investment; Housing the Homeless; Free, Universal Education; Free, Universal Health Care; Water Resources; Transport and Communications; Rights of Economic Migrants and Asylum Seekers and Regulation of Economic, Social and Political Migration; Logistics for the World Conference; and Conference Participation and Issue of Invitations.

People sitting around the tables at these Commissions will be from India and Ireland, China and Peru, Nigeria and Nicaragua. They will be Moslems and Methodists, Brahmins and Buddhists, Catholics and Jews. Some will be poor, others rich. The disadvantaged will sit alongside the "elites."

Their common quality will be their determination to promote the common "global" good, to reconcile differences, to abolish want and, through it all, to achieve peaceful, continuing change for the betterment of all. The Commissions will report to a World Conference which will decide on ways to implement agreed measures.

It is crucial that, within this process, voices of dissent be heard and the content of dissent thoroughly debated. They must not be shut out as they have been from intergovernmental gatherings from Seattle to Genoa, Montreal to Melbourne; and from the World Economic Forum, in Davos and New York, where agenda and guests were acceptable to the world's 1000 foremost corporations and their smaller governing group, or from the World Trade Organisation. That exclusion of other voices, other ideas must stop.

Governments and their mainstream advisers have failed. They have failed even to listen. Participants in the VOW process must therefore help us make a fresh start, with fresh ideas and fresh policies. Governments of goodwill and equivalent individuals in the economic, social and political mainstream are welcome but they must not be allowed to dominate the process.

We must have a real globalisation of ideas, not a globalisation of formulae devised to serve the self-interest of particular countries or particular economic, social or other groups. The process will draw on the expertise of those who know both the immensity of the task and the means by which it can be successfully accomplished. Finance for the VOW process and national and international infrastructure projects will come eventually, we hope, from most or all governments but especially in the preparatory stages and in stimulating governments to act, funds from private associations, foundations and individuals will be vital. Over many years, far-sighted individuals have made generous contributions to many causes in many countries and regions. We envisage that we must look to private initiative to supply both the vision and initial funding for the VOW process, while governments must necessarily be called upon, at the conclusion of the VOW process, to provide the policies and the public resources necessary to implement the programs for peaceful change which the VOW process has formulated.

VOW opens horizons for peaceful change we have scarcely glimpsed before and, in the new millennium, can lead us forward, not only with hopes high but, above all, with newfound assurance that we know the road we must travel by. It is a road we can and must all travel together - hands clasped, as in the VOW logo - living together, working together, prospering together.

This is not an impossible dream. It is a realistic vision. All we need is to accept the challenge and feel again the fire in our bellies that we knew at great moments in the past. In 1969, Man walked on the Moon. Now is the time to make another "giant leap for mankind" – this time right here on Earth.

It was -




Cumes is the author of The Human Mirror: The Narcissistic Imperative in Human Behaviour, and - in March 2003 - the just-launched novels The Hedonists, Haverleigh and Operation Equalizer.

James has had a colourful career around the world, rich in experience of war and peace, love and hate, the violence, greed and evil that move men and women, their lusts and the care that can sometimes lead them to greatness.

James graduated in Arts (Queensland) and Diplomatic Studies (Canberra) and is a Doctor of Philosophy (London). After soldiering as a teenager in Papua and Dutch New Guinea in World War II and fascinating diplomatic posts in Paris, Geneva, London, Bonn and Berlin, he became Ambassador to the European Union and several individual countries, High Commissioner to Nigeria and visiting Ambassador to a dozen other West African countries, Permanent Representative to the United Nations and UNIDO in Vienna, Governor on the Board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Australian representative at UN and other meetings around the world.

He has written a dozen books: on history, economics, philosophy and government and four novels. Because of its historical content and its recall of his wartime experiences, Haverleigh tends to be his favorite; but The Hedonists draws realistically on his dipomatic life,its shallow self-interest and sexual indulgence as well as its potential for more noble enterprise. Operation Equalizer is a warning of the ultimate terror, based especially on his background as Governor on IAEA.

He is married to an Austrian, Heide Schulte von Bäuminghaus who is herself a successful author, especially of the popular - and highly entertaining - Diplomatic Carousel. With their teenage daughter, Kim, they move between homes in Australia, Austria, Monaco and the South of France.