Date: Thu, 16 Nov 1995 22:45:51 GMT
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The New World Order: crisis in ethics and rationality

By Marcos Arruda, PACS-PRIES/CS, 8 November 1995

It is necessary to fight against the competition… The purpose of society is exchange. A society whose driving force is competition is one that says I must commit suicide. Since, if I am competing with others, I cannot exchange with them; I must dominate them, destroy them.Albert Jacquard, French geneticist

Fellow Participants:

Yesterday, at the opening session, Dr. Josi Roberto Batocchio made a lucid self-criticism of the silence with which the BBA met the outcry from the general public and victims of persecution during the military dictatorship. Happily, many of its members responded with daring and courage; of that, I am a living witness. I was arrested, held incommunicado for months, tortured nearly to the point of death for working with the oppressed and believing it possible for Brazil to be fair, free and fraternal. I owe my life to lawyers like Ticio Lins e Silva and others, who defended me bravely then. My collaboration with the BBA in recent years—with colleagues and friends such as Drs. Herman Baeta, Marcello Lavenhre, Sirgio Sirvulo and Joco Luis Pinaud — is marked by gratitude and esteem, since it stems from this happy meeting of solidarity in the past and action for justice in the present, and the shared faith in a more human future.

It is an honor and a delight be able to share with you these few days of reflection on ways to introduce ethical principles explicitly into social relations, including those at the international level. The current backdrop to international relations is the globalization of relations of production and social relations under the planet-wide sway of the Market and Capital. I invite you all to accompany me in examining globalization, the major challenges it raises and a criticism of the ethics that pervades it. As a counterpoint to this discussion, there is a proposal for another kind of globalization, centered on the human person and grounded in an ethics of responsibility, collaboration and solidarity.


There are no human relations that are not permeated by some kind of ethics, understood as a collection of values and criteria that serve to give all action a connotation as “good” or “bad”. However “pragmatic” the choices of statespersons, transnational businesspersons or any other actor on the world stage may be, these choices are always based on ethical values and criteria. The problem facing us in this Conference is not, therefore, the “lack of ethics” in the international relations that have shaped a world order of striking inequality and injustice, but rather that its ethics is centered on false values, bound solely to the interests of wealth, prestige and power, or restricted to the superficial comings and goings of contemporary history. This ethics is thus blind to the deeper, wider reality of the human person who is at once individual and society, the crest of the wave of natural evolution, a being in construction, whose physical, cultural and spiritual structure and dynamics continue to evolve in time that is unitary and irreversible. It is of fundamental importance to identify the sense of this evolution, for that is what will provide the coordinates for an ethics founded on real life.


Just as human beings are, by nature, relationship—with themselves, with nature, with mankind as society and species and with each other — so too, each human group and each nation is also relationship—with itself, with other human groups and nations, with mankind of the past and future and with nature—particularly so at this stage in the Earth's history, when the world's population is heading for eight billion by the turn of the century. There can be no understanding the truth about a nation outside the context of these relations that constitute nations in space and time.


Let us consider briefly the process of globalization of Capital and the increasingly complex web of social relations at the regional and world levels. Let us begin with the most evident socioeconomic configurations.

1. Between 1965 and 1990 world wealth as measured by GNP grew ten times, while world population merely doubled. In this period, that part of world income appropriated by the wealthy countries increased from 68% to 72%, while their population fell from 30% to a mere 23% of world population (based on World Bank figures).

2. According to the UNDP, in 1992, 1.3 billion people lived in absolute poverty, while the income of the wealthiest 20% had grown from 70.2% in 1960 to 82.7% in 1989 and then to 84.7% in 1991. Thirty years ago, the income of the richest 20% was 30 times that of the poorest 20%; today it is 60 times.

3. Using UNDP parameters to estimate per capita annual income, we find that in 1992 80% of the world's population survived with a meager US$ 702 per year (or 15.3% of the world product). Where in the world could a worker with this income be considered anything but poor? The conclusion is that the world of modernization led by the globalization of Capital contains at least 4.36 billion people in poverty or misery.

4. In 1987, according to the magazine Forbes, there were 145 individuals who owned more than US$ 1 billion; today there are 358, or 150% more. Taken together, they own US$ 761.9 billion, which is equal to the income of 45% of the world's population (2.4 billion people). Five years after the end of the cold war, annual military spending continues to be US$ 815 billion, which corresponds to the income of nearly half the world's population. In the absence of an ideological enemy, to what end is this spending directed? It defends the privileges revealed by the figures above, and the free Market that made them possible, against the threat represented by the impoverished majority of mankind. Nonetheless, in a 1994 report, GATT declared that only 7% of the world market can be called a free market. The rest is intercompany market or market administered by agreements within and between States.3

Let us now look at the processes, especially in the 1980s. The last decade was marked by profound changes in the behavior of major economic groups, above all those based in the industrialized countries.

1. At the beginning of the 1980s, transnational groups originating in wealthy countries already controlled one third of world production and 70% of world trade. The emergence of “stagflation” and the consequent reduction in profit rates, aggravated by high interest rates and a sweeping recession early in the decade, led a growing number of corporations in the wealthy countries—especially the USA—to transfer activities to developing counties, with a view to increasing their competitiveness and profit margins by cutting labor costs. Pressured by wealthy countries' protectionism against imports from the Southern hemisphere, however, many groups sought opportunities to invest and increase their presence in markets in the USA and Europe. As a result of this and also of the debt crisis in poor countries, activated particularly by the interest rate explosion in the USA, the flow of direct foreign investment to developing countries fell to 20% of world flows between 1980 and 1984, and to little more than 10% between 1985 and 1989.

* In ethical terms, the decisions by the governments of industrialized countries and by the economic groups originating there have been guided by the pursuit of profits, of opportunities to accumulate capital and to control markets and areas of geopolitical influence. The rationale of Capital leads it to wherever it sees the best opportunities to reproduce and accumulate and not to where the most pressing human needs are to be found. Evidence of this can be seen in facts like the differential treatment given to China and Cuba by US trade authorities and the practice by European countries of “dumping” meat on sub-Saharan Africa. The consequence has been to increase the gap between rich and poor countries and between rich and poor sectors within countries in both the Southern and Northern hemispheres.

2. The rapid development and spread of microelectronic computing and communications technologies has permitted goods and service production to be globalized in many sectors of the economy. The flexible business organization system has flourished, integrating “knowing” with “doing” in all spheres of production at the microeconomic level. It organized teams of more and more highly skilled workers and brought them—no longer just the technicians and experts—to participate in improving products and processes. It introduced the discipline of total quality control, which requires that quality be incorporated into the product or service, and not just that defects be corrected after they occur. It developed relations of collaboration, not just at the workplace but also with suppliers, to encourage the feeling of reciprocal (albeit asymmetrical) obligations and longer-term commitments between companies and their workers and between companies and their suppliers. It reduced or eliminated waste by means of improved labor management and organization and by overcoming the under-utilization of human knowledge, creativity and capacity.

* In ethical terms, these advances have been of great significance for mankind. They have permitted substantial increases in productivity, in product quality and in the extent to which workers are actively incorporated into the act of production. They have raised the production capacity of the human being to levels at which human needs can be met with a far smaller expenditure of labor and energy.

Meanwhile, there are two contradictions connected with these advances that constitute structural weaknesses in the process of Capital-led globalization and which bring mankind to a historic crossroads. One is that the flexible production system and the new social relations it is engendering at the national, regional and global levels—which are in fact the driving force behind globalization—essentially occur solely at the micro-socioeconomic level. This contributes to furthering the fragmentation of interests, especially in a climate dominated by neoliberal ideology. The trend towards fiercer, predatory competition, on the one hand, and oligopoly, on the other, is becoming more acute and market freedom is restricted to an ever-smaller number of companies. As a result, meso- and macro-socioeconomic structures and national, regional and international legislation are becoming steadily more unsuited and insufficient for controlling global agents and guaranteeing democratic access to the benefits of organizational and technical progress.

The other is that, in the context of the globalized Market, increasing productivity gains are appropriated by the owners and managers of Capital, accelerating the concentration of income, heightening predatory competition and generating a phenomenon which is new in the world's economic history: growth with unemployment. As it globalizes, so the flexible system is eliminating more jobs than it can create. Capital and the deregulated market do not make priorities of employment or human needs. The principle of competitive modernization is to conserve a small number of permanent, stable jobs in companies, creating around them a mass of precarious, part- time jobs; this is the division of unemployment. Projecting this process of disqualification and marginalization of workers points to a social crisis of perhaps uncontrollable proportions, with repercussions on the psychology, the identity and the dignity of working men and women. It also points to a widening of the gap separating those who have capital and purchasing power from those who do not—and thus to a possible crisis in demand and ever narrower limits on opportunities for quantitative expansion and capital accumulation at the world level.

3. Progress in microelectronics, computing and telecommunications has also laid the foundations for globalization in three other interconnected areas: globalization of finance, globalization of demand and globalization of competition.

* In ethical terms, there is good and bad to these globalization processes:

a) While facilitating investment in production and a speedier, more comprehensive response to human needs at the world level, financial globalization has also been accompanied by intensive speculation that has caused foreign exchange uncertainties, diverted capital that should be applied to human development, nurtured inflationary trends and weakened the public sector's capacity to conduct effective monetary and fiscal policies.

b) The globalization of demand—based as it is on the growing presence in developing countries of products, techniques, companies and publicity generated in the highly industrialized countries—tends to aggravate the former's peripheral, subordinate position, marked by imitative patterns of production and consumption, and by values, behavior and expectations molded to elitist or exogenous standards.

c) The globalization of competition among producers and suppliers has led to greater productivity worldwide but, at the same time, has also led them to race feverishly against each other, making any means justifiable for the purpose of greater capital accumulation or simple economic survival. The perverse side to the increased product quality and competitiveness achieved by the flexible production system is that it has facilitated planned reductions in the useful life of an increasing number of products, harming consumers and the natural environment, and it has increased the need for investment in subsidiary — and in many cases, superfluous—activities, like publicity, marketing and demand for luxury products.

d) A fourth dimension, permeated by one or more of the other three, is the globalization of corruption and of what may be classed as immoral activities, such as the production and marketing of arms and drugs, child prostitution, laundering of illegal money, tax evasion, and illegal movements of profits and capital.

4. Finally, I shall just mention a few other factors of impoverishment that are characteristic of international socioeconomic relations marked by competitive globalization. Detailed in other papers4 , these include the structural adjustment programs guided by the logic of neoliberalism and directed to accentuating poor countries' subordinate insertion in the world market economy; the vicious circle of foreign indebtedness, which continues to divert, to creditors in the North, funds indispensable for overcoming hunger and poverty and for human development; protectionism and unequal trade relations between the wealthy countries and those of the Southern hemisphere; the losses linked to unequal access to world markets; and recent cuts in international aid.


Development and international relations centered on the isolated, abstract individual, on the market and on money as absolute ends have not proved capable of responding satisfactorily to the needs of the majority of mankind. To this kind of development there corresponds an ethics of the total market, according to which everything that limits Capital's freedom to act, to accumulate and to concentrate must be suppressed and eliminated.

However, not even among the oppressed—who are the majority of the world's population—is there consensus about the perversity of these relations, and for at least two reasons. One is that those who defend the global market system are good at gilding the bright side and concealing or evading the issue of the system's ugly side. The other is that the culture of Capital—combining aims and values, modes of social relation and institutional mechanisms—is hegemonic and thus wields a profound influence over the attitudes, behavior and expectations of the oppressed themselves.

The capitalist Market system and Capital-centered development are complex and dynamic. Their principle is not stagnation, but growth, change and increasing complexity. And these are life principles. Nonetheless, there is something in the way of the Market system that also denies these life principles. The fruits it bears include economic and social inequalities, environmental destruction and the rapid depletion of non-renewable natural resources associated with excessive production and consumption, the extreme materialism that marks relations among people and nations, all kinds of wars and violence, and personal loneliness, isolation and loss of identity, which lead people to all kinds of escape, including drugs and suicide. It would be fair to say that economic growth seems to bear an inverse relation to what we could call the “rate of happiness”5 . The same system that has lifted human existence to unprecedented levels of material progress, has also substantially lowered the value of the human person to the basest levels. These facts conceal a lesson that must be learnt.This ambivalence of the Market system is bewildering and deceptive. It enables the system to present its public face as if it were the only reality and to attribute its private face to fleeting internal circumstances or to external scapegoats. Capital's cultural hegemony can be attributed largely to the power of information and propaganda. Its promises of material well-being and freedom have been convincing and millions believe that this world is the only one possible or desirable. In addition, responsibility for the decisions that lie at the root of the system's prejudicial, dehumanizing manifestations are diluted among businessmen, politicians, governments and international organizations.


The collectivization that has characterized the organization of a number of societies in the 20th century constituted an important step towards the future of mankind, corresponding—as we shall see later — to a new phase in the evolution of the human species, subsequent to that in which individuality blossomed and predominated.

To my mind, it was not collectivization that failed in Central and Eastern Europe, but the statist, totalitarian way it was undertaken. To this mistaken form of socialism corresponds the ethics of the Total State, according to which the individual has value only as an impersonal part of the collective, and where the collective is personified by the State dominated by a single party, single proprietor, single manager and single effective decision-maker. In fact, socialisms are less socialist to the extent to which they lack societies that are organized, aware, active and participatory. In terms of international relations, the result of this distorted collectivization was ambiguous. On the one hand, it promoted solidarity and support for the peoples of other countries, but on the other, it also generated subordination and oppression. One thing is certain: it was unable to construct an effective alternative to the system of international relations dominated by competition and the Market.6 The collapse of these regimes opened up room for us to draw lessons from the failure of this exacerbated collectivism and to seek realistic, creative forms of socialization. More than anything else, however, it made it possible to spread worldwide the beliefs that Capital and the Market are the definitive victors, that socialism is dead and buried and that the Earth's future belongs to the Democracy of Global Capital. Many of those who had allied themselves with the working majority lost hope or grew cynical. The spirit of citizenship atrophied and, at the world level, the ideology of the “res privata” predominated over that of the “res publica”.

In the present unipolar world of the Market, globalization centered on the Total Market is competitive globalization, the globalization of inequalities, the globalization of security and plenty for a few, of the illusion of an eternally happy present for those who can “consume”, and of oppression, subordination or exclusion for the majority.


Here, I would like to propose, on the one hand, that another kind of organizational process is possible in the relations of production at both the national and world levels; and, on the other hand, that just as Capital and its institutions are globalizing, so another globalization movement is taking place. This is the globalization of human awareness. Both are signs of hope and both carry with them and radiate the vigor of a higher ethic.

The discussion over alternatives for social relations always proceeds along a knife-edge between the risks, on one side, of straying into utopian voluntarism and, on the other, of sliding into fatalist—and only apparently pragmatic—conformism. The world today is hard on majorities, but it is not the only real world because, within it, are to be found, in potential, the seeds of another reality (time is seen here as the frame of experience but, at the same time, the horizon of expectations)7 . Each one of us has not only the right to dream of this other reality, but also is co-responsible for helping it emerge and unfold.The long-term aim is to reintegrate the economy into the national and global social ecosystem, to convert it from the end to the means of generating well-being for each and every citizen. Rejecting the Total Market and its ethics does not mean either total abolition of the market nor absolute strengthening of the State. What it does is to promote society and each of its components to the status of active subjects in the economy.

In political and economic terms, this entails democratizing the State, so it can serve as the political driving force behind a participatory strategy of solidarity for development and for democratizing ownership of the means of production, so as to ensure that all those who work also participate in controlling and managing those means. This has occurred on a growing scale in the least likely of countries, the USA, where nearly 1,500 firms, some of them mega-corporations (as in the recent case of United Airlines) have shifted from being private property to being social property. In such a context, it is possible to recreate the market under the control of society and a democratized State and to subject the market and private economic agents to the priorities of developing the human person at all levels and in all dimensions.

In cultural terms, however, it is indispensable that there be a thorough break with the rationale and ethics of market-centered development. For the social-individual human person—above all the worker, at this stage in History—to be placed at the center of the praxis of development requires the adoption of new values and concepts to underpin attitudes and behavior and to inspire new expectations at all levels of human existence.

From this line of reasoning, a series of redefinitions emerge. The human person ceases to be conceived as an isolated individual in permanent competition with others and comes to be seen as a being-in-relation, at once a total person and a conscious part of more comprehensive wholes, both material and immaterial; a being aware of the common challenges to be faced and of a common existence to be shared. The market comes to be seen as a relationship among conscious social agents, which must be limited in scope by the public interest and which needs to be regulated if it is to serve the greater objectives of social and human development. The economy comes to be conceived as a subsystem opened up in a broader context of the social ecosystem and responsible for meeting the material needs of all citizens of the national and global societies in a just and sustainable manner. Labor ceases to be reduced to a mere means of subsistence by way of wages. For certain progressive thinkers (such as Jacques Robin or Roger Sue8 ) it should, as a response to the process of globalization, cease to be conceived as a basis for social union. To me, on the contrary, it should be freed from the wage prison9 and come to be valued as praxis of communication and creation, as a nucleus of human development, to usher in not a society free of labor, but a society of free labor. In this way would be given the bases for an ethics of human-centered development: on the one hand, relating economic activity to the concrete human person and the concrete Earth, and thus to the issues of survival and human life raised by present and future history (an ethics of co-responsibility and temporality); on the other hand, generating new forms of remuneration and guarantees of survival, to free labor from the chains of wages so that this kind of relationship, which is so vital to developing the human person, may completely fulfill its relational function (an ethics of solidarity and collaboration).

I feel obliged to mention just some of the demands that this entails for international relations: to limit the space available to the global market; to create and recreate effectively democratic, public-spirited regional and international bodies; to curb worldwide over-competitiveness and over- production; to manage migration flows with justice and equity; to protect sustainable planetary development; to overcome the Northern hemisphere's hegemony over the South; and to instill international relations with an ethics of co-responsibility, collaboration and solidarity.

I will end with a brief reference to the globalization of human awareness. It is my conviction that this other form of organizing social relations and human development, from the local level up to the global level, and from the inner sphere of the person to the outer spheres of community, society and the Species, is not only possible but corresponds to the dominant trend in the evolution of life and the human person themselves. As postulated by Teilhard de Chardin, over and above all worldwide technical and organizational progress, there occurs an irreversible over-determination which causes Humankind to agglomerate irresistibly on itself in a planetary movement working at once to personalize and to socialize. It is a progressive movement corresponding to the advance of the evolutionary wave that began with vitalization, unfolded with hominization and individuation, and is consumed with the socialization and globalization of human awareness.

This is the globalization of humanity itself, understood as the planetary grouping of persons and thus as a hyper-complex, hyper-centered, hyper- aware grouping, coextensive with the planet on which it comes into being. The greatest peculiarity of this organic-social super-complex in formation is that it is not a solid whole. On the contrary, its components must not lose their singular personality when they collectivize. Human development is possible only because each of its components is a personal, thinking being.

On a Planet where people are being compressed into ever more confined spaces, with a capacity for ever speedier, global communication and thus with an ever-swelling sphere of action, influence and inter-penetration with each other, the only rational form of inter-dependence is that based on equal rights, duties and opportunities for all, on cooperation rather than competition and on respect for the limits of nature and for the rights of future generations. Both the regime of international relations informed by the ethics of the Total Market and that founded on the ethics of the Total State are incapable of promoting or guaranteeing effective equity, collaboration and solidarity. This is because neither one nor the other manages to conceive the human being as potentially the subject of its own development as person, community and people.

The condition for mankind to grow spiritually as it socializes is that people and nations, taken in the process of their development, grow closer to one another “not under the action of outside forces, or in making merely material gestures, but directly, center to center, by internal attraction. Not by coercion, nor by subordination to a common task, but by unanimity, by communion in a single spirit”10 —a unanimity that preserves differences, but does not order hierarchically; that, far from reducing the personality of each participant, accentuates it, frees it from itself and, finally, super- personalizes it.This is the nucleus of the ethics of a “personalizing socialization”, valid for all and any human grouping, from the couple, the team, the small community, through to the human species at the Planetary level: it is good all that contributes to making this process advance and drawing human beings together without hierarchy or subordination, but rather in collaboration and in universal solidarity, founded on the profound communion of nature and evolutionary destiny.


1 This text served as the basis for the author's presentation to the panel “Ethics in International Relations”, at the XV National Conference of the Brazilian Bar Association (BBA), Foz do Iguagu, PR, September, 4-8, 1994. Translation from Portuguese by PETER LENNY.

2 Economist and educator, coordinator of PACS-PRIES—Alternative Policies for the Southern Cone of Latin America (Rio de Janeiro), Chair of the ICVA Commission on Sustainable Development (Geneva) and fellow of the Transnational Institute (Amsterdam).

3 Data provided by Xabier Gorostiaga, and later published in interview in the periodical “Igandegin Eikarrizketa”, Bilbao, Spain, 31/12/94.

4 Marcos Arruda, The New World Order, The Dominant Development Model and Democratic Alternatives, monograph, The South Network, Fort Hare University, South Africa, June 1994; NGO Working Group on the World Bank, The Challenge of Poverty Eradication, monograph, Geneva, July 1994.

5 We are participating in efforts to identify new indicators to “measure” the qualitative progress of social action directed to change. This is one of the indicators of “change” for which we are seeking to define parameters.

6 M. Arruda, Transformagues Globais e o Desafio da Construgco da Democracia, PACS, Rio de Janeiro, 1992.

7 R. Koselleck, Le Futur Passi, Paris, Ehess, 1990.8 Jacques Robin, “Mutations: Des Comportements Aveugles”, in Transversales, n. 28, Paris, July-Aug. 1994. Roger Sue, “Temps et Ordre Social”, PUF, Paris, 1994.9 Andri Gorz, Sortir de la Sociiti Salariale, unpublished text, Paris, December, 1994.10 Teilhard de Chardin, “Vie et Planhtes: Que se Passe-t-il en ce Moment sur la Terre?”, May 1946, in L’Avenir de l’Homme, Seuil, Paris, 1959, pp. 151-152.