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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

January 22, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 186




Tom Fox Common ground: the earth beneath their feet

By Tom Fox, NCR publisher

Two gatherings; two views of globalization. Neither is likely to disappear soon.

Can globalization and anti-globalization advocates find any common ground?

The World Social Forum (WSF), held in Mumbai, India, Jan. 16-21, drew some 80,000 anti-war and anti-globalization activists. They had little good to say about the impact of the corporate world and the powers that be. They also came with plenty of criticism of U.S. military and economic policies. ( reported on the World Social Forum with a story posted Jan. 21, see Making A 'Mother World' Possible.)

Just as they were packing up in one of the poorest cities in earth, the world's economic elite were checking into hotels in Davos, Switzerland, the scene of this year's World Economic Forum (WEF).

While the former conference was open to all, the later was mostly closed and walled off by well-armed police.

WSF talks were dominated by protests against unfair global trade, big business and foreign debt. WEF talks concentrated on security issues with expressions of concern for ruffled feathers in Europe, U.S. deficits and reports about social discontent worldwide.

Other Today's Takes by Tom Fox
Jan. 21, 2004 Reflections close to my heart
Jan. 20, 2004 Remember the tales from last year
Jan. 19, 2004 The last years of Martin Luther King
Nov. 20, 2003 (un)Holy Matrimony
Nov. 19, 2003 Talking about celibacy
Oct. 10, 2003 Why Catholics are jittery
Sept. 26, 2003 Priest of the poor
Sept. 25, 2003 A revolution deferred: sex and the church Part II
Sept. 24, 2003 Sex and the mission of the church
No dress code was posted in Mumbai. Delegates to Davos were encouraged to be a bit less stogy this year. Neckties brought a $4 fine.

Mumbai, a city of 18 million, half of whom live on under $2 a day, afforded a close look at real poverty. Davos, with 11,000 residents, is snuggled into the Swiss Alps and offers breath-taking vistas.

Yet the seamier side of global reality did not entirely escape the millionaires and billionaires who drank lush wines over dinner. The meeting was kicked off under a cloud of a global survey, commissioned by the WEF, that found "ordinary people feel 'unsafe, powerless and gloomy' about the future security and prosperity of the world."

Forbes magazine pointed out that there were no "ordinary people" at Davos. The $20,000-plus price tag for the five-day meeting is one way the "ordinary people" are kept out.

Common folks are not the only ones worried about the state of the world and its economies. Another pre-Davos report by a team of more than 40 experts concluded that "governments, international organizations, business and civil society are engaging in only about one-third of the effort and partnership necessary to realize the United Nations Millennium Declaration goals."

Those goals were aimed at making an effort to end the scourge of war, reduce global poverty, stabilize the global environment and ensure basic human rights for everyone on the planet.

Slowly the message might be getting out that rich and poor live on the same planet and breath the same air -- at least most of the time.

To be sure, the purpose of Davos had more to do with economic security than world justice. Both Mumbai and Davos delegates seemed to agree on the theoretical desire for lasting world peace. Clearly they often have different roadmaps.

On the Davos gathering, Forbes made this cogent observation: "We will not have strong, sustained economic growth across the world unless we have security, but we will not have security in unstable parts of the world without the prospect of prosperity."

Might the goal of wider prosperity be an obvious starting point?

The problem is, however, that around the world, inequality is increasing even as globalization gains momentum. This, then, becomes a problem neither Mumbai nor Davos can deny. Poverty is therefore not just an economic issue; it is an issue of political economics. Consider:

  • Half the world -- nearly three billion people -- lives on less than $2 a day.
  • The gross domestic product of the poorest 48 nations (i.e. a quarter of the world's countries) is less than the wealth of the world's three richest people combined.
  • Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
  • Less than 1 percent of what the world spends every year on weapons could put every child into classroom.

Mumbai. Davos. Two cities, two continents, two perspectives. Yet all the delegates at both conferences share the same planet. No peace or lasting security is possible while the gap between rich and poor widens. In the words of Pope Paul VI, taken from his encyclical Populorum Progressio, "If you want peace work for justice." Some in Davos just might be getting the picture.

Tom Fox is NCR publisher. He can be reached at

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