Richard Barnet, in "The Lean Years: Politics in the Age of Scarcity," has a simple idea. Control of the non-communist world's resources cannot be left to the multinational corporations. The political changes must be made that will put a growing share of the planning of the big five "global resource systems" -- oil, minerals, food, water, labor -- into public hands.
Does this sound a little far out for you? A bit too much the personal theorizing of one Washington intellectual of the left? Unrealistic? That was about my reaction until I got to thinking about another recent North-South analysis, that of the Brandt Commission, composed of a score of mainstream movers and shakers from both halves of the world. This group's principal live recommendation was to bring developed countries, oil-exporting countries and poor countries into a "concordat" to sort out their respective needs.
It is no surprise that Dick Barnet does not think the multinational corporation is the greatest agency available to transfer capital, technology and skills around the world. But it says something important about the international climate that the establishment Brandt Commission shows a parallel readiness to replace the free workings of the world market with the organized deliberations of the various governments concerned.
A certain consensus has been emerging. It is incomplete and it has not yet burst through to the political level; perhaps it won't. But there is already a unifying core: a perception of world poverty as real, pervasive, unacceptable to those mired in it and potentially dangerous to those who formerly thought it had little to do with them; and a sense that interdependence demands exploration of new, difficult, cooperative procedures for satisfying the common requirement for prosperity and peace.
This strikes me as more important than any of the specific differences of analysis or remedy -- say, the role of multinationals -- that may appear between the impatient left, where Barnet hangs out, and the enlightened center that is the Brandt realm.
For instance, Barnet endows everybody with "a vested right to a decent minimal share of world resources by virtue of having been born." The doctrine of entitlement writ large, this will evoke for many people the sort of all rights-no duties Third World rhetoric that has chilled their taste for global collegiality. When Barnet expresses his doubts that "the redistribution of power, the precondition of the redistribution of resources, can occur without a huge escalation of revolutionary warfare," people who do not share the left's permissive empathy for violence and struggle will want to get off.
Yet the Brandt Commission says: "International social justice should take into account the growing awareness of a fundamental equality and dignity among all men and women." And: "What is required is intellectual reorientation, serious steps towards structural change, increased practical cooperation." Unless you think all this is drawing-room trendy, it's facing the problem head-on.
The whole moral premise of the Brandt report is that there is such a thing as a common humanity that puts an obligation on the haves to build a just and peaceful world order with the have-nots, and the whole political premise is that new procedures must be devised to afford the have-nots growing access to resources and to power.
Frankly, there are days and even months when I don't feel like responding very freely to the good will and, more than that, to the prudence that animate the likes of Barnet and the Brandt types. Warnings of revolution seem abrasive. Suggestions of cultural malfeasance leave me cool. It is fatiguing to be in a state of moral uplift. Privilege is more pleasant. There are always a dozen other matters that seem more pressing, or interesting. The behavior of the nations at the bottom of the heap always provides plenty of reason to leave them to their own fate.
I would ask to be permitted my days and months off. You are certainly entitled to yours. But all of us can try to recognize, if not consistently or fully, what the American necessity is. It is reassuring to see that, at least among those citizens who have earned moral and intellectual leadership in this area, there is a large measure of agreement on what the problem is and how we might respond.