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Issue No. 120-e (May 2009) -- Mark Satin, Editor
Zakaria's humanistic pragmatism
Bring rising nations on board!
Fareed Zakaria is a man on a mission. He came to the U.S. at the age of 18 from India (where his father was an Islamic scholar), earned a Ph.D. at Harvard, served as managing editor of Foreign Affairs magazine, and is now editor of Newsweek International and host of a weekly global-affairs program on CNN (and serves on the boards of Yale University and the Council of Foreign Relations). And he’s not yet reached the age of 45.
His mission is about more than self-advancement, though. It’s to teach the U.S. that it doesn’t have to be a bully to have profound influence in the world – exactly what he conveys with clarity and panache in his new book The Post-American World (Norton, 2008).
Zakaria likes the way the world is going (“Over the past few decades, countries all over the world have been experiencing rates of economic growth that were once unthinkable. . . . [T]he share of people living on a dollar a day or less plummeted from 40% in 1981 to 18% is 2004, and is estimated to fall to 12% by 2015”). He finds the U.S. basically healthy, too, though he laments our struggling urban school systems and worries along with other radical-middle thinkers that our political system seems to have “lost its ability to create broad coalitions that solve complex issues.”
What bothers him deeply is that – despite the sunny skies abroad and our own basic good health – we seem paralyzed by fear of the world and (for the first time) fear of the unknown. This has already affected our global behavior for the worse, he says, and may cause us to become even more belligerent and isolated and protectionist in the future.
His book is meant to remedy that. It is mostly a delightful and endlessly engrossing introduction to “the rise of the rest” – China and India especially, but also such potentially major nations as Brazil, Russia (again), Turkey, Indonesia, and South Africa. Fifty nations may be “basket cases” needing “urgent attention,” he says. But in the other 142 “the poor are slowly being absorbed into productive and growing economies. For the first time ever, we are witnessing genuinely global growth.”
Zakaria wants us to feel at ease in this new world. And he wants us to learn how to live in it in a way that will maximize our influence without causing us to harm either our own long-term interests or anyone else’s valid interests.
To that end, he puts forth “New Rules for a New Age.” These can give you the flavor:
II. Bring everyone on board!
Alanna Hartzok might not oppose most of Fareed Zakaria’s New Rules. But she would object to his sunny analysis of global and U.S. trends (“We are,” she says, “living through yet another dark night of the collective human soul”), and she would find his rules woefully inadequate to the task at hand.
That task, she wants you to know – in her first book, The Earth Belongs to Everyone (Institute for Economic Democracy Press, 2008) – goes a lot deeper than coaxing the great powers to get along. Ultimately it involves discovering how we can heal our enormous “person / planet pain.”
Politically, it involves forging permanent global institutions that would represent the poor majority (Rothkopf-like counter-institutions instead of – or alongside of – Zakaria’s ad hoc arrangements). Economically, it involves implementing “solutions to the needless material deprivation that so many suffer in a world that has plenty for all.”
For the world does have plenty for all. Now. And who are the Fareed Zakarias of the world to divert our comfortable selves from that uncomfortable fact?
Like Zakaria, Hartzok has been on a lifelong mission – a “25-year vision quest,” she calls it. It is not so different from Zakaria’s mission as either of them might think, but it took them down different byways.
Hartzok is a graduate of West Georgia College (though her schooling continued at the Institute of Psychosynthesis in Montreal, the Institute of European Studies in Vienna, and the Henry George School of Social Science in San Francisco, not to mention a school in Lebanon where she taught Palestinian refugees). Around the time Zakaria landed on these shores, Hartzok “bore two children in San Francisco, and then endured a period of personal poverty and homelessness” there.
A bit before Zakaria began running Foreign Affairs magazine in New York City, Hartzok began representing nonprofits at a dazzling variety of conferences around the world. About when Zakaria was establishing himself at Newsweek International and CNN, Hartzok was co-founding the Earth Rights Institute in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (where she grew up) and creating “Aradhana,” a small eco-homestead there.
What have Hartzok’s experiences taught her? First and foremost, that we need something she calls Earth Rights Democracy – a new form of political economy “based on equal rights to the land and resources of the earth.” For as the title of her book proclaims, “The earth belongs to everyone.” It is our birthright. And we should all benefit equally when others use it for private gain.
And if we all benefit equally, then we’ll all be able to at least make a go of it financially. No more Council on Foreign Relations board members reassuring the wretched of the Earth that – so long as they’re not in the 50 “basket case” nations (knock on wood) – they’ll have only a couple of decades or generations to wait.
If you detect a little Henry George in Hartzok’s analysis, you wouldn’t be wrong, but it’s Henry George radically updated for the 21st century.
Like George, Hartzok believes that the principal role of government – at all levels, municipal to global – is to capture “rent” for public benefit. But by “rent,” Hartzok doesn’t just mean collecting the (unearned) increases in land values that landlords now receive simply by virtue of owning land in prosperous neighborhoods. She also means collecting monies whenever private entities
Bits and pieces of this have been proposed by reputable economists over the years. (It appears that the indefatigable Hartzok may have met them all, too!) Hartzok’s genius has been to tie it all together into one shining “Earth Rights” package, and to draw out some of the exciting implications.
Among them: in the developing world, no more abject poverty (so long as there’s a competent authority to collect and distribute the “rent” monies). In the U.S., the rent monies could substitute for most or all taxes on wages, investment income, and homes (and other buildings). Or the monies could go to individuals in the form of an annual “citizen’s dividend.”
The most moving parts of this book are where Hartzok guilelessly describes her attempts to take the Earth Rights message to the far corners of the earth – from a meeting of the Millennium People’s Assembly Network in Bangkok, Thailand, to a Christianity and Human Rights Conference in Birmingham, Alabama; from the United Nations Habitat II Conference in Istanbul to the corridors of the Pennsylvania legislature (where she successfully lobbied to implement a tiny piece of her vision, authorization for municipalities to establish a “split-rate tax” on land and buildings).
Remarkably, the principal themes of ALL the texts discussed in our year 2009 articles are reflected in Hartzok’s book and life:
III. Both / and
The world probably cannot advance without the humane pragmatism that sustained Fareed Zakaria during his long journey from a Muslim household in India to the Council on Foreign Relations. But it is probably also true that it cannot advance without the visionary idealism that sustained Alanna Hartzok during her long journey from homelessness to making the world her home.
Is it too much to wish that the next generation will put up leaders who can combine both gifts?
Both authors discuss their key ideas online. For Alanna Hartzok, see E.F. Scbumacher Lecture at Amherst College (text only); for Fareed Zakaria, see interview on BBC WorldNewsAmerica (YouTube videotape).
Although I deeply admire all the books we've discussed from the year 2008, the 2008 Radical Middle Political Book Award -- the 29th annual book award we've given out (going all the way back to Renewal and New Options newsletters) -- goes jointly to Alanna Hartzok's The Earth Belongs to Everyone, above, and Lawrence Chickering and James Turner's Voice of the People: The Transpartisan Imperative in American Life.
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