| CERES No. 55 (Vol. 10 No.1) Jan.-Feb. 1977 |
A global tax on natural resources and exports would allow a fairer and more intelligent development
by Edgard Pisani
The North-South "dialogue" is going badly. The participants are not trustworthy. After months - it will soon be years-of meetings and squabbles, they have made no decision to change the heartbreaking course of events. They are incapable of it, because they have no desire for a new economic and political world order.
Each one is prisoner of his own character: the Westerner wants to have a clear conscience at a low price and is ready to concede a small portion of his wealth on condition that his predominance in world markets is safeguarded. The status quo suits him because he can exercise power without really sharing anything. The socialist countries' representative exonerates himself from any effort by proclaiming his innocence of any colonial misdeeds, and makes his so-called virtue in the past an excuse to decline any responsibility for the future. The world as it is appears to suit him. It probably does suit him, and he opposes it just enough to keep it strong.
Even the leaders of the Third and Fourth Worlds debase the "dialogue": apparently readier to push their demands than to do anything constructive, they oppose traditional egoisms with new ones.
Meanwhile, the Swiss nation, consulted in a significant referendum, refuses its Federal Council the means for consistent action to help the less favoured countries; the British Trade Unions growl angrily against a policy they dread; during this time, all this lost time, old demons reawaken in France and dare to argue for a new isolationism.
The day may well come when the pride and egoism of each separate nation will make any progress, or even any dialogue, impossible.
Action must be taken that will serve as symbol and stimulus, where the actors will bear equal responsibility; which could be the basis for a positive process that, year by year, would lead to the deepening of solidarities, to a real victory over woes and worries. A symbolic and stimulating act, whose criteria would be:
• the realization of the fundamental anxieties of humanity: poverty, overpopulation, exhaustion of resources, pollution, inequalities creating insupportable tensions. At least to some extent, war and peace depend on the solution of these problems;
• equal responsibility of all nations - whether developed or not, rich or poor, socialist or liberal, northern or southern - since each will, indisputably, contribute according to its resources. A flat refusal would be the only way to escape such responsibility, in which each would be invited to share, in accordance with accepted criteria;
• and with the means made available throughout the world: absolute priority for the fight against absolute poverty, that affecting man not in his comfort but in his dignity as a human being. Then the establishment of a new order that, progressively and irreversibly, would eliminate poverty and its causes; immediate aid to the hungry but, above, all, technical, financial and educational assistance to nations so that they may eliminate hunger from the structure of their societies; lasting, contractually programmed action, mastery of the techniques and organizations best adapted to the real, authentic and specific needs of the developing countries.
This coherent and voluntaristic view of the world is perhaps a bit Utopian; but it is in this type of Utopia that the world will one day find the solution to its problems - in this type of Utopia, or in widespread famine, or in war ...
Don't we know that famine is already with us and war is at the gates -war in which the struggle for power will totally eclipse the struggle for the survival of mankind. Here's to Utopia!
To come to the proposals:
Impose a tax to economize natural resources on all products from raw materials, food, mineral, energy, wherever they are produced, whether they are used for subsistence, national consumption or exportation. This tax would be moderate and considerably lower than circumstantial fluctuations; it would have no inflationary effect because of its rate, and also because everyone and everything would be subject to it. It would not lead to the distortions of competition. It would be adjusted from product to product, but uniform on the same product. Reaching its highest rate on raw materials extracted from the ocean considered as common property, it would take the renewability of resources into account, and would be calculated, in the field of energy, on the equivalent in coal. Food products would incur the minimum rate. This tax, which would lead to the saving of natural resources, would draw attention to the fact that we are all jointly responsible for such resources.
Impose an exportation tax, also at a moderate rate, on all raw materials traded internationally. The purpose of this would be to encourage the establishment of manufacturing industries in countries producing mainly raw materials.
These taxes, gathered by each national state, would be placed at the disposal of a world agency for natural resources and development. '[his agency would be empowered to define but not to execute; management would be in the hands of regional or even national funds, whose guidelines and overall control would be the responsibility of the agency.
The funds available would be assigned to development, as follows:
• to the fight against absolute poverty, whether structural or circumstantial. This would ensure the protection of the basic asset: man;
• to the establishment and operation of a research system for the perfection of techniques to save existing resources and create new ones; to develop appropriate and economic technology, adapted to different soils and different climates; to set up organizations that would meet the needs of different societies and evolve with them;
• to the preparation and execution of concerted plans, linking the agency to the states contractually in order to attain objectives established jointly: priority being given to global programmes which, going beyond the piecemeal operations that often do more harm than good, would involve the whole of society in a balanced evolution;
• to the development of a global information and training effort, since a world in search of a new international order needs two things: men capable of conceiving and inspiring it, and public opinion capable of pressing for it;
• to the stabilization of the flow of essential goods and products.
Why should the poorer countries pay a contribution on their own raw materials'! For several reasons: the degrees of poverty are innumerable and it is impossible to distinguish between them; only a general tax would avoid the distortions of competition and foil evaders; the poor, like the rich, live on the resources of the world and should pay pro rata on what they take; it is Tight that everyone should contribute according to his means and receive according to his needs, just as it is right that all nations should participate in the administration and use of these funds; the poorest will be in a better position to do so if they have made their own contribution.
This idea has sprung from readings and debates. It deserves to be tested against figures, and many of the concepts should be defined. The RIO project (Reshaping the International Order, set up under the direction of the Nobel Prize winner, Professor Tinbergen, at the request of the Club of Rome) also includes elements that would facilitate implementation.
A project is being drafted today for `'Taxes for the Economizing of Resources and their Equitable Redistribution."
But we must be honest: these taxes, if they were adopted, would unleash a change and provoke a revolution, since they would found a world order in which profit and power would no longer be the only rulers.