On the Occasion of the Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the countries belonging to the G20.
English and French
Agora Inhabitants of the Earth
Party of the European Left
For further reading:
by Riccardo Petrella, Agora of the Inhabitants of the Earth, Emeritus Professor, Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium)
Dominant societies, especially Western ones, proudly call themselves 'knowledge-based societies' and 'knowledge-driven economies', especially after the 1960s, with the explosion of four new major 'scientific and technological revolutions' in: energy (nuclear, other renewables), life (bio-&T), matter (new materials), information/communication (artificial intelligence)
In the last 50 years, we have witnessed a global recolonisation (conquest and domination) of societies and life on the planet, marked, inter alia, by three profound developments within the world system:
1. The main 'factor' underpinning the power of dominant social groups
The main 'factor' underpinning the power of the dominant social groups is no longer the 'ownership' of land (as in peasant societies and the predominantly agricultural economy). Nor is it the ownership of raw materials (energy, materials, etc.) and processing machines (as in industrial societies), nor is it the ownership of services to people and businesses (as in so-called "tertiary, advanced industrial" societies). THE MAIN FACTOR has become the ownership of knowledge. This is the basis for the design, production and use/recycling of all products and services, especially those with a high R&D intensity. We are thus talking about the increasing scientification of technologies in the context of a general technologisation and complexification of life. Hence the concepts of 'knowledge-based societies' and 'knowledge-driven economies', which emerged in the 1980s.
2. We have moved from a system of constitutional rights and a welfare society to the commodification and financialisation of life and to a system of access to essential goods for life through the market and its prices.
The dominants consider that even common goods (and services) that are essential and non-substitutable for life, which used to be the responsibility of public authorities, such as water, seeds, air, health, knowledge, education, housing, electricity, transport, can be managed by private companies, owning all or part of the capital, and quoted on the stock exchange.
The principle of the universal individual and collective right to these goods in equality and justice, guaranteed by the State, has been replaced by the principle of fair and affordable access to services managed by networks of globalised multi-utilities private corporations (such as Veolia in drinking water, or Coca-Cola and Nestlé in bottled mineral water, or Bayer-Monsanto and Johnson & Johnson in pharmaceuticals). Rights, it has been said, cost money, so the beneficiaries must pay! Moreover, the idea that rights must be earned has been imposed.
3. Representative democracy has been seriously weakened by the monopolisation of the legislative function by the executive (the government) and, above all, by the privatisation of (almost everywhere) political power.
As a result of the processes of deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation of all common public goods and services, stakeholders have replaced the elected representatives of citizens as the main actors in collective public decisions. This is called the system of economic governance in place of public government based on elective representation.
This has led to the privatisation of political power, as demonstrated by the paradigmatic case of money and finance, which have come under the control and domination of opaque global oligarchies of powerful private and public actors. The politics of the world's life swings in their hands, those of private groups clearly becoming the most powerful, especially through patents on living organisms and on artificial intelligence.
The great global financial crisis of the system in the early 1970s prompted the dominant social groups, especially in the West, to try to reconquer the world through a new global economic growth supported, according to them, by the new scientific and technological 'revolutions' centred on biotechnology and ICT (Information and Communication Technology). Hence, the wave of the 'new' conquest of the world economy by market capitalist 'globalisation'.
Disillusionment has been rapid. Environmental devastation, 'wars' over resources, the explosion of climate degradation and inequality, social unrest, the Covid-19 pandemic .... laid bare the reality: the general bankruptcy of the system. The rulers have only succeeded in saving their short-term power and 'wealth', while they have pushed the life of the Earth and all its inhabitants towards destruction and aggravated insecurity.
In this context:
Knowledge has been reduced to "science and technology". Science has been reduced to 'exact science', technology to the key to the solution of all problems.
Given the imperatives imposed by competitiveness for survival in world markets, we have witnessed, particularly since 1990, an unbridled race to privately monopolise new knowledge for profit. In 30 years, more than 120,000 patents on life and AI have been granted.
Two economies have emerged. They are not essentially new. What is new are the ingredients and mechanisms of operation.
On the one hand, the global private high-tech and science economy based on patents. This is disrupting the professions, the world of production and distribution, making hundreds of millions of jobs and skills obsolete without creating corresponding new jobs. This is an economy made up of small and medium-sized enterprises under the domination and control of a thousand large private multinational capitalist companies, of which a hundred or so with high market capitalisation constitute the all-powerful invisible hand of economic governance of the global stakeholders. On the other hand, there is the 'local' economy outside the patents, outside the science and technology that count, made up of very small enterprises, the economy of farmers and poor workers in large urban areas, and informal activities bordering on the criminal economy. A largely residual economy of the 'waste' and the exploited, the marginalised, which 'enables' the survival of over four billion people.
S&T has favoured the 'legalised' growth of huge economic and financial groups such as GAFAM, Big Pharma and the BlackRock investment fund. States are increasingly playing the role of 'notaries' of decisions taken by stakeholders and 'ensuring' their compliance.
The education system has been transformed into a system of training human resources in knowhows and skills that the companies of the most powerful stakeholders need to maintain and strengthen their power and 'wealth'. This also explains
a) the colonisation of universities and academic R&D by private multinationals and
b) the fierce opposition of the dominant social groups to any suspension or even abolition of patents.
The fight over patents is now playing the same role as the early 19th century labour struggle against its private appropriation. The expropriation suffered by the workers is, mutatis mutandis, comparable to the expropriation of life currently suffered by the vast majority of the Earth's inhabitants.
The workers have succeeded after a hundred years of struggle in imposing the welfare state, which is now being demolished. How many years will it take for the Inhabitants of the Earth to free themselves and the life of the Earth from the predatory and destructive expropriation of life in the name of science and technology (and the finance of the owners)?
The task of answering this question lies with the participants of the two webinars on 28 and 29 September and the international online conference on 28 October.