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Tribunal for Speculators

by Jean Ziegler Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008 at 3:47 AM

The collapse of the delusional neoliberal idea frees our view for the necessity of a completely different society and a planetary social contract. Bankers are jungle highwaymen. Investments only pay where human rights are realized. The price of rice soared 83% within only six months.


Swiss sociologist Jean Ziegler urges penalties for betting on food and warns of the effects of the financial crisis on the poor regions of the world

[This interview published in: Frankfurter Rundschau 10/20/2008 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

Mr. Ziegler, is there anything positive in the financial crisis?

Yes, certainly. The delusional neoliberal idea has finally had it, the theory of the self-regulation of the markets, the stateless global deregulation of the markets as the goal of history. Everyone can now see this leads to the abyss.

What will happen now?

Whoever was for normative human rights like the right to food knew interventions in the markets were necessary. These normative human rights are vital. The World Trade organization must respect the food sovereignty of countries again and not allow more agricultural dumping through total liberalization. On any African market, one can buy German and French fruits at a third of the price of equivalent indigenous products.

What were the effects of liberalization of the world markets on the poverty regions of the world?

This liberalization led to a child under ten dying of starvation every five seconds. Every day over 100,000 persons die of hunger or its immediate consequences. 923 million persons in the world are permanently and gravely malnourished. In 2007 there were 854 million persons. These are UN statistics.

How are these frightening numbers related to the financial market?

The suffering has three causes. Firstly, there is the agricultural dumping. The European Union subsidizes this and we export our surpluses to Africa, for example, where this surplus destroys agriculture. Secondly, there is the production of bio-fuels. In 2007 the US burned 138 million tons of rice to produce bio-fuels – along with hundreds of millions of tons of grain. This has led to an incredible shortage of food. The third evil is speculation on food. This happens with bio-fuel certificates traded on the exchanges.

How does this speculation work exactly?

The big Swiss bank UBS for example prints brochures that advertise for these financial products all over Switzerland for a certificate in rice. The prospectus says this certificate for rice promises extraordinarily high profits. The mammoth hedge funds have their sights on profitable investment possibilities on the agricultural exchanges of the world and concentrate their futures trading there. They bet on corn, grains and so forth. The price of rice soared 83 percent within only six months, corn 67 percent and grains 111 percent. This devastated slum-dwellers worldwide. The speculators should now appear before a tribunal as the Nazi criminals were accused in Nuremberg after the war. These are crimes against humanity.

Who will be impacted most, the first or the third world?

Everyday 10,000 families in the US are evicted from their homes because the credits are unpaid. In 2008, 25 million families in the US lost their apartments. Old age provisions are also tied to the stock exchange in the US. This is terrible but what happens in the poverty regions of the world is unfathomable. I have just returned from Darfur. 2.2 million people live in camps there. The UN protects them. The people will die if the white trucks do not come with flour, rice, dry food sacks and water. The World Food program only distributes 1500 calories for adults per day although the subsistence level according to the World Health Organization lies at 2200 calories. People are held in malnutrition even though the UN flags wave there. Why is this? Malnutrition occurs because the voluntary contributions of the states are cut.

Are states economizing on emergency relief because of the financial crisis?

Yes. The World Health Organization has interrupted its malaria-vaccination campaign. All 22 UN organizations have budgets. Voluntary contributions fund their projects. The financial crisis has immediate effects on the budgets. This is a catastrophe for the third world. According to UN calculations, only billion per year for five years is needed to reach the great millennium goals of the UN, to remove the eight worst plagues of humanity from hunger to poor education. If I were a person in a country of the southern hemisphere and saw that trillion was destroyed in a month in New York while the American Treasury secretary mobilized 0 billion to bailout bank rascals, I would feel totally mocked. Then I see white racists who only worry about themselves.

Would you give no money to the banks?

Conditions must be set. Inter-bank transactions should be supported, savings deposits protected and internal capital resources raised. This must be tied to strict conditions: abolition of golden parachutes for managers, transparency obligation in accounting and controls on managers. Otherwise the public authority is only fleeced so the same fraud is perpetrated once again with the same methods. Why did stock prices fall to the bottom again after the first announcement of the bailout plan? Because the mammoth hedge funds may pressure the state if the state offers to pay. What lessons must be learned from the financial crisis?

A new social contract must prevail. The social sovereignty must be restored. The financial market is only an instrument. Collectivization in the DDR style is not the goal. We want a market economy, not a market society. The free market is only a mask for the incredible greed of a few managers. The head of Lehmann Brothers, Richard Fuld, appropriated a million bonus in the last crisis days. This is bank banditry, criminality with the help of a bank.

Can the first world also see the crisis as a chance for a new order?

Yes, exactly. The collapse of the delusional neoliberal idea frees our view for the necessity of a completely different society and a planetary social contract. People in the dominant world today realize the speculative globalized capitalism order was a wrong way. It is murderous because it kills and absurd because it kills unnecessarily. All material problems could be solved with this surplus in resources. If this view were accepted in the Western public, the attitude to the third world would also be entirely different. A dialogue and common resistance would then occur.

We live in the same world and hunger must be defeated because otherwise no one will be happy. Kant said: the harm inflicted by another destroys the humanity in me. This is certainly true. Bankers do not understand this. They are jungle-highwaymen. Investments only pay where human rights are realized. The globalized jungle-capitalism with its greed, its deregulation, its delusions and its lies and deceptions must disappear. This whole worldview must vanish. This must be thrown out like the Nazis. Armies were necessary to defeat the Nazis. Hopefully public opinion will defeat jungle-capitalism. A transition from capitalism to civilization must occur. Planetary social justice must prevail. For the first time in the history of humanity, we have the material resources to realize this. We can vanquish material suffering. Lovesickness, illness and death are suffering enough.

Do you believe people will change their thinking?

The paradigms of the present world order are murderous and lying. This knowledge will prevail because people in the heart of the dominant system are victims. When one suffers, one thinks rightly.

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