World Social Forum looks for major change in the global economy

By Stephen Brown
30 Jan 2009

The global economic crisis offers an opportunity to create a more just financial system, a representative of the World Council of Churches has said during the World Social Forum in Brazil.

"If we miss this point again we are going to repeat history with another crisis," Rogate Mshana, the church grouping's programme executive for poverty, wealth and ecology, told Ecumenical News International during the 27 January to 1 February WSF, a global gathering addressing exploitative globalisation.

"It's a question of the market," said Mshana, a Lutheran attending the WSF in the northern Brazilian city of Belem. "The market is a gift from God because people cannot live without a market … But that relationship must be just. It should not be dogmatised in such a way that it is left free to go without any rules."

The WCC, a global grouping headquartered in Geneva that gathers 349 churches - mainly Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox - has long been concerned about the workings of the financial markets, Mshana noted.

The first meeting of the WSF took place in 2001 and was intended as a counter to the World Economic Forum, a gathering of politicians and business leaders that takes place each year, normally in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos. This year's meeting was set for Belem, in the Amazon region, to symbolise the importance of climate and environmental issues, as well as the rights of minority cultures. Since then, the world has faced a global economic crisis.

Together with its partner organizations, the WCC has sent a 15-person strong team to Belem and is organizing a meeting there on 30 January to discuss the global financial crisis.

"The pundits of free market capitalism have not given up," Mshana, a Tanzanian economist, noted. "They are simply trying in one way or another to defend it. So I think we should not be naïve." The approach adopted by the WCC, he said, is to examine the extent to which issues of finance and trade can be placed under the auspices of the United Nations.

"We need a contribution of faith based groups, civil society and also other groups from around the world to be participating in this," said Mshana. At any rate, he added, it should not only be the Group of 20 (G20), made up of the leading economies from the developed and developing world, that charts a way forward. The G20 meets in London in April.

"The discussions that will come up at the G20 will also not solve the problem because they are not basically talking about the new architecture. They are talking about how you can stabilise the current system," he stated. "They have invested worldwide almost 10 trillion dollars to save the system, and it hasn't really been saved," said Mshana.

A WCC document drawn up in 2005, "Alternative globalisation addressing peoples and earth" (AGAPE), had warned about deregulated financial markets, speculative bubbles and financial crises, Mshana noted. "What we said in the AGAPE document was that the market is fine but it needs to follow certain rules," he stated, "and rules mean ensuring that there is actually equity and justice within it."

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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