Magazine article Newsweek International

Globalism's Human Face

Magazine article Newsweek International

Globalism's Human Face

Article excerpt

Employment is the first step out of poverty. It's at the core of economic development and social stability.--Juan O. Somavia

A former Chilean ambassador to the United Nations, Juan O. Somavia took office earlier this month as the new director-general of the International Labor Organization. A U.N.-affiliated body dating from 1946, the ILO was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1969, its heyday. More recently, critics have taken to dismissing the ILO as ineffectual and even moribund. Whatever the merits of such claims, Somavia may be the right man to inject fresh energy into the organization. Many diplomats and foreign-policy experts consider him the "brains" behind the 1995 Copenhagen Social Summit, at which nearly 100 heads of state-- the largest gathering ever of world leaders--pledged to alleviate global poverty and joblessness. Currently, Somavia is preparing a five- year review of the summit, due out in 2000. He talked with NEWSWEEK's Pranay Gupte recently at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Excerpts:

GUPTE: Is the Social Summit still relevant?

SOMAVIA: Globalization has created victors and victims. There is a growing feeling that the world economy is like a pillar that needs to be strengthened carefully, with special emphasis on social development. It is described as putting a human face on the global economy. And that was precisely the message of the 1995 Social Summit. The summit concentrated on three core issues: poverty, unemployment and social disintegration. And obviously employment is the first step out of poverty and the first step away from social disintegration. So in terms of the message of the summit, employment was at the core of it. The trickle-down theory is not working.

You are now preparing a five-year review of the Social Summit. What are your findings?

The Social Summit did two things. It confirmed the conventional wisdom of the 1980s, in the sense of saying we need open societies and open economies with private-led capital development. We need economic stability, low inflation and the liberalization of trade. The summit stressed the importance of the information revolution. It also said that the benefits of globalization were not being distributed in an adequate way--that consequently we run the risk that the notions of open societies and democracy and open markets begin to lose legitimacy because [the benefits] aren't reaching enough people.

It's become fashionable to promote the private sector as the engine of development. What about the role of government?

To solve some of the problems of globalization, we need to re-evaluate state institutions. There mustn't be too much government interference in economic affairs. …

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