Gordon Brown: A global chance for jobs and justice

The world will pay a heavy price for ignoring the sorrows of the left-out millions. It doesn’t have to be this way

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In only a few days 160,000 people have signed a petition demanding that the world's leaders deliver a global plan for jobs and justice. They have been galvanised by new findings from the IMF that global economic co-ordination could secure or create as many as 50 million additional jobs worldwide and lift 90 million people out of poverty.

The Jubilee Debt Campaign, Make Poverty History and Stop Climate Chaos were inspiring examples of people power determining the agendas for development and the environment. The latest petition, an initiative of Avaaz.org, which is a global online campaigning community, is the first example in recent memory of campaigners making a comprehensive case for change rooted in the wider political economy. It shows that the grassroots (indeed the netroots) are now ahead of the politicians in understanding the sheer scale of the global restructuring of our economic lives that is now under way.

But even more than understanding the huge shifts that are happening, this campaign shows that people are determined to shape them.

The map of globalisation is being transformed. For two hundred years, until now, Europe and America have been responsible for the majority of the world's manufacturing, exports and investment. But 2010 has marked a decisive break. From now on Asia and the rest of the world will out-produce, out-manufacture, out-trade, and out-invest the West.

If rising Asian manufacturing power was the sole transformative force at work, then low growth in the West, diminished living standards, millions becoming long-term unemployed – and imbalances between East and West – might seem unavoidable. But a second major restructuring – what will become a twenty trillion dollars Asian consumer revolution – will create a new Asian middle class and offer Europe and America an exit strategy from the crisis years.

It is an unparalleled chance to sell into what will become the world's biggest consumer market the technology-driven custom-built niche products and services that Asia wants. But this chance can only be seized – and unemployment fall – if we build our investments in the modern drivers of growth – science, technology, education and universities – and champion global co-operation not least in opening up global trade so it is both free and fair.

In the last decade, the two great forces driving globalisation havebeen the global sourcing of theirgoods and services (companies producing wherever is most cost-effective) and the global flow of capital (financial institutions investing wherever is the highest returns).

But sadly Africa and many developing countries have not been pulled along by these two forces. Developing country growth has been stronger because of the reform efforts of African leaders, but we still see little global sourcing of African finished products. Africa, with 13 per cent of the world's people, has only 1 per cent of the world's manufacturing. And despite its trillions of dollars worth of oil, minerals and raw materials, Africa has been securing only 1 per cent of foreign direct investment.

But there is an alternative; a policy for economic empowerment, putting to work Africa's greatest resource, its people, can change the balance in favour of Africa. That future means propelling Africa from the world's lowest skill and lowest productivity continent to one which leaps forward to become skills-intensive, technology-rich and digitally based.

Five years ago we created a $5bn public-private partnership where governments underwrote private investment in health, particularly vaccination. Poor infrastructure alone cuts Africa's growth rate by 2 per cent, so a similar public-private partnership frontloading new private investment with donor country guarantees can tackle Africa's lack of roads, electricity and water, and schools.

By front-loading $100bn of new investment in a cross-border Africa fund and then by systematically sponsoring small business development banks that offer below-interest loans, we can create the conditions in which Africa can join a global plan for growth. Today internet costs on average $22 a month in the OECD, from $6 a month in India but $36 in Africa. While 40 per cent of African men and women have mobile phones, only 1 per cent of Africans have access to broadband. So I am joining Tim Berners Lee and the Worldwide Web Foundation in pressing that those who can afford the digital access the least should not be expected to pay the most.

Ten years ago the biggest barrier discouraging global flows of investment to Africa was debt and poor macroeconomic management. Soon the biggest barrier will be Africa's low level of skills. You can't build successful participation in a knowledge-based global economy by leaving one in three primary school age children out of school, offering those that get there 5 years education against 15 here, and denying the majority of girls the chance of completing school, far less college or university.

And now we are at risk of witnessing a new and escalating development emergency. The year 2015, the year we have set a target to deliver universal schooling for all, could see a rise in the already high – 69 million – out-of-school population. It is economically perverse to cut developing country education now; as Franklin Roosevelt said of a previous age of retrenchment, "the school is the last expenditure upon which our country should be willing to economise".

I do not, of course, believe in aid for aid's sake; the purpose of aid is to make aid unnecessary by saving and changing lives for good. So a plan that reduces unemployment and poverty worldwide –and makes globalisation fair – cannot be credible if the children most in need of the skills for work are this morning being denied the chance even to go to school. As the Avaaz.org petition I ask you to sign today makes clear, there is no firm line that divides "over there" from "over here".

There is a chain of destruction that starts with over-greedy bankers speculating in sub-prime across America that links to banks collapsing throughout the western world that leads in turn to the inexcusable waste of 69 million children's lives.

The world will pay a heavy price for ignoring the sorrows of the left-out millions. It doesn't have to be this way; with the right global co-operation there is a new Africa and a people-centred globalisation just waiting to be born.

The writer is the former Prime Minister and Chancellor. He is the author of "Beyond The Crash: Overcoming The First Crisis Of Globalisation". You can take the Avaaz.org action here: http://bit.ly/avaaz_brown

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