Gordon Brown; "The Washington Consensus is Over!"

Yesterday morning, I attended a Panel Discussion at St. Pauls Cathedral in London with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in which they spoke about ethics and the economic crisis.

Here's the CNN article covering the event

Britain's Brown urges moral values at G-20

The CNN story was pretty good in its coverage though a bit limited and I wanted to give my first hand recollections and opinions on the event.

First of all, I was surprised by the quality of Gordon Brown's speaking style. In person, his personality really shines beyond what I'd heard on television or elsewhere. He was a moving, powerful and emotional voice and his opening speech was well written with a lot of beautiful rhetoric.

I was also impressed by how strongly he advocated for the notion of "fair trade" and admitted that a vast overhall of the economic system was neccesary. He asserted his support for capitalism and free trade and yet still declared " This old world of the Washington Consensus is over!"

Prime Minister Brown spoke extensively about the moral values that shape common world values such as honesty, trust and hard work. One of the more memorable lines in his speech demanded that our society be "free but not values free, fair but not Laissez-faire." As such, he made it clear that he would be advocating at the G20 for policies that more fully were responsible and held banks and the financial system accountable. He lamented the fact that for too long the economy has turned "all relationships into transactions," and thus has stripped away any sense of integrity. Interestingly, he made an equivalency between the need to restrain government in the 1980s and the need to restrain banks today stating "There are limits to markets just as there are limits to governments." Brown also reiterated his unchanging support for the Millenium Development Goals which I was quite happy to hear.

There was an interesting portion of browns speech where he cited portions of religious scriptures that emphasize loving ones neighbors and treating them with dignity. He mentioned Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddism, Shikhism so there was a good range of major faiths covered and it didn't feel to eccumenical or innapropriate.

I wished that Brown could have been more clear about what the values he spoke of actually entailed on a social policy level and none of the questions asked really engaged him on a level of specifics. Indeed, the whole presentation did have a feeling of generality as could be expected at such an event.

Prime Minister Rudd was not quite as rhetorically stirring but even more intense in his criticism of the excesses of the global system declaring "unfettered free markers became worshipped as a God and we know such gods were false." Rudd strongly emphasized the global nature of this crisis also declaring support for the Millenium Development Goals and declaring that we "must help unclog the arteries of developing countries," and to help to build them up. He emphasized that " Acting in the global good is also acting in the national good" and that this crisis can not be solved by any one nation.

Rudd's appeal to values was a bit more concise and somewhat more clear. He stated that the values of the state in the 90's had become "security, Liberty and prosperity" and that to those values  must be "grafted the valus of equity, sustainability and community." He finished by again emphasizing unity declaring " the underlying truth is this...we are all in this together."

The questions were among the most inspid selections. Since the topic of the talk was "trust" I'd written a question about rebuilding moral trust in the middle east specifically in regard to the peace process with Israel-Palestine but that was not asked. Neither were any truly interesting economic questions.

The first question concerned the question of why the government was helping banks rather than charities. It was the best question of the morning which is saying a lot.  

Brown emphasized in response the increase in money to charities and that the banking loans and bailouts were not for the sake of bankers but for the sake of the public. He also mentioned that the loans had been given with the condition that the bank give out more loans.

He then turned to speak about the G20 stating that he planned to introduce support for new international banking system rules on top of fighting to get tax havens and reforming bad practies.

The next question was directed at Rudd concerned the recent ratification of Kyoto. He was asked what he was doing to bring his country up to compliance before the copenheim meeting later in the year. He emphasized that the meetings concerning global climate change would come later in April but that he was aware of the urgency to act and that he had begun to implement policies.

Gordon Brown also mentioned that the main goal of the talks would be to persuade America and Emerging nations to get engaged in finding responsible climate change solutions.

The third question was about "doing god" or something strange relating to the intersection of religion and politics. Brown talked about moral character but also reiterated that politicians should not be ministers and spoke about his father's ministerial experience.

The fourth question was about building moral character. Brown again spoke about searching for a basis for shared moral character while Rudd mentioned that even those in the corporate sector feel that the current balance is off and wish to reclaim a sense of morality in buisness.

The Fifth question was about the role of youth and education. Both Rudd and Brown emphasized how impressed they were by the activism and involvement of youth. Rudd spoke about an NGO in Australia in which the maximum age of invovlement was 25 and which was completely youth led. They both stated that youth activism was truly revolutionary and powerful.

The last question was most absurd of all and asked if the speakers agreed that the most important thing was " Gross Domestic Happiness." Rudd spoke about how the crisis would make us fall back more than ever on family and community and that it could lead to a ressurgence of these entities and encourage happiness. Brown talked about the Millenium Development goals and how the crisis should remind us that the health and happiness of every individual world wide is our essential stake.

Ultimately, this was a very calm event without any new revelations and a surprisingly lack of protest or vocal criticism. It was an enjoyable chance to see two global leaders speak and reiterate their commitment to fair trade and the values of the Millenium Development Goals.

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