What Happened at UN Conference in Monterrey
UN SUMMIT CONFERENCE INCLUDES GEOIST
Here are portions of a report from activist Jeff Smith on his recent trip to the United Nations conference in Monterrey.
by Jeffery J. SmithGeorge Bush, former president Jimmy Carter, currency trader George Soros, US Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte, as well as economists Jeffrey Sachs, special advisor to nations "in transition" and to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and Hernando de Soto, author of The Mystery of Capital which urges debt upon Third World property owners, among many other top politicians and counselors spoke at the UN Conference on Financing For Development held in Monterrey, Mexico, March 18-22, preceded by the UN NGO Forum, March 14-16. March 17 was left open for protest marches. For the first time at a UN event, the World Bank, the IMF, and the WTO participated.
This writer represented the International Union for Land-Value Taxation and Free Trade, enabled by the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation. I gave a talk at the preceding NGO Forum and had a seat, more honorary than participatory, at one of the “Roundtables.” This term was purely figurative as several hundred people were seated in rows during one of several concurrent sessions.
All together, about six thousand attended the event, not counting police. It was held in a conference center enormous enough to comfortably house an airplane hangar. Security was tight and ubiquitous but polite and occasionally multi-lingual.
Georgists and geoists need to be present and noted at such events. Many of the people who attend are interested in fresh ideas like geonomics and are in positions to help the cause. This event was high-level, hosted by the Mexican president, Vicente Fox. Titled “Financing for Development”, with a track called “Mobilizing Domestic Resources” that included the term “taxation” in its descriptive blurb, organizers seemed to be begging for the good Georgist word.
At the earlier NGO Forum, the outdoor buffet was $8.00, while a meal in an outdoor restaurant was $2.00, and a small bottle of water in that very dry and windy heat was over a dollar. But at the official conference that followed, on the other hand, the world's tax dollars were at work. Almost all the males wore expensive dark suits and rarely left the air-conditioning. Telephones were free; people made calls to all over the planet. Gratis, too, were computers, copiers, and paper for the blizzard of documents that someone somewhere some time may yet read. The welcoming feast's leftovers could've fed the barrio's thousands.
The UN is a subculture. For this first-timer, it seemed a bit chaotic; the program was not issued in advance, nor at registration, but daily. For the high-level meetings, the program listed the time, which was long, and the general topic, and the participating governments and NGOs, but not the names of the speakers or the titles of anyone's talk. Minutes listed the speaker's name and titles but not his points. More important than eradicating poverty were all the honorifics and dress code for the social events.
Despite the new objective of the conference, most speakers ground the same old ax. Nothing can be done until the corporations, lenders, and Northern governments let them by repealing their unfair ways. Their most popular reform was the familiar “you got it, we need it, hand it over”. Besides this writer, another exception was the paper by a German academic group, “Charging the Use of Global Commons”, by the German Advisory Council on Global Change.
At the earlier Forum, it was hectic. There was no time between events other than a lunch break. Still, old-timers knew where to be when. Presentations started late and went over, so the schedule got hopelessly behind.
My talk was on the first day, but at 8:00 PM, at the end of an exhausting day. By then, only a few showed up. At least they liked what they heard, and tried to arrange a second presentation for me. Afterwards, the reporter for the main daily newspaper, Irma Deyanira Gonzales Garza of El Norte, interviewed me for a feature article in the Sunday paper.
Organizers of the NGO Forum read to the assembled ministers our two-day old declaration that the NGOs had produced. The governmental delegates to the UN did not exactly pack the house. Yet even during speeches by ministers, meeting halls buzzed with private, side conversations that half the audience engages in. The Deputy Secretary General of the UN, Louise Frechette, to balance the brief opportunity to speak afforded NGOs, at the last minute gave NGOs an audience of 45 minutes, that fell on the morning of my departure.
The exclusive editors of the declaration that came out of the NGO Forum replaced the Georgist input that my track had consensed upon with some independent sentiments of their own (this was done by people who demand democracy from above but apparently do not extend it to below). This despite the fact that the UN already accepted land-value taxation in Habitat II and in their Technical Notes leading up to Monterrey. The land tax is a tax upon everyone and is not obviously progressive. Plus, most countries already have a land tax, albeit at a low rate: for example, Mexico in the Third World, Estonia in the Second World, and Sweden in the First World.
A tax "reform" that was popular and reiterated time and again was the Tobin Tax, an admitted attempt to tax the rich. Instead of urging the left to co-promote the land tax, it may be easier to popularize “the sharing of social surpluses in lieu of taxing useful output and subsidizing wasteful production”. Just as the Tobin Tax sums up something more complex, this mouthful might be reduced to a “Citizens Dividend”. Foregoing popularity, it may be easier to advance geonomics not with activists but with establishment institutions, like US AID.
Typical of conferences, most of the best work took place out of sessions. Even though time between sessions was not in the schedule, people still took off to talk informally. I connected meaningfully with many who want to do more to advance geonomics (the shift of taxes landward, off production, the shift of subsidies citizen-ward, away from special interests). Most encouraging was the warm reception by representatives of US AID and the World Bank who responded positively to collaboration.
The Monterrey conference followed on the heels of the inaugural conference of the US Basic Income Group in New York, CUNY Grad School, where this writer also gave a presentation. The keynoter was Brazilian Senator Eduardo Suplicy. The most promising consequence was meeting the Vice President of the National Homeless Coalition, Terri Schofield, who invited me to present geonomics at the annual conference of the coalition in Washington in April -- an invitation that I declined as funds are lacking. Others too are receptive to funding a housing voucher to all residents, from local rents.
Jeffery J. Smith is president of the Geonomy Society.
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