And Now For Some Good News

by Barbara Sumner Burstyn

March 29, 2004

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I rang my mum the other day. "Your column was good this week, dear," she said, and then paused, "but don't you ever have anything good to say?"

She has a point. I seem to have the kind of mind that gravitates towards the negative, the underhand and the dishonest.

In direct contrast to me, my mother is the living example of the old saying that if you haven't got anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.

So in honor of my mum, here's a few good things I've come across recently.

First, the power of the shopping basket. In Britain, consumers are showing themselves willing to spend a few cents more for fairly traded food.

Fairtrade Foundation director Harriet Lamb calls it a grassroots phenomenon, the increasing willingness of people to pay a little more, knowing the workers in Third World countries who produced the food are receiving a living wage. Fair-trade food is doing so well in Britain that the business has enjoyed annual growth of 40 to 90 per cent for the past decade.

Clothing is also becoming a choice of conscience as well as style and fit. The Ethical Trading Initiative says many of Britain's biggest retailers are joining the organization to ensure their suppliers adhere to basic standards of human rights and conditions. It is working on a rating scheme that will see companies which chose to join having their factories randomly audited.

On the environmental front, the latest figures from the American Wind Energy Association and the European Wind Energy Association show the new wind-energy sector was worth US$ 9.7 billion ($15 billion) last year, providing enough energy to power the equivalent of 19 million European households, or 47 million people. Annual growth rates of more than 35 per cent over the past five years have made Europe the frontrunner in wind-energy development.

"It's time to ditch the alternative tag," says Corin Millais, the European association's chief executive, "and view wind power for what it is: a mainstream energy source delivering high growth rates and providing economic as well as environmental benefits."

In the United States, there's the rise of home-shopping networks - not the TV version but community-owned retail enterprises and corporations uniting communities in their efforts to protect the character and vitality of hometowns from the low-wage retail giants such as WalMart. Known as new localism, the movement is seeing increasing numbers of towns banding together to oust main-street-destroying big-box retailers in favor of community-building, small-scale, homegrown businesses.

On the charity front, a survey last week showed that New Zealanders prefer to buy from companies that support worthy causes - even if their products cost more. Which leaves a good feeling, given that the most common expressions of capitalism are a zero-sum society underpinned by the belief that no one can win unless someone else loses, and that altruism and compassion are signs of weakness.

But perhaps the most hopeful thing I've read in years is an essay by John Ralston Saul in the March issue of Harpers magazine. Saul argues from a historical and economic perspective that globalization is on the verge of collapse and we are about to see the rebirth of nationalism.

Globalization, he says, has been asserted by its believers to be inevitable, a holy trinity of burgeoning markets, unsleeping technology and borderless managers, with opposition treated as little more than romantic paganism. Saul puts the promises of globalization into perspective and neatly deconstructs just how those promises have all failed. Things like the promise that economics, not arms or politics, would determine the course of history. Or that lowered barriers to international trade would result in the raising of the economic and social tide for all humans.

Saul's comprehensive review of the present world ethos that glorifies the market as the answer to all of humanity's problems is profound in both its scholarship and humanity. It should be essential reading for all students of economics, and for those who believe the market is the mechanism by which we are all improved. Even New Zealand gets a mention as the original social democratic model state that attempted to become the perfect globalized nation-state.

What is positive here is that reasoned objections to capitalism are entering more mainstream dialogue. And that, as Saul points out, we are becoming aware that, while globalization can't tell the difference between ethics (the measurement of public good) and morality (the weapon of religious and social righteousness), we, as citizens, are beginning to discern that vital difference.

But while the issues touched on here are great signs, they are essentially visions of a just world, rather than the daily reality for one in every six human beings who live in dire poverty on less than $1 a day.

So next week I'm returning to the Dorothy Parker version of my mother's favorite motto - if you haven't got anything nice to say, come and sit next to me.

How am I doing, mum?

Barbara Sumner Burstyn is a freelance writer who commutes between Montreal, Quebec and The Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. She writes a weekly column for the New Zealand Herald (www.nzherald.co.nz), and has contributed to a wide range of media. She can be reached at: barb@sumnerburstyn.com. Visit her website to read more of her work: www.sumnerburstyn.com/ 2004 Barbara Sumner Burstyn

Other Articles by Barbara Sumner Burstyn


* Sating the Monster
* The A Word
* Replying to the American Embassy

* The Breast That Changed the World
* On Not Being Anti-American
* The New Underclass
Celestial Land Grabs and the Demise of Science
* When is a Democracy Not a Democracy?

* True Heroes Will Help Beggars Through Another Day
* The Sum Total of My Body Parts
* I Blame God
* Fresh Food Fear
* Starve the Beast
* Smoke and Mirrors: Fatal Weapons in US War Against Reality

* A GM Question or Two

* Hooker Look in Fashion as Porn Becomes de Rigueur

* The Twisted Logic of Mothers Who Abandon Mothering

* Only in America

* We Really are Living on the Dark Side of the Moon

* Viagra for Girls: Medical Light Bulbs Can't Switch off Relationship Woes

* No Room on the Balance Sheet for Truth or Humanity

* Working to Live has Been Overtaken by Living to Work





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