Head to Head: Social vs Economic Forum

January 16, 2004

Two forums debating global development are opening. First, the World Social Forum, a gathering of groups opposed to globalisation has opened in Bombay. Then, on 21 January attention switches to Davos, Switzerland, where the some of the world's most powerful business leaders and politicians meet at the World Economic Forum.

BBC News Online invited two leading voices for and against globalisation to air their views.

Philippe Legrain is a former special advisor to the World Trade Organization and author of Open World: The Truth About Globalisation.

"I believe that globalisation has benefited people living in developing countries in three important ways.

Firstly, opening up markets increases economic growth, which in turn improves living standards. Secondly, globalisation leads to cheaper imports meaning poorer countries pay less for goods they cannot produce. Thirdly, it helps undermine totalitarian and corrupt regimes by encouraging good practice based on rules.

Take China for example. Living standards have increased six fold in the last 20 years, the Chinese have much more choice and the government has become much more responsive than it was.

The countries that have not benefited are those, like some in Africa, who have not opened up enough. It's not enough to blame Western countries for not opening their markets (Western markets are actually some of the freest in the world) because the real benefits are felt from developing countries trading with each other.

I don't think much will come out of the World Economic Forum as it is really just a networking opportunity for business leaders. I think it's good for people to debate ideas at the World Social Forum - it's just a pity they can't be a bit more open-minded.

You can have a social conscience, care about world poverty and support globalisation."

Trevor Ngwane of the South African Anti-Privatisation Forum is a speaker at this year's World Social Forum.

"I would argue that globalisation makes economic and social changes based on profit for the few, not the majority of people. In South Africa, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

When public sector organisations are privatised, the new owners immediately begin to make staff redundant - in South Africa, over 2 million people have lost their jobs and homelessness is increasing.

All the gains we have made since we won our freedom 10 years ago have been undermined by these policies.

I believe we need to get back to the ideas of full employment and a state that puts people before profit - to get away from the "survival of the fittest".

The state should guarantee that everyone should have a home and access to water supplies and should stop assisting these neo-liberal policies.

The World Social Forum is a space for people all over the world who are opposed to globalisation to share ideas and strategies and develop joint-programs.

Part of its role is as a symbolic alternative to the World Economic Forum and we are still searching for concrete outcomes from the WSF.

My message to the delegates attending the World Economic Forum is that your vision of the future is lacking in humanity.

The growth of the social forum shows that there is a groundswell of people around the world who reject your policies - you need to wake up and smell the coffee."

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