1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Beirut Event Marks Launch of "Visible Hands" in Arabic

21 Nov 2002

A formal launch event was organized at the ESCWA headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, to mark the release of UNRISD’s flagship publication, Visible Hands – Taking Responsibility for Social Development, in Arabic.

The event took place on 2 December 2002, and was followed by a discussion involving representatives from the media, government, parliament, academia, non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations, civil society organizations and students. UNRISD was represented by Yusuf Bangura, Research Co-ordinator, and Nicolas Bovay, Information Officer.

Following the translation of Visible Hands into French, Spanish and Russian, ESCWA decided to translate the report into Arabic and make it available to the decision makers, researchers, and organisations concerned with social development in the Arab World. The Arab Organisation for Translation executed this task with joint financing from ESCWA and UNRISD.

The following is the Preface to the Arabic Edition by Ms. Mervat Tellawy,
UN Under Secretary-General, ESCWA Executive Secretary

(Translation from the Arabic)

The advocates of free market economy promised prosperity for all. The detrimental outcome of a decade of neoliberal policies brought about ‘widespread’ discontent. Calls for policy review and a re-evaluation of the structural reform programs aim at restoring the relevance of the social dimension. This book presents an “accurate” account of how neoliberal policies have an all-encompassing bearing on the lives and rights of people. For example, the book illustrates how the levels of unemployment have doubled in some Asian countries while the levels of deflation reached dangerous levels in 1997-1998, and how in Latin America the levels of unemployment reached the highest levels seen within the last 15 years, thus widening dramatically the social gap.

Despite international concern about the increase of the phenomenon of poverty and the 1995 Copenhagen summit call for poverty reduction, the number of poor worldwide has jumped above the benchmark of one billion. There is a call for alleviating the debt burden on developing countries: what these countries pay in form of debt servicing to the developed world exceeds their expenditure on essential social services. Furthermore, a great part of the aid granted to these countries is spent on debt servicing or the implementation of reform programs required by the donor countries. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), estimated that the difference in wealth between the poorest and wealthiest nations is at a ratio of one to seventy seven in comparison with one to forty four in 1973. The gap between rich and poor countries is widening and is leading to mass migration towards North America and Western Europe, and to an “inversely proportional relation” between the advance of poverty and the retreat of democracy.

Where can we find a force capable of playing a balancing role to counter the destructive dominance of market forces?

In an effort to answer that question, the issue that the book addresses is first, the formation of a new international institutional framework capable of promoting growth worldwide and keeping in check the instability of the world economy and dangers that have reached critical levels. Then the creation of a new fund for development that would be jointly managed by representatives of the wealthy and poor nations, and the institution of international tax and duties collection bodies in order to put an end to tax evasion worldwide. As for governments, the book stresses the constraints their role was subjected to during the last decade, and the negative consequences of privatisation including unemployment, price increases, social unrest, instability, nepotism and discrimination, in addition to the subjugation of governments to foreign bureaucrats. For example, in Africa the number of “resident foreign consultants” reached 100’000 in the 1980s, totalling 35 percent of development aid. The reform of the public sector, in order to be effective, should be essentially of a social nature and should be based on political consensus. The United Nations and civil society organisations should play a more constructive role by adopting strict and effective legislation in relation to transnational corporations and their “invisible hands” in matters related to ethics and the environment such as child labour and deforestation. It is to be noted that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have achieved some substantial results during the last few years by causing the World Bank to amend its position on several issues.

We should not overlook the negative effects of economic liberalisation and its social consequences on women and how they were burdened with new duties without any significant social or political gain despite official discourse on gender equality after the 1995 Copenhagen conference.

Voices calling for profound reforms aimed at establishing humane ethics in political and economic practice are getting louder, yet neoliberal globalisation is set on an opposite course. This state of affairs will lead to increased polarisation and possible conflict. In order to put a halt to this course of events, “visible hands” will have to intervene. They are the hands of the governments and of the citizens who work for the promotion of human rights, social cohesion, and the defence of the common good within the context of what might become globalisation with a humane face.