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Looking forward to the 2007 ASA Annual Meeting in New York …

How Do We Get to Another World?

by Fred Block, University of California–Davis

The 2007 Annual Meeting theme, “Is Another World Possible? Sociological Perspectives on Contemporary Politics,” is an invitation to serious discussion of “economic globalization” and its consequences. Since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher came to power more than a quarter century ago, the pace of economic globalization has intensified. Free trade agreements, financial liberalization, and widespread shifts in government policies have made national and local economies far more vulnerable to the impact of global trade and financial flows. These processes have produced highly uneven consequences that benefit some, deepen the impoverishment of others, and increase volatility and uncertainty for many.

In addition, the discontents of economic globalization have also produced counter currents as indigenous groups, environmentalists, labor unions, women, and other groups have mobilized to resist and oppose these changes. Many of these activist groups are now represented at the World Social Forum (WSF), which is a global gathering that aspires to build a popular counterweight to transnational corporations and the global institutions that have set the rules for the world economy (see March 2007 Footnotes). It is the WSF that initially advanced the claim that “Another World Is Possible.”

The phrase suggests a world that would be both gentler on the environment and kinder to the world’s poor, promising them future opportunities and an immediate increase in access to food, water, housing and health care. Such a vision intentionally challenges current orthodoxies. The defenders of present arrangements insist that any significant departure from the world economy’s current reliance on market practices would inevitably impair economic growth and hurt the poor most severely. Even among the critics of existing institutions, many question whether it is possible to raise living standards for the world’s poor while also making significant strides towards environmental sustainability.

Those who believe that an alternative path could simultaneously make progress on both living standards and environmental protection often disagree among themselves. Some anticipate “another world” that would break radically with current arrangements, while others imagine a shift that would be the global equivalent of the incremental reforms of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. There are also profound disagreements about the proper strategies that would take us from the present to this alternative destination.

These disagreements will be the key subject matters of this year’s plenary, “If Another World Is Possible, How Do We Get There?” Three distinguished guests will provide their differing views of what that other world should look like and their preferred strategies for producing significant global change. While none of these speakers identifies as a sociologist, each of them has been engaged for many years in a sustained dialogue with key classical and contemporary texts of our discipline. They will bring the global and interdisciplinary perspectives needed to understand these pressing issues.

Jomo K. S. has been Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development in the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) since January 2005. Before that he taught in the Applied Economics Department, Faculty of Economics and Administration of the University of Malaya. His 35 monographs and 50 edited books have established his international reputation. He is one of the best critics of “free market” orthodoxy and one of the strongest proponents of a world economic perspective rooted in the experiences of people and nations in the “Global South.”

Naomi Klein is a Canadian journalist and activist whose first book, No Logo, was launched in the immediate aftermath of the large–scale demonstrations in 1999 at the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Seattle. Ms. Klein quickly emerged as one of the most influential voices of a new generation of activists who were challenging both corporate power and the ground rules of the global economy. She has written regularly for The Nation and The Guardian, made a documentary about the movement in Argentina by workers to reclaim factories, and will soon publish a book on Disaster Capitalism.

Jeffrey Sachs, an internationally known economist, is currently the Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Between 2002 and 2006, he served as Director of the UN Millennium Project and special advisor to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals. In his widely read 2005 book, The End of Poverty, Sachs explains how his thinking has developed over his 20–year career as an international economic advisor. While others have highlighted the shifts, he emphasizes the continuities. Sachs first attained international visibility in the late 1980s and early 1990s as an economic advisor to the governments of Bolivia, Poland, and Russia who favored bold market–oriented reforms. He is now a key advocate for environmental sustainability, and The End of Poverty argues for concerted global action to end poverty by 2025 through much higher levels of foreign aid, significant shifts in U.S. foreign policy, and fundamental reform of the global financial institutions.