6.9 C
Monday, December 11, 2023

The Commonwealth should turn its attention to global problems

Must read

The formal coronation in London of King Charles III on 6 May has not stirred much interest in the Commonwealth, of which he is the ceremonial head. Perhaps that is because Commonwealth activities have dwindled to a few fellowship schemes for higher study and the Games held every four years.

There is no visible attempt to take on board the staringly urgent global problems of the day. There is climate change and the prospect of desertification or inundation affecting member countries; the equally frightening if more distant consequences of artificial intelligence (AI) growing wildly out of control unless reined in by global rules; and global financial turbulence having become not an episodic disruption, but an ever-present threat.

Climate action is one of the stated aims of the group. But then again, climate action calls for large-scale finance for mitigation and adaptation, with risk protection, which only multinational agencies like the World Bank are equipped to provide.

Much can be done however to harness initiatives within the Commonwealth. India’s Mission LiFE (Lifestyle for Environment) lists 75 simple lifestyle corrections at the individual or household level, which, by estimates of the International Energy Agency, will reduce annual global carbon dioxide emissions by 2 billion tonnes or more if universally adopted by 2030. By endorsing this Indian initiative and monitoring rates of adoption, the Commonwealth can help drive the process.

More interventionist moves by the Commonwealth could extend to helping countries where the transition to renewable sources of power generation is hobbled by poor regulatory structures contaminated by political interference; and to make available technological solutions to common problems of transmission and distribution losses. The point is that the Commonwealth has not moved to provide a window at which countries can seek assistance for these and related issues.

The problem of AI running amok cannot really be addressed within the Commonwealth, since the big players lie outside the group. But it can put together an informed plan for consideration by world bodies with wider representation.

On financial turbulence, the Commonwealth could play a role in debt relief, by providing a window of assistance to member nations who lack the wherewithal to navigate their way through the application process.

All this might sound hopelessly unrealistic within a group riven by sharp differences. Within-country dissenters stage protests in third countries, causing friction at the government level. There has been vandalizing of public property and diplomatic outposts recently in Britain by such dissident groups, but these are admittedly difficult to contain when the Commonwealth diaspora is sufficiently large in pockets to matter electorally in the host nation.

The related problem of migration is a big issue. The Commonwealth could develop a framework within which to arrive in a collegial manner at agreements on the size of the flow that can be handled by any receiving nation. There has to be an agreed mutuality to end the problem of illegal migrants, which would then extend to the near-slave conditions of work that often exist under the radar in the destination country.

The only issue gaining traction within the Commonwealth in recent years is that of reparations for victims of the slave trade. The Caricom Reparation Commission formed by Caribbean heads of government addresses all former colonial powers, not Britain alone. But pressure is growing from Caribbean members of the Commonwealth for reparations from Britain.

In recent years, institutions like Harvard University and The Guardian newspaper in Britain have unilaterally declared reparation sums in partial payback of compensation received by their slave owning founders when slavery was abolished, while the slaves themselves received nothing. There are also British families like the Trevelyans, who have declared reparations to the Caribbean country where their ancestral plantations lay. In cases like these, the institution or family from which the reparation can justifiably flow is easily identified.

But a reparation claim against the British government can only be paid from current tax revenues, which will include large numbers of current taxpayers not descended from beneficiaries of the slave trade. Tax revenues today are collected from both earned and inherited income. A 2015 review paper by Thomas Piketty and Gabriel Zucman shows that earned wealth amounted to 40% of total private wealth in Britain in 2010. In other comparator European countries, the earned share was more like half. Even within the inherited wealth category, some will have been sourced from extortion of other types, such as by the East India Company. Therefore paying slave reparations at the country level from generalized tax revenues is not easily justified.

On balance, the Commonwealth would do better to steer action towards problems that afflict all populations within it, with a focus on bringing countries together in a mutual assistance pact so that membership will carry greater salience in the world of today.

British leadership of the group has historical roots, but is predicated on a continuing presumption of coherent governance and fiscal maturity. Today, with the public debt of Britain on a steep upward trajectory, and magnificent public institutions like the National Health Service crumbling for lack of fiscal support amidst vast hoards of private wealth, that leadership is being tested.

For now, we wish King Charles III a happy coronation day.

Indira Rajaraman is an economist.

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint.
Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.


Source link

- Advertisement -

More articles

Leave a Reply

- Advertisement -

Latest article