Most people believe that rich natural resources make a country rich. Fertile lands and abundant mineral wealth are seen as a natural endowment, available to support an abundant life. They also give a ready-made advantage in trade, since food, timber, metals, and energy are universal means to life. Even today many countries prohibit private ownership (as opposed to private exploitation) of their natural resources: in Russia oil and minerals are still owned by the state, though private companies are given leases of various lengths to turn them into usable commodities.
It is right that Globalist should notice the death of Ronald Reagan last weekend. For Reagan, together with Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher, was the architect of globalization.
Western opinion has been outraged by the revelation of torture by US forces of Iraqi prisoners. Photographs and videos shown to Congress (and partly reproduced in Western media) showed American soldiers at Abu Ghraib Prison sexually assaulting Iraqis and laughing over mutilated and abused bodies. Now President Bush has promised to demolish this notorious prison, symbol of Saddam’s police state, which no one expected would become the symbol of American occupation.
Every society should be subject to the rule of law. This is not the same as rule by lawyers. In its worship of law, the United States is both an example and a warning.
The Bubble of American Supremacy
by George Soros
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 224pp, £12.99
Having made a fortune as a financier and then given much of it away in philanthropy, George Soros has embarked on a new career as a guru. He urgently wants to put his mouth where his money is. He looks at our arrangements for managing the planet and finds them sadly wanting. “The combination of financial markets and national politics,” he writes, “has created a lopsided system designed primarily for the production and exchange of private goods. Collective needs and social justice receive short shrift because the development of international institutions . . . has not kept pace with the development of markets.”
Once upon a time, business depended on trust. You trusted your partner or supplier not to cheat you. Why? Because you knew each other. Deals were verbal understandings: a man’s word was his bond. It was care for his reputation that kept the businessman honest: if he was known to cheat, he was finished. It was allowed to cheat a stranger, but not one of your own. Much of the world’s business is still done on this basis: in the mosque, the souk, or the banya.
Russian business has emerged from its semi-criminal, post-Communist origins: already films like Oligarch and Brigada look like elegies for a vanished past. Robber barons, grown rich on stolen state assets, talk the language of corporate responsibility; their children study ethics at American business schools.