While the expansion of the typical G8 to a G20 was an important first step towards more equal representation in international economic forums, the meeting convened Saturday in D.C. to address the global financial crisis remained fundamentally flawed. First, it excluded the countries most vulnerable and whose citizens will suffer most from its effects. Second, it failed to question the abuses and miscalculations of the institutions that got us here in the first place. In fact, proposed bailout packages redirect power and legitimacy to the same private regulatory institutions that preach speculatory investment over long-term investment in public infrastructures that improve people’s lives, meet human needs, and protect human rights.

Among these institutions are the previously waning IMF and World Bank, who are now regaining their footing as international lenders to developing countries. IMF and World Bank loans have been notorious for enforcing Structural Adjustment Programs that slash public spending, often eliminating a county’s ability to meet the needs of its population.

This, my friends, is what we call a gross infringement of national sovereignty. Developing countries must be free to pursue the same expansionary economic policies pursued by the wealthy nations that created the current crisis. Especially in a time of global recession, countries must have mobility to meet important social needs.

An appropriate case study is Brazil’s Bolsa Familia—the world’s largest conditional welfare program for the poor.  Where families keep their children in school, get them vaccinated, and attend regular health check ups, they receive a monthly stipend of up to $82 USD.  The national program serves 11 million families (close to 50 million people), and many of the country’s poorest towns are seeing their first secondary school, health clinic, and even potable water source as a result. While Bolsa Familia still has a long way to go to improve national education standards and job training, it is being studied by dozens of other Latin American and African countries as a model that appears to be reducing poverty and improving certain social behaviors when it comes to education and health—two essential ingredients to development.

So, as the governments of the richest countries act more quickly and decisively to bail out the banks and financial institutions than they have the crisis of poverty, marginalization, and deprivation that continues to afflict nearly half the world’s population, stop and think.

Stop and think about what a global economic structures and policies would look like that put peoples’ needs first, respect and promote human rights, ensure decent jobs, sustainable livelihoods, and essential services such as health, education, housing, water, and clean energy. Public assistance programs like Bolsa Familia are a good start, but they represent only a piece of the solution.

Exploring other pieces of the puzzle is a growing mobilization of international and regional networks and organizations that are asking the world to take lesson and take charge of our democratic (and not so democratic) systems to give people greater control over the resources and decisions that affect their lives.

The world is not flat, and it is not a box.  And there are far to many alternatives yet to be discovered to  accept life in a box.

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