The Sambuddhatva Jayanthi and the New World Order

The first step is to make a commitment toward ending poverty. This could be done nationally, regionally or globally. To start with, the national dimension would be the initial approach. Secondly, we need a plan, which we already have in the United Nations Millennium Goals. Thirdly, we need to empower the poor. The rich nations may not be encouraged to assist in this goal if the poor nations and their citizens are silent.

Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne

(May 31, Montreal, Sri Lanka Guardian) Construction, Engineering and Common Amenities Minister Wimal Weerawansa addressing the UN special ceremony to mark the 2600th Sambuddhatva Jayanthi on May 16, 2011 said: “Let us all wish together on this 2600th Sambuddhatva Jayanthi for a new world order and a better world for humankind…I am hopeful that we all will be fortunate enough to witness this profound change in our lives, societies, nations and finally in the whole world.

The Honourable Minister obviously linked the term “new world order” with a “better world for mankind”, and, in the context of the holy event aligned his speech to the noble precepts of tolerance, understanding and compassion.

In the modern context of global governance (where the word “governance” is taken to mean the processes, systems and institutions that are used by governments) the Honourable Minister’s words have a special significance: “ One nation attempts to outdo or weaken the other in order to have control over the geo-political sphere, natural resources and the markets around the world. By such actions the physical world is currently faced with issues such as global warming and other devastating environmental changes, which in turn creates catastrophic weather conditions such as La Nina and El Nino etc. All these disasters have been brought about by the selfish actions by us; unsatisfied and greedy humans”.

A new world order, in the context of the Minister’s speech can only be achieved through consultation, cooperation and consensus among nations as against segregation and polarization. This way, judges of a particular jurisdiction keep in close contact with their counterparts in other jurisdictions across the seas, which enables them to infuse global trends into their judgements; ministers keep in touch with their counterparts overseas, making them aware of the single thread of statecraft that comes with globalization; and police investigators collaborate closely with other police officers across the world to make inroads into the solving of crime. Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of A New World Order (Princeton University Press: New Jersey, 2004) extends this approach and quotes the unfortunate instance of such networks being formed among terrorists, arms dealers, money launderers, drug dealers, pirates of intellectual property and traffickers in women and children. Politics is no longer an isolated discipline of statecraft but is rather a conglomerate of international trends and ideas that weaves a uniform thread of governance.

From a materialistic perspective, a better world for mankind can primarily be achieved through the eradication of poverty. Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and onetime Special Advisor to former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on the UN Millennium Development Goals and Economic Advisor to Governments around the World, in his book, The End of Poverty – Economic Possibilities of Our Time (Penguin: New York, 2005), says it is a distinct and real possibility. Sachs quotes the prescient 1930 book of British economist John Maynard Keynes, Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren, where Keynes envisioned that there would be no more poverty by the end of the 20th century, attributing to the eradication of poverty the relentless march of science and technology resulting in exponential global economic growth.

Sachs follows through without reservation, by invoking the same logic as Keynes, claiming that by 2025, we could be totally poverty-free by using the wealth of the world and the power of unending repositories of knowledge that we have. Of course, as every good news has a caveat, Sachs lays down the condition that our ability to transcend global poverty would depend on our collective wisdom in using our resources prudently and with good judgment. In his book, Sachs shows the way towards charting a wiser path towards global wealth and prosperity.

To examine this issue the first thing one must do is to define the word “ poverty”. Poverty is defined as a condition in which a person or community is deprived of, or lacks the essentials for a minimum standard of well-being and life. Since poverty is understood in many senses these essentials may be material resources such as food, safe drinking water and shelter, or they may be social resources such as access to information, education, healthcare, social status, political power, or the opportunity to develop meaningful connections with other people in society.

According to the World Bank, extreme poverty is the condition in which a person lives on less than US$ 1 per day, and moderate poverty is when he is forced to exist on less than $2 a day. Although the most severe poverty is in the developing world, there is evidence of poverty in every region. In developed countries, this condition results in wandering homeless people and poor suburbs and ghettos. Poverty may be seen as the collective condition of poor people, or of poor groups, and in this sense entire nation-States are sometimes regarded as poor, but euphemistically called developing nations..

When measured, poverty may be absolute or relative. Absolute poverty refers to a set standard which is consistent over time and between countries. An example of an absolute measurement would be the percentage of the population eating less food than is required to sustain the human body (approximately 2000-2500 calories per day).

Relative poverty views poverty as socially defined and dependent on the social context applicable. For instance, the number of people counted as poor could increase while their incomes rise. A relative measurement would be to compare the total wealth of the poorest one-third of the population with the total wealth of richest 1% of the population.

In many developed countries the official definition of poverty used for statistical purposes is based on relative income. As such many critics argue that poverty statistics measure inequality rather than material deprivation or hardship. For instance, according to the United States Census Bureau, 46% of those in "poverty" in the U.S. own their own home (with the average poor person's home having three bedrooms, with one and a half baths, and a garage). Furthermore, the measurements are usually based on a person's yearly income and frequently take no account of total wealth. The main poverty line used in the Development (OECD) and the European union is based on "economic distance", a level of income set at 50% of the median household income. It is reported that the US poverty line is more arbitrary. It was created in 1963-64 and was based on the dollar costs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "economy food plan" multiplied by a factor of three. The multiplier was based on research showing that food costs then accounted for about one third of the total money income. This one-time calculation has since been annually updated for inflation.

Of course, at the present time, even if poverty may be lessening for the world as a whole, it continues to be an enormous problem. This is due to various socio-economic factors.

The World Bank's "Voices of the Poor", based on research carried out over 20,000 poor people in 23 countries, identifies a range of factors which poor people consider elements of poverty. Most important are those necessary for material well-being, especially food. Many others relate to social rather than material issues such as precarious livelihoods; excluded locations; gender relationships; problems in social relationships; lack of security; abuse by those in power; disempowering institutions; limited capabilities, and weak community organizations.

So how can we make our dream a reality? Through sheer hard work of course. The first step is to make a commitment toward ending poverty. This could be done nationally, regionally or globally. To start with, the national dimension would be the initial approach. Secondly, we need a plan, which we already have in the United Nations Millennium Goals. Thirdly, we need to empower the poor. The rich nations may not be encouraged to assist in this goal if the poor nations and their citizens are silent. Sachs cites the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King who did not wait for the rich and powerful but went ahead helping the cause of the poor and downtrodden. We also need to ensure sustainable development by harnessing scientific and technological advancement. The last frontier is of course individuals – all of us as separate beings, contributing to the cause and supporting our governments. We have to ensure together that democracy, the rule of law, health care and education are fostered and protected in our societies.

The President of Sri Lanka in his Mahinda Chintana, has said: “a Nation grows to its heights through unity, discipline and handwork. Honesty and good governance are essential in growth. The quality of rural economy, national human resource are new growth factors. Creating benefits for common people and improving their life are growth goals. Trusting, development and utilization of local resources are our growth aims”.

There could be no better wisdom than this for a New World Order, if it can be put to practice.

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