Just when I think I should lie fallow and do some real work, I am stunned by something in the press. More fool me. Instead of praying for deliverance, I check the newspaper, like one of Hegel’s bourgeois at breakfast, and find myself reading about what Macron, Sunak and friends call ‘delivery’ in a letter ‘released’ (what is this, the Beatles new LP?) today. But ‘delivery’ is certainly not deliverance, and so it seems as if criticism might be necessary.
Literary criticism is out of fashion. Film and television threatened literature, social media put it on life support, and it is now about to be hanged, drawn and quartered by artificial intelligence. So literary criticism may seem to have nothing to live for. But it is a great weapon in the hands of the sceptic. It can still be practised on the utterances of our overlords.
I have no idea who wrote the following. But as it appears in the Guardian it was obviously finessed by a Sunakian, since it has an English tonality amidst all the Goldman Sachs click-track wiffle-waffle. A fondness for the word ‘which’, for instance. However, let us look at it. I shall comment on the entire letter.
We are urgently working to deliver more for people and the planet.
That is the first sentence. And there are already warning signals. “Urgently”? Work shouldn’t be urgent. “Deliver”? Are Biden, Von Der Leyen, Sunak et al. postmen? – pardon me, posthumans? And then there is the strange conjunction of “people and the planet”. We can let people pass for now. But planet? A planet, we are told, is a ball of molten rock, or sometimes gas. So obviously they do not mean ‘planet’ literally. What they mean is ‘our human system’: what formerly was known as the ‘world’. If one speculates as to why the word ‘world’ is out of fashion, I suppose it is because it inadequately recognises the push of the last 30 years to worry about things-not-human: oceans, forests, rivers, etc. So the phrase ‘the planet’ stands for a strange mish-mash of concerns about climate change, pollution, extraction of resources, but also inequality, exclusion, etc., between, across and within states. What does all this mean? Well, it means our world leaders are setting the bar very high. One suspects they may be overestimating their own powers.
Multiple, overlapping shocks have strained countries’ ability to address hunger, poverty, and inequality, build resilience and invest in their futures. Debt vulnerabilities in low- and middle-income countries present a major hurdle to their economic recovery, and to their ability to make critical long-term investments.
“Hunger, poverty and inequality”: these are three different things. ‘Hunger’, I now understand, means what poverty used to mean. ‘Poverty’, nowadays, is the ability to survive comfortably in the ‘developed’ world. ‘Inequality’ is envy of those who survive more than comfortably. The next word I notice is ‘futures’. This is a sign that a Sunakian has written the text. The future is the future. But futures are something else entirely. Is it not odd that they write ‘futures’ and not ‘the future’? This is a false note. Returns on investment should not be the point here. But of course it is: for this document is not meant to be an appeal to the impoverished: it is far more likely to be an appeal to the comfortable, to encourage everyone to join together in an orgy of ideological genuflection to accompany their coming technological and spread-sheeted rape of the world.
Raping the world while ostentatiously claiming not to rape it: the mark of the ideology of modern world leaders.
We are urgently working to fight poverty and inequalities. An estimated 120 million people have been pushed into extreme poverty in the last three years and we are still far from achieving our United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs) by 2030. We should thus place people at the centre of our strategy to increase human welfare everywhere on the globe.
Urgent work again. Mention of SDGs, but also a sweet acknowledgement that not everyone yet knows what that acronym stands for. The logic is odd. “We should thus place people at the centre of our strategy”, as if that was somehow not obvious to our world leaders that this is not only their absolute duty but also their postulate in this letter. I am not sure how one should have a “strategy to increase human welfare” without putting ‘people’ at the centre of it. But perhaps in our incipient transhumanist, posthuman world it has to be stated explicitly.
We want a system that better addresses development needs and vulnerabilities, now heightened by climate risks, which could further weaken countries’ ability to eliminate poverty and achieve inclusive economic growth. Climate change will generate larger and more frequent disasters, and disproportionately affect the poorest, most vulnerable populations around the world. These challenges cross borders and pose existential risks to societies and economies.
“System” is an alarming world. Shades of totalitarianism and a world state. “Addresses” is odd. It comes from the same post office as ‘delivery’: but it also suggests that our world leaders are not going to deal with problems so much as apostrophise them, talk to them very sternly, perhaps in a four-hour Gladstonian speech, or perhaps in a brisk tweet. “Climate risks”: here is the voodoo, and a very ambiguous voodoo at that. “Inclusive economic growth” is also strange wish-fulfilment: as if we can all embrace or meditate together in an ashram and also find our economy remarkably grown. It sounds like Eloi-speak: and our Eloi actually want to pretend that they are including the Morlocks in their paradisal lives. (Note also how they refer to “countries” not ‘states’ as the actors of all this: it is as if the sheep and dry stone walls and the Constable paintings will eliminate poverty.)
We want our system to deliver more for the planet. The transition to a Net Zero world and the goals of the Paris agreement present an opportunity for this generation to unlock a new era of sustainable global economic growth. We believe that just ecological transitions that leave no one behind can be a powerful force for alleviating poverty and supporting inclusive and sustainable development. This requires long-term investment everywhere to ensure that all countries are able to seize this opportunity. Inspired by the historic Kumming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, we also need new economic models which recognise the immense value of nature for humanity.
This exercise in literary criticism will become tedious if I repeat myself. But consider the series of clichés here: “transition to a Net Zero world”, “sustainable growth”, “inclusive and sustainable development”, and the staggering platitude that we have to notice how important nature is for us, as if this had never occurred to anyone ever before. Nay, it can only come as something of a shock to citizens of tarmacadamed imagination. “Zero” is, of course, the great negatively tyrannical word of our time.
We are convinced that poverty reduction and protection of the planet are converging objectives. We must prioritise just and inclusive transitions to ensure that the poor and most vulnerable can fully reap the benefits of this opportunity, rather than disproportionally bearing the cost. We recognise that countries may need to pursue diverse transition paths in line with the 1.5°C limit depending on their national circumstances. There will be no transition if there is no solidarity, economic opportunities, or sustainable growth to finance it.
Here we have the beginning of the bad logic, the intersectional logic whereby objectives ‘converge’. People and planet: and these are compatible. We can solve what we suppose is every natural problem, we can solve what anyone supposes is a social problem, and we can do it, or at least say we are doing it, while continuing to survive more than comfortably and keep the old Eloi world rotating on its axis. (Does this letter have enough genuflections to the interests of the Morlocks to pass muster?)
We, leaders of diverse economies from every corner of the world, are united in our determination to forge a new global consensus. We will use the Paris Summit for a New Global Financing Pact on June 22nd-23rd as a decisive political moment to recover development gains lost in recent years and to accelerate progress towards the SDGs, including just transitions. We are clear on our strategy: development and climate commitments should be fulfilled and, in line with the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, we recognise that we need to leverage all sources of finance, including official development assistance, domestic resources and private investment.
I was going to address the business of who has signed this letter later, but here they are, the “leaders”. We should dislike the word ‘leader’. George Dumézil and others like Bertrand de Jouvenel 70 or so years ago drew attention to Tacitus’s old distinction between the Latin words dux and rex. A rex is a king, in the sense of a lawgiver, regulator, a religious figure who maintains stability and order. A dux, on the other hand, is a ‘leader’, a warrior, someone who leads us into battle, and is not above a bit of rapine and murder when necessary. A rex brings order, a dux brings (hopefully necessary) chaos. Mussolini was il Duce. Hitler was der Führer. This whole language of ‘leadership’ mistakenly (capital letters necessary) suggests that politics is the business of treating everything as a military operation. I would suggest that all these ‘leaders’ ask themselves whether they wouldn’t be a lot better at ‘sustainable’ politics if they dropped all the military rhetoric and the Napoleonic strut. Part of the reason why we have no faith in politicians is that they talk such a lot about action that we begin to notice how much talk there is and how little effective or proportionate or sensible or appropriate action.
“Consensus” is an alarming word. It is a sign that our leaders want to eliminate disagreement. There is no sign in the letter of any exultation in adversarial politics, open debate, criticism which is more than in-house gate-kept persiflage. Let us skip the other drivel (“commitments” etc) and move on, for, alas, there is much more.
Delivering on that consensus should start with existing financial commitments. Collective climate-finance goals must be met in 2023. Our total global ambition of $100bn (£78bn) of voluntary contributions for countries most in need, through a rechannelling of special drawing rights or equivalent budget contributions, should also be reached.
Delivery/commitments/climate. Nothing new here, just an ambiguous financial aspiration.
No country should have to wait years for debt relief. We need greater and more timely cooperation on debt, for both low- and middle-income countries. This starts with a swift conclusion of solutions for debt-distressed countries.
What does that last line mean? “Swift conclusion of solutions”? It is a final solution? Or do they want to abandon any attempt to ‘solve’ anything. (I put ‘solve’ in inverted commas, just to remind you that politicians never ‘solve’ anything. Mathematicians solve things. Politicians settle them.)
A top priority is to continue ambitious reform of our system of multilateral development banks, building on the existing momentum. We are asking development banks to take responsible steps to do much more with existing resources and to increase financing capacity and private capital mobilisation, based on clear targets and strategies in terms of private finance contribution and domestic resource mobilisation. These financial resources are essential, but this reform is about far more than money. It should deliver a more effective operational model, based on a country-led approach. We also need our development banks to work together as an ecosystem, closely with other public agencies and streamlined vertical funds – and, where appropriate, with philanthropists, sovereign wealth funds, private finance and civil society – to deliver the greatest impact.
I do not understand the pseudo-economics of this paragraph. But it sounds worthy of scepticism. And there is something wrong with the language. “The existing momentum”? It sounds as if our world leaders want their rich friends at the head of corporations to shell out more for ‘the system’. Note the use of “ecosystem”: an Eloi word, being used with dark Morlockian intent. It all sounds a bit as if the rich are a fixture, and the problem is how to sticking-plaster and gaslight the world – pardon me, the planet – so that the other people do not even come close to considering that they should object to anything.
Technology, skills, sustainability, and public and private investment will be at the core of our partnerships, to promote voluntary technology transfer, a free flow of scientific and technological talents, and contribute to an inclusive, open, fair and non-discriminatory economy. We will promote an agenda of sustainable and inclusive investment in developing and emerging economies, based on local economic value added and local transformation, such as fertiliser value chains. This comprehensive approach will require new metrics to update our accountability instruments.
This sounds like perfect corporate-collectivist neo-liberalism to me: a planet of laundered, whitewashed (though also whiteprivilegewashed), greenwashed, blackwashed, developwashed and of course transwashed shekels, denarii, doubloons, guineas and bitcoin. The language is so odd that the images begin to fuse in impressionist or imagist manner. One wonders if T.E. Hulme was on the writing team: “fertiliser value chains” is the sort of line which would have delighted Ezra Pound. And who cares about logic or language in a world where “metrics” “update” “instruments”? If in doubt, get ChatGPT to create everything on a 3D printer (and only “see that it is good” because the Bible is on its database).
Public finance will remain essential to achieving our goals. We should start with strengthening our instruments (the International Development Association, the International Monetary Fund’s Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust and Resilience and Sustainability Trust, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Green Climate Fund, and other concessional windows of our banks, as well as the Global Shield against Climate Risks). But we acknowledge that meeting our development and climate goals, including the fight against hunger, poverty, and inequality; adapting to climate change; and averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage, will require new, innovative, and sustainable sources of finance, such as debt buy-backs, engagement from sectors that prosper thanks to globalisation, and more trusted carbon- and biodiversity-credit markets.
This looks like the public part. ‘We have asked the rich corporations to pay for everything, but it all should still be run centrally.’ And just in case you think everything we are saying is about finance and control let us hastily “acknowledge” that we have not forgotten our commitments to the Morlockian stuff about ‘people’ and ‘planet’. Let us make a list. With lots of triplets – that sounds profound, doesn’t it? There are three bears, three pigs and three billy-goats gruff, right? So “hunger”, “poverty” and “inequality” (what big eyes you have), “avert”, “minimise” and “address” (what big ears you have), “new”, “innovative” and “sustainable” (what big teeth you have): all the better to eat these words with. Note also the occasional use of charming words in the middle of all the corporate-collectivist chewy tin tacks. “Thanks” and “trust”. Perhaps that will calm the reader down as he or she starts to find this metallic gruel a bit indigestible.
Increasing resilience through a comprehensive suite of financial instruments is a priority. We need a stronger global safety net, based on prearranged approaches, to adapt and mitigate the impacts of climate change, especially when disasters hit. This implies climate and other disaster-resilient deferral mechanisms, insurance nets and emergency-response financing, including a more sustainable financing model of humanitarian aid.
By now, anyone with any sense of language must have stopped reading, or has moved further down the letter. Who would read this paragraph after the last couple of paragraphs? It is just filler: bits of draft that were not deleted in the final editing.
Achieving our development goals, including climate mitigation, will also depend on scaling up private capital flows. This requires enhanced mobilisation of the private sector with its financial resources and its innovative strength, as promoted by the G20 Compact with Africa. This also requires improving the business environment, implementing common standards and adequate capacity building, and reducing perceived risks, such as in foreign exchange and credit markets. This may require public support, as well as sharing reliable data. Overall, our system needs to lower the cost of capital for sustainable development, including through the green transition in developing and emerging economies.
I do not want to leave anything out, but comment is unnecessary on this. “Africa” is the only interesting word in that last paragraph.
Our work together is all about solidarity and collective action, to reduce the challenges facing developing countries and to fulfil our global agenda. We will continue to press for progress, leveraging other important events, including the G20 summits in India and Brazil, the SDG summit and the COPs, starting with Cop28 in the United Arab Emirates this year. In all of our upcoming international works and negotiations, we will seek to advance concrete actions that deliver on the promise of the SDGs, for our prosperity, people, and planet.
Another few interesting words: “India” and “Brazil”. This is the last paragraph, PTL (Praise the Lord): and look how the writers are now excited, throwing their acronyms around in the manner of the Harlem Globe Trotters. I notice that the word “leverage”, used in its usual irritating economic sense a few paragraphs above, is now leaking into ordinary language. The point: nothing now is beyond leverage. Events shall be leveraged. Strings will be pulled. Faces will be made. Pictures will be taken. Flags will be hoisted. Earpieces will be inserted. Language will be shared. “Concrete actions” will be “advanced”. No one will actually do anything. No one will act. ‘To act’, the verb is out. That is far too, er, active. Instead we will have nouns. Nouns are strong. And they don’t require us to do anything. We can, instead, say those nouns. A lot of them. And instead of doing anything about those nouns we can just ‘advance’ them. ‘Press’ them. This is the same logic we saw above, where our ‘leaders’ go around ‘addressing’ problems: like little Ciceros, making wonderful speeches, as they travel, addressing glaciers, seals and crickets, or, back at home, addressing abstractions like ‘hunger’, ‘poverty’ and ‘exclusion’. These speeches to be overheard by the ‘people’ (on social media, especially the right sort of people), and, perhaps, ‘the planet’.
Did you notice, in the very last sentence of this letter, that people and planet have now been joined by the third musketeer. Yes, indeed, alongside people and planet we have prosperity! QED. The circle has been squared. The planet: this is the frame, and since the frame is shaking we can justify anything we want to do in terms of the necessity of crisis. The people: this is the problem, because we have to do something with them, and also, alas, something for them, and, more importantly, something in front of them, sing and dance a bit, make a show. But finally, here it is, just for the Eloi, the masters of ‘private finance’ and ‘public finance’, the thing we all care about – prosperity! Fear not, the world may be ending (‘the world may be ending’, wink, wink), but nothing is going to come between us and our domination, extraction: especially now we have realised that all we have to do is make it impossible for anyone to criticise us by educating everyone into accepting our fig leaves and whitewashed words as suggesting that we really are all in this together.
Finally, there is the signature:
Emmanuel Macron is President of France. Mia Mottley is Prime Minister of Barbados. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is President of Brazil. Ursula von der Leyen is President of the European Commission. Charles Michel is President of the European Council. Olaf Scholz is Chancellor of Germany. Fumio Kishida is Prime Minister of Japan. William Ruto is President of Kenya. Macky Sall is President of Senegal. Cyril Ramaphosa is President of South Africa. Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan is President of the United Arab Emirates. Rishi Sunak is Prime Minister of the UK. Joe Biden is President of the U.S.
One wonders if they are writing as private citizens. There seems to be no disclaimer. Did anyone vote for this? Was it whimsical? It would be better if it went: ‘Rishi Sunak is Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. This letter does not represent the views of the United Kingdom, but only represents the weaselly non-sequiturish corporate-collectivist spatch-cocked flim-flam he would like his future employeers/employees/colleagues to recognise as sufficient certification for him to be considered one of the top dogs.’
One hopes Orban and others are going to write an equal-and-opposite answer to this letter. It could not be any worse, and there is a chance it might be better.
Dr. James Alexander is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at Bilkent University in Turkey.