Last week I attended a remarkable conference put on by Fortune magazine, "Brainstorm 2002," which I believe very well may come to supercede Devos as the most important world forum on globalization and how to help lift poor countries out of poverty by strengthening the world trading system and expanding liberal democracy. More than 200 of the world's most diverse thinkers and doers assembled in Aspen, Colo., to think about and discuss the world's problems, challenges and opportunities for integration, unification and democratization.
What was remarkable about the event was an unexpected, rather widespread consensus that market liberalization, open trade and technology are among the most proven means by which poor countries can achieve economic growth and democracy, while helping meet the environmental challenges facing the world.
Here was a cross section of the world's scientists, government officials, environmentalists, NGO officials, technology experts, educators and entrepreneurs all brainstorming with Fortune editors about changes taking place in the world here at the dawn of the new century. The group included former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, King Abdullah of Jordan, Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Shimon Peres, Mexican Minister of Migrant Affairs Juan Hernandez, Afghanistan's Minister of Women's Affairs Habiba Sarabi, and venture capitalists John Doerr and Jim Barksdale.
Unfortunately, there was some bashing of President George W. Bush but certainly not by Clinton or Peres, who both gave strong support to the president in the war on terrorism. There were a few conservatives in attendance, such as former Director of U.S. Arms Control Ken Adelman and me, but we were the exception. My one suggestion for next year is that more people from the center-right and the administration be included.
Interestingly, most participants embraced the proposition that America's Founders devised a system to procure and defend freedom, peace and prosperity when they erected our democracy upon the foundation of our declaration that all men and women are created equal and a Constitution that guarantees free speech and the separation of church and state. We must remember it didn't work for 11 years under the Articles of Confederation until we replaced them with a Constitution creating a common market, a common currency and open trade among the states and ultimately the rest of the world.
King Abdullah stressed the critical importance of a creative solution in the Middle East based on trade liberalization and U.S. creativity in the region. Both Clinton in his speech and I in my presentation on a panel with Albright made the case for a new Marshall Plan based more on trade than aid.
I pointed out how in 1948, with Europe and Japan in ruins, the Marshall Plan built democratic institutions, established sound currencies and reduced our barriers to trade. I suggested that Bush should end steel tariffs, reduce farm subsidies, and stop the brutal tariffs and duties on textiles so critical to Third-World economies such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Africa. Bush has remarked numerous times how gifted and capable the Palestinian people are. The same is true of Afghanis, Pakistanis, Indians and Arabs.
Bush also recently referred to the "unbelievably high unemployment and poverty, squalor and despair" among Palestinians and said, "For the sake of all humanity, things must change in the Middle East. It is untenable for Israeli citizens to live in terror. It is untenable for Palestinians to live in poverty and occupation." Most people would agree with this statement, but the challenge is for the United States and the West to come up with a 21st-century Marshall Plan for the Middle East and Palestine, as well as for nation-building in Afghanistan.
As a result of the Marshall Plan's development aid, trade liberalization, currency reform under Bretton Woods and fundamental tax reform, Germany's economy was in better shape by 1948 than England's. It was the Marshall Plan that led to the European Common Market and eventually the European Union. More importantly, it ended the bloody wars between Germany and France. Today they are trading partners and each other's best customer.
I came away from this conference reinforced in my belief that the United States must be very careful about any invasion of Iraq at this time, absent incontrovertible evidence of Iraqi participation or complicity in 9-11. We need to get inspectors back into Iraq with an unencumbered mandate to go anywhere, anytime to search for weapons of mass destruction. I don't believe we are ready to start another war when Afghanistan has yet to be pacified and the Middle East, as King Abdullah said, remains in chaos requiring our full attention.
In war, as in business, timing is one of the most important considerations. Now is the time to give hope to peoples in the region that America will stay involved, provide adequate aid, liberalize trade, and help them build the democratic institutions and open markets that will bring peace and prosperity.