Interview

With Barbara Ward

May 17 1976
Interview

With Barbara Ward

May 17 1976

With Barbara Ward

Interview

Author of a dozen books, Barbara Ward currently heads the prestigious International Institute for Environment and Development in London. One of the great seminal thinkers of our time, Ms. Ward studied economics at Oxford and later became a Carnegie Fellow at Harvard. Married in 1950 to Sir Robert Jackson, she has been a governor of the BBC, Sadler’s Wells and the Old Vic. When she visited Canada recently to introduce her latest book, The Home Of Man (published by McClelland and Stewart) which is providing basic documentation for this month’s UN Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat) in Vancouver, she recorded the following conversation with Maclean’s Editor, Peter C. Newman.

Maclean’s: Karl Marx was the first political economist to realize that modern capitalism was going to explode the old feudal patterns of society. But now we see capitalism itself being undermined by democratic governments. Toward what kind of system are we evolving?

Ward: That’s awfully hard to say. Where Karl Marx is, on the whole, wrong is that he didn’t foresee scarcity. We now know that if you’re going to have between 12 and 15 billion people on this plant there will be problems of resources, and that is something to which he simply didn’t address his mind at all. Whether he would have if he had been living now, yes, I think so. But no reading in the sacred Marxist literature would tell you in the least what to do about the overall planetary food shortages, about the risks of there being limits to which our ecosystems can carry the strain of industrialization. Andquite frankly, as far as the Marxist state of Russia is concerned, they’ve contributed absolutely nothing. So I think Marx is just terribly irrelevant, quite frankly. Except insofar as he is the last of the Jewish prophets, perhaps the greatest. He does remind us of the judgments of Jeremiah and of Isaiah and of the New Testament, which are that you cannot dismiss the poor, you cannot settle down to a cozy life with 75% of the wealth and 25% of the world’s peoples. Insofar as Marx expresses the Biblical judgment he will always remain relevant. Insofar as he proposes a particular type of society, he seems to be irrelevant.

Maclean’s: Really there isn’t much connection between Marxism and Communism. Ward: Communism in its purest form, I suspect, is for monasteries.

Maclean’s: So we’re really in a new age of Malthus.

Ward: Yes, Malthus is more relevant. But of course he’s very much misinterpreted because he’s nearly always used by the rich as the script for telling the poor to have fewer children. Well the poor now are beginning to turn around and say, “Consume a little less yourselves.” If you take what are the real pressures on resources, they’re not from India or large parts of Latin America or Africa, they’re from North

A NUCLEAR ENERGY PROGRAM IS, AMONG OTHER THINGS, GOD’S GIFTTO TERRORISTS

America, Europe and the Soviet Union. We’re the great absorbers of resources. Maclean’s: Surely a religious revival has to be part of the answer. Puritanism as a philosophy of life encourages people to work and accumulate money and discourages them from spending it in idleness and luxury. That pattern of life has to be part of our ultimate survival.

Ward: May I quote you my favorite phrase from a Chinese philosopher: “These are my three treasures, guard them well, the first is compassion, the second is frugality and the third is a desire not to be foremost under heaven.” In other words, you can conceive of a religious ethic that regards it as essential to share. That might mean clean water for the world, it would cer-

tainly mean an agricultural policy for the world. We must stop our incredible waste. On a fairly systematic calculus of energy use, North America wastes 50% of its produced energy. There’s been a very interesting study made just recently by David Hayes in Washington, and he builds up a pretty convincing picture that something like 50% of our energy does no work. Power companies don’t give a damn, because once you’ve sold it, okay, that’s all that matters. But from the point of view of society, to be wasting 50% of what makes the whole system tick is idiocy.

Maclean’s: Do we turn this attitude around with a new economic system or an improved individual ethic?

Ward: Well, you need both. You need people who don’t want to waste. I must confess I don’t find the young anywhere near so stuck on unlimited consumption as their elders. You have a new pressure on resources now, which means prices will go up and people will have an incentive to conserve which is independent of religion. Also, people don’t really like waste. I don’t think that we have pointed out dramatically enough just how much has been wasted. People just simply don’t know. One of my hopes is that you will get reason and restraint going together when people realize, well damn it, this is just the stupidest way to behave. I mean why do we have power stations beside which we have to have cooling towers? And what are cooling towers doing? They’re just wasting the energy. Whereas, if you had what they now call turbular energy for the community, every bit of that steam which is going off either into the atmosphere or killing the fish in the stream would be rerouted. You could cut energy consumption by 25%; you’d have exactly the same standard of living, but you’d have no waste. Because energy was so cheap people are unaware of how much waste goes on. I believe that reason and ethics will point in the same direction. That’s my hope.

Maclean’s: You’re an optimist.

Ward: Yes, you know, the glass is always half-full, not half empty.

Maclean’s: John Keats once wrote of “the moving waters at their priestlike task ofpure absolution around earth’s human shores.” But what if the waters are polluted with oil? Ward: Sure. That’s it. We must never contaminate the cradle of life. One of the big changes, going back to your religious thing, is that for the past 400 years we’ve had a sort of pulling apart. You’ve had the men of science tending to say that religion is superstition and that what we really need

is the glorious freedom of rationality and the glorious self-sustaining freedom of Adam Smith . ..

Maclean’s: A nd now it all turns out to be a myth . . .

Ward: Exactly. What’s happened is that the plant is beginning to say, “Don’t abuse me. I’m not unlimited. I’m fragile. I must be cared for. I must be loved,” which in a sense is a very religious approach to the planet, and the men of science are beginning to believe it. And of course another thing about the men of science is that, having let the genii of atomic energy out of the bottle, they’re running scared. By God, they’re running scared.

Maclean’s: They should be.

Ward: Y es. We had an extraordinary experience last year, because at the opening of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, in his presidential address, Sir Bernard Lovell described how a way-out space satellite had picked up the signal that they’ve been waiting for, which was the primeval explosion, the beginning of this phase of Cosmos. It’s 10,000 million years ago to the dot. And if in the first 30 seconds of the explosion the distribution of the neutrons inside the hydrogen plasma had been different you’d have gone on getting hydrogen and helium forever and ever. But there was a discontinuity and out of it came the proliferation of elements and the explosion of the Cosmos, the throwing off of the planets, and so forth. And he said that for 7,000 million years this little tiny corner of the Milky Way, in our little bit of it, the planet Earth was just exploding, cracking, little by little cooling from this incredible explosion. As it cooled, the vapors gradually cooled, too, and turned into rain and down came the oceans and then you could begin to have life, protected by the oceans, the cradle of life. And it was only when you got that atmospheric shield in place that you could have the survival of man. Now, what we’ve done with atomic energy is to bring the nuclear power inside the shield. By God, that’s more than a Faustian bargain. To me, that could be the Promethean curse, stealing the fire of the gods. And I don’t think we ever knew until today what that Greek myth meant.

Maclean’s: Presumably, then, you would be opposed to Canada selling nuclear reactors around the world as if they were McDonald’s hamburger concessions.

Ward: Totally. Let’s phase out, let’s never have the breeder, because the breeder reactor breeds plutonium waste. You know that much—the size of an orange—of plutonium could give every member of the human race lung cancer and it is indestructible for 25,000 years. That’s its half-life. Therefore it’s cumulative. It’s horrifying that people should even contemplate this. I say, let’s wait quietly and see if fusion can be made safe. Also, it’s God’s gift to terrorists. Just think. Suppose that five fusion stations could provide the whole energy for Canada. You’d only need five bombs.

So my hope is that we can do something quite different, to use all our incredible, scientific knowledge to develop the use of direct radiance, solar energy, for example. Maclean’s: You said 10years ago that the way to resolve the explosive issue of FrenchCanadian nationalism would be to set up bilingual schools all over Canada. Now, a billion dollars later, Ottawa has come to a similar conclusion.

Ward: Yes, the schools are the thing. It’s very difficult to learn after a peculiar growing point in the brain, but when you’re a child that’s the time.

Maclean’s: But is it possible to learn another language when you live in a totally English environment? You yourself learned French in Paris.

Ward: You’ve got to have means of fol-

THOSE WHO CLAIM ONLY CAPITALISM CAN PRESERVE DEMOCRACY ARE MARXISTS

lowup. For instance, I would imagine that you could have a more systematic effort of student exchanges. Also, on the cultural side, I would have thought that through radio and television and perhaps through a great increase in your theatre movement you could have an extension of French. Somebody was telling me that one of the tragedies of Manitoba was that in the 1890s they had a French school system. One’s got to underline again and again that it’s not a loss, it’s a richness. One of the ways of defining Canada is that it is a country with a double culture. That distinguishes it from your very large Anglo-Saxon neighbor. Maclean’s: Can governments continue to redistribute wealth when, at the same time, they’re doing everything to reduce the

wealth that exists through their regulations and taxes? Would you agree with Pierre Trudeau’s stand that the free market economy inhibits the growth of the new values we need in our society?

Ward: I think that we all need mixed economies. The problem facing mankind is whether you have mixed or whether you have all-state economies. There’s no such thing as free enterprise any longer. I don’t equate free enterprise with a car that breaks down every year because you’ve got to replace it to keep employment going. I don’t equate free enterprise with ridiculous consumer goods that are simply made to be broken. We’ve got a lot of thinking to do about our consumer economy. Maclean’s: Do you believe there is a connection between free enterprise and individual freedom?

Ward: Oh yes. I would have total guarantees of private ownership of land. But I think it’s Marxism to say that democracy depends on free enterprise. It’s pure Marxism to say that the economic system determines the political superstructure, and that’s nonsense. I mean, democracy goes back to a view of man, to a principle of law, to Magna Carta, it long preceded it. Those capitalists who say we’ve got to defend democracy by keeping it capitalist are really Marxists, in my view. I see it absolutely the other way around: you can have a mixed economy with democratic institutions. I will not accept for one moment the businessman’s claim to be a defender of freedom. I call it Chamber of Commerce Marxism: they don’t realize what they’re saying. What they’re saying, in fact, is that the values of a free society are predicated on certain forms of production. That’s pure Marxism. Marx completely misunderstands the nature of power. He thought you could concentrate power and the state would wither away. You try it. You concentrate power and people want more. As much as I distrust money, I distrust power much more. So I think a mixed economy is a very good support for democracy because it defuses power. The danger of very big unions and very big corporations is their reconcentrating of power. Let’s have the conserving society as our aim, not the slough-off society, not the wasteful society. Let’s have a conserving economy and then let’s look at the job patterns. Do we need more artisans? Do we need more people trained to make beautiful things that last? How do we train them? Should we have employment patterns in which you work only for half a year and then there are other things you do in the other half: fishing, for instance, or . . .

Maclean’s: Sailing?

Ward: Sailing, yes. Of course one of the great disadvantages of our present life patterns is the disappearance—maybe only temporarily—of religious activities. It’s such fun. You’ve only got to see a pilgrimage anywhere, from Spain to India, to realize it’s much more fun than the package ■ tour to Majorca. You have the combina-

tion of the sacred and the profane. Just think of the amount of time and love that goes into great cathedrals. Without religion you have no upward form that makes sense in the larger sense of your life. You are faced with the absolutely extinguishing mystery of death. Now no society has trained human beings to face the realities of life. We are so poorly furnished. Most people hope passionately for as many consumables as they can stuff in, that’s their upward route, the downward route is death. That’s why Communism moves in. Maclean’s: So religion is really the only ultimate answer.

Ward: Well it’s a form of it. There’s a lovely poem by George Herbert in which he says that God says to man “I’m going to make you rich but restless. And winds shall toss you to my breast.” One of the factors in our modern consumer society is the amount of boredom. Could you possibly expect the amount of pornography if people weren’t bored?

Maclean’s: You’ve always advocated that to bring home the obligations of wealth to the needs and rights of the less economically fortunate, Canada should spend at least 2% of its gross national product on foreign aid. Yet we continue to spend only half a percent, and international development no longer seems one of the great issues in this country. Ward: Nearly everyone else has been slipping. So at least you’re holding. But let’s do better.

Maclean’s: In 1964 you calculated that 18% of the world’s population controls about 70% of the world’s income. Has that changed?

Ward: Because of the oil crisis, a good sizable lump, I’m happy to say, has been transferred to the oil producers, so that’s quite a shift. The interesting thing, of course, is that there is a regulator in the Arabs who have no population but most of the oil, so they are in a splendid position to continue to operate checks on us. And I hope they will.

Maclean’s: Some of the more radical new economists have advocated that one way we could help solve the poverty of the world would be to charter multinational corporations through the United Nations. They would then pay their taxes to the UN which in turn would distribute these funds to the underdeveloped world. Is that feasible?

Ward: Probably not. The multinationals at present are still, on the whole, nationals, and their idea is to go where wages and taxes are lowest and to keep their funds where interest rates are the highest. It’s a profit maximizing process for the corporations but not for the countries involved. It’s not a process geared to local needs. Another problem is that so many of the multinationals are at the very high end of the technology scale, so there is what you might say a technological miss-match. Maclean’s: Also, I suppose that most underdeveloped nations not only need capital. they need a particular kind of capital—foreign exchange.

Ward: That’s it. And, what’s more, they need—and I think this is a new insight— they need far more intensive technology. Their work force is going to grow at least 2% to 3% a year. But if you bring in, as many multinationals do, very complete, high technology industry, you knock out all those marginal individual entrepreneurs. If you bring in a plastic sandal factory, you knock out something like 12,000 artisans and you employ about 40 people, which doesn’t make any sense at all. Maclean’s: You’ve always held that in the long run nations survive by what moral directions they follow, not simply by the enlightened self-interest they show. But don’t, in fact, the two go together?

Ward: A mixture. I mean if you look back over Britain, it’s an extraordinary history.

RUSSIA RETAINS ITS IMPERIALIST NOTION, AND THAT, IN THE END, WILL DESTROY IT

In the 18th century we were gin-sodden idiots. They were the ruling class, certainly as idiotic as the ones in France. You can say we were saved by two things: the Tory squires who stayed close to the land and became good agriculturalists, which was one of the unnoticed parts of their work. That was one side. The other side was John Wesley. The Wesley brothers taught the mass of the people self-respect. Now those two things made us by chance the industrial innovators of the world.

Maclean’s: You mean by instilling a sense of values, expressing an interest in the material universe, which allowed all kinds of technological breakthroughs, such as the first experiments with iron and steam? Ward: Sure. You have this curious thing in

the 17th and 18th centuries: people wanting to be inventors—in part, I think, the cause of the Cromwellian revolution. They had more self-confidence. We got away from the overcentralized court despotic system that was dominating France and Germany. It’s really interesting that quite a lot of the German princes in the early 19th century tried to stamp out private enterprises, that nearly all the porcelain factories of Europe are state-owned and are royal. But anyway, you must have this particular kind of almost nonconformist businessman inventor.

Maclean’s: But now inflation has done to the British upper classes what Crownwell could never accomplish.

Ward: Oh well, it was happening before. Lloyd George started it all. Dukes have been on the way down for quite a long time. And two world wars, of course, helped. After all, the British are in the unique position of having won two wars morally and lost them economically. Whereas the dear old Germans lost them both but managed to get themselves rebuilt. It’s an irony of history, isn’t it?The thing is, always be defeated by the right people. Always plan to be defeated by the Americans. Don’t get defeated by the Russians. But now that we’ve got a resurgence of a sort of democratic Communism in the West, it’s going to be interesting . . . Maclean’s: Democratic Communism? Ward: Well, you know, pluralists. Maclean’s: But if it’s democratic, it can no longer be Communism.

Ward: That is it. It can no longer be Communism. That’s what’s so fascinating. I suppose it’s Marxism with a plural face. What does Moscow say to Kiev when Kiev says we’d like a bit of pluralism? What do you say to Tashkent, and what do you say to Samarkand, what do you say when you suddenly find that you’re an undissolved 19th-century imperial system, even mucking about in Africa? I think one forgets the infinite instability of the Russian system. That’s what’s really frightening. Maclean’s: That they would reassert their powers through war. ...

Ward: They just might, sooner than have an internal breakdown, which is on the cards because they’ve not been able to get rid of their empires. They apparently still have world ambitions, idiots. That weakness will defeat them. That’s why I hope the Chinese stay solid. Because the Chinese in history have not been imperialists. Maclean’s: Do you feel more optimistic or pessimistic about the future than you did, say, a decade ago?

Ward: About the same. We still have a chance. The forward movement of the environmental and conserving issue is a profound step ahead in our thinking. Ten years ago we were talking about foreign aid and things like that in terms of justice, which is right, and that’s not stopped. But now we have an added reason. We’re all in on this. You can very quickly get a planet that is unworkable. Tí?