January 14, 2014

WORLD WITHOUT BORDERS: Excerpt from Breaking New Ground

This excerpt is from Chapter 7, Shifting Gears: The Overseas Development Council, from Lester Brown's autobiography, Breaking New Ground.

My next book, World Without Borders, was for me a breakout work both in the breadth of issues it covered and the audience it was reaching. It described how the world was tied together by the earth’s natural systems, the fast-growing trade and financial links, and their interplay with governments. The bottom line was that the world needed new and stronger international institutions to deal with these linkages. Fortuitously, the international community, led by the United States, created the United Nations Population Fund in 1967 (originally called the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, UNFPA) and, in 1972, the United Nations Environment Programme.

The New Yorker described World Without Borders as “an encyclopedic, lucid assessment of some of the world’s persistent problems … and some carefully documented, highly plausible suggestions for solving them. [Brown] persuasively argues … that the day of the militaristic nation state is over, and that a unified global society is the only hope for survival.” This book was about globalization well before the concept was widely used.

At this point, with time to broaden my knowledge of the world, I was becoming keenly aware of the expanding role of multinational corporations in the global economy. This was a time not only of world economic growth but of economic integration across national boundaries. Corporations would produce for a world market. Manufacturing supply chains could be anchored in many countries.

To illustrate this point, I constructed an integrated list of countries (measured by gross national product) and corporations (measured by gross annual sales). In the top fifty of this integrated list of 100, countries dominated, with only eight corporations making the top fifty. General Motors, the largest corporation, was ranked eighteenth. In the second grouping of fifty, there were thirty-six corporations and only fourteen countries. We clearly had entered a new era, one of not only increased corporate influence but also of globalization. We clearly had entered a new era of increased corporate influence and of globalization.

The title for the book came from a newspaper article in which students in Prague, Czechoslovakia, were interviewed some time after Soviet tanks had rolled into their city to quell the 1968 uprising. When a student was asked what kind of world she would like, she responded, “A world without borders.” The words jumped off the page, capturing the spirit of the book that I was writing.

For more on World Without Borders, see our earlier blog, which includes a nine-minute interview with Lester about the book's findings.

For more on Lester’s life check out the photo albums on our website and pick up a copy of Breaking New Ground today!