The book explores the two opposite planetary perspectives on a new economic-political world order that the Brandt Commission and the multinational corporations developed in the crisis-ridden 1970s and 1980s, shaping and reacting to a great transformation of the world system in response to the crises. The focus is on the North-South Commission (1977–83), chaired by Willy Brandt, and its outline of a new planetary world order for the post-crisis era, as well as its connection to the simultaneous Third World’s claims for a new world order. The proposals of both the Brandt Commission and the Third World stood in sharp contrast to the simultaneous work on a quite different post-crises world order built around the image of planetary enterprise outlined in a heated debate on the multinational companies, the MNCs, later also called the transnational companies, TNCs, a new form of global corporations. Two planetary perspectives, two globalisms, stood against each other: political management of a global economy with redistribution from the rich North to the impoverished South versus the multinationals’ escape from political monitoring through the free global movement of capital and commodities.
The frame of the book is the dramatic change of the world economy and world economics in the 1970s and 1980s. It was a period of profound transformation for the world order that had been established after 1945. It was a transformation of production systems and economy, global labour markets, and geopolitics. In the Western part of the industrial North, high unemployment, soaring state debts, and peaking inflation provoked a feeling of crisis.
Underpinning the crisis mood, conferences and reports in the 1970s warned of environmental pollution and natural resource exhaustion. The crisis that frames the book consisted of several crises and was systemic, emerging through the interconnectedness of what seemed to be disconnected problems, a crisscrossing web of unresolved issues in which the world had suddenly become entangled. A confluence of economic and political processes confronted or reinforced each other under the gradual transformation of the world order. A strong North-South division complicated the bipolar East-West conflict of the Cold War.
The main reason for the hiking inflation was the dollar collapse between 1971 and 1973. Among those who traded in dollars were the oil producers in the Third World. They hit back with the oil price shock in 1973, quadrupling the prices in a few months, which producers of other raw materials in the South saw as a measure to emulate. A growing Third World objection since the mid-1960s was that decolonization for was nothing but neocolonialism. The protest gained force through the oil price shock leading to Third World claims for a New International Economic Order (NIEO) that called for a more equal distribution of global resources. The NIEO became a crucial point of departure for the Brandt Commission. The NIEO reinforced the feeling of crisis in the North. It polarized the North's opinions between those on the political left, who supported the claims, and those on the right, who rejected them. Whereas a crisis mood dominated the North, confidence in a better future beyond the development narrative prevailed in the South.Against the backdrop of this crisis scenario and the emerging global corporations (Chapters 2-5), the latter increasingly legitimized by and legitimizing a new market-radical language, which in the 1990s came to be called neoliberal globalization, the book explores and evaluates the work of the Brandt Commission (Chapters 6-9) and follow-up commissions in its wake (Chapter 10). A concluding chapter (11) and a final chapter as an interview with Shridath Ramphal, the unofficial vice chair of the Brandt Commission, finishes the book.