Laurence Brahm has 25 plus years experience in Asia developing and implementing his own brand of pragmatic, culturally sensitive economic development.

Himalayan Consensus

Written by Laurence Brahm - Published by laurencebrahm.com on 03/08/2009

On October 23, 2008, Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the United Stated Federal Reserve, was hauled before Congress to testify on causes underlying the largest financial crisis since the 1930s Great Depression. “I made the mistake in presuming that the self interest of organizations, specifically banks and others, was such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders,” explained the ex-central banker adding he had “found a flaw” in his underlying economic assumptions. “The whole intellectual edifice,” he admitted, “collapsed in the summer of last year.”

Since Wall Street’s crash in September 2008, igniting a global great depression, “Washington Consensus” models of economic development are discredited. Developing nations seek new alternatives to the Washington Consensus. Nowhere is this feeling stronger than Asia, which had been chastised and lectured by Washington following its own regional financial crisis in 1997.

The Himalayan Consensus is a response to our current global crisis. Finding acceptance from Dhaka to Islamabad, from Kathmandu to Lhasa, it is now being discussed in Beijing.

The premise of Washington’s neo-liberal capitalist and neo-conservative political models is Adam Smith’s underlying theory -- greed alone motivates mankind, all markets will find equilibrium if left to choices of greed’s “invisible hand”. Himalaya Consensus rejects this notion. As Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus summarizes, “With all of our economic theories we forget the environment, forget people, forget culture, and destroy anything to make money. This is the inherent fault in economic theory which creates an artificial human being who knows how to make money because maximizing profit is the sole basis of business. But human beings are bigger than just money.” Himalayan Consensus is not just another voice of the developing world calling to restructure our global financial system. Rather it calls for reengineering the very values underlying assumptions driving that system.

Himalayan Consensus prioritizes environmental protection as the single most urgent task. It promotes multi-ethnic diversity best fostered and preserved through cultural sustainable development economic programs or businesses – not just aid – to address poverty and income gap inequality. It rejects any economic theories or models premised on ideology.

Himalayan Consensus draws upon Asian values of compassion, alms giving, community cohesion and networking. It seeks a middle way between extremes, rejecting both economic and political fundamentalism. Regardless of economic tools -- socialist or capitalist -- the Himalayan Consensus calls for mixing methodologies disregarding labels. It advocates grassroots realistic programs acceptable to indigenous communities fighting cyclical poverty. Politically, the Consensus draws upon indigenous forms of community expression and participation to create effective mechanisms of representative government relative to each society and culture.

Nepal’s Prime Minister Prachanda stated, “This Himalayan Consensus is special given the unique physical and spiritual dimension of this region, and the political and economic institutions developing here should encompass these ideas.” Bhutan’s Prime Minister Lyonpo Jigmi Y. Thinley echoed, “In fact, it is already happening. Yes, the compulsion is powerful in this region.”

Himalayan Consensus embraces three pillars:

First, throw out economic theory and models. Each country’s experiments and experiences differ based on local conditions. They should be shared without dogma. Sri Lanka’s president Mahinda Rajapaksa has explained, “How people choose to live is something they have to decide for themselves. It shouldn’t be decided by politicians, the World Bank or the IMF.”

For instance, China’s economic experience overturned classic assumptions about “shock therapy”. Ignoring IMF and World Bank proselytizing China adopted gradualist reform. However, China’s GNP growth emphasis is diametrically opposite neighboring Bhutan’s measurement of gross national happiness GNH. Both may be suited to the unique circumstances prevailing in each country. No one model fits all. End the blind application of Washington Consensus economic-module fundamentalism. It often bears no relation to local realities. Quantity accumulation through blind brand-consumption does not mean quality of life. Small can be beautiful. Grassroots work can change lives without baggage of excessive top down cookie cutter formulas. Rajapaksa advocates, “There are simply different international approaches. The people need to retain their values. Without their values, development is useless.”

Second, ethnicity is good. The more diverse our global ethnicity, the better it is for our human species. Why should everyone dive into a single melting pot? Of course, everyone thinking alike makes it easier for multinational corporations to globalize marketing. But is this good for the survival and evolution of our species? At the same time sustainable economic foundations are essential to each culture’s survival and evolution. Idealism must be tempered by pragmatism to succeed. Establishing functioning, sustainable businesses can help cultures evolve while preserving their individual identity. Ian Baker, National Geographic explorer and the author on Himalayan subjects advocates, “Engaged social interaction without violence is a Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu and also Islamic vision. The Himalayan Consensus approach should mean positive social action. Don’t spend time looking for a perfect world. That’s just escaping. Go create it!”

The Himalayan Consensus draws its value paradigm from the indigenous ethical values of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, all of which have similar aspirations for equality among humanity, closing the gaps between rich and poor. Himalayan Consensus universal rights include: credit, medical treatment, environment preservation, and finding peaceful solutions to global conflicts.

Reza Aslan, leading American Islamic scholar has commented, “A Himalayan Consensus can draw positive commonalities among different cultures. It was not some Hindu in the Himalayas who came up with the clash of civilizations. It was a Westerner who created the civilizations to highlight the advantages of one over the other. This is not scholarship.”

The third pillar is that every country has the right to develop its own political system, independent of any other country, incorporating the nation’s own unique ethnic, religious and social groups as it sees fit. The role of governments should be to alleviate poverty, narrow income gaps that create social strife, protect the environment for next generation’s survival, provide health care and education, offer hope for a better future. What form or political model government takes is less important than what it accomplishes. Photocopying theoretical models, applying them to cultures and ethnic groups where they won’t work is counterproductive. The attitude in Washington about so-called liberal free market theory and color-coded party democracy is no different in its fundamentalism then the Soviet International once was, insisting on its centrally planned top-down model. So both approaches are equally wrong in imposing what they believe on other people, where conditions and experiences are irrelevant.

Instead, indigenous models of participatory government should be created based on each country’s local cultural, tribal, historic, political and economic traditions. Such ideas may be anathema to previous administrations in Washington. But Himalayan Consensus advocates believe each culture and ethnic group knows what is best for itself. People must determine their own future. Providing tools that re-empower people contribute to development. However, forcing a particular model of government on nations having no relevant historic, social or cultural commonality with the country transferring its system, only leads to ineffective government, political instability and social–humanitarian disasters.

“It all comes down to politics,” Ian Baker explained. “Buddha walked out of politics and renounced it to meditate under a tree. Now it is time for Buddha to walk back into politics, because all the trees are being cut down.”


Laurence Brahm is a global activist, international mediator, political columnist and author. He is the leading advocate of a fresh development paradigm - The Himalayan Consensus - an innovative approach to development.

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