THE WORLD ON THE PRECIPICE

From Terrorism to Cut-throat Competition

My brother told me that about 2 months ago he was standing on the side walk looking up at the twin towers, admiring the great strong steel walls holding up the 110 floors (He was on a quick world trip mainly to a reunion at a school in South America with a New York stop over)

That those 110 floors were to come crashing down, squashing people inside flatter than an ant underfoot, is even now difficult to comprehend. One realized at the time that the possibility of "voids" with people trapped in them was very remote and the possibility of getting to any such void in a reasonable time, even more remote.

I have listened to President Bush giving his address to the joint sitting of Congress and even more ominously, Newt Gingrich, interviewed on Australian TV, in which he said we could be fighting a full scale war at any time in the next three months which might last for 5 years. President Bush was most impressive, and he is to be praised for not blaming all Muslims for terrorist acts and for creating a large measure of agreement from most nations with his war against terrorism. The situation is so serious, the possibility of killing the wrong people in an all out war situation and the possibility of causing irreparable damage to our civilisation causes this Humanist and ancient Fabian Democratic Socialist to speak out and review the questions:

  • why does the Arab world hate America?,
  • how to avoid the pitfalls of a world conflagration? and above all;
  • how should we reform our economic behaviour to bring about a more peaceful world?

Concerns

The peoples of the Middle East have no reason to be happy. One of the trouble spots is Israel. Jews that I have met are all good intelligent people but they have little influence in Israel. Some years ago they had a good Premier who was assassinated. We could have had a world war right then but it was a Jew who did the assassination. Ever since then Israel has had extreme right wing governments whose forces are very trigger happy. The peace efforts from both sides have been ineffective and the support given by the USA to Israel is objectionable to Arabs.

In Iraq the Gulf War was fought 10 years ago but since then USA and British Bombers have been making strikes in Iraq with little publicity. I don't doubt that there were reasons for these strikes such as the need to defend the Kurds but you cant expect the middle east to view it in that light. Further the sanctions imposed by America has prevented the import of needed medical supplies and food resulting in the deaths of thousands of children every year and shows a lack of morality on the part of successive Western governments.

The large number of Muslims killed in what was Yugoslavia will be blamed on the West which is led by the USA. Then there was the pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan which was bombed to bits and was later proved to be a genuine factory which was not producing offensive weapons giving rise to much cynicism about American intelligence and the undue haste in bombing it. (Was the factory ever replaced?)

There are many other cases where the deaths of Muslims will be blamed, rightly or wrongly on the USA. It is not surprising that so many of the Arab countries are supporting Bush against Terrorism. Their rulers are well educated people who may remember their History lessons. How 1000 years ago their lands were invaded during the crusades which did no good for either side. They will be well aware of the power of the USA military machine but also very concerned about the power of the Taliban in their own country, they are forced to negotiate a fine line to balance the demands of the Taliban against their desire for a more reasonable form of government

I want to make it clear that I detest the Taliban, their treatment of their women, their insistence on Sharia Law is taking a large part of the world back to the dark ages. This not only includes Pakistan and Afghanistan but places as far afield as Nigeria. The difficulty is that terrorists and the Taliban are people who have unacceptable ideas. You can not shoot down an idea, the terrorist has but to melt into the general population to become indistinguishable from all other muslims and any attempt to shoot a mob in Afghanistan or Pakistan indiscriminately will result in a world conflagration and only strengthen these ideas.

Courses of Action

The reasonable course for America to take is to present their case against Osama bin Laden to an International Court and get their agreement that he should be tried under International Law, present indications are that there is insufficient evidence to convince a court which also means there is insufficient reason for the Taliban to hand him over. The practical course of action is to give maximum support to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan who have been fighting the Taliban for some time - bearing in mind that winter will close down the area soon. Though this group has a questionable reputation especially on human rights.

The Bush administration and the USA armed forces need to work out very carefully what their purpose, objectives and methods are in the very difficult circumstances indicated in the following E-mail message:

Date: Monday, 24 September 2001 10:00

Subject: Bombing Afghanistan back to the stone age

From Tamim, a writer and columnist in San Francisco, who comes from Afghanistan.

"I've been hearing a lot of talk about "bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age." Ronn Owens, on KGO Talk Radio today, allowed that this would mean killing innocent people, people who had nothing to do with this atrocity, but "we're at war, we have to accept collateral damage. What else can we do?" Minutes later I heard some TV pundit discussing whether we "have the belly to do what must be done." And I thought about the issues being raised especially hard because I am from Afghanistan, and even though I've lived here for 35 years I've never lost track of what's going on there. So I want to tell anyone who will listen how it all looks from where I'm standing.

"I speak as one who hates the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. There is no doubt in my mind that these people were responsible for the atrocity in New York.

"I agree that something must be done about those monsters. But the Taliban and Bin Laden are not Afghanistan. They're not even the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult of ignorant psychotics who took over Afghanistan in 1997. Bin Laden is a political criminal with a plan. When you think Taliban, think Nazis. When you think Bin Laden, think Hitler. And when you think "the people of Afghanistan" think "the Jews in the concentration camps." It's not only that the Afghan people had nothing to do with this atrocity. They were the first victims of the perpetrators.

"They would exult if someone would come in there, take out the Taliban and clear out the rats nest of international thugs holed up in their country. Some say, why don't the Afghans rise up and overthrow the Taliban? The answer is, they're starved, exhausted, hurt, incapacitated, suffering.

"A few years ago, the United Nations estimated that there are 500,000 disabled orphans in Afghanistan - a country with no economy, no food. There are millions of widows. And the Taliban has been burying these widows alive in mass graves. The soil is littered with land mines, the farms were all destroyed by the Soviets. These are a few of the reasons why the Afghan people have not overthrown the Taliban.

"We come now to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. Trouble is, that's been done. The Soviets took care of it already. Make the Afghans suffer? They're already suffering. Level their houses? Done. Turn their schools into piles of rubble? Done. Eradicate their hospitals? Done. Destroy their infrastructure? Cut them off from medicine and health care? Too late. Someone already did all that. New bombs would only stir the rubble of earlier bombs. Would they at least get the Taliban? Not likely.

"In today's Afghanistan, only the Taliban eat, only they have the means to move around. They'd slip away and hide. Maybe the bombs would get some of those disabled orphans, they don't move too fast, they don't even have wheelchairs. But flying over Kabul and dropping bombs wouldn't really be a strike against the criminals who did this horrific thing. Actually it would only be making common cause with the Taliban - by raping once again the people they've been raping all this time.

"So what else is there? What can be done, then? Let me now speak with true fear and trembling. The only way to get Bin Laden is to go in there with ground troops. When people speak of "having the belly to do what needs to be done" they're thinking in terms of having the belly to kill as many as needed. Having the belly to overcome any moral qualms about killing innocent people. Let's pull our heads out of the sand. What's actually on the table is Americans dying. And not just because some Americans would die fighting their way through Afghanistan to Bin Laden's hideout.

"It's much bigger than that, folks. Because to get any troops to Afghanistan, we'd have to go through Pakistan. Would they let us? Not likely. The conquest of Pakistan would have to be first. Will other Muslim nations just stand by? You see where I'm going. We're flirting with a world war between Islam and the West. And guess what: that's Bin Laden's program. That's exactly what he wants. That's why he did this. Read his speeches and statements. It's all right there. He really believes Islam would beat the West. It might seem ridiculous, but he figures if he can polarize the world into Islam and the West, he's got a billion soldiers. If the west wreaks a holocaust in those lands, that's a billion people with nothing left to lose, that's even better from Bin Laden's point of view. "He's probably wrong, in the end the West would win, whatever that would mean, but the war would last for years and millions would die, not just theirs but ours. Who has the belly for that? Bin Laden does. Anyone else?"

Tamim Ansary

American military leaders have real headaches in deciding what to do to bring the criminals to justice without bringing on WW3. Such a war would have huge economic consequences in addition to death and destruction. e.g. the Refugee problem, which is currently not being solved, would increase many times, and the oil consumption of the war machine would reduce the amount of oil available and increase the price, making a global economy a doubtful proposition.

After the Crisis

When this crisis is over we must take action to reduce the likelihood of future problems. The world will need a Global Marshall Plan to assist all impoverished peoples, in addition the world will need a global education program for girls as well as boys. Never again should a World Bank or a WTO be allowed to make loans with conditions that force governments to cut health and education expenditure, their loans should include conditions designed to improve health and education. But it is said that the Taliban was created some seven years ago by recruiting students from conservative religious schools in Pakistan close to the Afghanistan border. I suggest that all schools be required to teach science and the rational approach to problem solving.

At times of crises people often ask why the world is like it is and what can be done to improve it. At times when fighting and killing appear to be necessary we realize the need to put up something positive for the future. First we need to examine the faults of the present economic system.

Economic Conditions

Well before the Twin Towers tragedy the world was in a poor economic position. Japan's problems go back 10 years. The growth figures for the USA have fallen to zero, The IT bubble has burst and company after company has been laying off workers. In Australia several companies have gone bankrupt, HIH insurance, One.Tell, and Ansett Airlines all with losses in the billions of dollars. Some blame accountants and auditors, but the real reason is that the government has allowed excessive competition.

For the past 30 years the world has been going global which means that we have followed a policy that used to be called laissez-faire. De-regulation of currency, the right of the global company to go where labor was cheapest without regard to the labor that made the company big. Downsizing, rationalisation, take-overs, Tax avoidance, add in a bit of Union bashing - We are witnessing war in the economic jungle which causes unemployment (the extent of which is cleverly disguised) and has forced many into part time employment which is not adequate to support a family. All this means excessive competition leading to the formation of monopolies. American law has always been strongly against monopolies in theory but not very good in practise as witness the latest Microsoft dispute.

Our societies are so large that many people will not notice these changes, they might be working longer hours for less pay but they have grown used to that. Do they feel a slight cringe when they buy a cheap garment at a very low price? No, they don't realize that it was made by a worker on a near starvation wage. In South Australia we are having an Export boom due to the low dollar value and good harvests, but the money does not trickle down to the unemployed in the outer suburbs north of Adelaide. Other parts of Australia suffer drought but in general most people live well and do not notice the people who are unemployed and the increasing number that are homeless.

International Problems

Looking at the International scene reveals worse problems. A year ago Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, brought together the leaders of the world to a summit conference. His report showed that 22% of the worlds population was "living" on less than a dollar a day. It was shown that during the last 30 years - a period which seems to coincide with the ascendancy of globalisation policies - the rich have been getting richer and the poor have been getting poorer and more numerous. The worlds leaders agreed to reduce this poverty by 50% in 15 years (now 14 years). What have they done to solve this problem in the last 12 months? Have they realised that reforms are necessary to our economic systems to achieve this?

After WW2 most countries had 25 years of under 2% unemployment (and the statistics were more accurate then) This was partly due to the recovery needed after the war but was also due to governments adopting the principles of the great economist Keynes who said that in bad times governments should run a deficit in order to employ people. Employed people contribute to the well-being of the economy. There were those who did not like this policy because it was too socialistic, they created the program of deregulation etc. they pushed their theories in all Economic Departments of Universities to the extent that the only economic advice given to governments today is a right wing laissez-faire policy. This policy is clearly failing, it is not achieving its declared objectives, the economy is stalling and most of us are worse off. It is time the economists admitted this and devised reform programs.

50 years ago there were two kinds of jobs, private enterprise and government service. Government service provided secure jobs but at slightly lower pay, private enterprise gave better pay but at some risk - this suited different types of people. Governments today have been forced to become competitive, reduced taxation (benefiting the rich), down sizing, cutting services and housing programs, outsourcing, postponement of planned development, golden handshakes i.e. early retirement for some. All this has led to the trashing of government service. I am not suggesting the government service was perfect but it did set a standard of stability which private enterprise tended to copy and there was a reverse flow of efficiency methods adopted by government service.

Rising Aggro

As I write these words I am aware of a growing level of aggro. I feel great aggro against the Taliban not only for their terrorism in New York but also for their actions in Afghanistan where they have closed all girls schools and ejected all women from teaching positions resulting in great poverty and some suicide. But I also feel great aggro against those who support excessive competition which has led to unemployment. Unemployed people can no longer pay the mortgage, they may be forced to move into rented property which will cost them more in the long run. These reduced circumstances lead to the break up of the marriage, disastrous to the children. It may also lead to drug taking and criminal activity. Those who are shocked at the high level of divorce should consider the high level of aggro induced by the fear that your job might disappear tomorrow as well as actual unemployment. It is often the aggro rather than the reduced circumstances that cause divorce. Unemployment is much higher for young people making it difficult for them to even think of marriage and planning their future.

All those who support the current financial system should examine the position very carefully because it could be that the ruined lives and the poverty of the 22% is the direct result of your system. How will you reform it? It could be that the poverty allowed by the present system causes as much misery and destruction as that caused by the Taliban and might be the reason why the Taliban hates the West.

Reforms to our Economic System

To feel so much aggro is dangerous, it does not solve anything. Aggro leads to violence which will not sort out the Taliban nor solve the economic problems. One has to use research and reason. One has to put up ideas to solve the problem. Such reforms would have to be adopted globally, though it might be possible for a group of countries to adopt them, causing the others to follow their example. Our foreign office would have a big job convincing neighbouring countries and the UN. The object of the reforms would be to reduce competition to a reasonable level so that it would not be cut-throat competition. To allow an airline to come in and offer very cheap fares makes it inevitable that one will collapse leading to collapses of other firms and much loss to workers and investors alike. We need to bring about a society which encourages co-operation as well a milder competition. What follows are 3 suggestions for your consideration. There are many other possibilities and you might be able to suggest them.

(1) The Tobin Tax - a tax of less than 0.5% on all currency transmitted across the boundary of your country. There are trillions of dollars daily transmitted electronically round the world attempting to make a profit out of small differences in exchange rates. This is many times greater than the amount needed for trade. This tax would be more than sufficient to support the U.N. including all its relief programs currently unfunded. It has been complained that this is a tax on trade, yes that is correct, today it is more important to encourage local production and local employment than it is to use up limited oil supplies on long distance transport. The idea of the Tobin Tax has been endorsed by the Canadian Parliament and many other organisations.

(2) Import - Export controls. These are designed to keep a balance of trade between currencies and prevent countries running into an impossible debt.

(3) Encourage countries to be responsible for their own currency i.e. print their own notes. They would spend such notes on essential works, schools, roads, environment protection and other infrastructure to the extent necessary to mop up unemployment. The money would circulate through the population and could be subject to recall. No interest rate would be charged thus the government would not fall into debt and would be ready to continue the process in future years. (At present only a small amount of notes and coin are made by a country. The banks create the rest when they issue a loan and only a very small part of which is backed by deposits or assets - yes I said create the money - they use a computer key!) Since banks charge interest we are now all swimming in a sea of debt both impoverished nations of the third world and the USA which has trillions of dollars in debt. It may be necessary to control the amount that Banks can create in future.

These are just three possibilities, I hope you can add some other ideas. Of course the Banks and financial advisors will tell you that these proposals wont work, will cause more problems than they solve. They could be right, in which case it is up to them to put up proposals that would work as reforms are absolutely essential.

If they don't respond and play dumb then it will be necessary to take political action. The demonstrations at Seattle Melbourne and Prague show that many western people are familiar with these problems. The great majority were making peaceful demonstrations, most of the aggro was shown by the police. As more people understand these problems the political parties will be forced to respond in the same way that Mr. Howard's government has been forced to respond to the plight of the country electorates. Our politicians have to understand that we have to intervene in the affairs of the market or perish when the market fails. Democratic processes will provide the best answer.

Dick Clifford

This article may be reproduced by any means,
in its entirety, with attribution.

Links to Further Reading

The Home page of Susan George,
economist, author of "The Debt Boomerang" and many other books and publications.

The Simultaneous Policy
Breaking down the barriers to solving world problems.

Economic Reform Australia
Articles and meetings for those interested in Economic Reform in Australia

 

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