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A Brutal Vision of Mandkind’s Future
Guyana Journal, December 2006

I do not get the impression that the governance of the world is good or that it is getting better. The gap between rich and poor is widening horribly – between countries and within countries. The world's environment, mankind's patrimony, is suffering gradual ruin. The main institutions of the world are organized to enhance and protect the wealth and influence of the powerful. How can we accept that these three world tendencies are bound to continue, inexorably producing what is a greater and greater sum of misery and deprived dependency on earth? Such passivity before the 'inevitability' of this sort of globalization is one of its most depressing effects.

I read every day, looking for hope whenever I can find it. I would very much like to share such hope especially with my sons whose century this will be in which to thrive or struggle, exult or tremble. But, sadly, I find I have jotted down in my journal at various times the following, mainly depressing, thoughts:

* Fashionable economic theory tells us the interference with the operation of market forces – through concern for the poor, the weak and the vulnerable or in the cause of civilized compassion of one kind or another – is hopelessly misguided and counter-productive. But this is simply untrue and if followed slavishly will lead to increasing misery in the world and the brutalization of relations between people. Here is what the greatest economist of the 20th century, John Maynard Keynes, wrote in 1928 in an essay entitled "The End of Laissez-Faire."

"It is not true that individuals possess a prescriptive 'natural liberty' in their economic activities. There is no 'compact' conferring perpetual rights on those who Have or on those who Acquire. The world is not so governed from above that private and social interest always coincide. It is not so managed here below that in practice they coincide. It is not a correct deduction from the Principles of Economics that enlightened self-interest always operates in the public interest. Nor is it true that self-interest generally is enlightened; more often individuals acting separately to promote their own ends are too ignorant or too weak to attain even these. Experience does not show that individuals, when they make up a social unit, are always less clear-sighted than when they act separately."

* It is incredible. Any other country in the world would long ago have fallen into a chaotic condition of currency devaluation, stock market collapse and generalized economic disarray. But America blithely proceeds untouched. I am speaking of the extraordinary current deficit which America runs with the rest of the world. America imports half as much again as it exports and this gap is widening. It is estimated that America needs to raise from abroad US$660 million annually or US$2 billion per day to cover this deficit. And that is not all. America also exports capital at a rate which equals its current account deficit with the rest of the world. What this means is that America requires about US$4 billion per day (US$5 billion per working day) in gross capital imports to balance its books over all. And America gets it.

I do not note this as a criticism of America. It is simply one of the remarkable facts about how the world functions. America, not only militarily but also economically, has graduated beyond superpower into hyperpower status. It bestrides the world. It can do virtually what it wants economically. It can run deficits that would spell doom to even the largest other nation. It can print money as it likes and not experience inflation. And, of course, it can and does dominate the world's leading financial institutions. America, quite simply, leads the world in the economic direction it wants the world to take and there is no one to challenge it at the present time.

* The erosion of human rights in America, and elsewhere, is likely to grow in the powerful wake of the September 11 World Trade Centre massacre. As other major terrorist attacks take place it is inevitable that more and more fundamental human rights will be infringed. After Pearl Harbour perfectly innocent and harmless American citizens who happened to be Japanese were hauled off to detention camps in their scores of thousands. Alas, even the revered land of the free is not immune from very human, though brutal, reactions. In the Federalist Papers, those miraculously perceptive and brilliantly written documents which prepared the way for the United States constitution and American independence, Alexander Hamilton in 1787 described perfectly what would always be the case in times of danger:

"Safely from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free."
Hamilton's shrewd words are also very relevant for us locally, and in the Caribbean generally. As violent crime grows and criminals become more indiscriminately brutal, can one doubt that ordinary citizens will increasingly become quite prepared to see the exercise of their civil rights eroded? "To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free." Yes, I am afraid that is very definitely so.

* A gleam in the shadows – there is the refreshing Nolan Committee report. This committee was set up by former UK Prime Minister John Major to investigate corruption and sleaze in the UK government and recommend what might be done. As with most such reports, anywhere in the world, this one has been safely pigeonholed. However, it has lived a little longer than most because it enunciated "seven principles of public life" which are now much quoted as setting a benchmark, idealistic no doubt, but useful as a reminder for public service behaviour. At the start of a freshly elected government here in Guyana it may be useful to set out these principles. They are: selflessness (holders of public office should serve the public interest, not seek gains for their friends); integrity (they should not place themselves under financial obligations to outsiders who might influence their duties); objectivity (they should award public appointments and contracts on merit); accountability (they should submit themselves to appropriate scrutiny); honesty (they should declare conflict of interest); openness (they should give reasons for their decisions); and leadership (they should support these principles by personal example).

It is good to be reminded sometimes of how a perfect world might work.

By Ian McDonald
(With permission. Previously published in Stabroek News, October 29th 2006)
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