Sir Michael Howard
Over the past six months, I have been witness to a great crisis of leadership. Senior leaders of resource endowed countries and industrialized countries alike, when presented with incontrovertible evidence of grave financial inequities promoted by investment banks, treasuries, incumbent investors, and multi-lateral ‘development’ agencies have uniformly defended the abusers as a surrogate for not desiring reproach for ill-advised decisions.
“We’re already a long way down the road,” was a statement uttered recently by a head-of-state when confronted with a means to realign his people’s interests and benefit with their national resources. And, when pressed on public statements in which the same leader had stated that no decisions had been taken on resource development, the instant I recalled recent events which would suggest otherwise, his ire was raised as he knew that his indiscretions and misleading public statements were both knowable and known. “We know that your approach would have a good shot at stabilizing U.S. and European banks but it would require transparency that would not be accepted by corporations at this time,” was the response from a G-8 member. Lavish trade missions to Hong Kong, Macau, and Beijing for Pacific Islanders, African delegations and the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve. Goldman Sachs’ arranging for scholarships to prestigious universities and lucrative internships for the progeny of ministers and elected officials all reek of influence peddling – to say nothing of violations of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations in the case of U.S. entities. Promises of economic benefit and equity through shell corporations with neither governance control nor direct participation in cash flows. And, to add insult to injury, these illiquid equity interests are financed by allowing national treasuries to purchase their equity through operator-financed debt meaning that, in addition to gaining no economic value, countries are setting a certain course for bankruptcy and social reprisals – including high probabilities of civil violence.
If the risk of civil unrest was merely a theoretical abstraction in some far off land of disembodied despotism, one could almost understand a leader viewing self-interest expediency as an acceptable risk. But, what seems irrational is the fact that in every instance to which I have been privy, within the past few decades and in the adult memory of the leaders, civilian casualties have been the consequence of duly authorized, unconsidered, asymmetric excess. In many instances, the respective leaders who have defended the pillaging of their citizens’ futures have been buttressed with accolades on the international stage where multi-lateral agencies laud their emergence into the club of economic elites. It’s betting on the Titanic’s unsinkability AFTER the iceberg has rent open the hull. Could it be anything but greed-fed madness?
It was at a most recent meeting that I finally saw another explanation. More accurately, I heard it. “I can’t believe that a corporation would actually lie to a government to steal its national resources and destabilize a country,” a President said. “Great,” I replied, “I would hope that you don’t ‘believe’ anything I’m saying.” Recoiling from my unexpected reply, a bizarre window of truth emerged, his voice raising, “Well, why the hell are you wasting my time if you’re not wanting me to believe in you?”
And there it was. The real desperation. In a world filled with the certainty of oppression and wealth asymmetry, what was really lacking was not a genuine desire to democratically lead his people. No, what was really missing was evidence that an alternative could exist. I might as well have been standing before the Inquisitor suggesting that the Earth was merely a galactic dust particle in the expanse of infinite space, for my proposal and his response had nothing to do with observed fact and experienced reality. The objection was anchored in ‘illusory certainty’ that comes from ‘belief’.
The fact that an U.S. investment bank arranged for the country of Mongolia to indebt itself well beyond the country’s fiscal capacity while providing neither liquidity to service the debt nor any governance sufficient to insure expatriate management accountability is incontrovertible. The fact that the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury have felt obliged to rename a Ponzi-scheme ‘Quantitative Easing’ is equally incontrovertible. The fact that the Chinese government sought to build an asset backed reserve based on the collapse of fiscal accountability in the U.S. government resulting in their massive resource imperialistic hegemonic drive has already been consummated. With energy and mineral asset deals negotiated in Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan while their U.S. debt investments finance the United States’ loss of money, troops and integrity, one can easily observe that their calculus driving wealth transfer is both elementary and self-evident. If you stand at a vantage point of sufficient dispassion to observe what is, you can readily apprehend that desperation for an alternative narrative is fueling the paralysis of leaders across the globe.
Against this backdrop, one could find ample cause for seemingly rational despair. Will informed citizens rise up and, once again, return to violent revolt when faced with the failure of leadership that they’ll lay at the feet of their officials? Probably. Will such responses have equal consequence to all of the actual perpetrators? Definitely not. Regrettably, when lashing out against corruption, the easy target is the local leadership. But they were unlikely the sole responsible party. While international agencies point to corruption in countries across the globe as a scourge, what’s missing is the equivalent transparency on the companies, development agencies, and individuals who facilitated the same.
With a relentless commitment to effectuating alternative narratives based on actual experience, we can rise above vindictive responses and start demonstrating a more desirable condition. Remember it was the returning sails on the horizon which shook Spain, Portugal and the balance of power in Europe, not the impassioned pleas of an idealist navigator seeking funding.
So here’s an idea. Yesterday, Larry and I stood with community leaders on a hilltop just to the northeast of the airport in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. (By the way, PNG’s head of state is in the hospital in Singapore for those of you trying to guess who the identities are referenced above, so it wasn’t him, and it wasn’t PNG in my reference.) In an area of approximately 400 acres, 3,000 families are being moved into a model relocation village. The sweeping grasslands hide rocky clay that is not the rich volcanic soil of the New Guinea islands. However, adequate gardens are being planted and the place affords peace and tranquility not found in the choking settlements around the capital. The place is blessed with perpetual 10 – 15 knot winds, ample trees and undulating hills.
The only thing missing is a reliable water supply. A few windmills and a few wells would be sufficient to fill a gravity water tank that could be used to create a micro-utility. This public utility could be owned by the community and, once established, serve as a reliable micro business selling clean water at rates more affordable (and service more reliable) than the distant municipal supply. With a modicum of effort, local community members could meet their water and energy needs with the natural abundance of wind, light, and materials for suitably scaled propellers to supply water and electricity for lighting. Within the readership of InvertedAlchemy, there are enough people who could value seeing 3,000 families with fresh water that we could partner with the village and launch a partnership. Into it we could contribute technology, knowledge, engineering expertise, money, and time. From it we could receive custom & culture, knowledge, engineering expertise, money and well-being. Most of all, we could demonstrate that another path, one free from resource and power asymmetries, can blossom and flourish in a place where such an experience is not anticipated.
After all, if we are going to start addressing the systemic reflex of ‘disbelief’ we need to find ourselves in constant action. As long as we’re debating the lofty ideals of a more conscious humanity rather than knowing that we’ve actually tipped the balance in our present activities, we’re providing sanctuary to the malignancy that leads to persistent abuse. A cup of clean water sourced from a community-held utility indicts faith, belief, and ephemeral ideals. Whether it’s clean water for a settlement in Port Moresby or a community response obviating the illiquid obligations of the insolvent Medicare and Medicaid, which vie for the collapse of the U.S. economy, it is our actions which are called for, not beliefs. So, walk over to your sink, fridge, or water-cooler and ask yourself, “Would I like to share this experience with a stranger?” If you would, I’ve got a spot on Elder’s Hill waiting for you.