Third Paradigm is an out-of-the-box thinktank on community sovereignty and regenerative economics.
We look at how to take back our cities, farmland and water; our money, production and trade; our media, education and culture, our religion and even our God.
We present a people's history of the Bible and a parent's view on how to raise giving kids in a taking world.
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Welcome to the eighteenth episode of Third Paradigm entitled To Bee a British Pound. This past week, my friends at Capitola Book Cafe hosted Chris Cleave, the author of a magnificent book called Little Bee. I'll read you the beginning of the book:
"Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl. Everyone would be pleased to see me coming. Maybe I would visit with you for the weekend and then suddenly, because I am fickle like that, I would visit with the man from the corner shop instead – but you would not be sad because you would be eating a cinnamon bun, or drinking a cold Coca-Cola from the can, and you would never think of me again. We would be happy, like lovers who met on holiday and forgot each other's names."
"A pound coin can go wherever it thinks it will be safest. It can cross deserts and oceans and leave the sound of gunfire and the bitter smell of burning thatch behind. When it feels warm and secure it will turn around and smile at you... Of course a pound coin can be serious too. It can disguise itself as power, or property, and there is nothing more serious when you are a girl who has neither. You must try to catch the pound, and trap it in your pocket, so that it cannot reach a safe country unless it takes you with it. But a pound has all the tricks of a sorcerer. When pursued I have seen it shed its tail like a lizard so that you are left holding only pence. And when you finally go to seize it, the British pound can perform the greatest magic of all, and this is to transform itself into not one, but two, identical green American dollar bills. Your fingers will close on empty air, I am telling you.
"How I would love to be a British pound. A pound is free to travel to safety, and we are free to watch it go. This is the human triumph. This is called, globalization. A girl like me gets stopped at immigration, but a pound can leap the turnstiles, and dodge the tackles of those big men with their uniform caps, and jump straight into a waiting airport taxi. Where to, sir? Western Civilization, my good man, and make it snappy.
"See how nicely a British pound coin talks? It speaks with the voice of Queen Elizabeth the Second of England. Her face is stamped upon it, and sometimes when I look very closely I can see her lips moving. I hold her up to my ear. What is she saying? Put me down this minute, young lady, or I shall call my guards."
The story continues with Little Bee's witty narration of how she learned the Queen's English during her two years in an immigration detention center in Essex. I could read much farther and not run out of quotable parts, but Chris Cleave did it so much better, making me wish I'd figured out how to record his talk ahead of time. He affected the haughty voice of Queen Elizabeth, that of an outspoken and hilarious Jamaican refugee, and an imagined dialogue where Little Bee explains the topless model in the guard's magazine to the girls back home. I've pinky-sworn not to ruin the book by telling you what happens, so you can read it in 24 hours like I did. But at the book club, I told Chris that he'd solved the problem that obsesses me day and night, which is how to tell the hard truths in a way that doesn't sugarcoat it, but dilutes the bitterness just enough to make it palatable... and that gets us to take responsibility without engaging our guilt and letting us turn away.
I especially admired what he did with the British pound. I've often tried to explain that concept – that a free market means that money can flow across borders, but not people. There's an inverse relationship between the freedom of money to travel and the freecom of people. If people can follow the money it defeats the purpose. Free trade agreements aren't free, aren't trade, and aren't agreements. They're the extraction of wealth, leaving a depleted and polluted wasteland behind. People don't give up their land willingly for glass beads and western education. They know exactly what's going on, far better than we do.
Little Bee talks about the British pound performing the greatest magic of all – turning into not one but two American dollars. Your fingers will close around nothing, she assures you. We're experiencing this magic trick every day, and it's not a good one. We'll look at this, but first, we'll read a poem about our cultural icon, Barbie, on her fiftieth birthday. The picture my friend Joe sent out with this poem is a blond model at a car show. She's wearing a white jumpsuit with a racing stripe, reflective sunglasses, and a white cowboy hat. I'd love to hear how Little Bee would explain her to the girls from the village.
Somehow I got invited to a girl's night out when Sex and the City opened. I was flattered and thought I should go in for some female-bonding. But during the movie, I kept looking around to see if these other intelligent, sensitive women were as horrified as I was by this 90-minute commercial for mass consumption broken by brief interludes of gratuitous sex.
The sex, although not at all sexy, didn't disturb me. After all, it was their own bodies, even if the men were obviously gay. What got me was their utter shamelessness in being brand-name hookers. The protagonist's point of pride was an Imelda Marcos-style shoe collection. Did it matter that Imelda Marcos was the wife of a Philippine dictator? Along with every article of clothing that Sarah Jessica Parker trashed paring down her closet was the life of a Philippine garment worker, thrown away for not having been born in a fashionable color.
But no one else seemed alarmed, and I slipped out before I burnt my bonding bridges. When my daughters heard, they said, "Mom. I can't think of a movie that would be less you." But this is us - the image we portray to the rest of the world. Even people like Obama keep saying we're the wealthiest nation, not just in the world, but the wealthiest nation the world has ever known. Are we kidding ourselves or other people? And to what avail? Amy Goodman's headlines on Friday reported that,
"American families in 2008 cumulatively lost $11 trillion, equal to the combined annual output of Germany, Japan and the UK. As losses add up, debt is also skyrocketing. Mortgages and credit card debt now amount to $13 trillion, or 123% of after-tax income. In 1995, debt amounted to 83 percent of income."
How can we be wealthy when we owe more – on average! – than we could make in 15 months if we could keep our job, sleep on the street, and never have to eat. We are the poorest people on the planet. No one else owes more than a year's net pay at the highest cost of living in the world. No one else pays up to 45% in taxes with no social system in return to keep them from being homeless, their children going hungry, or being sick with no medical care. On the flip side, we can afford lots of shoes so we can park our live-in cars in the most fashionable neighborhoods.
But mortgage debt and credit card debt we have some control over. For all of us, without signing on any dotted line, foreign debt doubled this past decade to twice our net worth. How can we be wealthy if we owe twice as much as we're worth without anything to show for it? This can't end well. An email sent this week said that Hillary Clinton had signed over to China the right of eminent domain – basically, mortgaged the country. It turned out to be a hoax, but it threw me into a black pit of despair before I found out. It wasn't unthinkable. National assets like public forests, farmlands, water, and ports have already been used to pay down the interest. Foreign banks already hold the notes on all the properties that are foreclosing. Would they stop at taking the land right out from under us?
This week, I calculated how wealthy we are by looking at a family's cost for basic security. A "reasonable mortgage" is targeted at 30% of income. All the insurances equal 10% at least. Savings for retirement and kids' education are conservatively 10%. Energy, phone and gas might be 3%. That equals 53% going directly to the most unscrupulous corporations there are– financial institutions, insurances, Big Oil, and telecom monopolies. However, this lowers your taxes because you're doing the government's job for them - funneling money to the super-rich. So they give you a break. With mortgage interest and tax-deferred savings, you may get your tax rate down to 27%. That adds up to 80% of your salary directly siphoned off to corporate interests and the governments that serve them. 80% given to people we don't trust for things we don't believe in, with no choice in the matter. But with the other 20%, feel free to buy local food and fair-trade goods. Oh, and fund non-governmental groups that protect your interests. Go crazy.
Our foreign debt is a runaway train on parallel tracks of greed and violence. To take on more debt assumes that in the next decade, we'll sustain a higher cost of living than we have now. More money will have to circulate faster, so that China can get back more money than they loaned. We, when our debt is repaid, will be poorer than now as a country. But that's if our debt is repaid. What happens if it's not hasn't been made clear.
Repaying debts isn't high on the national priorities. Instead, each 300 million of us will owe $7 a day for a year to bail out the banks, and another $7 a day for the Iraq war. Each of the 5.3 million Jews in Israel receives $2 per day from us. We, and 57 other Americans, pool one dollar per month to give to each Israeli. The Jewish cyber-bully site Masada 2000 claims, "Building a great nation doesn't only take brains, but it sure does help!" Among their bragging rights are 3000 high tech companies in Israel, the highest percentage of home computers, 80% of all biotech, being #3 in university degrees, and #2 in venture capital. Their $100 billion economy is larger than all its neighbors combined, the per capita income is higher than the UK and they have the highest living standards in the Middle East. If they're so wealthy already, why does Israel get 1/3rd of the US foreign aid budget?
Curiously, the US population of Jews is also 5.3 million, each making up 40% of the world's Jewish population. According to a poll conducted by the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life, Jews are the highest-earning religious group in the US. 46% of those working earn a six-figure income. Hindus came close with 43%, but the US average is only 18%. Hindus, however, are better educated with 48% having done some graduate work as opposed to 35% of Jews. It doesn't even bother to give the dismal averages on the rest of us. So why don't the 5.3 million highly-compensated US Jews pay the 5.3 million highly-compensated Israeli Jews $2 a day, and leave the rest of us out of their war of occupation? Even better, what if the rest of us gave $2 a day to the people we felt needed it the most? Together, we'd generate $600 million dollars a day. In one day, we could level the playing field for Gaza. Then, we can see whether brains or brawn have gotten Israel where it is. Imagine if we all decided which country each day would get our 600 million. Or perhaps we'd give 300 million and invest the other 300 million in fair trade.
Liberia, on March 27th, you can start construction on schools and a rubber-processing plant, and your dependence on Firestone/Bridgestone will be a distant nightmare. Nicaragua, instead of sending you our cast-off school supplies, on April 4th, let's build a series of agro-ecology centers. Maybe you can produce sustainable and reusable school supplies for us, passed with honor from sibling to sibling. But instead of our investment buying unlimited ownership of your labor and resources, as in the current model, once you've sent twice the amount in product, the equipment is yours.
Even a homeless person in this country can come up with $2 a day, which barely buys a bottle of water. An amount worthless to us could be turned into the most precious commodity money could buy – international good will. But the idea of getting 300 million people to agree on anything wears me out. California alone is 36 million. That's almost 3X the size of Ecuador at 14 million, and more than 6X the size of Denmark at 5.5. These countries have a chance of operating with integrity, creating a trade-backed currency, and protecting their natural resources. And that's just what Ecuador is doing. Ecuador is giving rights to nature, and prioritizing its social debt over national debts incurred by corporate toadies. Ecuador is nationalizing oil companies and socializing profits. Ecuador's currency, the sucre, is the model for the South American standard. Begging Little Bee's pardon, but I'd rather be an Ecuadoran sucre than a British pound, if I were flying into the future. Or maybe a Santa Cruz Fair Trade Ten.
But to do that, we'd have to be a normal sized country instead of a supersized one. An alliance of 10 to 20 counties in California would be the same population as Denmark or Ecuador. Then, like the European or South American Union, we could choose what we wanted to fund or not fund. Small is a beautiful thing. Nigeria, at 124 million, could also become 10-20 separate countries, which would make it harder to bribe or kill off all the separate governments. Small is resilient, especially when backed by a network. Our final song is dedicated to Little Bee, and all the refugees from money that crosses borders with weapons and payoffs, then attributes their success to superior intelligence. It's We Will Sing Our Own Song by UB40. This has been Tereza Coraggio with Third Paradigm. Archives can be found at radio4all.net and responses can be sent to Tereza@retrometro.com. Special thanks to Skidmark Bob for mixing up our Let's Go Barbie cocktail.
[UB40 – We Will Sing Our Own Song]
Thank you for listening.