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Because People Matter
Building an Economy That Works for Everyone

by Jurriaan Kamp

Paraview Special Editions, 2003
ISBN: 1931044457
Business/Economics, 116 pages
Paperback, $12.95

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Excerpt from The Introduction

  The Indian novelist Arundhati Roy recently wrote an essay on the gigantic complex of dams in the Narmada Valley in India. Her story illustrates with painful precision the degrading way our modern world economy works. The Narmada project has already made millions of people homeless. Reservoirs have caused the disappearance of agricultural lands, and cattle have drowned. Soon another dam is to be completed and another two hundred thousand Indians will be driven away. Filled with outrage, Roy writes, "The mere participation in a debate over housing signifies a first step towards the suspension of every principle of justice. The forced relocation of two hundred thousand people in order to provide drinking water for forty million, or even entertaining the pretension that such a thing is possible -- there's something totally wrong with the scale at which this work is being undertaken. This is the mathematics of fascism. It causes stories to be strangled and details to be clubbed to death, and perfectly reasonable people become blinded by a misleading but brilliant vision."

Typical India. It seems so far away, like a story about another world where, unfortunately, other norms apply. But that's not what this is. I have become aware that the same "mathematics" is plaguing our own society. We're now in the midst of economic prosperity and fewer factories are being closed. But how long ago was it when thousands of people lost their jobs because of mergers or shutdowns? Granted, those people were not sent to their deaths, as the Indian country dwellers are; they're given a tidy sum of unemployment payments by way of the social security system. Yet the idea behind the calculation is the same: the worldwide domination of big money. In either case, the interests of the individual are not primary. The modern economy is far more likely to be based on the Dutch "postergirl" Loesje's ironic comment.

How could human beings have created a system of trade and production in which human beings don't matter? That's the wrong question, many will hasten to respond. Free trade and the market economy are bringing prosperity to the farthest corners of the planet today. Prosperity in figures, yes. But if all those factors are added up -- factors that are not expressed in figures and that are precisely the ones having to do with this human quality of life -- there would be little or nothing left over from all this improvement. The economy serves the gross national product, the stock market and the shareholders. Behind all those institutes are human beings, of course, but their voices don't count.

Take the mantra of bigness. Business are becoming bigger and bigger because the globalization of the world economy demands it, because "bigger" is the same as "better." That's why your bank has changed names three times in the past ten years. That's why airline companies have to merge just to "survive." That's why "the biggest merger ever" has become the monthly refrain of the financial pages. These kinds of mergers may be in the interest of the shareholders, but they are not in the interest of people. Boards of directors can come up with very fancy calculations regarding scale advantages, but those calculations mention nothing about the frustrations that more and more employees are experiencing within these ever-expanding organizations. There's little different between these calculations and Arundhati Roy's "mathematics of fascism."

It's a peculiar world where fathers -- still almost always fathers -- deal with their companies as they would never deal with their own families, and treat the earth as they would never treat their own back yards. It's a peculiar world where housekeeping -- that's the definition of the word "economy" -- means something entirely different at the national level than it does at the level of the individual home. It's a peculiar world when we keep telling ourselves that all those abuses -- human rights violations, environmental pollution, child labor, stress -- are just unavoidable consequences of "progress," as if inhumanity were a condition for humanity.

Those multinational companies and international organizations, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), don't just do whatever they like. They operate according to rules and principles that are consciously made and chosen. Free trade, gross national product, interest, debts, growth, productivity, efficiency -- all these concepts are formulated with care. The gathering of heads of state and governmental leaders at Bretton Woods in the United States in 1944 for instance -- when the IMF and the World Bank were created -- determined to a great extent how the world economy would develop up to the present day. This is often forgotten. We are not condemned to the present state of affairs; it is something we -- or at least those whom we have appointed for this task -- have chosen.

And that is why we can choose to take a new path.

Copyright 2003  Jurrian Kamp

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