Archive for March 2016
THE OTHER day I visited with interest (and some dismay) the website for the United States foreign assistance programs.
It claims that our country is planning to devote $33.9 billion in fiscal year 2017 to help foreign countries.
Ignoring the $8.3 billion in military assistance, this still leaves a respectable $25.6 billion dedicated to economic and humanitarian assistance.
Or is it respectable? Who today is so innocent as not to suspect that much of our so-called economic assistance is really a way of steering the economy, infrastructure and values of a foreign country to render it more exploitable?
It need not be so. I propose to my fellow Americans an alternative.
The current US population is something over 300 million. Were each person to contribute a mere 33 cents annually (parents paying the amount for infants and young children), we would easily raise $100 million.
Each year we could single out one amongst the family of nations, and bestow on this nation, as a gesture of pure friendship, some great gift purchased with it.
The first stipulation would be that there are no strings attached. We seek nothing in return for the gift, except the benefit of the recipient and the honor of making it.
The second is that the gift must have nothing to do with economics or materialist values. We would wish, rather, to give in the name of eternal friendship between the people of that country and our own.
The most suitable gifts, I suggest, would be libraries, museums, parks, gardens and monuments. Perhaps there are others, but I personally would not like to see the list extended too far beyond these definite examples of non-material goods.
The figure of $100 million, or perhaps as much as twice that, would suffice for a truly magnificent gift, yet at the same time is sufficiently restrained as to not seem crass. By comparison, the new Library of Alexandria, Egypt cost $200 million, the Sifang Art Museum in Nanji, China, $279 million, and the MuCEM of Marseille, $260 million.
I have in mind one historical precedent for this, namely a library for the University of Leuven which the American people (independently of their government) donated to the people of Belgium following World War I.
To consider the premise from the reverse perspective, consider the affection which Americans retain to this day to their French cousins in gratitude for the gift of the Statue of Liberty.
An examination of current foreign aid recipients shows we now favor poor nations and generally ignore more prosperous countries like Japan and Canada. But in friendship we should not make such distinctions. If I may, I would like to nominate Japan, a great friend whom we take for granted, as the first recipient.
To merely begin this program would, besides the immediate result of honoring our old friends and making new ones, have the effect of changing history. It would become immediately apparent to all how easy and, relatively speaking, inexpensive this is, and how much vastly superior it is as a foreign policy than war, competition and exploitation. It would signal nothing less than a turning point in human evolution. Henceforth the advanced level of our technology and the vast power of collective capital would be matched by our wisdom and charity.
To speed the progress of so worthy an endeavor let some wealthy American — for example,Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg — take the first step by supplying, for one year only, some substantial fraction (but not to exceed 50%) of the total. In return they would go down in history as one of the great benefactors of humanity.
Or let those whose reputations suffer from past errors or partisan connections demonstrate their patriotism and good will to all — a George Soros or the Koch Brothers — by taking the first step. They will then be applauded by all for their magnanimity.
A neighboring tribe became jealous of their success, and began to raid them, stealing their cattle and corn. The chief then raised an army of strong men. The next time the enemy tribe raided them, the chief and his men delivered a sound defeat, and they never attacked again. Nevertheless to discourage further mischief the tribe decided to keep a some men permanently armed and ready to defend them.
The chief grew old and his son then became leader. Unlike the father, the son was selfish and greedy. No matter how much he had, he always wanted more. He depleted the public treasury until he had amassed a great fortune. Then he began to eye the wealth of neighboring tribes, and sent raiders to steal from them. When the neighboring tribes protested and tried to defend themselves, he sent soldiers to intimidate them and demand tribute. The other tribes, weaker, began to submit.
But the people did not like this. They decided to hold an election to select a new chief.
Yet the son was crafty, and he conceived a scheme to retain his position. He went to the women of the tribe and spoke as follows: “I see how the men of the tribe oppress you women. They make you grind corn, cook, and wash clothes all day, while they enjoy hunting and sitting around the fire smoking their pipes. But if you vote for me in the election, I promise to fix things. I will improve your status relative to the men, and redress this great injustice.” This met with much approval with the women, and they agreed to vote for him.
Then the son went to the farmers and similarly spoke: “I know how much difficulty you have with the cattlemen. They steal your water, and let their cows eat and trample your crops. They grow rich while you grow poor. But if you vote for me, I will fix things. I will see to it that the cattlemen are put in their place. I will take some of their land and money for you to distribute amongst yourself.” This too met with much approval with the farmers.
And so it happened that when the election occurred, all the women and all the farmers voted for the chief; and although nobody else voted for him, he received enough votes to achieve victory. Once secure in his position, he resumed his previous behavior, only more boldly and on a larger scale. He now openly raided neighboring tribes, stealing their things. He hired mercenaries to form a large and invincible army, and taxed his people to pay for it. As the son ruthlessly plundered all the neighbors, the tribe became hated and held in contempt by all.
In time, even the weather changed. The earth would not yield her crops, and the cattle grew thin. The tribe became poor, suffered, and demanded a new leader. Yet every time an election was held, the crafty chief applied his scheme. No matter how poor the tribe became, there were always groups who believed they had less than others, and by exaggerating these disparities and promising to fix them he continued to win. And here is the paradox: that while each group acted rationally — for indeed inevitable differences in the distribution of things among the tribe occurred — when each group only sought greater justice for itself, all suffered greatly.
Thus it was that the people, by continually fighting amongst themselves about how to distribute what little resources remained, collectively had less and less, until they ceased to be a tribe at all, so that now even their name is forgotten.