Looking back on the courses and reading this quarter, I have myself becoming much more interested in social justice issues abroad. Which I’m sure is, no doubt, the intention of the course! While there are plenty of social justice issues to be thinking about here in our local communities, we in the United States are much better off in a general sense, and have higher awareness, capacity and funding to address these issues (whether or not we actually do is another issue altogether).
One of the things that has been floating around my head the most, is the fact that “we” (industrialized, wealthy nations) are responsible, not necessarily for instigating the social justice issues abroad, but definitely for perpetuating them. I touched on this in my recent film reflection on the movie Life and Debt, which framed the situation as a modern type of serfdom.
“The worst part about this is that most citizens of developed countries don’t even know that their nation is taking advantage of those less fortunate. We continue to donate to non-profit organizations that are doing good work in poorer nations so that we feel we are doing something positive, yet wonder why it is never enough. That all the aid and money we send doesn’t end up having any lasting effect. The reason is that developed nations continue to collect unimaginable amounts of money in the form of loans and interest that basically negate any amount of money that we could ever hope to spend in aid or charity work.”
Part of me looks at this issue with a sense of hopelessness… that regardless of the work that both non-profit humanitarian organizations, as well as for-profit social enterprises, do to facilitate a more socially just future, that we will never be able to help poorer nations pay off the unbelievable amounts of debt they are in. The only way that these nations will ever truly be able to focus on improving their own infrastructure, social programs, and general well-being of their citizens will be through eradication of national debt.
While I’m not too familiar with accounting and financing, especially on a national or global scale, it seems extremely strange to me that nearly every country in the world has national debt. To whom is all this money owed? It seems to me that a start to fixing this world-wide epidemic of indebted serfdom to other nations or corporations would be to start forgiving it. If every nation (at least of the majority that have national debt) agreed to forgive an equal amount of debt, spread amongst all of its debtors, would the world be a better off place?
To try to explain this to you in the way that I am thinking about it, I’m going to bring the scale down a bit… ok, maybe more than a bit… let’s say there are 5 people in a room. And each person in the room owes a total of $500 to the other people in varrying amounts. Now, rather than figure out who owes who what, wait for them to pay, and hopefully get some interest back, wouldn’t it be easier if they each just forgave, say, $400 of their own individual debt? It basically leaves everyone in the room in the same place they were. They are no longer going to collect money from their debtors, and forgo any interest they may have made on that loan, but now they don’t have the stress that may have been caused by constantly worrying about having to pay back their other lenders in the room.
While this type of plan makes a great deal of sense to me, I imagine it is much more complicated at a global scale, especially when you realize that corporations are involved as well. This might translate into a situation where there are additional people in the room to whom money may be owed, but may not owe anyone else money. They are obviously unlikely to forgive anyone of their debts, because they have nothing to gain in the process. And perhaps the reason that nearly every government is in debt is because corporations continue to take money from them. This brings us back to my first film reflection of this quarter, which was in response to the film The Corporation.
“I knew that corporations were mostly driven by the desire for constantly increasing profits, but couldn’t believe it went as far as the film said! I had no idea that they were legally bound to do so. It is no wonder why our planet and its people are suffering so that a select few corporate executives can pull in big profits.”
So then, with such a bleak outlook, what is one to do? Perhaps my model above isn’t a practical solution, but maybe there are models at other scales that could be employed. For example, microlending has been employed in helping individuals access opportunities they wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. While I don’t know that there is any hard evidence that it is entirely successful (there are a number of cases that obviously haven’t been) I think it is still in its infancy and has a fast growing fan base. Perhaps this is a financing model that could be employed on a larger scale. Local governments (perhaps of cities and towns) could put social improvement projects up for microfinancing at a global level. This type of system would generally have a lower interest rate than lending through the IMF and other large profit driven organizations. If the program became successful enough, as the world economy started to improve, small villages, towns, and municipalities throughout the world could end up borrowing their debt from thousands of individuals who support their ultimate empowerment and who are willing to offer reasonable terms on their loans.
A microfinancing project of this scale would take a tremendous amount of effort to get started (especially given the current state of the economy) but I could see it having a great impact for hundreds of thousands of communities around the world… who knows, maybe even some day entire countries!