From Benevolent Dictatorships to the Dictates of Benevolent Associations: A Grounded, Bottom-Up Approach to Rebuilding Societies for Mutual Improvement
While driving home from work this afternoon, I happened to stumble unto a discussion on the radio where one of the guests of the show claimed that “Christmas was dead”, as most of the activities that were celebrated around this time in our Federation were centered on Carnival. He suggested that we should change our Carnival celebrations to another time so that we could focus more on Christmas carol singing and the message of Christ’s birth.
In Church on Sunday, while observing the Manger and the Nativity scene that was set up, I saw something peculiar that I did not notice before. There were two groups of people looking at baby Jesus in the Manger. One group was three wise men who travelled from afar and were bearing gifts, and the other group consisted of the local shepherds and their sheep.
And two weeks ago, I had a rude awakening. I came across an interview with Nick Shaxson, that introduced me to the concept of tax havens, and how more than half of global trade passes through these secrecy jurisdictions. I decided to read up some more on his ideas, and I have completed reading his two books, Treasure Islands: Uncovering the Damage of Offshore Banking and Tax Havens, and The Finance Curse: How Oversized Financial Sectors Attack Democracy and Corrupt Economics. I am currently reading Tax Havens: How Globalization Really Works, which is now opening up my eyes to the machinations of the modern economic and political systems, not only globally, but also regionally, and especially locally.
Three weeks ago, Nelson Mandela, one of the giants on whose shoulders I endeavour to stand, passed away. He was able to bring an end to the apartheid system in South Africa, one which was governed by white minority rule. Then it occurred to me, that what I was reading about tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions, may also be described as a modern day globalised apartheid system. In this system, the political and financial minority elites, govern themselves according to one set of rules, based on lack of accountability, transparency, equity and good governance, operationalised by secrecy laws that permit them to avoid their responsibilities to their own societies via tax avoidance and evasion strategies. They do so while demanding, at the same time, that the majority of us pay our taxes to maintain and upkeep the societies from which they benefit the most. Furthermore, they use the ambiguity of the laws and the inefficiencies of the court to thwart the attempts of civil society, via its parliamentary representatives, from using the legal and constitutional tools of checks and balances, to address perceived injustices and inequities.
What the above-mentioned scenarios have in common, as interpreted by me, and I hope to convince you my readers, is that we have been sold a narrative that is top-down, and can be described, for arguments sake, as benevolent dictatorships. We are told that Carnival is good for our economy by the “financialization” of Christmas with all of its competitive trappings, such as the king and queen shows, roadmarch, and so forth. This narrative has totally consumed the bottom-up, cooperative, familial and community spirit and message of Christ’s birth. This forgotten narrative tells us, that from humble beginnings, an individual was able to overcome all odds and temptations and was able to do his Father’s bidding, and he showed us that love for all mankind, and even love for enemy, conquers all, even his death. That is why some are correct in their assessment when they give vent to their frustration, that it appears that “Christmas is dead.”
Even the Nativity scene has overtones of the tension between the top-down approach of veneration by foreign “wise men” bearing gifts of material wealth, versus the botton-up apporach of veneration by simple local humble individuals who bear gifts of spiritual wisdom, symbolized by the stewardship by the shepherds of their sheep.
The fact that many of the political and financial elites channel almost half of their finances through tax havens, while forcing their citizens and their workers respectively to pick up most of the tab via their taxes and low wages, and at the same time, being told that this arrangement is good for everyone, via “trickle-down effects” and “a rising tide lifting all boats”, is a de facto, “benevolent” galloping dictatorship, in the making.
It is not surprising that many countries use their sovereignty to devise their own laws that help them create a competitive advantage in this financial marketplace, as we are doing now along with some new entrances into the Citizenship by Investment niche markets. What we have failed to realise is that this would only create more hardships for the majority of us in our societies who do not have the privilege of being networked with the political, financial, legal and auditing entities that benefit from this system. No one has yet explained how going into high-end tourism is not going to increase the cost of living for the majority of its people, as has been shown in many other secrecy jurisdictions across the world. Some have even claimed that what is being created in our midst, not only in our Federation but around the world, is another form of empire, one that is akin to slavery, this time, debt slavery, and one that is akin to apartheid, where the majority of us are kept ignorant of the big elephant in the room of globalisation by the minority political and financial elite. (Please see The Third British Empire which I guarantee will provide some food for thought.)
Last week, I became depressed and a bit despondent, and I got the sense that resistance was futile to this New World Order, which was buttressed on the legalization of secrecy, opacity, unaccountability, and a perverse form of entitlement. Today, I began to perk up when I came across an article in which democracy was getting the upper hand, in a country which was exploring similar niche markets like ours, “Revamped citizenship scheme will require €1.15 million investment per applicant”, and a TedTalk by a former leader of the country where democracy originated, who succumbed to the “benevolent dictates” of the financial market: George Papandreou: Imagine a European democracy without borders
I then remembered that in the formative period of our Federation’s development, when the workers of our countries were politically suppressed by the minority plantar class as there were laws that prevented the formation of political parties, it was the Benevolent Associations and the Mutual Improvement Society (MIS) that helped mould the minds, hearts, soul and spirits of the founding fathers of our Nation, and that allowed us to boldly forge the path forward to Statehood and eventually Independence. And it was no other than Marcus Garvey, on our own soil, at the MIS who gave his prescient speech, where he called on us then, and still beckons us now, to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery and release ourselves from the prisons of our ignorance. (See Marcus Garvey visited St. Kitts).
Unfortunately, the elites of our land, be they political, financial, legal, and economic, are already conflicted and compromised, as they are already “captured” by this lucrative system as their livelihood is dependent on the status quo remaining. To challenge this “benevolent” dictatorship system, is like “cutting of the nose to spite the face.” So what do we do?
The only solution I can see at this point in time, is a grounded bottom-up approach where:
1) We first start at the foundation and get a better understanding of our environment (its carrying capacity, its sources and sinks), so that we can become better stewards of our water, land, air, and seas;
2) Then we continue next to better understand the needs of our people, and try to fulfil these needs, be it with respect to food, clothing, shelter, education, health, work and retirement;
3) So that we can actualise our full potentials by developing our mental capacities, to not only be able to read and write, but moreover, to think critically, empathise, and participate as engaged and responsible citizens, in building our families and communities, not only locally, but regionally and globally.
4) This can only occur if we take advantage of the information technology in our midst, our internet connectivity, along with the tools such as Google searches, blogs, Facebook, TED Talks, RSA Talks, (and maybe someday SKNList), which truth be told, are modern reincarnations of Benevolent Associations and Mutual Improvement Societies, to education ourselves and share our insights with others.
5) Then, and only then, will we be able with Full Confidence to usher in a Green Economy, where we will be able to apply our sovereignty to fashion our laws, that are diametrically opposed to the pie-in-the-sky top-down approach, that is no longer based on secrecy, opacity, lack of accountability, inequality, and shady governance issues, to one that is based on a grounded bottom-up approach that is now open, transparent, accountable, and has equity and good governance rules built in from the start.
We can still have Citizenship by Investment Programme, but this time, in the spirit of a just and righteous society built on rules of open engagement, I am sure there are many who would want to be part of this unique experiment to build a better life for themselves, their families, their communities and for those in the generations to come. Due diligence would no longer be an issue as those who aspire to be citizens of our nation, would be guided by a higher sense of purpose, responsibility and stewardship, and would have nothing to hide. There are many in the top echelons of society who are waking up to the realisation that the former “benevolent” top-down form of dictatorship is not sustainable and has done much harm in destroying the environment, our families, and our communities, and are willing to give the bottom-up approach a try. We can be the pioneer in the field, and as a nation, be the change we want to see in the world.
We have a unique opportunity in the coming year, to make this a living reality, where we have all the political parties coming together, putting aside their political differences, for the betterment of our nation. This is bigger than one man, one party, or one island. We should never forget that united we will stand, but divided we must fall, and any thought, word, action or deed that breeds division, that creates deception and is dishonest, that disenfranchises those who are governed from those who govern, is illegitimate, and is not in keeping with the message of Christ’s birth, who was called Jesus, who came “to save us from our sins”, and Immanuel, who reminded us that “God is always with us.” (Matthew 1:21-22)
May you and your family have a Merry Christmas and a bright and prosperous New Year, and may the Holy Spirit continue to guide and strengthen each one of us, as we endeavour to become better engaged, participatory citizens to help rebuild God’s Kingdom here on earth.
Peace and love.