The Global Citizen is a joint project of New Voices and the American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Throughout the year, a group of former AJWS volunteers will offer their take on global justice, Judaism, and international development. Opinions expressed by Global Citizen bloggers do not necessarily represent AJWS.
John Perkins held a job covertly called being an Economic Hit Man (EHM) at Chas. T. Main, Inc. (MAIN) from 1971 to 1980. Perkins succinctly defines EHMs as â€œhighly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars.â€ MAIN is a privately-held company who essentially works for the Corporatocracy (a term he uses for corporations, banks, and governments), but lies outside the international governance regulations due to their private status. Perkins would travel all over the developing world, composing economic forecasts indicating the economic boom that would take place if the country in question were to build the infrastructures necessary for development. These projects, such as new highways, electricity grids, pipes, roads, and airports, would be built through U.S. companies and would be funded by loans. Hence, developing countries would be convinced (or perhaps, bullied) into taking loans from the developed world and funneling this money back into developed-world companies. Then EHMs would ensure the countries sink deeper and deeper into debt so that the U.S. could leverage them for anything from oil to UN votes.
Years after his conscience told him to quit, Perkins wrote a tell-all, courageous book entitled â€œConfessions of an Economic Hit Manâ€ about his life and experiences. Through the lens of his role, he also narrates the larger U.S. shift in the post-World War II world from a republic to an empire. He describes his former job as follows: â€œThe unspoken aspect of every one of these projects was that they were intended to create large profits for the contractors, and to make a handful of wealthy and influential families in the receiving countries very happy, while assuring the long-term financial dependence and therefore the political loyalty of governments around the world. The larger the loan, the better. The fact that the debt burden placed on the country would deprive its poorest citizens of health, education, and other social services for decades to come was not taken into consideration.â€
The growing debt in developing countries, and the efforts to keep it that way, is one of the largest obstacles to food, potable water, shelter, education, and other basic humans rights around the world. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in these countries benefits a few families and developed nations, while the debt they generate burden and further suffocate majority of the population.
Forgiving debts is an integral part of Jewish tradition, and in view of the moral ramifications of a world without this reality, I am unsurprised. Looking at the Jewish yearly cycles, there is Shmeta every seven years, a year in which the land of Israel lies fallow and all crops are free for all to take, and then there is a Jubilee every 50 years, in which all debts are forgiven and all personal property (primarily land) is restored to its original owner. Any unpaid loans are null and void, and everyone has a clean slate. Although debates and laws about fairness towards lenders abound, at the heart of the Jubilee is an important concept currently lost on the modern world. However, there is an organization that this concept it not lost on, and you guess itâ€”itâ€™s called Jubilee.
Jubilee is an interfaith, international movement to forgive third world debt; their domestic branch is the Jubilee USA Network. I first heard about this network in the book â€œThe Year of Living Biblically,â€ by A.J. Jacobs.Â In it he writes, â€œBack in the 1990s, two British Evangelists named Martin Dent and Bill Peters has an epiphany: They made the connection between the Bibleâ€™s Jubilee concept and the third-world debt crisesâ€¦The Jubilee movement they started has resulted in massive cancellations of debt by England, France, the U.S., and others.â€ And of course, the movement â€œgot a huge publicity boost when Bono and his sunglasses joined the cause.â€
Forgiving the debt is important, to be sure, but it is also the symptom of a larger problem that requires addressing in its own right; the global web of corruption implemented by the Corporatocracy. To combat this web, Peter Eigen founded Transparency International to end international corruption by exposing it. Thus, they have composed their own definition for corruption: â€œCorruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It hurts everyone whose life, livelihood or happiness depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority.â€ For the full explanation of how Eigen came to this definition and to build TI, listen to his talk at a TedX Berlin conference about his life and work thus far.Â In his bio on TED.com it states, â€œStunned by the depth and pervasiveness — and sheer destructiveness — of the corruption he [Perkins] encountered, he formed the group Transparency International to take on some of the main players in deals with corrupt officials: multinational corporations.â€
Corporatocracy, EHMs, third world debt, and lack of transparency are tremendous obstacles in achieving human rights for all the worldâ€™s citizens. If every individual and entity practiced the values inherent in Shmeta and the Jubilee, perhaps the world would not be in the state it is today. To me, these yearly cycles represent fighting our internal inclination towards greed and recognizing our worldly assets arenâ€™t truly ours. By practicing debt forgiveness and the sharing of crops, people learn not to cling too tightly to material gains or their importance. These traits, which seem to be the keys in the likes of Jubilee and Transparency International, may also the gateway towards human rights for all.