Peace is our Business

“Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Peace is our business was the title of a blog I wrote several years ago about the efforts of my colleague and friend, Terry Hallman who authored a ‘Marshall Plan’ for Ukraine. In Kharkiv, part of his effort had been helping a group of physicists leverage US investment to turn a weapons research lab into an education centre.

“We research and design microeconomic strategy programs targeting poverty and childcare reform. To date these have been ‘soft power’ initiatives in Eastern Europe aimed at demonstrating the spirit of friendship and compassion to promote peace between nations. In this regard we consider that Peace Is Our Business.”

Fot Terry, some years before we met, it began with his position paper for Bill Clinton’s re-election committee in 1996, where he questioned the purpose of business.

“At first glance, it might seem redundant to emphasize people as the central focus of economics. After all, isn’t the purpose of economics, as well as business, people? Aren’t people automatically the central focus of business and economic activities? Yes and no.

“People certainly gain and benefit, but the rub is: which people? More than a billion children, women, and men on this planet suffer from hunger. It is a travesty that this is the case, a blight upon us all as a global social group. Perhaps an even greater travesty is that it does not have to be this way; the problems of human suffering on such a massive scale are not unsolvable. If a few businesses were conducted only slightly differently, much of the misery and suffering as we now know it could be eliminated. This is where the concept of a “people-centered” economics system comes in.”

It would warn Clinton of the risk of uprisings by those disenfranchised.

“By leaving people in poverty, at risk of their lives due to lack of basic living essentials, we have stepped across the boundary of civilization. We have conceded that these people do not matter, are not important. Allowing them to starve to death, freeze to death, die from deprivation, or simply shooting them, is in the end exactly the same thing. Inflicting or allowing poverty on a group of people or an entire country is a formula for disaster.”

This led him on to Russia in 1999, to source what became known as the Tomsk Regional Initiative, an experimental program to tackle poverty.

Tomsk and the adjoining secret city of Seversk had been a Cold War target, a nuclear stockpile. In 1999, with Russia facing an economic crisis he warned Clinton that we had no manual to deal with the collapse of Russia.

Crimea’s repatriated Tatars had been his next focus. A Muslim group at risk of being provoked into violence:

“By leaving people in poverty, at risk of their lives due to lack of basic living essentials, we have stepped across the boundary of civilization. We have conceded that these people do not matter, are not important. Allowing them to starve to death, freeze to death, die from deprivation, or simply shooting them, is in the end exactly the same thing. Inflicting or allowing poverty on a group of people or an entire country is a formula for disaster.

“These points were made to the President of the United States near the end of 1996. They were heard, appreciated and acted upon, but unfortunately, were not able to be addressed fully and quickly due primarily to political inertia. By way of September 11, 2001 attacks on the US out of Afghanistan — on which the US and the former Soviet Union both inflicted havoc, destruction, and certainly poverty — I rest my case. The tragedy was proof of all I warned about, but, was no more tragedy than that left behind to a people in an far corner of the world whom we thought did not matter and whom we thought were less important than ourselves. We were wrong “

His fast for economic rights in 2003, would lead to me inviting him to London where in 2004 he put forward a business plan to tackle poverty in the UK, warning:

“While the vast majority of people in poverty suffer quietly and with little protest, it is not safe to assume that everyone will react the same way. When in defence of family and friends, it is completely predictable that it should be only a matter of time until uprisings become sufficient to imperil an entire nation or region of the world. People with nothing have nothing to lose. Poverty was therefore deemed not only a moral catastrophe but also a time bomb waiting to explode.”

By the end of 2004, he’d arrived in Ukraine as a peaceful revolution was beginning. It was not without interference from US interests in the form of ‘economic hit men’ intent on grabbing state assets in return for international loans. Meanwhile oligarchs continued to asset strip the country:

“Elimination of graft and corruption, and raising the overall standard of living for ALL Ukrainians rather than a few insanely greedy oligarch clans, was the main underlying and implied reason for the Orange Revolution — at least from hundreds of people, activists and otherwise, I talked with on the ground during and after the Revolution. Further, as director for any sort of peace institute, Mr. Aslund is obliged to review the connection between poverty and peace. Peace does not and cannot exist for people in poverty, unless they are harshly suppressed by government or other forces. Poverty is a horrible existence and lifestyle, and is bound to breed violence, not peace.”

In 2006, we learned from a visiting NGO of the plight of Ukraine’s “economic orphans” , prompting the ‘Death Camps, for Children’ series on Maidan’s web site.

“Underlying the problem with orphans and children assigned to state institutional care is one main, common factor, which is poverty. Many of these children are in orphanages and similar institutions because their families cannot afford to care for them. (See extensive research from Every Child, cited in prior updates above.) Every Child suggests that as many as 90% of children might be returned to their birth families, if their families receive state support. That support amounts to less than the cost of keeping children in state care. Of all other options available, be it foster care, in-country adoption, or family-like group homes, state care is worst for children and most expensive. ANYthing else is less expensive, and almost always better for the children. Returning children to their birth families would appear to be the first, best option, even ahead of group homes. But, readjustment to home family life may very well be an issue. In that case, getting children into small, family-like group homes may indeed remain to first, best solution. From there, as they adjust to more normal life outside orphanages, they might transition on to their birth families, foster families, or adoptive families, if transition back to birth families aren’t immediately feasible. If transition onward to any of those options are not possible — dysfunctional birth family, no birth family, not enough foster families, not enough adoptive families — small group homes are far better than warehouses (orphanages/internats/state institutions) and pose a healthier and lower costs long-term solution.”

The ‘Marshall Plan’ proposal was finally delivered in February 2007 and published in August in a prominent web journal, concluding:

“This is a long-term permanently sustainable program, the basis for “people-centered” economic development. Core focus is always on people and their needs, with neediest people having first priority — as contrasted with the eternal chase for financial profit and numbers where people, social benefit, and human well-being are often and routinely overlooked or ignored altogether. This is in keeping with the fundamental objectives of Marshall Plan: policy aimed at hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. This is a bottom-up approach, starting with Ukraine’s poorest and most desperate citizens, rather than a “top-down” approach that might not ever benefit them. They cannot wait, particularly children. Impedance by anyone or any group of people constitutes precisely what the original Marshall Plan was dedicated to opposing. Those who suffer most, and those in greatest need, must be helped first — not secondarily, along the way or by the way.”

In February 2008, we followed up with a letter to USAID and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. It ended:

“Thank you for your time and attention to this. I and others will look forward to hearing from you. I hope we continue to realize ever more fully that outside the box and inside the box have only a box in the way. We outside the box know quite a bit of what’s going on, many times in exquisite detail, perhaps in ways that those inside the box can’t quite as easily access if at all. We are grossly underfunded in favor of missiles, bombs, and ordnance, which is about 100% backwards. Now, with even the US Pentagon stating that they’ve learned their lesson in Iraq and realize (so says top US general in Iraq ten days or so ago) that winning hearts and minds is the best option, I and others shall continue to think positive and look for aid budgets and funding spigots to be opened much more for people and NGOs in silos, foxholes and trenches, insisting on better than ordnance, and who understand things and how to fix them. We can do that. We can even do it cost-effectively and with far better efficiency than the ordnance route. Welcome to our brave new world. Except it’s not so new: learn to love and respect each other first, especially the weakest, most defenseless, most voiceless among us, then figure out the rest. There aren’t other more important things to do first. This message has been around for at least two thousand years. How difficult is it for us to understand?”

Terry was one of 50 million American without health insurance and in 2011 his body was found by a Maidan leader, who commended his commitment:

“The author of breakthru report “Death camps for children” Terry Hallman suddenly died of grave disease on Aug 18 2011. On his death bed he was speaking only of his mission — rescuing of these unlucky kids. His dream was to get them new homes filled with care and love. His quest would be continued as he wished.”

Conflict arrived in 2014, in spite of all these efforts and the same Maidan leaders appealed for assistance from the EU. I forwarded to my MEPs. It included their request for a ‘Marshall Plan’ which by then had been called for several other groups.

“Support political reforms and economic development: When the new government is in place, support Ukraine financially to get on a path of sustainable economic revival. A kind of „Marshall Plan“, can bring long-term economic benefits to Ukraine and save it from otherwise imminent long-term default.”

It wasn’t to be.

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Jeff Mowatt

Putting people above profit, a profit-for-purpose business #socent #poverty #compassion #peoplecentered #humaneconomy