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The Next System - Could a 'Marshall Plan' restore Baltimore?

Kweisi Mfume thinks so

"We've all been here in this planet, in this city, in this country and what frightens me not just what is happening here but the fact that there's so many places around this country that are teetering right at the brink because of the same neglect, because of the same distrust, the same structural problems. So we need a 'Marshall Plan'. We need something that will address the needs of urban America. Otherwise we're just sitting on a time bomb waiting for this to happen all over again."

Far away, at the heart of conspicuous wealth and privilege, it was the Lord Mayor of the City of London who said last year:

"If too many people remain or become marginalised, they are less likely to be enfranchised, empowered and effective as workers and citizens, rendering them unable to make an economic contribution at best, and resulting in civil unrest at worst. Everything a firm does from the very top to the very bottom should demonstrate on a daily basis our desire to see a stronger, better evolution of capitalism. "

Both resonated with what we'd argued in 2004, for a strategy to tackle poverty in the UK warning:

"The opportunity for poverty relief was identified not only as a moral imperative, but also as an increasingly pressing strategic imperative. People left to suffer and languish in poverty get one message very clearly: they are not important and do not matter. They are in effect told that they are disposable, expendable. Being left to suffer and die is, for the victim, little different than being done away with by more direct means. Poverty, especially where its harsher forms exist, puts people in self-defence mode, at which point the boundaries of civilization are crossed and we are back to the law of the jungle: kill or be killed. 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."

"Capitalism is the most powerful economic engine ever devised, yet it came up short with its classical, inherent profit-motive as being presumed to be the driving force. Under that presumption, all is good in the name of profit became the prevailing winds of international economies — thereby giving carte blanche to the notion that greed is good because it is what has driven capitalism. The 1996 paper merely took exception with the assumption that personal profit, greed, and the desire to amass as much money and property on a personal level as possible are inherent and therefore necessary aspects of any capitalist endeavour. While it is in fact very normal for that to be the case, it simply does not follow that it must be the case."

The man who wrote it, our founder had served on the steering group on Clinton's re-election committee where he developed his treatise on people--centered economics. I met him in Crimea in 2002, where he'd been working on an economic developmement proposal which said:

"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."

By the end of 2004, he was back in Ukraine working alongside civic activist and academics to deliver a ''Marshall Plan' for Ukraine which made this point about the approach needed:

"We see a staggering array of social problems arising directly from poverty, including but not limited to tens of thousands of children in orphanages or other state care; crime; disrespect for civil government because government cannot be felt or seen as civil for anyone left to suffer in poverty; young people prostituting themselves on the street; drug abuse to alleviate the aches and pains of the suffering that arises from poverty and misery; HIV/AIDS spreading like a plague amidst prostitution, unprotected sex, and drug abuse; more children being born into this mix and ending up in state care at further cost to the state; criminals coming from poverty backgrounds, ending up as bandits, returning to communities after prison, with few options except further criminal activity. "

A people first approach was proposed.

“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.”     

We are not alone in making the case for such bottom up innovation. I wrote recently of economist Gar Alperovitz and the question Tolstoy asked on observing the poor in Moscow during the 1998 census. What The Must We Do?   

Cooperatives Europe and Fair Trade UK have already joined forces on people-centered business

Dirk J. Lehnhoff, President of Cooperatives Europe, said: “Cooperatives and Fair Trade are established development actors with long-term oriented business models. By putting people’s needs first, we have proven to be able to respond to sustainable, economic and social needs. We support the Commission initiative announced in the Agenda for Change to work with local private actors and we believe that member-owned businesses, which benefit local communities, should be key partners”.

That didn't happen in Ukraine, of course. 

There are a lot of business leaders talking about a future capitalism. Why don't they put thier money where their mouths are?

"Allowing that some people do not matter, as things are turning out, allows that other people do not matter and those cracks are widening to swallow up more and more people.  Social enterprise is the first concerted effort in the Information Age to at least attempt to rectify that problem, if only because letting it get worse and worse threatens more and more of us.  Growing numbers of people are coming to understand that "them" might equal "me."  Call it compassion, or call it enlightened and increasingly impassioned self-interest.  Either way, we are all in this together, and we will each have to decide for ourselves what it means to ignore someone to death, or not."

What is social enterprise