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Letter to President George W. Bush
This is the open letter to President George W. Bush that was included in The Mind of a Fox and published just 3 months before 9/11:
Dear Mr President,
Congratulations on attaining the most powerful position in the world. However, like all other jobs, there are constraints on what you can do. We're not talking of the checks and balances written into the US Constitution limiting your power vis-a-vis Congress and the Supreme Court. We want to list some rules of the game for the world - rules which are pretty certain to operate during your presidency and which are beyond your control.
Let's start with the demographics. Basically, the world is divided into two camps. There are the 'rich old millions' - some 900 million to be more precise - who live in the developed world. We call them old because their birth rate has been declining, longevity has been increasing and a geriatric boom is underway. Immigrants, though, from the developing world provide a significant infusion of youth. This latter world consists of just over five billion people of whom nearly half reside in China and India. We classify them as the 'poor young billions'. Obviously, the split is not quite as simple as this as there are poor people in rich countries and rich people in poor countries. Nevertheless, for our purposes, this picture accurately serves as the first rule of the game. While you won't be able to change this picture much even if you serve two presidential terms, you can set in motion a process that begins to eradicate poverty quite significantly - probably the number one objective in the minds of most people with a conscience in the world today.
This, however, leads to the second rule of the game - globalisation. We now have more open markets than probably at any previous time in our history, but equally we have greater economic competition between nations. Competition implies winners and losers. The world economy is not exactly a zero-sum game because among the poor young billions have been some winners, notably Asian Tigers like South Korea and Taiwan and parts of China, India and South America. And among the losers are some countries who are there not because they've been driven to the wall by competition, but because they're miserably governed. Even so, it is not unsurprising that the main result of globalisation so far has been to confer the most benefits upon those who were the favourites in the first place. As they say, to the victors go the spoils and you were already a victor before anybody else had time to get out of the starting-blocks. In fact, America has done so well out of globalisation that it is fast becoming a one-horse race - Europe and Japan having dropped behind in the economic race and Russia in the arms race.
We don't want to be party-poopers and spoil your celebrations, particularly with talk now of a 'hard landing' in your economy; but we have an untenable state of affairs in light of the third rule of the game. We are one world and too many losers will ultimately bring you down along with everybody else. For good or ill, we are becoming more interdependent which means each of us has less control over our own destiny. Think of what would happen if the oil stopped flowing from the Middle East!
Unlike the 100 metre dash where nobody's performance is affected by anybody else's on the track, the world economy has to grow for America to continue growing. Your multinational companies and exports like Hollywood movies both increasingly rely on prosperous markets outside America. For America's foreign customers to be prosperous, they also have to produce and sell their goods and services at a profit to you and each other. While some (the rich) are doing this, the majority (the poor) aren't and now labour under the load of an international debt that they cannot repay. While you have a full-employment economy and can boast about it, most developing economies have a serious unemployment problem. They have no means of getting out of the quagmire as long as a significant amount of their budget goes towards repaying debt, and your world-class companies can outsmart and outmanoeuvre any fledgling industries they try to nurture. In short, we are a seriously dysfunctional global family with you at the head and the younger children in hock.
But being one family in one world, we have a new rule of the game that has crept up upon us over the last 50 years - global climate change. We have selected this phrase rather than global warming because there remains some uncertainty among the scientists as to the degree of warming that is taking place. The one thing that cannot be denied, however, is a rise in the frequency and scale of extreme events like droughts, floods, hailstorms and hurricanes as the global climate moves through a series of temporary states to a new equilibrium. These events also affect more people, given that the world population has doubled since 1962. If the evidence grows that the world is indeed warming up significantly and this can be linked to carbon emissions, guess who has to make the biggest sacrifice in bringing down fossil fuel consumption? - America! You have to lead the way instead of shifting the burden of change elsewhere. In this regard, your evident hostility to the Kyoto Protocol on global warming was not exactly helpful. Perhaps, in a few hundred years, people will look back at our energy profligacy with the same sense of disbelief that we entertain for our ancestors' attitude to slavery.
Yet another consequence of being one family multiplying on one Earth is the growing possibility of worldwide epidemics. We already have the phenomenon of HIV/AIDS. Although it appears to be no longer a threat to the rich old millions, it is still spreading among the poor young billions. You cannot have healthy economies with sick people: thus HIV/AIDS may stymie efforts to help the poor nations to catch up the rich. But don't relax. With urbanisation, migration and the mutation of bacteria and viruses into drug-resistant forms, an old-fashioned plague of some kind that will affect everyone is looming large; and the doctors' arsenal of antibiotics is looking desperately thin. It may be the animals the rich eat which do them in. Or it may be something as simple as a new strain of the good old staphylococcus aureus microbe, which up till now has been held in check by penicillin.
We would like to complete the rules to which you are subject on a positive note. The rapid spread of products spawned by the latest technological wave - cellphones, personal computers, the Internet and genetically engineered crops and medicines - has produced an unprecedented period of economic growth for some. Talk is of the 'new economy' and the 'long boom' if we can get through the current downturn. The challenge is to make these advances even more pervasive in the developing world and allow them to leapfrog over previous generations of technology. Adding further momentum to the process is the fact that values supportive of business and free enterprise have become more widespread. Governments are moving towards a pragmatic blend of ideologies: they are taking a pinch of this-ism and a pinch of that-ism, putting them into a pot and concocting a brew that works for them.
But what of possible surprises beyond your control? We call them key uncertainties. From your point of view, nuclear weapons landing up in the wrong hands must be at the top of the agenda. Proliferation means aggravation, and the knowledge to construct a nuclear device is now freely available on the Internet. So it's just a matter of time before somebody really nasty gathers the money, the materials and the engineering skills necessary to manufacture it. You only need one terrorist organisation to hold the rich old millions to ransom by planting a hidden nuclear bomb in the middle of city for everyone to realise that conventional military capability is useless against such a threat. An army can't find a needle in a haystack, let alone destroy it. Or it could be a rogue state which in secret develops nuclear-tipped rockets with sufficient range to reach a Western city. Incidentally, we haven't even mentioned the threat of the poor man's 'nuke' - biological and chemical weapons.
The other key uncertainty that we'd worry about - if we were you - is a general disintegration of world order caused by age-old motivations of greed, power and ethnic and religious hatred. The interventions that you've recently made to keep the peace in trouble spots around the world like Somalia and the Gulf have been costly; and, increasingly, parents don't want their sons to risk their lives and health on problems which have nothing to do with the United States. The hazards associated with exposure to depleted uranium have made the Europeans equally unenthusiastic. And the United Nations has neither the money nor the clout to take on the role of global cop.
So what are the scenarios that arise from these rules of the game and key uncertainties? We'll sketch two mainframe scenarios which for convenience are named 'Friendly Planet' and 'Gilded Cage'. In Friendly Planet the rich old millions resolve to find common ground with the poor young billions to eradicate poverty and disease, to tackle problems of the environment, to bring international criminal syndicates to justice and to root out dangerous terrorist organisations. All nations jointly agree to solve any problems which are a threat to world peace. It sounds terribly utopian but the alternative for the rich old millions is to hole themselves up in a Gilded Cage. That cage could be blown to smithereens at any moment by nuclear-armed terrorists or be gradually overwhelmed by millions of illegal immigrants slipping through the bars to escape anarchy elsewhere. The law of entropy will prevail as nations descend to a common low.
Now we come to the options inside your control as leader of the most powerful nation in the free world. You can either turn outwards and engage in a process of constructive dialogue with a representative sample of leaders from the developing world. This leads to a set of concrete action programmes by the rich old millions which do not involve handouts but the empowerment of poor people to help themselves. The emphasis is on small community initiatives which induce self-sufficiency and create small circles of responsibility and accountability, rather than grand, majestic projects which increase dependency and line a few pockets. The rich also level the playing field by getting rid of their tariffs and quotas on foodstuffs and other goods imported from the developing world. Even though the US has the power to do as it pleases - remember the story of the big gorilla sleeping where he wants to - enlightened self-interest dictates that the gorilla can't have it both ways on globalisation. We don't know whether you play golf but it's like the richest members of the club giving themselves a handicap but denying everyone else in the club the right to do so. Not only is it unfair, it is counterproductive to the health and spirit of the club.
The alternative and less favourable option is that you turn inwards and try to isolate yourself from the poor young billions by making the cage you live in impenetrable to outsiders; unless they are highly skilled in which case you allow them through the bars. We know that you belong to a party which has a tendency to go this route. But human ingenuity being what it is and necessity being the mother of invention, desperately poor people will always find ways of breaching your barricades. Furthermore, the reciprocal of an isolationist strategy is that Americans will become less and less welcome in the developing world as widespread resentment over the negative impacts of globalisation turns into fury. There are plenty of social activists already fanning the flames. American tourists are notoriously twitchy about security and will therefore increasingly confine themselves to home base. There's no fun in being taken hostage while on holiday.
If you want to make a big footprint on this Earth and go down as one of the great Presidents of the first century of the new millennium, think about the first option. Like the great social reformers of the late 19th Century reshaped industrialisation to give it a more human face, you have the chance of reshaping globalisation so that it brings more benefits to the poor young billions. It's your call, Mr President.
Two South African Foxes.