Martin Kirk
Published: Sunday 2 December 2012
The scale of inequality and poverty can appear overwhelming and unchangeable.

Changing the Rules

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The rules aren’t broken—they’re fixed.

They have created a social and economic system that does not work for the majority of the world’s people. The world’s 1,226 billionaires have more combined wealth than 3.5 billion people – half the entire planet’s population. The richest 10 percent of the world’s population takes 90 percent of the world’s income.  

The scale of inequality and poverty can appear overwhelming and unchangeable. Yet it is not inevitable. It is the result of conscious decisions by the people who make and enforce the rules we all live by – financial rules that create tax havens for the rich so they can extract wealth from countries with secrecy and impunity; land rights that allow governments to sell their citizens’ land from underneath their feet without consent or compensation; and trade rules that allow rich countries to sell their goods at subsidized rates while enforcing strict rules that prevent poor countries from competing in the global marketplace. These rules are made by people, and people can change them.

If we want to change rules that have been written by the few and for the few, we must look outside existing power structures to the power of the many. We know from history that when people demand their rights, they can move mountains and change whole systems.Right now, there is a special moment of opportunity. Throughout the world, citizens have access to information in ways once unimaginable. Affordable technologies are revolutionizing our ability to communicate with one another and act collectively.

The opportunities for new citizen-powered movements to become catalysts for change have never been greater than today. Powerful elites are losing the structural advantages they once enjoyed to maintain secrecy, restrict information, and even to suppress popular movements.

This month, we are launching a new platform called /The Rules to help mobilize ordinary citizens around the world to challenge and change the rules – the most basic drivers of inequality and poverty. We have a special focus on organizing with people and grassroots movements in countries such as Brazil, India, Kenya, and South Africa. We are creating new ways for people to speak up using simple, cheap technologies like basic mobile phones.The first campaign for /The Rules will target the system of tax havens, starting with one of the biggest all, the City of London. Tax havens are the product of rules that have been rigged by powerful corporations, lobbyists, lawyers, bankers, accountants, and government officials. They allow a tiny global elite to extract trillions of dollars from rich and poor countries alike, starving national treasuries and choking off funds essential for schools, medicines, social programs, and infrastructure.

New research has blown the lid on this secretive shadow economy, with at least $21 trillion estimated to have been stowed away in these tax havens – 10 percent of all the world’s privately held wealth. This is also more than 10 times the total value of development aid given to the world’s poorer nations in the past 20 years. The few who benefit from these rigged rules will fight long and hard to preserve them, but they can be defeated.

Rules express and entrench much of the injustice in our world today. But rules can be changed, and the opportunity to make those changes has never been greater. Instruments of power once monopolized by elites are now available to ordinary citizens – and we are beginning to use them. That gives us reason for hope. 



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ABOUT Martin Kirk

Martin Kirk is a contributor to Foreign Policy in focus.

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5 comments on "Changing the Rules"

anono

December 02, 2012 4:19pm

Who are these 1226? What are their names? How many governments, i.e. armies and nuclear weapons do they 'own'? Such things will be important because one or more of them has the perversion of need to declare themself "King Almighty Ruler of the World!". Which one will it be? There may be"hope", but will the change come before billions are reduced to eating rats in the street?

JSI

December 02, 2012 2:52pm

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Part II

Meaningful revolution begins at home. For those of us who live in the industrialized West and not the Third World . . .

A Declaration of Interdependence:

First: The very wealthy would have us all proudly bearing the attributes of a victim of the Stockholm Syndrome combined with those of the Beaten Wife.

Those of us who cannot stand it any more are often stopped in our tracks by the seeming impossibility of disengaging ourselves from our terrible and unwilling enmeshment in the gears of the Greedhead Machine.

I’ll offer four starting points:

Diversified, Decentralized, Decontaminated, and Debt-Free

Diversify your skills and knowledge base to include such things as gardening, woodworking, metal smithing, shoemaking, literacy, etc., . . . all the old, lost skills.

Decentralize your dependence on fiat currency and all that it buys you (which is very nearly everything). Divorce yourself from the mainline political process (your energy is finite and better spent elsewhere). Decentralize your indebtedness to the Man both financially and psychologically. Almost anyone can declare bankruptcy (the financial side); almost nobody remains out of debt thereafter (the psychological). Boycott absolutely the products of multinational businesses, whether they are shirts from China or automobiles from Japan or AK-47’s from Russia or Treasury Bills from the U.S.

Decontaminate your life, especially from the petroleum based product chain, big pharma, GMO’s and the various aspects of electronic virtual living (television, video games, most aspects of the internet).

The goal here is not to become a self-sufficient island of one, but a self-reliant member of a self-sustaining community.

To fall out of grace with the Church of the Holy Materialism is to fall into grace with your own life and times.

That ought to do for a start.

JSI

diamonddeb

December 02, 2012 2:43pm

Here's from the back of my Holiday letter:

Seriously, this New Year, we consumers DO have clout!

Join groups like www.350.org, www.nationofchange.org, www.foodandwaterwatch.org, www.publiccitizen.org, www.movetoamend.org to learn which oil companies, media outlets, genetically-modified food producers, energy corporations, manufacturers are working against the public good!

Distributors of products Made-In-China (polluting electronics practices, unregulated pet food, forced abortions) can be quickly told of our displeasure with a brief call or email to their Customer Service/Executive Offices (i.e. Wal-Mart 800-925-6278 / info@wal-mart.com).

Even if we do not entirely boycott their products, we will be heard! These corporations are spending $millions in advertising dollars and KNOW that even a few dissatisfied customers can do untold damage to their product sales!

Then, divest your stocks of corporations not doing the right thing – or easier still, just tell your employer/stock broker of your desire to do so. That could be all that is needed!

We really CAN do so much with so little, but it is time to stop playing the monopoly game their way. Vote with our dollars and sense when American elections can be bought with consumer money! Our "election" has just begun!

www.350.org Oct 31, 2012 Tell Polluters: Pay For Sandy Relief, Not Climate Chaos - Deb responded after election 11/23/12:
Post-election, do you realize how many $millions you WASTED on this election between advertising* and "investing" in politicians, elections, pundits and capital costs for more of the same dirty fuels...all could and should have gone into changing your business model to wind, solar, geothermal, energy efficiency, building American infrastructure to include high-speed rail and highways with eco-friendly underpasses, "green" communities, hybrid vehicles, even oil/gas/coal-inflicted disaster reconstruction!

Restructuring and rebuilding would EARN YOU HONEST MONEY instead of destroying the only home any of us has with more pollution! Sounds like addictive thinking to me and addictions are suicidal, not profitable!

We, the American PEOPLE, are beginning to see through you and are in the process of divesting and boycotting ourselves of your products so you are throwing everything away for what? A little more short-term profit as the planet burns and a few people continue to be deceived?

Please share this with your Executives, Board of Directors and Shareholders.

Hopefully for all of us, most real people in your corporation are sane and humane enough to terminate unprofitable and deadly "business-as-usual." (Corporations are NOT people www.storyofcitizensunited.org )

Sincerely, Deb
*At least 50% of each media outlet is telling the truth - the only problem is which 50%? Of course any thinking person can tell their motives when their advertisers are no-such thing as "clean" coal, Exxonmobil supporting "education" and teachers based on their propaganda, BP promoting their oil-slicked Gulf of Mexico and even natural gas from Shell obtained by the dangerous and unnatural process of water, air and land pollution known as "fracking."

Since their cut in public funds, even NPR is now being sponsored by America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA).

My husband I laughed during the past legislative-buying season when CNN told the TRUTH:
"CNN, 2012 Election, brought to you by.......Exxonmobil!"

This is fun. FYI- We have quit State Farm Insurance after 25 years (cried with my agent) because they continue to be members of A L E C, (Am Legislative Exec Council writing far-right corporate laws to disenfranchise voters, Stand Your Ground, etc Be sure too Google United States of ALEC).

We don’t buy gas from Exxon (Valdez), Shell (Nigeria killers), BP (Gulf spill) or any organization connected with Halliburton (exempted by Cheney from Clean Water Act to frack us all).

I leave little notes in stores selling billionaire polluter Koch Brothers products like Dixie, Angel Soft, Brawny, Great Northern (Georgia Pacific), Lycra, Stainmaster (in fact Google it, there is an app for people who want to do the same!)

I find out which corporations are wasting their money on politicians like Romney, - for instance, I called Citibank and very nicely told the customer service gal of my concern and boycott for their waste of money on buying campaigns- she agreed with me!

Hey, I figured out why Grover Norquist oily lobbyist has so much power! He TOLD me himself on TV news the other day when he complained about Rep Peter King reneging on his 20-year old commitment not to raise taxes: Old Grover said it was like not keeping your commitment to pay your mortgage! The FACT is these Republicans ARE mortgaged to Grover and his corporate cronies by the fact that they will never get enough money in the primaries to run for office unless they sign their souls over to him!

I tell my Congress critters WE KNOW and will not tolerate their bad behavior. Reform campaign finance!

Corporations are not people. Money is not free speech. www.Movetoamend.org for government of the PEOPLE!

lakesguypaul

December 02, 2012 1:56pm

The reason i love this publication is you get the truth about what is really going on in our government. I was absolutely shocked that being from Ohio where the Auto industry is king, that not one mention was made in any newspaper or news program about Mitt and Ann Romney,s secret purchase of Delphi auto parts group purchase and the UAW charges against them. I think if we could get your publication somehow to the masses that would make a huge difference to get people to realize what is really going on. Most people i talk to have never heard of this Nation of Change and i try to educate them and show them what your all about.The wealthy only fear one thing and that is the uninformed being educated and really knowing what there up to and how it affects the rest of us. I would also like to see the lobbyist and there billion dollar industry that writes our laws now and only supports the elected officials they pick and choose to get what the want for the selected few like the Koch brothers and others run out of town and made illegal to even be a part of our government. there is no more for the people by the people.now it is for the rich by the rich. It really is a time for a NATION OF CHANGE!!!

Rebel with a Cause

December 02, 2012 12:23pm

Can't wait!
Yes, let's all get together on this and take back what rightfully belongs to everyone.
We've all been robbed for too long. Remember the song? I've been down so goddam long, it looks like up to me! Jim Morrison.
This is the situation we're in, folks. We believed that it would always be this way, no one could change it. In fact, not many know how it actually works, this rigged system. I certainly don't.
But while the economy was growing most people probably didn't care much, as long as they were allright. Now that the rich are really starting to squeeze money out of the formerly reasonably well off, the alarm bells are ringing. But they've been doing it to the poorest for longer than anyone can remember. It's becoming more and more clear that we really are all in the same boat, poor and not so poor. It's all being controlled by the rich, for the rich. So yes, let's change the rules, in fact, do away with the present system altogether and start afresh.
Civil disobedience, internet actions, protest marches, strikes will all help but what if we could just shut them out, those obscenely rich, by starting a new currency based on fair exchange. and simply not use the existing currencies anymore, make them obsolete. I wonder if that would be possible...