RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

War: Our New Growth Industry

The transfer from dinars to dollars in Iraq makes the point of the Bush Wars clear: It isn't about weapons of mass destruction, or even about political change. It's about new markets. It's about replacing culture with industry.

Is anyone surprised? The industrial cultural formula has widened markets since men first tied sails to masts and masts to ships: (1) Build dependency on foreign products like foods, medicines, tobacco, oil. The foods were grains and spices 200 years ago, now replaced with soda pop and processed cheese; (2) Take the products away if the citizens can't pay, convincing governments that life can't go on without your industry; (3) If citizens become self-sufficient, target the movers and shakers; (4) Discredit the leaders and old-fashioned elders; (5) Bring in the military, using any excuse you can get people to believe in; (6) Destroy the evidence of the old culture. Take it away and replace it with industry. That's why the best collections of Egyptian art are in England and the best collections of Iraqi antiquity have disappeared.

Culture has deep roots in history and geography, our stories are stories of survival through wit and endurance. But the industrial culture replaces history and geography with dependency on transportation. Things we need, then, come from far away-who knows where? Rather than creating the things we need, we are dependent.

With a clean slate erased of culture, the conquerors can rebuild to suit themselves. This is how the industrial empire works, so, as we re-build Iraq, expect to see Starbuck's, Cargill, McDonald's, Coke and KFC logging substantial new growth, counted in dollars, in oil-rich countries. But don't expect that US citizens will profit. The resources used by these corporations are strictly third-world -- coffee from Africa, soybeans, beef, sugar, potatoes from South America. And, with our Bahamas-friendly tax-evasion policy, the corporate leaders are moving off-shore, too.

This is the WTO "free trade" plan, and it's working. As American producers struggle to compete, we sell our commodities at lower and lower prices, begging for tax subsidies to make up the difference. It's a race to the bottom.

There are only a few strategies that will help correct the problem. Unions must build international membership to bring wages up for the planet's poorest workers, the displaced, the helpless, the enslaved. And, environmentalists must convince governments that it's good business to force corporations to take on the expense of cleaning up after themselves. Since industry can ignore melting icecaps, insisting the weather hasn't changed, and ignore a dead zone the size of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico, convincing them to clean up will not come quickly.

Next, we need to elect good, smart people who are willing to sacrifice wealth and privacy for the public good. At present, intelligence isn't a criterion for winning public office. Corruptibility creates winners, however, so it's no surprise that governments are caving in to corporate bad-actors, encouraging the criminals to go from country to country seeking the lowest costs to do business.

On a global scale, we need the UN to rein in the WTO. Think that will happen? Don't hold your breath.

Investors can help, of course, by refusing to invest with these corporate criminals. The result of such investment should be clear by now -- Wall Street has tanked. Too many disgraced CEOs and too much shameful accounting shenanigans. There are alternatives. Look for companies building new energy sources, like wind farms or hydrogen fuel cells.

Or, you could invest in local businesses and local real estate. Put your money into things you can visit, with owners you can look in the eye. First, though, pull out of that 401K plan and pay off all debt. Debt is the blood of the corporate system, and it makes no sense to build up a big retirement account if you'll end up spending it on interest in your twilight years.

At bottom, though, changing the industrial system comes to consumer habits. As long as we patronize Starbuck's, McDonald's, Pepsi and the others, they'll thrive. They make it because we pay them. That's the bottom line, and no amount of protest or anger can derail their success.

So how do we drop out of this industrial quicksand? It ain't gonna be easy, but we've gotta start now.

Reducing consumption is the first step. That means ALL consumption. Walk to the neighbors rather than drive. Ride a bike to work. Mend the garden hoses rather than buying new ones. Use cloth napkins. Take shorter showers. Plant a garden. To calculate the resources you use, check out this website:

Avoiding logos is the next step, and after you get started it's ridiculously simple. Most restaurants and grocery stores buy from warehouses that bring foods from far away, so seek out restaurants and grocery stores that buy from local farms and processors. Check out

Quit patronizing sweatshops. Chances are you have neighbors who are out of work and could use some income. Do they have skills? Sewing? Knitting? I've been hiring friends to make jackets for me for years, and it's surprising how that little bit of work can bring hope and energy to someone who's job hunting. If you don't know anyone in that situation, ask at the fabric shop. They always have a list.

What's at stake? It's more than democracy. It's the future of life on the planet.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email:

Home Page

News | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2003 The Progressive Populist