Living wages and the US Presidentwho challenged global poverty

This story really begins ten years ago with a homeless man’s fast for a living wage. The story of how a UK based social enterprise ‘nudged’ US politicians over economic and social rights.

Regrettably it’s one of those ‘how it could have been’ stories. The man who might now be US President was John Edwards, senator for North Carolina. In July 2007, a year before the economic crisis, the Center for Global Development wrote:

“John Edwards believes that the United States must be a global leader in the fight against poverty. Solving global poverty is a moral imperative, but it is also a security issue. Global poverty increases the risk to America by providing a safe harbor for instability, extremism, and terrorism. Edwards’ strategy against global poverty will require every weapon in our national security arsenal. For the last six years, too many burdens have been placed on the Department of Defense–not because it has asked for this mission or is the best suited to handle these challenges, but because it has been the most capable and well-funded national security institution.

As president, John Edwards will fundamentally transform America’s approach to the world. He will bring high-level attention to help people in three priority areas: primary education, preventive health, and greater economic and political opportunity.”

As most know, John Edwards fell from grace following revelations of his extra marital relationship and efforts to conceal it.

There is however another story in the background. A story known only to Edwards and myself , an Englishman.

He’d also stood for the Vice Presidency in 2004, when I fowarded a letter from colleague and friend Terry Hallman who by then was operating out of Ukraine, on our own efforts to tackle poverty. Terry Hallman’s letter drew attention to tax avoidance, spending on the war in Iraq and a new economic paradigm which depended on American people.

A year earlier Terry had been in Chapel Hill North Carolina where he had been on hunger strike for several weeks in a campaign for US government to ratify the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. After returning from work in Russia to tackle poverty, he was jobless homeless and partially disabled.He asked me to forward progress reports to John Edwards, who he informed me, he had been nudging about international policy for several years.

Observing the deteriation in his thinking and writing I offered Terry an exit strategy which would lead us to working together. The relevance of John Edwards stand against global poverty may be found in a proposal we distributed in 2004 and this extract:

“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.”

“Along the way, all employees of P-CED are to be paid at minimum a wage sufficient to guarantee a decent standard of living in accordance with the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The fundamental policy guide for P-CED is the International Bill of Human Rights. IBHR is comprised of Universal Declaration of Human Rights; International Covenant of Civil and Politial Rights, and International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. P-CED’s main focus falls within sphere the economic, social and cultural rights, ICESCR.”

The proposal referred back to a paper written in 1996, drawing attention to the same risks, for the steering group of the Commiitee to Re-elect President Clinton

In 2003, drawing attentiion to the relationship between poverty and terrorism, in a proposal for Crimea’s Tatar community , US government were advised.

“Once a nation or government puts people in the position of defending their own lives, or that of family and friends, and they all will die if they do nothing about it, at that point all laws, social contracts and covenants end. Laws, social contracts and covenants define civilization. Without them, there is no civilization at all, there is only the law of the jungle: kill, or be killed. This is where we started, tens of thousands of years ago.

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.”

it concluded:

“Just as the US now heavily uses smart bombs in warfare, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the equivalent is needed in aid efforts. It is not enough to spend, say, US$ 7 million dollars for five Tomahawk cruise missiles and then spend a fraction of that amount in building a peaceful community which does not merit targeting by missiles. Yet, that is what we have in this case.”

Though John Edwards was to admit he’d been dishonest with the American people, I’ve often wondered just how much of a threat he might have been to vested economic interests and competitors.

In 2005, Edwards launched the Center on Poverty Work and Opportunity on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill and last year the same campus would launch a social business centre endorsed by Muhammad Yunus.

The theme of spending in Iraq carries foward to efforts in Ukraine where in a ‘Marshall Plan’ proposal, we weigh the weekly cost against that of a social investment fund to tackle poverty.

“It is proposed that the United States of America be actively engaged in supporting this project, financially and any other way possible. Ukraine has clearly demonstrated common will for democracy. Ukraine has also unilaterally taken the first critical step to fulfill this program, thus clearly demonstrating initiative and commitment to participation required in the original Marshall Plan sixty years ago. The US side is presumably attempting to foster democracy in another country, which never expressed much interest and shows little real interest now. That of course is Iraq, where recent estimates indicate a cost of $1.5 billion per week.

That same amount of money, spread over five years instead of one week, would more than cover the investment cost of the initial components of this project, and allow a reserve fund for creating new projects as Ukraine’s intelligentsia invents them in the Center for Social Enterprise. It is proposed that Ukraine and the US provide equal portions of this amount. Ukraine is certainly able to provide that level of funding, given that projects are designed with the same fiscal discipline employed in the traditional business sector. That means they pay for themselves, one way or another.

Project funding should be placed as a social-benefit fund under oversight of an independent board of directors, particularly including representatives from grassroots level Ukraine citizens action groups, networks, and human rights leaders. ”

When John Edwards addressed the Council on Foreign Relations in his May 2007 speech, he said:

“The core of this presidency has been a political doctrine that George Bush calls the “Global War on Terror.” He has used this doctrine like a sledgehammer to justify the worst abuses and biggest mistakes of his administration, from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, to the war in Iraq. The worst thing about the Global War on Terror approach is that it has backfired — our military has been strained to the breaking point and the threat from terrorism has grown.

We need a post-Bush, post-9/11, post-Iraq American military that is mission-focused on protecting Americans from 21st century threats, not misused for discredited ideological pursuits. We need to recognize that we have far more powerful weapons available to us than just bombs, and we need to bring them to bear. We need to reengage the world with the full weight of our moral leadership.

What we need is not more slogans but a comprehensive strategy to deal with the complex challenge of both delivering justice and being just. Not hard power. Not soft power. Smart power.”

The following month Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye launched the Smart Power Initiative at The Center for Stategic and International Studies,

In a follow up communcation to USAID and the Council on Foreign Relations, Terry draws attention to the proposal and the R.I.C.O activities we and others have been exposing, including the trade in aborted foetuses. Notably Barack Obama and Joe Biden are serving on the Council at the time.

“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?”

Before he died, Terry informed me that his efforts to assist in a proposal for fundamental science education in 2007 had entered the US circuit via Obama.

By October 2008, the economic crisis had arrived in the United States and this time Barack Obama was standing for the presidency. I noted this announcement for his campaign:

“The second thing I’ll do is invest in ideas that can help us meet our common challenges, because more often than not the next great social innovation won’t be generated by the government.”

An article in Skoll Social Edge noted

“With these words, candidate Obama promised to create a Social Entrepreneurship Agency within the Corporation for National and Community Service. He proposed $3.5 billion a year for social investment, paid for by ending the war in Iraq and eliminating corporate tax loopholes.”

it didn’t happen that way. Instead a Social Innovation Fund of $100 million was made available to “experienced grantmaking intermediaries” and two years later Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring were a clear demonstration that the policy wasn’t adequate.

The UK followed this top down rather than bottom up social investment approach through intermediaries with Big Society Capital whereas in Northern Ireland there was apparently greater insight into the needs of grassroots investment, with their Social Investment Fund

Barack Obama now campaigns for a living wage,

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