Since September 11th, life hasn't been the same. At the final count, I've lost 7 close friends and another 5 acquaintances. This has shaken me and I have felt a little helpless since. However, in my sorrow, I have found a new need for action. Beyond giving money, blood and supplies, I've been talking to people about what to do to avoid a repeat of those events. While I usually cover technology in this newsletter, I believe that the following is important because it does require technology but also goes beyond that. Here are my thoughts on how we might be able to eradicate terrorism in the long run.
Why did it happen?
Like many, I've been left to wonder why terrorism happens. Is it because of our lifestyle? Is it because they consider us "corrupt"? Is it because we are different? Or is international terrorism inherent to globalization?
As it stands, I've concluded that the best way to fight terrorism is to force people to question the motives of madmen like Osama Bin Ladin. How do you do this? By giving people support. By helping raise them out of poverty. By showing them that we are not barbarians. By showing them that our system can work for them. By showing them that we are tolerant and that our cherished freedoms are something we are willing to share.
A war on poverty
As a result, I am presenting a plan to eradicate terrorism by waging war on global poverty. It is not an easy fight. It is not one that is possible to win overnight. It is not a fight that will result in a better way of life for us. But it is a fight that will lower the chance of another terrorist attack. After all, it is easier to reason with a person who has something to lose than it is to do with a madman.
Compulsory Social Duty
The first step in fighting the war against poverty would be through the establishment of a social duty corp. Similar in nature to the American Peace Corps, this group would be built out of engineers, educators, doctors, lawyers, financiers, construction workers, etc, all jobs that are essential to the building of a capitalist society and of democracies. This duty would be for a period of two years, preferrably right after college. People dropping out of high school would have to join this service immediately. The only dispensiation that would exist for this program would be to join the military.
The goal of this army would be to build an economy within underdeveloped countries and transfer that knowledge to local people. The idea here is to start working as a force for change, helping develop an internal economic system and work on the establishment of democracies arount the world.
This army of good will would be a global force, and would get in a country at the invitation of the existing people or after agreement of the majority of U.N. members. The work period of those people would be divided into two parts: the first one would be one of education, before getting straight to work. Through that education work, one would be taught some rudiments related to customs, language, and general culture within the country. During the initial month of a new member's initiation, that training would represent a 7 days work-week. During the next two months, everyone would work on the front lines to help with feeding the hungry, and polish off some of the lessons learned in class with some real street training.
After that initial quarter, the trainee would be pointed to a work area, based on their skills. Lawyers would work with the local authorities on establishing legal frameworks for the country. Financiers would work on establishing and regulating financial transactions for new local businesses. Teachers would teach schools and recruit from the other groups to establish curriculae in business, political science, law, medicine, etc... Doctors would run hospitals. Electricians, building workers, etc... would work on establishing an infrastructure to allow all this to happen.
Each member would be shadowed by a local person and work on transfering their skills to that person. It would work, in a way, as a sponsor model. During that period, workers would also be hosted in the equivalent of dorms, where half the people would be natives and half would be coming from the outside.
One could decide to continue beyond their "tour of duty" and in exchange, would receive benefits similars to those in the military.
This "force" would be supported by the military to ensure their security.
Of course, this effort should take advantage of advances in technology. Since September 11th, some groups have organized great web sites to manage volunteers in the New York area. A similar effort could be put in place for the effort I'm describing. Using best of breed internet and intranet technology, we could develop some tools to help manage this effort and reduce redundancies. However, technological efforts in underdeveloped countries are not something that is as easy to do as it is in developed ones. For starters, there is no infrastructure to speak of: a lot of places have no electricity, no running water, no roads, and no phones. In order to use technology in those efforts, new infrastructure would have to be built. In the initial phase of the effort, these infrastructure would not exist. As a result, the development of irrigation systems, electrical supplies, and telecommunication supplies would have to be high on the list (but still below some even more basic needs like food and vaccination.)
In a way, the underdeveloped countries that would be the focus of this effort could become the launching pad for a number of new infrastructure, primarily wireless ones to overcome some of the heavier costs of installing a lot of copper or fiber optic cables in areas where such solutions could not survive harsh weather (tropical and desert countries) or where other forces of nature are at hand (mountains, heavy forests).
In terms of electrical supplies, we could look at "clean technologies" like solar power or wind power, which could help generate electricity in remote areas without having to develop national grids. In terms of telephony, wireless solutions could also help overcome obstacles. Water supplies, however, would probably have to be taken care of using the old fashioned way (big pipes) and we might want to look at the convenience of digging up multiuse cannals that would allow to not only distribute water but also pass on information through fiber-optics channels.
The one percent solution
The war on poverty is one that will take money and manpower. In order to raise money, I suggest the possibility of raising a tax of up to one percent on the top median of net worth in developed countries. As a result, a large amount of money would be raised in the developed world to create a global fund to eradicate poverty.
That money would not be sent directly to the country as hard currency but would be dealt out as supplies and as a way to pay for the effort. Only a small part of the money should go to paying for general adminstration of this program.
Other forms of payment
Currently, in parts of the western world, entires crops are destroyed to sustain global prices on food goods. Instead of destroying those goods, they should be shipped away as part of this global effort to end poverty.
Companies would also be able to distribute inventory of technology needed for this effort in exchange for some tax advantage. Using web technology, a list of needed supplies would be available over the web at all time and be updated in real-time. A new donation would be routed using such system and once the donation has reached its destination, it would disappear from the database.
Using a system similar to the ones used by FedEx and UPS, companies would be able to track their shipment all the way to its destination (all shipping costs would have to be incurred by the company and it would be fully tax deductible). They would also have access to a company account, which would list the goods they had sent, their value, the price of shipping, and other goods they could provide along the same line (for example, if a company sends out a million miles of fiber optic cables and there's a need for a million more, a request would pop up on their personalized screen.)
Using such a system, companies could decide what they need to donate, when they need to donate it, and see how much benefit they will get out of their donation.
What makes a developed country?
When I talk about developed country, I am talking about countries which have an economy that is sufficient to supply its residents with jobs, food, and shelter. It is an economy that either is rich enough for everyone to get an opportunity, or one that is rich enough to maintain a strong social net.
Eventually, the success of these operations will be measured by how many new developed countries are created.
Why do this?
It seems ridiculous to ask for an effort like this. After all, why should we care? Well, for starters, let's look at the Manhattan skyline. See anything missing? My point is simple, if we work to help people around the world develop systems that allow them to rebuild their country, restore their dignity, and allow them to become self-sufficient, they will not look to destroy us. For historical precedents, take a look at the Marshall Plan after World War II and see how Germany and Japan are now strong democratic and capitalistic society with no intent to bomb the U.S. They are now players because we all worked together to rebuild them. Let's do the same for the rest of the world.
The other advantage is that it will foster more understanding among nations. Once you've travelled to a foreign country and have been exposed to its culture, you become a more open person. It's that simple: reaching out to other people is opening your eyes to a new world of possibilities.
I am forwarding this concept to a number of politicians in the hope that one of them will consider it a possibility and may look into fleshing it out more. I've also set up a Yahoo Group for people who want to discuss this idea and flesh out the details as well as discuss efforts to move forward with rebuilding a better world in general.
I do realize there are a number of holes to be filled up and I hope you will join the conversation and help me feel them up. Together, we can all make a difference, and maybe, just maybe, the events of September 11th will be seen as the starting point of a new world, one where the world went through hell and came out stronger. It is my hope that together, we will do that.
As a side note, I started thinking about this and discussing it with a number of people after the attack and before we started to bomb Afghanistan. I don't know if the war will change the dynamics (the original name for this plan was "a Marshall plan without the war") but I dare hope that we will all come out of this OK.