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Repaying our debt to the poor

Since Issue No.7 we have been publishing Charles Gray's story of how he has lived within World Equity Budget (WEB), while being in the belly of the world's most consumerist society. In this, his parting word, he wishes to continue to live on his fair share but feels he should acknowledge and repay what can be repaid of the debt owed by the wealthy classes to the poor of the world.

By Charles Gray
As I write this concluding chapter I am into my twelfth year and Dorothy is beginning her ninth year of this effort to live within an equal share of a sustainable economy. We think we have demonstrated that it is possible if one gives that effort high priority.
As we have seen, the maldistribution of the world's income has become even more extreme and murderous. The reasons for changing our lifestyles have become ever more compelling. I think we have no choice but to do so, for continuing on the path of everything for me and nothing for my neighbour leaves our spirits sick and offers no hope to humanity. Once we overcome our fear and begin to act, the changes can be both exciting and joyful. Exciting and joyful not because they are free of pain, but because the pain is the birth pain of a new life, a more nonviolent and caring life, and a life that offers promise of healing our wounded community, our endangered planet.

So, we encourage others to move in similar directions, that has been the purpose of this report. I would hope that persons already on such a path or who are seeking such a path will begin to find one another and support one another and begin building a movement for a nonviolent economics.

There was a time when I believed that justice would be adequately served if each of us lived within an equal share of a sustainable economy. I no longer believe this is enough. It is an important and necessary step in the direction of justice, but it is not sufficient by itself. The WEB alone does not take into consideration the fact that we who are rich have been robbing the poor and we have been doing so since the dawn of classism. We have accumulated a debt over thousands ofyears. During many if perhaps not all of those thousands of years, the robbery has been ruthless and murderous, condemning the weaker of the poor and sometimes whole peoples to death by overwork, work related disease, conscription, enslavement and starvation.

None of these class-rooted institutions of violence and murder are absent in the present day. Even slavery is still with us in the form of forced labor and military conscription. Soldiers, disproportionately conscripted from the poor or recruited because the military are the employers of last resort, die on the battlefields for interests not their own. Unpaid forced labor in Guatemala contributes to the starvation of the Mayan children.

When classist institutions don't kill, they impoverish, denying the poor a fair wage for their work, participation in decision making, adequate food, shelter, health care, education and leisure, and destroying or threatening their dignity as human beings. Because the poor greatly outnumber the rich, the rich often initiate or manipulate racist, sexist and nationalistic attitudes to keep the poor divided into hostile sub-classes.

Our accumulated debt is beyond measure. It cannot possibly be paid. The children who have died of hunger cannot be given back to their families. The workers who have died of overwork and pesticide poisoning cannot be returned to their families, nor can Black or Brown or poor White soldiers who have died in the wars of the rich, mainly White elites.

We cannot repay the debt, but we can acknowledge it and take action in the direction of paying what can be paid. We can adopt the WEB as one step in ending the robbery and murder. We can then cut our expenditures significantly below the WEB and contribute the difference as reparations in the form of direct repayment to the Third and Fourth World poor and to the poorest in the rich nations. With such money we can also fund movements for liberation and social justice. We can donate our labour as well. We can do so by working beyond the hours required to sustain ourselves under the WEB. If these hours are spent in social justice efforts, the labor can be donated.

Remembering that the high wages we earn at the centers of the Empire are part of our privileged class status, we will need to find ways to allocate these funds and labor that incorporates the poor here and in the Third and Fourth Worlds into the planning and decision-making process. Otherwise we will continue to exercise more than our equal share of economic power. This is a major challenge requiring the building of international associations with the poor that do not presently exist. Small pilot efforts of this sort can be started that might serve as models. We hope to develop such a model in Central America. So we suggest that the second step toward a nonviolent economics is to personally and collectively repay that part of the debt which can be repaid. Justice demands this and
perhaps more of us.

Even as individuals we can begin experiments to learn how to repay what can be repaid As we struggle to develop collective institutions for this purpose, we can also take personal action. We can seek out the poor and ask their counsel and participation in the redistribution of what resources we can liberate. We can begin cutting our personal expenditures below the WEB and turning over what we can for repayment. We have taken a few tentative steps in this direction during the first eleven years of the WEB. At times we tithed or double tithed to support movement efforts or volunteered as close to full time as possible. In the Summer of 1987, after cutting our rent in half by building a shelter to live in, we began setting aside 15% of our budget for reparations. I hope we can increase this to 20% during 1989.

These are small beginnings. I feel that the challenge to start repaying that part of the debt that can be repaid will require much of all of us if we are to move farther along the path toward a nonviolent economics.

This is the final part of "Towards a Non-Violent Economics" (1989), by Charles Gray (out of print). We hear that Charles Gray is now writing a book. If we hear more we'll keep you informed.

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