What's the Score, Corporate Whore?

Matt Henry travels to the imaginary Island of Hiraeth to find out if global capitalism is really a good thing.

By Matt Henry

 
18 June, 1999 and anti-capitalist demonstrations are held in 27 cities worldwide. 30 November, 1999 and 100,000 people descend on Seattle to protest against the World Trade Organisation in what is the biggest protest in the US seen since the Vietnam War. 16 April, 2000 – anti-globalisation protestors greet the World Bank and IMF by closing down the US capital for six hours. 26 September, 2000 – 50,000 protestors expected to descend on Prague to protest against free trade and the Czech army are on standby. Meanwhile the WTO, IMF and World Bank are in PR overdrive, telling us all that global capitalism is to be the saviour of the third world. But what is global capitalism and is it really a good thing? Overload travels to the imaginary Island of Hiraeth to find out.

Once upon a time there was an old Welsh community living on the remote Island of Hiraeth. Every man or woman had a trade and worked and played when they pleased. There were butchers, bakers and even candlestick makers. A system of bartering made sure every member of the community was able to swap the necessities of life and surplus was stored to be traded with on the mainland in times of trouble. The community met monthly to air any grievances and every adult could vote to make decisions on community issues. Life was great, the sun always shone and everyone got on really well and smiled all the time. Well, not strictly true – the Williams' have not spoken to the Pugh's since Elwyn Pugh shot their lad in the head with a catapult made from knicker elastic. But other than this, life was pretty stress free. There was a school and a basic hospital and a thriving culture and, thanks to a moderate climate, no one went hungry or thirsty.

But… a sinister plot lurked in the mind of the island's budding evil genius – Suspicious Dave – who had developed fancy ideas from spending to much time on the mainland. 'Look comrades' said Dave to his fellow carpenters, 'It's silly all of us making chairs and tables and then all swapping them at different times. Why don't I do the trading and you three do the making. You know how good I am at wheeling and dealing on the mainland.' Yes they thought, Suspicious Dave is good at wheeling and dealing on the mainland. So Suspicious Dave took their surplus chairs and tables to exchange on the mainland and returned each time with a new Pokemon card. 'Look what we could have' he told Bob, Chris and John, 'if you all worked a bit harder. Just be patient and survive on what we exchange on the island and in two years we can go across to the mainland and complete the set.' Great, thought John, Chris and Bob, but where on earth did Suspicious Dave get that spanking new chainsaw?

One year passed and Chris, John and Bob were finding it difficult to make ends meet with just the income from the island. 'Lads, lads' said Suspicious Dave. 'We're just not making enough chairs to meet demand on the mainland. We're going to have to do some streamlining and divide our efforts.' 'So', says Suspicious Dave. 'Chris can do the felling. John can strip and section the wood and Bob can put all the chairs and tables together' said Dave. 'And I'll need you in 7 till 7 to get the work done – it's the only way we gonna catch 'em all.' One year on and the set was still not complete. Chris, John and Bob were beginning to get worried and were sick of doing the same job for 12 hours a day with no say on what happened to their produce. 'Fuck this for a game of soldiers. I'd rather be master of my own destiny than do crap jobs for a bunch of cards of furry animals.' They decided to break their promises to Suspicious Dave and tell the site community of their arrangement who immediately called a meeting. 'I had no choice' wailed Suspicious Dave as he broke down in sobs and told of his new addiction to material life. 'I've swapped the island with some gangsters for a Playstation and a hand blender. If we don't come up with £500,000 they're going to come over and kick us all off.' Those bastad swindling no good mainlanders.' yelled Pat the butcher. ' 'What will we do?' cried Nick the baker. 'Don't worry,' cried Suspicious Dave 'I've got a plan. I know a bunch of people called the International Monetary Fund who can lend us the money to pay off the men. We'll have to start selling all our produce on the mainland for cash. We'll can then pay off the IMF and make enough money to buy what we want', he said showing them an Argos catalogue. 'I'll do all the trading on the mainland. You know how good I am at wheeling and dealing on the mainland.' 'Hurrah for Suspicious Dave' the community cried, knowing how good he was at wheeling and dealing on the mainland.

But one year later and they'd only made £10,000, not even a tenth of the interest the IMF were now demanding on the loan and not the slightest sign of the pressure cooker, hoover and washing machine that were going to lead to the complete abolition of work. 'What's the problem?' the site community asked Suspicious Dave. Suspicious Dave told them all about competition and free trade. Everyone being their own boss in control of their own produce was, it turned out, not very efficient at all. 'We just can't compete' said Suspicious Dave. 'What will we do?' asked Jim the Plumber. 'Well', said Suspicious Dave, 'we're going to have to change the way we work. We can't all wander round making and doing things that we want in our own time. We're all going to have to start making chairs and tables.' And Suspicious Dave taught them all about the super-efficient techniques of assembly line production. 'The IMF have lent us some money to build a factory and have let our island join a club called the World Trade Organisaton.' Aren't they kind, cried the site community, hurrah for free trade and competition. 'And I'll need you all in from 7 till 7, and all the children.'

The factory was built but still the community could not pay back their debts. 'What's the problem?' Pat the Factory asked Dave. 'We're still not competitive enough' Suspicious Dave told her, rapidly losing control of his little scheme. 'The WTO have advised us that we need to streamline our public spending.' Word quickly got round that the hospitals and schools had to be closed – they were becoming a barrier to trade as everyone was needed in the factories. But Jim the Factory Worker asked Suspicious Dave why there was a WTO representative living on the island with a helicopter, a private jet, a mansion with a swimming pool and a fleet of Rollers, but the hospitals and schools had to be closed. So Suspicious Dave told them all about something called incentive. 'You think it's easy?' he said, 'flying round the world meeting with people to make sure our factory stays open while we just sit here glueing bits of furniture together. If he wasn't rewarded for his help there would be no incentive, the factory would close and we'd all starve to death.' Ahh, they thought. Why hadn't they thought about incentive?

A decade passed and sure enough the wealth from the richer countries had begun to filter through. The island had a telly and a satellite dish and could browse endless repeats of the Terry Wogan show for only £1.99 a month. Chris, John and Bob had clubbed together to buy a black and decker cordless drill from the man on the mainland who brought their post, who had also sold Nick an a la carte Kitchen for his kid's birthday. Trade at the factory was roaring and all were allowed a fifteen minute fag break and a free Cup-a-Soup. But one day, out of the blue, the machines stopped whirring, the lights went down and production of chairs and tables on the island of Hiraeth came to a stand still. 'Chairs and tables can be made cheaper elsewhere', Suspicious Dave informed the community, 'with the escalating price of oil, the transport costs from the island mean we are no longer economically viable. That's the risk you run in looking for a better quality of life.'

Bugger, thought the site community. The factory would have to close down and they'd all be out of jobs. Back to a system of self-sufficiency, subsistence farming and community-based exchange and not a power tool in sight. 'I don't think I can go back to such a poor quality of life' said Nick. 'I've saved £24.50' said Jim and 'I'm fucked if I'm going to forgo my set of Queen Mum place mats to go back to a load of old yoghurt-weaving.' The WTO, IMF and World Bank had raised their standard of living and there was no way back. 'All that shite about the world having more poor people than ever, with more than 80 countries having less per capita income than a decade ago' cried Pat, 'a load of old lefty bollocks.' 'Yeah' cried Jim, 'let's all fuck off to the mainland, I hear the streets are paved with gold.' And the population of Hiraeth lived happily ever after on the mainland in a life of drugs, gambling and child prostitution.
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