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"Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" John 8:31

The Islands of Back-to-front Economics

by Jeremy Lee
The recent ASEAN Conference in Jakarta was notable for three things: firstly, the swan-song of the controversial Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Muhamed; secondly, for the absence of Australia, whose credentials as an Asian nation are not universally recognized; and thirdly, for the polite rejection of an invitation to attend by the mid-Pacific Repletion Islands

The first two received a welter of publicity. The last, which mystified and confused those attending, gained little publicity in the world's media.
The Repletion Islands lie slightly south of the Equator, and are among the lesser-known parts of the world. They consist of the two adjacent islands of Bliss and Felicity, with a few nearby coral atolls and reefs. Some of the early Pacific explorers evidently called in, and were entranced by the atmosphere. Somerset Maugham, apparently, set one of his novels in the Repletion Islands, but it was never published.

Helping hand
Fearing that Repletion might be languishing in a state of Third World poverty, ASEAN leaders resolved to send a prominent official of the Asian Development Bank, Dr Lok Detin, to assess the situation in Repletion, and offer financial assistance in bringing the Islands into the 21st Century.
There being neither a regular shipping route, nor aircraft landing strip, Dr Lok traveled in an elderly Catalina sea-plane belonging to Garuda. He was met by a smart-looking launch, and escorted to a comfortable bungalow at the end of a long jetty, which he was told was the residence of the Governing Chief.

It was a picturesque place, he had to admit. Colourful houses dotted the foreshore, and climbed the slopes surrounding the bay. He saw hills rising in rolling downs towards a range of high mountains some 30 miles away. He could hear singing from a number of directions, and considerable numbers of men, women and children thronged the beaches and paddled in canoes along the shore. Graceful boats with triangular sails were obviously fishing a little further out.

Down to business
Dr Lok Detin wasted no time and immediately got down to business. His first shrewd appraisal revealed enormous potential for "aid-and-development". Where were the Hiltons and Hyatts entertaining tourists from overseas? And the wharves and cranes heralding a bustling export-and-import industry? Where was the smoke from power-houses and factories providing employment to the men and women enjoying the mid-day sunshine on the beach? Why weren't the children in school or child-minding centers? Where was the avenue of signs and advertisements - Coca-Cola, Friendly Insurance, Even Friendlier Banks, McDonalds and Pizza Hut, Cars and Gasoline Companies? Dr Lok could see desolation written on the face of the Repletion Islands. The never-ending vista of trees and flowers, and the general air of indolence made him uncomfortable. But it also renewed his conviction that he could do immense good to the Islanders, and that his mission could not help but succeed.

Welcome
Dr Lok was transported in a gaily coloured rickshaw, pulled by a bustling donkey. He was graciously welcomed by a tall, elderly man with a fine, distinguished face and white hair. Dr Lok congratulated him on the obvious beauty of the island, and then commiserated with him on the lack of progress.
Astonished, the Chief asked how things could be made better?
"Production, growth and exports!" said Dr Lok. "And I've come to offer you the necessary development loans to achieve such progress. The key to your future is GDP....
"We do have exports," the Chief replied, "But on the whole they're discouraged. In fact, we have an annual meeting of the people to discuss how much of our wealth we wish to send away, and what we need in return. But before any exports, we make sure that everyone on the Islands has enough. We gained a wise saying from a visitor some hundred years ago - 'Charity starts at home'. We have never heard of GDP, but we have a stock measurement that we all understand, GH, or Gross Happiness".

Buying and Selling
Dr Lok looked stunned. "What are your chief exports?" he asked incredulously.
"In fact, we have only two," answered the Chief. "The first is a peculiarly-flavoured honey, possible by a mountain flower which grows nowhere else in the world; and the second is a cheese, in which the honey is infused with the milk in a secret formula we have used for hundreds of years. These two products we have sold overseas in strictly-rationed amounts, and they are highly prized by gourmets in China and Japan."
"We have had many overtures from different markets for these products," he continued. "But we have always marketed them exclusively through a prominent Chinese family, who in turn have carefully sought out the small number of imports we want in return. This has worked well for 200 years, and we trust each other."

Payment
"What do you do with the money you receive for these products?" asked Dr Lok
"Oh, we don't ask for money," smiled the Chief. "We send a list of the goods we require to our Chinese agent, and ask how much honey and cheese he will require in payment. All the islanders then meet to discuss what and how much we need. On the whole, our requirements are simple, for these islands are rich in natural resources. We never import anything we can make ourselves."
Dr Lok had never heard anything so scandalous in his life! He paused, and then asked cautiously, "Well, what do you import?"
"Once a year we send two or three of our elders to various countries to assess the goods that would benefit our island without the risk of harm," said the Chief. "Nails, bolts and screws, hammers and saws, hoes and shovels, broadcloth for our sarongs and garments, paper and writing materials - and books. Our people are great readers".
Just then there was the unmistakable sound of a train whistle and, looking outside, Dr Lok saw a jolly little engine pulling ten carriages along a line which appeared to follow a level gradient round the island. It was very quiet, and produced neither steam nor smoke. The first five carried dozens of what looked like gas-cylinders. The rest were filled with singing and laughing Islanders, four-gallon drums of honey and cases of heavy waxed cheeses.
"So you HAVE started to industrialise!" said Dr Lok almost accusingly.
"Oh, we're all in favour of innovation," said the Chief, "So long as it is universally wanted, is clean and non-polluting, and reduces employment."

Horror
"Reduces employment?" gasped Dr Lok in absolute horror. "Don't you know that the aim of every enlightened economy in the world is to provide full employment to its people? No wonder your country hasn't developed!"
The Chief raised his eyebrows. "Forty years ago we bought two sugar trains, and enough rails to lay a line round the island. We had heard that a compressed-air engine had been developed in France, and we were able to import 20 of them. It cost almost five year's honey supply and most of our cheeses," he added ruefully. "We were able to buy a giant turbine air compressor, which we installed under one of the big waterfalls on our island. It provides all the compressed air we need to drive the train and deliver cylinders to dozens of communities round the island. With small-scale alternators we have heat and light for our people. The train goes round the island every day, delivering cylinders and people where they want to go."
"We were fully employed for the five years it took us to build our railway. But we had a vision of what we wanted. Everybody joined in. We promised ourselves we'd have five years unemployment when we'd finished the job."
At a loss
Dr Lok didn't know what to say. Finally he asked, "What do your people do all day? If they were required to labour five days a week as they did on your railway, just think of what they could have! Television, microwaves, court-houses, gaols, sports stadiums, tourist resorts, hospitals, supermarkets and much more. By introducing money, all those employed could save for their old age."
"And then what would they do?" asked the Chief dubiously.
"They could then do what they wanted," enthused Dr Lok. "They could sun-bake on the beach, garden, go sailing and generally enjoy themselves," he added.
"But they're doing that now!" protested the Chief. "Contrary to your society, we are continually trying to reduce the amount of repetitious drudgery, and replace it with self-chosen activities. We have hardly any crime, no juvenile delinquency beyond the usual high-spirits of youth. We have so little disease that we don't need hospitals. Every Islander builds his own home, so long as he replants the trees used. We don't call it a 'building industry'. Home-building is a luxury of leisure, and a home-builder often has to deter those who want to join in.
"We have to produce our food. But this is such a rich and abundant Island that, once we have built our forest-gardens, the food almost falls into our hands. We reverence the soil and the forests, the rivers and our shores. We never cut down a tree without replanting two more. The things that have to be done - maintenance of our trains for example - are carried out by families with special talents passed from father to son. They are esteemed in the community, and never lack for honey and cheese - and a beautiful mead we brew. We never export that! Our own people come first. Likewise, our beekeepers have done so for so long that they are almost able to communicate with the bees under their charge. They wouldn't give up their occupation for the world. It is not their job - it's their life."

Reflections
Dr Lok Detin decided to have one last attempt at reason. "Look, Chief, your Islands are so isolated you have no idea how far the rest of the world is ahead. I have access to funds that would transform your Islands. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund can provide loan funds that would enable you to double, or even quadruple your production and therefore your exports. In turn, you could be living in a palace instead of a bungalow - nice though it is," he said hastily.
"We have always been emphatic that we would never allow our Islands to become indebted to others," said the Chief. "We could have more material goods by borrowing, but we'd lose our sovereignty. The Islanders would never agree."
Don't ask them!" said Dr Lok excitedly. "Some decisions must be made by leaders alone."
"Even if it means selling the future of the Islands?" asked the Chief quietly
"Don't look at it that way," said Dr Lok. "We're all brothers and sisters in the same world. Sovereignty is a thing of the past! The 'guided democracy of the future will know no borders".
That night the Islanders had a huge party in the square before the Chief's house. There was theatre, dancing, music and sporting competitions. Dr Lok was surprised how happy the people seemed to be. They dined on roast pig, fish, chickens, vegetables and fruit of all description. They plied Dr Lok with their Island mead, brewed from their special honey. It had an unusual effect on him. He felt more relaxed and comfortable than ever before in his life - until they beseeched him to contribute a song, a poem or a bit of drama. He was embarrassed to find he had no store to draw on. "No poems or songs?" they asked in bewilderment. He didn't know what to say. He half-thought of telling them about 'democracy' - but was not sure they would understand.

Home
Dr Lok Detin flew home in his Catalina the next morning. He was met by a limousine and his secretary at the Asian Development Bank.
"What loans did you sign up?" asked the board members when he entered the conference room.
"They didn't seem to be interested," Dr Lok said. There was an appalled silence. "But we've already put an investment package out to tender," someone said. "There's enormous interest from some of the big players. Chevron wants to do an immediate geophysical survey to assess oil deposits round the Islands. General Motors already has plans for a car assembly plant. UNICEF and the World Health Organisation have big plans for health and child welfare. We aim to vaccinate everyone on the Islands for the ten major world diseases. We have designed the notes and coins the Islands will use in the future. The IMF is working hard on a model economy based on world's best practice. As the Islanders realize how deprived they have been over the years, and how they have lagged behind the rest of the world, we plan to fly in large numbers of trauma and grief counselors to deal with inevitable breakdowns.
We'll help get rid of their air-driven railway, and replace it with the latest diesel. So much faster and more efficient. They'll have to import oil from APEC, of course, and will need more than honey and cheese to pay the bill. They may have their first current account deficit, but a bank consortium is ready to step in with the necessary loans. We have already canvassed a number of multinationals to install industries and franchises, so that the Islanders can thankfully abandon their sun-bathing and get useful, constructive jobs. We have a fully-developed plan for Islander-Home-Mortgage Equity. Every Islander will be able to use a home mortgage to buy a host of things they are deprived of at the moment. - TVs and computers, canned food, take-aways, identity cards, public liability insurance - all the trappings of a joyful industrial society! And you tell us they're not interested?"

Threat
Officials of the Asian Development Bank were in turmoil and confusion. They looked accusingly at Dr Lok Detin as though it was all his fault.
"This is not just a local problem," they chorused. "It could threaten the whole world economy! How do we know they are not harbouring terrorist training camps? They must, at the very least, be included in a regional security programme. You could very well have been looking at Al Quaeda terrorists on that air-driven train you saw.
And what about discrimination? We understand that Islander women stay at home with their children. We've been fighting for years to wipe out that sort of bias. The children should be raised and educated by the Island Government. A whole series of new institutions are needed, from kindergartens to child-minding centers. This would free women to take their place alongside men in the new factories and offices which will dot the Islands.
We could put Repletion on the major air-routes of the world. It might mean leveling some of their mountains for an airport that could take the biggest air-liners. But think of the tourist infrastructure that would follow!
"In short," the meeting concluded, "We cannot abandon our duty to save the Islanders from themselves! They must be dragged, despite their protestations, into the vanguard of the New World Order! Dr Lok, we're disappointed in you! You have obviously failed to convince the people of the Repletion Islands of the immense benefits we have to offer. The picture you have given leads us, reluctantly, to wonder whether a military rescue mission under the command of the US President and Donald Rumsvelt might not be necessary, to liberate the Islanders from an obviously dictatorial Chief. Reluctantly, we must ask for your resignation."

Back to front
Dr Lok Detin looked reflectively at his accusers. "I had anticipated something like this," he said quietly. He pulled a letter of resignation from his pocket and placed it carefully on the table. "I am, of course, entitled to a couple of million in superannuation".
"Oh, we don't want to lose you altogether," replied the Board. "You obviously need some stress leave. But we have a host of alternatives available after that. We have urgently-needed missions in Zimbabwe, Afghanistan or Iraq, where the civilization programme is making splendid progress. Any one of them would fit you down to the ground."
'No, I think I've had enough", said Dr Lok on reflection. "I want to do some fishing. I'd like to learn some poems and songs. And I have developed a recent partiality to really good mead".
"What you obviously need is psychiatric assessment and help," they said.
Dr Lok cashed in his superannuation. It was enough to buy a small, ocean-going boat. He found a compressed air engine and had it fitted with half a dozen cylinders, he thought would get him to his destination. He bought some casual and colourful clothes and some fishing tackle. He added enough nails, screws, saws and planes to build himself a bungalow.
As a last resort he bought a quantity of books - Shakespeare, Banjo Paterson, Kipling and other poetical authors. He bought some presents for those he had met at Repletion - a cuckoo clock and a charming musical box for the Chief, some footballs for the young men, some ear-rings for the women and some old-fashioned sugar candy for the children. He named his boat, simply, "Mead".
As the sun dipped towards the west, he slipped out of the harbour, and set his course for the East and the Repletion Islands.

© Published by the Australian League of Rights, P.O. Box 27 Happy Valley, SA 5159