SCENE THREE : THE COLLECTIVE CLUB
They say the French Revolution, a bloody revolution which in its wake saw the rise of Napoleon, was fought for ‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. The business houses that supported the revolution rose to control commerce and trade under the patronage of Napoleon while the Sans-culottes or lower income workers and traders, who had formed the bulk of the resistance were alienated. The rich business houses, which for decades were fed up with the heavy taxes imposed on them, came under the patronage of the new ruler and helped consolidate themselves, economically and politically.
The history of the world has been the history of these alliances between the moneyed and the powerful. Theorists, such as Hobbes and Rousseau, who dwelled into the past to understand how man in his natural state behaved, came up with some interesting observations. Where Rousseau believed that man in his natural state was freedom loving, Hobbes believed that man is in a perpetual state of war. According to Hobbes, this state could only be resolved by having a system of indirect representation, where a higher body is appointed to determine the way the polity functions.
Cut to the 21st century, and behind the high ideals of law making, citizenship and national boundaries are still the few families who in alliance with the big governments steer policy, and make decisions to preserve status quo of having the exploitative capacities in the modern age.
This clique is never constant as new money enters and old money wears out. But the rules of engagement do not budge, be it oil, diamonds, sex, drugs, automobiles, defense or even shipping. Every important sector of world commerce is headed by a cartel that is represented in this coalition.
Founded by an Aristocratic family in Europe, whose identity till date has been religiously kept confidential, the Collective has been known by different names for the last three centuries it has been around. Earlier marital ties with other aristocratic families allowed alliances to flourish. This arrangement gave states a free hand to control taxes and trade within the continent. With the discovery of the new world, those who had the opportunity to get away from the continent and its medieval ways did so by setting up a new life there.
The victory of business over aristocracy had become far too evident in the 20th century. New alliances were made between the rich in an unprecedented manner.
While the Collective had only started in the 1950’s, the collective is just one of the many coalitions that have been brought together in the interest of free trade for the past few centuries. Now, with an elected chairman and a nominated secretary, the group has a website that speaks more about its activities in philanthropy and business co-operation than about its clandestine dealings with one another.
With the elections in America coming up, the Collective has to set the agenda in a way that allows conflicting interests in world business to work towards a common goal. A consensus will allow warring factions from spending unnecessary dollars to pursue their own interests in this election. Not only do they fund elections but also control major foundations working in the third world. Masked as development agents, these foundations open up markets for big business in these countries.
In the rich countries they operate under the disguise of being bankers, lobbyists and funding agencies, where the goal is to balance one another’s interests in mutually beneficial manner. The last two times they didn’t get along, the world saw two wars. Each war is an opportunity for business to grow, but it claims its causalities with it. If it wasn’t the threat from communism, Europe would not have gotten the kind of support it got from the Americans as it did post 1940.
While Richard was still addressing the press in Washington, the feisty few were getting ready for their meeting in Davos.
The early sun lights up the East China Sea giving it a sense of calm that has long disappeared from the mainland in Shanghai. The Chinese push towards industrial lead growth has created thousands of factories most of which are found in Shanghai. At 7 in the morning they are still bellowing smoke into the air, and as the day breaks, a new shift of workers troop in to keep the production plants going. Thousands of kilometers away in the First World are plush streets and malls where products from these factories will adorn the shelves. Be it watches, bags or phones, Shanghai is where they are manufactured.
A little away from the Industrial areas is where the influential and moneyed live. The place known as Daquan has its own tarmac, its own police, farms, and workers. This is where Shanghai is controlled or run from, and where all the profits from the exporting trade accrue.
Mr. Chang, whose parents suffered at the hands of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, is today one of China’s richest, and lives in Daquan. His early years were filled with stories of starvation and menial work. Joining the party was the easiest way out of poverty. What poverty and starvation had done to him was enough to propel him up the ranks. He became the eyes and ears of the party in his native province. He was adequately rewarded for his loyalty to the party, which he proved by telling on friends and political opponents to the secret police. Soon, he had made enough money to begin a small land development company. Soon, not only was he overseeing government contracts but also making purchases on behalf of those who wished to benefit from the industrial boom in China.
A few years into land development business, Chang struck big with the factory business in Shanghai. Instead of leveraging on China’s devalued currency, he decided to build massive factories, which he now leases to big players in the telecommunications business. His shipping company delivers exportable goods from the shores of Shanghai to various places across the globe.
The war on terror has had a ripple effect on business interests across the world making it difficult to determine where the enemy lines are drawn. Recently, two of Mr. Chang’s ships were captured by Somalian pirates denting his finances by a few million dollars. However, one of his clandestine trades of plying ships on behalf of big gun dealers to supply arms and ammunition to militias across the world has been registering impressive growth.
Amidst a green meadow on the outskirts of Kyoto stands a massive mansion that belongs to Mr. Nagasaki. The condemnation by the whole world of Japan’s whaling business has not prevented Mr. Nagasaki from running a successful fishing business. In addition to this, Nagasaki has thousands of acres of farms in Africa to source the cheapest raw food, which then gets processed into essentials that are exported around the world. The heavy use of pesticides, cheap labor and agreements with local authorities mean that Nagasaki will never get an approval from the food and drug administration in most countries.
The Tsar is one of the most happening places, as they love to call it, in London. The dim lights, low seating and loud music offer an ideal place to lounge at. It has been a haunt for most celebrities in London. On a Saturday night, the place turns into the most expensive party destination in the UK. The in-house DJ for tonight is James Emery, and he has on his guest list the flamboyant Mr. Ravi Agarwal, a mining baron who is also into shipping business as well as philanthropy. He started his life as a tea seller at a dusty street in the city of Dhanbad, which was a battlefield of sort for the dreaded coal mafia in north India. His pint sized tea glasses could not hold his dreams and it was only natural that he invested his savings into smuggling of coal. The business was lucrative and his trade soon expanded to neighboring states of West Bengal, Orissa, Madhyapradesh and Uttarpradesh. He was hardworking, shrewd, manipulative and brutal. It was only a matter of time before he became the godfather of coal business in India, and eventually rose to be one of the biggest global players dealing with Bauxite and coal.
These are a few of the individuals who are preparing to head to Davos. Joining them would be the Sheikhs from the gulf, diamond merchants from Antwerp, the biggest names from the European pharmaceutical industries, and finally the defense giants from America.
Over the years, under the stewardship of Sir Douglas, the Davos meet has allowed for some consensus to emerge. However, with entrants from the third world, like Mr. Agarwal, making their presence felt, it would be interesting to see how these contradictory factions arrive at a workable agenda for the elections in America.
Sir Douglas started out as a banker in Switzerland and it was here that the banking industry offered him the opportunity to meet the high and mighty from around the world. Switzerland, apart from being a prime tourist destination, is also a place for people with unaccounted wealth; people who head there to store away their wealth for posterity. Men like Sir Douglas exist as relationship managers to ensure that the banks maintain a relationship rooted on trust and confidentiality with their clients. This secrecy guarantees more clients and ensures more inflow of funds into these banks. Having a strong relationship with these individuals over the years has allowed Sir Douglas to be nominated as Secretary of the Collective.
The Collective is perhaps the largest pressure group in terms of market value, but there are similar smaller groups which have their own interests and are operating on a smaller scale in other countries. The Trident is one such group, which was home to Mr. Nagasaki a while back. Similarly, Mr. Agarwal was a member of an Indian pressure group named Panchsheel, which facilitated his business with the local mafia as well as the government.
Often, the other groups have to work around a consensus obtained by the Collective, and this then sets the tone for global commerce until the Collective meets again in Davos.
The business leaders arrive in Davos on a Sunday morning in June. This is when Davos goes back to its sleepy self as the tourist industry shuts for the next few months. Davos is a major Skiing destination, and it attracts huge numbers in the winter months, making it one of Europe’s premier tourist destinations. In June, however, the town plays host to the ‘Collective’ and up on the hills at 2200 meters above sea level is the holiday home of Sir Douglas.
His cottage wore a spruced up look with the main sitting area turned into a conference room. The trophies shot by Sir Douglas and his forefathers stare down at the occupants of the room with their cold eyes. From the Indian Sambar to the Jaguar along with the Icelandic bear, they all find representation in this room.
The fire place warms up the room which is paneled with rose wood while the table itself belongs to the 17th century from the house of Belgium. Sir Douglas had picked it up on his last visit to London’s Sotheby. The brilliant carvings across the edges that depict floral designs wrapped around animal figurines suggest a strong element of Germanic tribal art. The table now occupies the central place in the room, oblivious to the fact that it is going to host an essential meeting soon.
The meeting commences with the customary toast to the Collective, where the president of the group, Mr. Shwarps, representing the oil interests in the Nordic sea, thanks those present for making it to the place. As president, he lays out the agenda for the day’s meet without forcing down any particular topic. The discretion to put an issue to vote is entirely his. No minutes are maintained in these meetings and members are to leave their phones outside the room.
Seated at the far end of the table away from the chairman are the new entrants, Mr. Ravi Agarwal and Mr. Chang. Ravi Agarwal from Dhanbad in India has himself wrapped up in woolens from head to toe. His acquired lifestyle has not helped him counter the cold in places such as Davos.
Seated closer to Mr. Shwarps are the older members, Mr. Nagasaki to his right and the Sheikhs to his left. The Sheikhs have for the longest time determined the price of oil per barrel, and it is what wins them accolades from the west and the impunity to run their countries the way they desire. Then there are the Nelsons, the largest diamond merchants from Antwerp, seated to the right of Mr. Nagasaki. The Poloski family, represented by their eldest son, is seated beside the Sheikhs. The Poloskis, with their Polish origins, control the pharmaceutical industry of America and have been associated with the Collective just as long as the Sheikhs from the gulf have been.
Mr. Romonov, an old hand at military hardware production, is present to the right of the Polskis, with his customary Cuban cigar sitting comfortably in his mouth.
The banking magnate, Mr. Richard, a late entrant into the Collective, is seated to the left of the Sheikhs. Richard’s credit instruments were among the few that survived the economic crash. A fit of absentmindedness came over him when he led his investors to sell their securities on the pretext of the possibility of a bust. Though the intention was to actually sell his stock brokerage company, it so happened that the bust really took place. This made him America’s hero who had foreseen a crisis and warned his investors before they lost their money. Ever since, he has been at the helm of the American banking Industry and on the board of the three major Multinational banks.
Then there is Mr. Jackson, the captain of the seed manufacturing industry in the states, deeply worried about the failure of his genetically modified crops, which are now under cultivation in the third world. Not only do they cost more but the rigid contracts are leading to farm suicides, forcing the governments to re-think their stand on such seeds.
Mr. Shwarps looks towards Mr. Agarwal, thinking about his early days in the Collective when he arrived here not knowing how this group worked. Mr. Agarwal looked rather confident in his woolens, even trying to make a conversation with Mr. Chang. From what Mr. Shwarps could understand, Mr. Agarwal was mighty pleased about the watch he wore which he was now proudly displaying to his new friend from China. Sniggering to himself at the way the neo rich behave with their toys, he shifts his attention to Mr. Nagasaki, his old friend, and gets involved in a chat.
After finishing the customary toast, Mr. Shwarps goes on to explain the key issues that he thinks should be addressed. Aware that each member of the Collective will have an antagonistic relationship with one another, Mr. Shwarps decides to list out the key policy initiatives that are likely to be taken up in the coming months by various governments.
If these policies do get passed and become laws, they will have a direct impact on those seated here. With America being the eventual arbitrator in these matters, it is essential for the board to speak in one voice so that it can go to the Republicans and Democrats with a single agenda.
Mr. Shwarps gestures to Sir Douglas to make the announcements that he had prepared for today’s meeting.
“China, India and Brazil on a common platform to overcome farm suicides, big seed companies to be made accountable.”
“America re-thinks its defense industry, the audacious president looking to ask for greater restriction on arms trade, owing to the growing internal violence.”
“The patent regime set to change, as China demands easing of restrictions of generic drugs.”
“New and renewable energy set to get a fillip with India agreeing to control emissions after the recent visit of the president of the United States to India.”
“Gentlemen, I have selected these issues to gauge our interests. Seated on this table are our friends from the defense, pharmaceutical, mining, shipping, oil and the banking industry. We have, for generations, been driving the agenda for global commerce and the winds of change are sweeping by us. The governments we fund are out to hit us where it hurts, just because they don’t want a silly Arab Spring brewing in their own back yard.
I believe we still hold the cards, and as long as the President elected in America needs our money, I say we have a strong chance of coming out stronger.
These are some of the issues thrown at us. We will handle them anyway, as we have handled them in the past. However, the issue that makes us stare down the barrel is an internal one, and unless we overcome them, we stand to be reduced to the position of a trident or even worse a local power broker in a third world country.”
Ravi Aggarwal pretends to have not understood this subtle hint of contempt. However, he wouldn’t forgive it soon.
“So gentlemen, are we prepared to put aside our differences and brace up for the biggest event of this year?”
The others nod in approval.
The floor is then let open for discussions on the matters announced by Mr. Shwarps.
First to speak is Mr. Romonov. Upset over the overtures the west is making towards gun trade, he demands, quite like the young Guerrilla rebel he once was in Columbia,that the Collective should think seriously about this proposal of the States to come down on gun trade.
“For long, the American spirit has been built by the right to defend one’s freedom. Guns are what help us defend our freedom, both at home and abroad. Coming down on the gun trade would spell doom for not just us in America but also the freedom loving people around the world who rely on us to help defend themselves against tyranny and oppression.”
“Your guns are fueling terrorism around the world and hurting commerce. To our mind a reduction in gun trade is good for world peace,” The Sheikh fired the first salvo.
Romonov, now visibly agitated, chides the sheikh by reminding him of the debt he owes to the many people who have disappeared from their homes for having asked questions of the repressive regimes in the Gulf. He further questions the Sheikh’s intentions towards world peace when he has been in alliance with the west in determining the price of oil through cartels.
Mr. Shwarps, seeing that this could turn into an ugly confrontation, requests both of them to stop, and then proceeds to invite Jackson who has more than just harsh words to say to the two – the Sheikh and Mr. Romonov.
“Listen up now you two talking about freedom and world peace. This is such diplomatic talk something we proud Americans don’t buy. Here is a gun dealer who smuggles his guns into areas that even the CIA has no access to, and then there is the Sheikh who continues to run his country like a medieval overlord. Firstly, even if the gun trade is controlled, Romonov should know that he can survive off the drug cartels that help him smuggle his equipment to wherever he wishes. To the Sheikh, I request you to keep off this discussion since there is no mention of controlling the oil industry. You guys are going to help America win its many wars of terror until your well of wealth goes dry or people in your country topple you over”, Jackson completes sniggering and leans back on to his chair.
“Your seed company operating out of Texas has more deaths on its record than all the lives taken to protect our great country.” The Sheikh was not willing to take anything lying down.
Shwarps, now asks Sir Douglas to hammer in the bell to bring in some order instead of the shouting.
“Guys, we have messed up like no one has. We all have demons to confront. So, let’s drop this high moral ground garbage and get on with business. If there is anyone else who has a thing to say, raise your hand lest I am moving to put the topics on vote and then we go with what has been decided,” Sir Douglas advices the men at the table.
At this, a hand rose through the heavily padded woolens. Mr. Ravi Agarwal sure would say something.
Oh my good lord! What does he have to say? Wonders Shwarps.
Ravi Agarwal, having earlier taken Shwarps’s third world jibe rather seriously, rises to speak.
Shwarps, seeing this, says, “This is not the Indian parliament Mr. Agarwal, you can be seated.”
Finding his seat again, Ravi begins, “Namaste to all who are present here. I am from the third world India, and once upon a time I was from a third world group loosely similar to this Collective. There we used to discuss a matter and then close the matter. After hearing all of you I have just one issue. For way too long, the world politics is determined by America. In India I do coal mining, and in London they say I am a human rights violator. In London, I party and in India, they say I am anti-national because my friend is a Pakistani businessman. Here, in this room as well, everyone is fighting with one another without looking at the common good. May I ask you all why is it that we work hard to do our business, but the currency we use is the dollar? Every transaction we make in the international market lifts the value of the dollar, making it stronger. The rest of us operating outside America have to stand aside and pay tribute to the Americans. Earlier, this Collective had members from America and Europe. Then it saw new members from China, Japan and even the Gulf. Today India is growing and I am here. I know many more will join soon. The elections are happening next year, and I put forward a proposal to vote for. What I propose is, we need a common currency other than the dollar. We can go ahead and put your agendas to vote Mr. Shwarps, but I would like all members to consider my suggestion. Mr. Timothy Arnorld appears to be tilting towards such a possibility, if one has paid close attention to his speech in Kentucky.”
There are puzzled looks on the faces of the men gathered there. Some of them are taken aback with Mr. Ravi’s proposal. With such harsh words having already been said between a few of the members, Ravi’s proposal seemed plausible.
Every one stood to gain and even the Americans wouldn’t stand to lose. It was a master stroke Shwarps was not prepared for.
Swarps goes on to put his agendas for vote, dismissing Ravi’s proposal as naive and foolhardy.
“I second my Indian friend’s proposal. The change in international currency is inevitable and it must be proposed at the earliest before someone else does it and makes a killing. Mr. Shwarps’s agenda can certainly be voted on, but I request all members to back this new line of thought.”
Ravi has found a friend in Mr. Chang.
Hearing this, there are murmurs and nods of approval across the room. Shwarps, knows that his post is elected, and rubbing members the wrong way would only hamper his own chances as chairman. The thought of the worst possibility, that of Ravi Agarwal- the third world kid – rising to become the chairman of the Collective, sent a chill up his spine.
Mr. Shwarps calls upon the house of the Collective to vote the proposal of Ravi Agarwal. By a show of hands, the proposal stands accepted by a margin of 7-3, with the Americans voting against and Mr. Shwarps voting in favor of the proposal.