Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
November 8, 1999
Casino lucre latest in line of dirty money
The question has come up from time to time whether it is ethical for churches, non-governmental organizations and charitable organizations to use the proceeds from bingos, casinos and lottery funds to finance their good works.
There is a long history that tainted money can somehow be cleansed miraculously by laundering it through the voluntary sector to finance noble causes.
Colonial plunder decorated the gilded cathedrals during the Renaissance. Merchants might donate some profits from unfair trade with the colonies to build poorhouses or to provide alms for widows and orphans. In our day we have corporate sponsorship of sports and the arts.
The most blatant transfer of money into good works involved the sale of indulgences. Amidst protestations of simony, apostasy and other sins with long names, this period of heavy laundering led to the Reformation.
Swiss banks have replaced the Church as the major laundromat of questionable finances. Drug lords and Mafia godfathers tend to reserve a portion of their gains to shower on the poor to garner popular favour.
Then there is the million dollar generosity of Bill Gates and George Soros. Ted Turner has donated $1 billion to the United Nations, the secular equivalent of the medieval Church.
Where in the world can one find a clean dollar that hasn't been laundered over and over?
Something like 95 per cent, or $312,000 billion annually, of all financial transactions are based on currency speculation, driving entire populations into bankruptcy overnight. Only five per cent is based on actual production and services.
Consider that the most important sector of international trade is armaments at $740 billion. This is ahead of energy production and consumption with its own history of exploitation.
When we factor in the illicit drug trade, the black market, trafficking in women and children, kickbacks, graft, and the usury of debt service charges by the IMF, it becomes clear that untainted money is hard to find in this global casino.
In any gaming house, there are winners and losers. The gap between the richest 20 per cent and the poorest 20 per cent of the world population doubled between 1970 and 1990.
This disparity is not just a Third World phenomenon. In the U.S. the top one per cent of the population increased its wealth 150 times faster than the bottom 99 per cent in the last decade.
A modern way to pay for our sins is through foreign aid. It makes us feel good, but we are hedging our bets.
Official government aid is often tied to goods and services that must be bought in the donor country. Such aid is often designated to finance large-scale projects like hydroelectric dams or schemes to increase export cash crops, neither of which benefit the poor. Seventy cents of every aid dollar benefits Canadians according to CIDA.
"It is an illusion," the late Helder Camara said, "to think that we can free ourselves from underdevelopment by means of external aid."
Economist Susan George estimates that between 1982 and 1990 the equivalent of six Marshall plans, or $418 billion in debt service charges, was transferred from the South to the North. The amount has gone up dramatically since.
The debt in fact has been paid several times over. A recent report by Christian Aid claims that the richest countries actually owe $13 trillion US a year to the Third World because of environmental pollution.
The real gamble of the next millennium is to opt for the poor. But you can bet your bottom dollar that many of us have opted to "retire wealthy in the 21st century."
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