Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Foreign-aid Micro Credit (FAMC) -- U.S. Marines style


Airdropping an Emergency Banking System, Currency Base & ATM Network into disaster zones

The FAMC 1st Air Calvary ("Airmobile") feeds & liberates The Poor via the Profit Motive

The Disintermediation of Foreign Aid

Manna from Heaven updated for the 21st Century

"...for God maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain to fall on the just and on the unjust." -- [ Matthew 5:45 ]

During the current 2nd Gulf War in Iraq, to quell rebellion, to buy allies on the ground in hot zones, and to pay reparations, U.S. Marines would often walk around Iraqi villages and cities handing out almost randomly US$ 100 or 20 dollar bills to all passersby. Voila ! -- fiat paper manna from Uncle Sam ! -- delivered directly and rapidly to populations in need with no intervening bureaucratic layers.

But where's the traceability of this kind of U.S. Government Foreign Aid? Or, likewise, where's the accountability for this dispensing of tens of millions of dollars from the U.S. taxpayer ? Apparently in a Time of War on Terror, accountability and traceability are optional. Fancy that. Metric- and benchmarking-focused bureaucrats around the world must shudder at the thought.

But is the War on Hunger in the Developing World any less urgent than the War on Terror? Any less important to the strategic interests of the U.S. Government or the European Union? Clearly no. Or so most human hearts would murmur. So shouldn't a similar level of less traceability and less accountability likewise be tolerated in a Time of Hunger and during other Humanitarian Crises? Clearly yes.

Moreover, how can U.S. Foreign Aid or any foreign aid be delivered paratrooper-style, when the U.S. Marines or other national rambo forces from Europe or Japan are otherwise engaged ? Or summarily castrated by political indecision? The answer? -- via the cell-phone-based Foreign-aid Micro Credit (FAMC). I have already written at length about the FAMC in this blog:

"The Foreign-Aid Micro Credit (FAMC)"

"The Foreign-Aid Micro Credit in a Time of Famine"

The above posts mainly discussed electronically transferring small amounts of e-money or mobile money to 1,000s or 10,000s of existing cell phones in an afflicted area to rapidly provide a large population with e-cash to buy food and water. Because, as pointed out before, Food & Water migrate towards Money, regardless of physical, legal, governmental or temporal barriers to trade.

Skeptical? Again, skepticism is the luxury of your full stomach. The proof that goods migrate to cash? -- At the unethical extreme of the scale this concept is called Smuggling. Think heroin, cocaine and cigarettes. At the other, ethical end of the scale, we have the cell-phone-based Foreign-aid Micro Credit (FAMC), which may be used to buy food and water with e-money transfers between cell phones using text-based SMS messages (simple message service). In the case of both extremes, the customer with money is able to buy the desired goods.

How would Foreign-aid Micro Credits (FAMCs) be distributed in a war zone or after a major earthquake or cyclone? -- By broadly airdropping cell phones and portable solar-powered battery chargers into the afflicted area, along with operating instructions in the local language, or instructions "written" in pictograms, icons and other universally-recognizable symbols. The cell phones would be pre-loaded with US$ 100 - 200 of e-cash, transferable by SMS.

At the same time, outside the disaster area, advertise broadly by radio or leaflet drops that the afflicted Poor are now "rich" and liquid, comparatively speaking. Courtesy of the profit motive, an influx of food, water and goods will immediately begin migrating towards the e-money. Going the other direction, at the perimeters of the disaster zone where social infrastructure is still intact, the e-cash could be converted to real cash, either U.S. dollars or the local country currency. The U.S.$ is already the de facto hard currency and store of value, or the main black-market currency, in dozens of countries in the Developing World.

Would some cell phones and e-cash end up in undeserving hands? Did the U.S. Marines in Iraq inadvertently hand out US$ 100 bills to some insurgents and Al-Qaeda operatives, or to their children who were sent into the streets to greet the Marines? Surely yes. Did the Marines waste taxpayer dollars, then? History will deliver that verdict in the Distant Future. So yes, some cell phones and e-cash will "fall on the evil and on the unjust". But the great majority will fall on the Good and on the Just.

As usual, small-minded micro-moaners and disintermediated bureaucrats will raise petty objections against this application of The Foreign-aid Micro Credit (FAMC), but they can all be neutered easily like stray cats:

--(1) The phones will be used by terrorists and criminals -- Then monitor or "wiretap" the phone conversations randomly and disable phones being used for criminal purposes

--(2) There won't be cell-phone transmission towers in the afflicted area -- Wrong, coverage is extensive throughout the Developing World, or just drop in portable towers

--(3) Cell phone transmission towers will be destroyed in the crisis -- Then, again, airdrop in new towers too

--(4) There is no electrical grid to charge the phone batteries -- Right, but don't forget the portable solar chargers

--(5) Foreign governments will prevent the airdrops -- Then don't ask for permission, like U.S. military drones over Pakistan & Afghanistan. That was our mistake in Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 -- we foolishly asked the junta's permission to enter the country to provide humanitarian aid. Americans are far toooo polite. We should have just sent in the U.S. Army, Navy & Marines with the aid and shot any Myanmar junta forces that got in the way

--(6) Bureaucrats and "little shits & crooks" will steal the phones or the e-cash in them -- Sorry, the phones will be distributed sooooo broadly and have such small amounts of e-cash in each phone (US$ 100 - 200) that theft, graft, embezzlement and/or confiscation of the phones and e-cash will be almost impossible, or very negligible on a percentage basis

--(7) The national or regional mobile carriers won't cooperate -- Why wouldn't they ? All they have to do is assign telephone numbers to the 10,000s or 100,000s of phones and instantly they have that many new customers with pre-funded accounts. The carriers will be ecstatic. They can start charging the Poor immediately for every SMS message, every call, every cash withdrawal at any bank or store, etc. Woohoo!

--(8) National central banks will not allow, or are not equipped to handle, such an instantaneous engraftment of another banking system and currency base onto their own sovereign financial systems. If so, then forget them and use instead the systems and infrastructure of the African Central Bank, the European Central Bank, or the Asian Development Bank. Or the systems of any transnational commercial bank in any neighboring country

--(9) The present system of U.S. foreign aid works just fine, thank you -- Sorry, no. Refer to the post noted above: "The Foreign-Aid Micro Credit in a Time of Famine". Thousands of children starve to death waiting weeks and months for American food aid to be shipped by truck & train & boat & bicycle & horse and cart to Lands Faraway, sadly. And, finally --

--(10) _______________________________________

Add your own petty objection here -- Now Google around for a few minutes and find out why it's really drop-dead dead wrong.

In this extreme example of the cell-phone-based Foreign-aid Micro Credit (FAMC), an entire banking and currency system (or currency base) is quickly parachuted into a large afflicted area. Although barter systems usually rapidly take hold in a disaster area, those people with nothing to barter can go hungry and often die. In this case, however, a large, uniform, fungible, and recognizable currency base is quickly established to facilitate trade and commerce among 10,000s or 100,000s of people. Most of the currency will be used for daily necessities during the emergency, but as the crisis winds down, remaining e-cash balances might be used for savings or investment and thereby have an economic multiplier effect. Longer term upon the return of normalcy, as a legacy of the disaster, every recipient of a phone will have a cell-phone-based savings account and ATM access via an on-line cell-phone-based banking system such as Safaricom's M-PESA system in Kenya.

Moreover, recent history shows that once The Poor in the Developing World have cell phones in their hands, they quickly develop new uses for them that the well-fed in America and Europe could not imagine, thus leading to more efficient and additional economic activity. Also, as detailed several times elsewhere in this blog already, an established base of cell phones may immediately serve other functions such as for microtele-medicine, microtele-education, and as an emergency broadcast system to warn of or to react to further national disasters.

Finally, by allowing unfettered and largely uncontainable communication among the Common People, a cell phone is the Voice of Freedom & Truth that can liberate The Poor from bad government and military oppression.

The Foreign-aid Micro Credit (FAMC) -- Manna from Heaven updated for the 21st Century.

Semper fidelis,

David A. Palella
Chief Carbon Paratrooper

San Diego, CA
tel: 858-793-0741