One of my favorite movies is the Godfather. The Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 depiction of Mario Puzo’s story of the criminal and racist Italian mafia family is cinema drama at its very finest. It starred people who were and became some serious heavy hitters in Hollywood. Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duval, Talia Shire, Abe Vigoda, and Diane Keaton. If you know the story, then feel free to skip the next paragraph. If you don’t know the story then let me briefly run it down for you.
Don Vito Corleone was the aging patriarch of a New York crime family. The Don turns down a request from a heroin dealer named “The Turk” for political protection and financing to distribute his drugs. Don Corleone doesn’t believe anything good can come from dealing with drugs. The Turk, tight with one of the competing crime families, doesn’t take well to the rejection and tries to off the Don in order to get him out of the way in order to make a deal with Sonny, the Don’s first son who will inherit the business. The Don survives but barely. Sonny rejects the Turk and starts a mafia war against the Turk and the other family. Michael Corleone, the Don’s third son, gets caught up in the family business when he pays a visit to his father in the hospital and suspects a hit about to go down. He moves his father to another room and waits outside the hospital to confront the hit men. The captain of the police shows up, words are exchanged, and the captain breaks Michaels jaw. Sonny’s war is taking a toll on business for everyone. Michael makes arrangements to meet with the Turk and the police captain and offs them both. Michael leaves the country and heads back to Italy for a few years until the repercussions of his hit dies down. The other family responds by offing Sonny. The Don recovers and calls a truce so he can bring his son Michael home from Italy. The Don lost one son and he’s not about to loose another. Michael comes home and starts learning everything about the family business. He starts running the business with his father’s blessings. Years later the Don dies of natural causes while playing with one of his grandsons. Michael takes over the business completely. Michael kills the heads of all the other families and puts the war between the crime families to rest for good. He is acknowledged as the Don Corleone. The sequels, Godfather II and Godfather III, were just as equally prime as the original.
The extended Corleone family was one impressive egbe. Everyone worked for the betterment of the family egbe. Look out for the family and the family will look out for you. Do not ever go outside the family. In the sequel the Godfather II, Fredo Corleone, the second son of Vito Corleone and Michael Corleone’s older brother who suffered from slight retardation from a bout with pneumonia he suffered as a baby, made a deal with one of Michael’s rivals Hyman Roth. Mr. Roth tried to arrange to have Michael killed at his home in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Michael finds out it was his brother Fredo that was the inside man who had helped to set him up. Fredo made a choice to pursue a little personal gain at the expense of his egbe. Michael made sure nothing happened to Fredo as long as their mother was alive. But shortly after their mother’s funeral, Fredo was shot in the head while saying a prayer just before he was to start fishing in the lake behind the Corleone compound. Never go against the family.
I learned a lesson from that movie. I learned a lesson about community. In order to keep a community strong and secure, the individual members should never do anything against their community. People should never trade for any goods and services outside their community that they can easily find within. That way the community stays strong, intact, and interconnected. The Three Musketeers had a catchy slogan for this concept, all for one and one for all. Once the integrity of the community’s circle is broken and people are allowed to develop their own agenda that varies from the community’s welfare the entire group will eventually suffer. The Corleone family moved quickly to pop a cap in anyone who betrayed the family, even retarded Fredo, the son of the founder and the brother of the current Don. No single individual is above the welfare of the family. The application of this lesson applies anywhere you have a group of people with a common goal. Essentially, anywhere you have community.
Our economic communities used to be small and strong. With all the goods and services we needed right in our backyard people didn’t have to travel far to get things conveniently located right around the corner from us. An apple came from an orchard just an hour or so away and you made sure you stocked up on them in season. Now the apple is likely to come from some farm in another country partially owned by some huge conglomerate. Apples used to be seasonal, but now we have the convenience of buying them fresh all year long. But that convenience comes at a price. Our local apple orchard closed down years ago, unable to compete with the mega-orchards in the other country. Now we’re dependent on someone outside our community for our apples. We’re more susceptible to interruptions in apple delivery and the cost of transporting the apples is rising every day. When the mega-orchard suffers a cold snap or the President attacks an oil producing country and increases the cost of oil and thereby the cost of transportation, the cost of apples goes up. Capitalism at its finest.
It’s not always good to have a single minded focus on the financial cost of purchasing a product or service. If it was just a matter of cost then everyone would just buy whatever they needed from Wal-Mart and we can let all the other stores and manufacturers go out of business and the world would be a better place. But it’s much deeper than that. Wal-Mart has already proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are a community predator and use every means at their disposal to drive other retailers out of business. Before opening a store Wal-Mart will find the cheapest land available, cajole the local politicians for every tax advantage possible, hire people and the lowest wages allowable by law without anything resembling a benefit, and transfers these savings to their customers. But many of the customers work in the community where Wal-Mart is driving other retailers who pay their fare share of taxes out of business. This ripple effect will cause local government services to suffer as the commercial tax base starts to dry up. Local governments will respond by cutting back on services which are likely to force other people out of work.
The other business that depended on the struggling and closing community retailers will start to feel the pinch. They will start cutting back on their staff and cutting back on the businesses that depend on them. The tax base shrinks further and the earning potential throughout the community continues to fall. People will reap their deal with the super efficient, globally connected, penny pinching, retail equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge prior to his transformation of redemption the night of Christmas Eve. Once the circle is broken and people go outside of their community to support people, companies, and other communities that do not share their objectives, the original community falls like a deck of cards.
Global economics are arranged in a way that gives every advantage to the big conglomerates. I remember a story about how some mega candle maker in England decided to muscle in on the candle business in India. The Indian women make and sell handmade candles in the marketplace to support their family. Often these women, more often than not they are mothers, have been abandoned by their husbands and don’t have much other than their name and their children. Here comes a mega candle maker who is able to use the efficiencies of large scale production to undercut these women barely squeaking by. Other people in the Indian community are barely squeaking by as well so they are attracted to the mega producer’s low, low prices. The women cannot compete and must abandon their livelihood and many turn to just begging in the streets. Global capitalism at its finest.
NAFTA, CAFTA, G8 Summits, WTO, GATT, and all the other acronyms that represent some form of trade that hands our markets to the highest bidder do not have our best interest at heart. The primary concern for the various trade relationships is the profit of the conglomerates and not the welfare of the people. The communities that recognize this fact and move to protect their markets are derided for their protectionism. Through relentless propaganda and clever manipulation of facts anything can be justified. Propaganda will say that those women in India trying to eek out a living by selling candles are irresponsible and aren’t worth consideration. Next thing you know people everywhere will blame the women for their circumstances that are much more complex than they refuse to take responsibility for their conditions.
In the global community, the only person who profits is the one who doesn’t care about the living conditions of others, health care (and not health insurance) for everyone, controlling pollution, a wage favorable for employees to enjoy a comfortable standard of living, or anything else that might be interpreted as a strong community oriented spirit. But personal profit should never be our primary focus when we develop our trading parameters. The welfare of our communities should always be our paramount concern.