“on the grid”: a play about exploitation and world finance

This is one of my ‘orphan’ plays, a monologue about the WTO. I thought about it a great deal after a recent debate on Facebook regarding colonialism and Africa. There’s apparently a significant number of people who believe that colonization of the developing world in the preceding half-century (which by definition has to include what Europeans did to the Americas) was a relatively benign process. But I digress.


I wrote ON THE GRID after the demonstrations in Seattle against the WTO. What got attention at the time were the scenes of pitched battles on the streets between protesters and militarized police in Darth Vader armor suits. But this was a convenient diversion. The protesters were there to protest a policy of exploitation of developing countries that the WTO was practicing (and still practices). The WTO is also an ANTI-DEMOCRATIC force–they want to have trade supersede the laws and practices of countries, letting the financial elite move capital and product seamlessly between borders. They said as much privately. And even when countries have repudiated debt or had it written off, ‘vulture funds’ have bought up the debt for pennies on the dollar and pursued poor countries in court.

Now, you ask. How do you do this? How do you move these folks onto the grid? Against their better interests, against their judgment?

Well, repeat after me. Capital Flows like Water. Capital finds its level. Again. Capital flows like water. Capital finds its level. What does it mean? It means that in the world financial system, no matter what artificial standards you add, money will go where it profits most. To put restrictions on the movement of capital, to try and interfere with the invisible hand, is like trying to hold back the force of nature. You’re out there to facilitate the inevitable. 


In the years after the founding of the United Nations, a clear goal of the founders has been to move the entire world onto ‘the grid’–to get everyone to monetize instead of barter. Once all transactions in an economy can be monetized, then it’s easy for outsiders to game those transactions and get a piece of them. And once there’s a worldwide organization (the WTO) that can force such monetization, there’s no way societies can protect themselves from the tyranny of the accountant. 

And the most effective way to get the locals to be ‘on the grid’ is to introduce the concept of consumerism–the introduction of products for which a society based on barter must supply money. Cigarettes are one way–if one becomes a nicotine addict, the only way to feed that jones after you’ve traded away the family knicknacks is to go work long hours at the Shell pipeline in Nigeria. Give away boom-boxes–the music will be intriguing to people who don’t have electronic instruments–and watch the bewilderment when the batteries run down.



My friends, you’re taking a page from the British Opium wars. You’re handing out an addictive substance knowing that your junkies will need to do your bidding pretty rapidly. Feel guilty? Don’t worry–the tobacco companies are racing into the bush, hoping to be the ones who addict the local tribe first. Is this a wonderful business, or what?

 So butts. Remember, the boombox is numero-uno weapon–it attacks the culture on a number of different levels simultaneously. But cigarettes spread through the society more quickly.


On the macro level, the World Bank subsidiaries go into these countries as the planet’s loansharks–lend money based on value of the commodities in the ground and then charge usurious interest rates. Human rights advocates in the Catholic Church launched the Jubilee 2000 campaign to get banks to release countries from debt too high to be serviced. Unfortunately, the campaign has been largely unsuccessful. 

But globalization has been successful in one key area–reducing the wages for work world wide. It’s hard to believe this wasn’t one of their goals in the first place:

But this is the surprise I alluded to in the beginning. You won’t be going to some foreign hellhole where beer is warm and indoor plumbing is a dream. Young colleagues, that work has been done. We’ve got the indigenous poor of the planet by the short hairs. No—YOUR job is different. You are going to DETROIT. To Youngstown. To Compton California. YOU are going to Manchester, England. YOU are going to Turin, Italy. And you will be the one who tells the locals that factory work now pays three dollars a day, take it or leave it. You’ll be the one who tells Manchester that cradle-to-grave medicine was so last-century. You’ll be the one who tells Turin that pensions are passé. Those are the assignments your red notebook will contain. Because globalization’s promise is that one day the world will have a single price for a Blowgun and a single price for a blowjob. You’re just the messenger.


There is no getting around the fact that globalization is a key piece of the economic landscape that leaves the 99% destitute. ON THE GRID lays out the details of what was done and how it was accomplished.


Care for a performance? 


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