INTERVIEW US political consensus is a Himalayan task American Laurence Brahm, born on March 31, 1961, is a global activist,
international mediator, political columnist and author who pioneered the
thinking behind the Himalayan Consensus paradigm of sustainable development
that took him from Tibet to the ranks of the Occupy Wall Street protest in New
York City based in Zuccotti Park in the Wall Street financial district .
The consensus emphasizes empowering people with local pragmatism in place of
broad sweeping globalized ideology and theory. Now embedded with the Occupy
Wall Street movement, he speaks to Victor Fic.
Victor Fic: Laurence, tell us how you intensively studied China
there and in the West.
Laurence Brahm: I studied Intensive Chinese at Nankai University
in Tianjin, China in 1981. Then I did political science at
the Chinese University of Hong Kong before earning a bachelor's degree in that
subject from Duke University in 1983.
Four years later, I got both a master's degree in Asian studies, with a major
in politics and a minor in economics, and also a juris doctor from the
University of Hawaii School of Law and Center for Asia-Pacific Studies. Then
came a master's in law from the University of Hong Kong faculty of law in 1989.
VF: How did your varied career put you at the side of powerful
men and take you over much of East Asia?
LB: I have been a
businessman, lawyer, author about business and
politics and an economics and international
mediator based in Beijing and also Lhasa in Tibet.
In the 1980s and 1990s, I was a legal and
investment advisor to multi-nationals investing in
China and Southeast Asia.
Laurence Brahm at Occupy Wall Street with
the New American Consensus
I was also an advisor to governments in China. I worked with China's premier,
Zhu Rongji, when he oversaw China's change to the market and was one of his
advisors on China's entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001. I was also
an advisor to governments in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Mongolia on banking
and financial reform, monetary policy and state-owned enterprise reform.
VF: You then combined your studies and career experiences with
cutting edge thinking and activism, correct?
LB: From 1999, I began developing a social enterprise that
started with heritage preservation of Beijing's hutongs, meaning
old-style neighborhoods with houses surrounding a central courtyard. These were
disappearing as new shopping plazas and office towers rose.
Then I shifted to a comprehensive development program in Tibet involving
heritage and eco-tourism supporting community development and environment. The
social enterprise supports rural and nomadic medical and educational programs,
and workshops for the disabled. As a global activist, I founded the Himalayan
Consensus, a non-governmental organization (NGO), and the African Consensus
Movement. Both focus on protecting ethnic diversity through sustainable
VF: Your Shambala Serai initiative has really helped people ...
LB: I started and remain the CEO of Shambala Serai. It is a
sustainable heritage and eco-tourism hotel group in Tibet and Beijing that
supports programs for restoring heritage sites, employing the disable,
empowering women, medical relief and education. After the Yushu earthquake in
2010, Shambala Serai provided over 80 tons of a Tibetan staple food called zamba
[ground barley flour], Yak butter, medical goods and trucks.
rallies the crowd of OWS with the New American
VF: Where can
readers share your life time of insights?
LB: I have authored over 30 books on topics such as Sun Tzu for
Business, Banking and Finance in Indochina, Searching for
Shangri-La and The Vietnam Customs Guide. For a list of all the
titles, see here.
VF: What role did you play in the founding and development of the
LB: The Himalayan Consensus began with the Shambhala Serai social
enterprise. It drew on others' several inspiring, small, grassroots social
enterprise efforts. Then it worked with these in South Asia, following the
example of Muhammad Yunus's microfinance work and Bhutan's Gross National
Happiness index. It amalgamates ideas concerning sustainable global development
into the Himalayan Consensus. I first floated the idea in a series of articles
I wrote for Asia Review magazine in 2007.
VF: It starts with a critique of traditional and neo-liberal
capitalism. What is that?
LB: Neo-liberalism, or what some call the Washington Consensus,
assumes that greed drives everyone and that Adam Smith's invisible hand, if
left to operate without interference, enables every market to consistently
equilibrate. That assumes complete information, which is never true, especially
in a developing or transitional economy. This caused our 2008 financial crisis.
I challenge these assumptions! Greed alone does not motivate people. So does
many other complexities such as family, community, environment, spirituality,
personal growth, culture and the arts, personal growth and leaving a positive
VF: Identify your alternate ideas to unfettered capitalism.
LB: We need a compassionate capitalism that is profitable, but
based on the credo "need not greed". So Himalayan Consensus has three core
principles. First, protect ethnic diversity and local identity. Pursue
sustainable businesses by changing our financial architecture so it supports
small and medium scale enterprise, not just large ones. Finally, those
businesses in turn must prioritize community development and environmental
protection. Himalayan Consensus practices compassionate capitalism and
VF: Your site claims that it draws upon Islam, Buddhism and
Hinduism ... how so?
LB: These are the Himalayan region's major philosophies. They
emphasize giving alms. They all stress that the community is greater than the
self, and if you benefit financially, you must give back to those who helped
you. This is the deep philosophical basis of the Himalayan Consensus.
recent trip to Africa
Consensus means 100% agreement. Who supports you
and who opposes you?
LB: Leaders across South Asia do, both in government and civil
society. So do non-governmental organization (NGO) leaders in Africa who
presented it [the Himalayan Consensus] to the African Commission on Human and
People's Rights. It is the common set of principles that the "99%" in the
Occupy Wall Street movement share.
VF: Cite the Himalayan Consensus' key victories and failures to
LB: The term Himalayan Consensus is used throughout Asia versus
the Washington Consensus. Some American think tanks already deem the former
paradigm as possibly the best for security and peace in Asia. It was recognized
in Africa formally under the African Union system when the African Commission
for Human and People's Rights adopted it at a congress of NGOs representing all
54 countries as the African Consensus Declaration on April 28, 2011.
Next, the African Consensus movement is tabling it at the upcoming United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa, as a
framework to break through current deadlocks between negotiating nations on the
climate change issue.
VF: Why do you proudly claim that the Himalayan Consensus is the
precursor of the Occupy Wall Street protest?
LB: Occupy Wall Street has built its entire movement around the
Himalayan Consensus vision that government and business must be responsible to
people and the environment.
VF: You are now physically on Wall Street ... doing what?
LB: I am attending rallies, giving speeches, encouraging the
occupiers and participating in the Demands Working Group and the Visions and
Core Values Working Groups. What tremendous youthful energy and enthusiasm!"
VF: Tell us about your lead role in drafting the principles for a
new American framework.
LB: With the support of many economists and professionals, I
drafted a document called the Declaration for a New American Consensus. It is
being widely circulated on Wall Street among both occupiers and visiting
supporters. While this document is my own work and does not represent the OWS
[Occupy Wall Street] or intend to, it broadly articulates rational and
pragmatic policies that address the protesters' concerns. See
VF: Where were you before you returned to New York?
LB: In Asia, I can only observe and analyze political change, but
cannot participate. When the protest occurred, I felt compelled to return to my
home town - New York - right away from Beijing. This is my fight.
VF: How is the spirit of the protesters - strong, fading?
LB: It is evolving. But we must channel energy into a focused
agenda. This is the biggest challenge for a broad group of diverse interests
striving to represent 99% of society.
VF: You are indignant at American politicians ...
LB: My next book is entitled The Peaceful Revolution for a New
American Consensus. America. Let's stop this Democrat and Republican
lack of consensus in achieving anything. We need pragmatic economics to invest
in infrastructure, create jobs, and make America efficient and competitive
again. Plus, the stimulus packages should not focus on the capital markets but
get money back into porductivity. Asia Times Online readers can get a preview
VF: Are you anti-market and anti-profit?
LB: That's ridiculous! Profitable companies generate jobs. We
focus on helping unemployed Americans. An elite calls itself mainstream when it
is only 1% marginalizes Americans politically, economically and socially. We
must rationally analyze poltiics to have profitable businesses, encourage
savings, investment, and reforms in our banking system to support small- and
medium-sized businesses to revive communities.
We must provide microfinance for individuals to start their own business. Being
embedded, our diversity as a people and creativity inspires me. Why isn't this
being harnessed to the economy? Our politicians mismanaged it through
short-term thinking and simply bad, bad management. If the people were
shareholders in America Inc, the shareholder's meeting would demand that the
politicans as managers be fired.
VF: Laurence, the challenges of the world real world pull at your
sleve, but lets get an update from you later.
LB: Now I have to get back to the brothers in the street!
1. The Occupy Wall Street protest protests are mainly against social and
economic inequality, corporate greed, corruption and influence over government
- particularly from the financial services sector - and lobbyists. The
protesters' slogan, "We are the 99%", refers to the difference in wealth in the
US between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. The first protest
was on September 17, 2011. By October 9, similar demonstrations were either
ongoing or had been held in 70 major cities and over 600 communities in the US.
Other "Occupy" protests modeled after Occupy Wall Street have occurred in over
900 cities worldwide.
Victor Fic is a writer and broadcaster who studied Chinese at the
University at Nanjing. He can be reached at [email protected]
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