Are you a Rastaman?

Rastafari is my doctrine and reggae is my tool, writes Tony Randon in his first blog, where he revea

Are you a Rastaman?

This question was asked me one day by a woman who came into my shop to buy an Admiral Tibet CD.

She and her husband were visiting London from Walsall, a town very close to where I was born -Wolverhampton. I smiled, as I hadn’t expected the question. She didn’t look like some one who knew anything about reggae let alone Admiral Tibet, and then to ask me such a question! After some hesitation I answered: "I am trying to be"

It’s the beauty of selling reggae music that you meet people from many backgrounds and cultures with one thing in common - their love for the music. I also sell reggae and cultural artifacts which sometimes provokes questions from my customers about Jamaican and Rasta culture.

The majority of people who show interest in this type of merchandise I can easily recognize. Perhaps it’s the air of rebellion or individualism they always radiate, in either their personality, dress and/or physical appearance (usually locks).

This lady and her husband could not be put into any of those brackets. They were ordinary white working class people who had enough insight into rastafari livity to discern that not all black men with locks are Rasta.

I had answered “I m trying to be” not because I doubt who I am or what I stand for, but because the standard set by the patriarchs of the movement were so high, it would be disrespectful to their sacrifices to suggest I had arrived at the level of faith necessary to claim myself to be a rastaman.

Faith so strong that they were prepared to be incarcerated, ridiculed, impoverished, and even die, not only for their belief, but also for the love of their people.

Despite this. Surviving patriarchs have yet to witness rastafari accorded the religious status its importance on Jamaican spiritual identity deserves.

Her question had provoked thought. Inner reasoning. Later to be discussed with my brethrens. Rasta is much more accepted now as part of a multi cultural society. Most people are aware of our peace and love philosophy.

Through reggae music most are aware of our desire for truth and quest for justice, for African and all oppressed people. However, because the true concept and ideals of the founders of the faith had been suppressed or even completely ignored, the public at large have developed a kind of friendly tolerance to Rasta man.

At best we were everybody’s best friend, music loving, like to smoke or sell herbs, weak to the charms of women, at worst a hard person to get close to, with sexist, racist and homophobic views and overtones.

Rasta man image can be seen on numerous merchandise, especially when it comes to promoting smoking paraphernalia. Usually an image of a bleary eyed dread with a big fat spliff in his mouth and saying “yea mon” of something just as corny. Bob Marley’s image adorns anything from beer cans to bikinis, none of which he would approve if he was alive.

As far as spiritual, intellectual and philosophical practices are concerned, the public has been generally misinformed by a press choosing to focus on the homophobic ranting of some young angry men. And not on the manifestation and progress of the initial ideals of rastafari.

Yes Rasta is accepted and loved by the people, but for the majority of those who fail to look deeper, it’s a fashion. Its contribution to racial harmony and spiritual awakening largely ignored. Was the question asked because she thought I was commercializing the movement, therefore undermining the credibility of its doctrines and ideology like the business people who have cashed in on its image? None of which is controlled by a rastaman.

Explanation of one's faith or beliefs cannot be fully explained in a short period of time of written in a few pages. Experience and observation shapes the thinking of a conscious mind.

As members of the human race we strive for the betterment of ourselves, both physically and spiritually. This is the basis for happiness. Wealth and good health being the ultimate goal. But in our quest for self development, have we neglected our duties towards the sanctuary and upkeep of our planet?

There are many issues taking place on earth right now which many feel they are powerless to do anything about. We work our way through life, bombarded with news which undermines the inner peace of the conscious individual.

I know little of ecological issues other than the obvious fact that the seasons have changed and natural disasters are becoming more and more devastating. Rasta see the earth as a living being. Surely polluting it is going to make it sick, causing symptoms which come in the shape of earthquakes, floods, hurricanes etc.

The anti-social parasite which is destroying our young ,and turning them into monsters with no love for self, let alone a creator. As a former youth worker and as a father, it worries me to hear the constant reminders of how evil the human being can become. Leaving many afraid of their own children.

These issues cannot be ignored by the conscious mind, regardless of belief. We all have a responsibility to make our house clean, so that others can follow the example. The ‘I’m alright Jack’ attitude, to me, is as negative as that of the purveyors of destruction and wanton violence.

In a court of law the accomplice is implicitly as guilty as the perpetrator of the crime, even if they have not committed the criminal act. To observe the crime being committed and simply act blind, dumb and deaf is in itself an act of condoning the action.

For Rasta, life is seen as the creator’s second greatest gift. The first is the planet which we were given, to enjoy it on. Mother Earth. Rasta believes man has been created in the image of his creator who dwells within all of us. Thus we are charged with protecting this living being, just as we would look after a baby left in our care.

To simply hide behind self achievement is neglecting this duty. Our fulfillment comes from contributing to the upliftment and harmony of humanity. The respect for ones self must first be achieved by constant appraisal of our position with the inner self, the self which digs into your psychic when faced with life changing situations.

In the Holy Piby known as the Blackman’s bible and one of the cornerstones of Rasta man ideology, the author shepherd Robert Athlyi Rogers lays out the responsibility of the rastaman in a significant statement which reads:

“Verily I say unto you first seek ye righteousness towards men and all things will be added unto you, even the kingdom of god.”

This was written in contrast to the King James Bible teachings, which states:

“Seek ye first the kingdom of god and all things will be added unto you.”

The social consciousness predominant in Rasta philosophy and thinking is derived from this comparison.

Rasta is peace, but does not subscribe to turning the other cheek or bowing (passive) in the face of the aggressor or suppresser. Rastaman recognizes that the world is run by a system that benefits few and keeps the masses in mental bondage and servitude- Babylon.

Rastaman therefore does not compromise his culture, way of life, music or moral standards in the face of wickedness. He is the flag bearer of righteousness, standing firm in the ever demoralizing world we share with the plants and animals. Our status of dominance over them now questionable.

Athlyi Rogers was a former member of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). His inspiration to write the Holy Piby, coming from its leader Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Along with another former member of the UNIA, Leonard Howell, these men supplied the blueprint for what, today, is known as rastafari.

The manifestation of which, has to develop to show millions of people worldwide how to think and act like a free man.

I am working very hard to be worthy of the name rastaman. The ultimate aim is repatriation to our motherland Africa, this is our practical Zion. But this is a long journey which cannot be achieved overnight. Our ties with the west cannot be easily broken, there are too many of our brothers and sisters still in mental slavery.

They have not been shown anything positive to convince them that rastafari thinking is the way forward for their survival as a people. Thus while we continue to educate and work in the community, our Zion becomes a state of mind. Mental. Where every thought and action is Afro centric.

The philosophy of rastafari has been built on the foundation of love. Hate is a negative emotion which leads to sickness. We believe that everyone has the right to live and follow their destiny, even the wicked. The destruction of human life is abhorred by Rasta philosophy no matter the cause. Righteousness decrees that only the creator can judge and everyone will face that judgment in the time of Armageddon.

It’s the fear of underachieving in the eyes of the creator which guides the rastaman through the day to day dogma of life. We recognize that our environment is rapidly losing the moral balance that forms a harmonious society. Only resulting in negative vibrations, which corrupts and soils our spiritual well being.

Our suffering started on the justification of racial inferiority. The solution then can only come from a race based platform, to undo the damage caused. Political, economic, social and spiritual institutions must be put in place before we can continue the journey started by men and women like Marcus Garvey, Nanny, Paul Bogle and people like them who gave there lives for the freedom of others.

Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness

As an individual, my journey is one of constant learning and overstanding of all people and how best to live and work with them. I have found a niche in the world where I can make a difference to people’s lives. I am fortunate to have been handed this gift. Rastafari is my doctrine and reggae is my tool. Music is a healer and there are many hurt souls out there in need of spiritual healing.

Tony Randon, aka jah T, is the proprietor of Massive International, a reggae merchandise outlet based in Camden lock market in North London. Prior to that, he has worked in varying capacities in the reggae music industry for twenty five years. He has also worked as a youth leader specialising in sport music and personal development for young black males.
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We're racing towards another private debt crisis - so why did no one see it coming?

The Office for Budget Responsibility failed to foresee the rise in household debt. 

This is a call for a public inquiry on the current situation regarding private debt.

For almost a decade now, since 2007, we have been living a lie. And that lie is preparing to wreak havoc on our economy. If we do not create some kind of impartial forum to discuss what is actually happening, the results might well prove disastrous. 

The lie I am referring to is the idea that the financial crisis of 2008, and subsequent “Great Recession,” were caused by profligate government spending and subsequent public debt. The exact opposite is in fact the case. The crash happened because of dangerously high levels of private debt (a mortgage crisis specifically). And - this is the part we are not supposed to talk about—there is an inverse relation between public and private debt levels.

If the public sector reduces its debt, overall private sector debt goes up. That's what happened in the years leading up to 2008. Now austerity is making it happening again. And if we don't do something about it, the results will, inevitably, be another catastrophe.

The winners and losers of debt

These graphs show the relationship between public and private debt. They are both forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, produced in 2015 and 2017. 

This is what the OBR was projecting what would happen around now back in 2015:

This year the OBR completely changed its forecast. This is how it now projects things are likely to turn out:

First, notice how both diagrams are symmetrical. What happens on top (that part of the economy that is in surplus) precisely mirrors what happens in the bottom (that part of the economy that is in deficit). This is called an “accounting identity.”

As in any ledger sheet, credits and debits have to match. The easiest way to understand this is to imagine there are just two actors, government, and the private sector. If the government borrows £100, and spends it, then the government has a debt of £100. But by spending, it has injected £100 more pounds into the private economy. In other words, -£100 for the government, +£100 for everyone else in the diagram. 

Similarly, if the government taxes someone for £100 , then the government is £100 richer but there’s £100 subtracted from the private economy (+£100 for government, -£100 for everybody else on the diagram).

So what implications does this kind of bookkeeping have for the overall economy? It means that if the government goes into surplus, then everyone else has to go into debt.

We tend to think of money as if it is a bunch of poker chips already lying around, but that’s not how it really works. Money has to be created. And money is created when banks make loans. Either the government borrows money and injects it into the economy, or private citizens borrow money from banks. Those banks don’t take the money from people’s savings or anywhere else, they just make it up. Anyone can write an IOU. But only banks are allowed to issue IOUs that the government will accept in payment for taxes. (In other words, there actually is a magic money tree. But only banks are allowed to use it.)

There are other factors. The UK has a huge trade deficit (blue), and that means the government (yellow) also has to run a deficit (print money, or more accurately, get banks to do it) to inject into the economy to pay for all those Chinese trainers, American iPads, and German cars. The total amount of money can also fluctuate. But the real point here is, the less the government is in debt, the more everyone else must be. Austerity measures will necessarily lead to rising levels of private debt. And this is exactly what has happened.

Now, if this seems to have very little to do with the way politicians talk about such matters, there's a simple reason: most politicians don’t actually know any of this. A recent survey showed 90 per cent of MPs don't even understand where money comes from (they think it's issued by the Royal Mint). In reality, debt is money. If no one owed anyone anything at all there would be no money and the economy would grind to a halt.

But of course debt has to be owed to someone. These charts show who owes what to whom.

The crisis in private debt

Bearing all this in mind, let's look at those diagrams again - keeping our eye particularly on the dark blue that represents household debt. In the first, 2015 version, the OBR duly noted that there was a substantial build-up of household debt in the years leading up to the crash of 2008. This is significant because it was the first time in British history that total household debts were higher than total household savings, and therefore the household sector itself was in deficit territory. (Corporations, at the same time, were raking in enormous profits.) But it also predicted this wouldn't happen again.

True, the OBR observed, austerity and the reduction of government deficits meant private debt levels would have to go up. However, the OBR economists insisted this wouldn't be a problem because the burden would fall not on households but on corporations. Business-friendly Tory policies would, they insisted, inspire a boom in corporate expansion, which would mean frenzied corporate borrowing (that huge red bulge below the line in the first diagram, which was supposed to eventually replace government deficits entirely). Ordinary households would have little or nothing to worry about.

This was total fantasy. No such frenzied boom took place.

In the second diagram, two years later, the OBR is forced to acknowledge this. Corporations are just raking in the profits and sitting on them. The household sector, on the other hand, is a rolling catastrophe. Austerity has meant falling wages, less government spending on social services (or anything else), and higher de facto taxes. This puts the squeeze on household budgets and people are forced to borrow. As a result, not only are households in overall deficit for the second time in British history, the situation is actually worse than it was in the years leading up to 2008.

And remember: it was a mortgage crisis that set off the 2008 crash, which almost destroyed the world economy and plunged millions into penury. Not a crisis in public debt. A crisis in private debt.

An inquiry

In 2015, around the time the original OBR predictions came out, I wrote an essay in the Guardian predicting that austerity and budget-balancing would create a disastrous crisis in private debt. Now it's so clearly, unmistakably, happening that even the OBR cannot deny it.

I believe the time has come for there be a public investigation - a formal public inquiry, in fact - into how this could be allowed to happen. After the 2008 crash, at least the economists in Treasury and the Bank of England could plausibly claim they hadn't completely understood the relation between private debt and financial instability. Now they simply have no excuse.

What on earth is an institution called the “Office for Budget Responsibility” credulously imagining corporate borrowing binges in order to suggest the government will balance the budget to no ill effects? How responsible is that? Even the second chart is extremely odd. Up to 2017, the top and bottom of the diagram are exact mirrors of one another, as they ought to be. However, in the projected future after 2017, the section below the line is much smaller than the section above, apparently seriously understating the amount both of future government, and future private, debt. In other words, the numbers don't add up.

The OBR told the New Statesman ​that it was not aware of any errors in its 2015 forecast for corporate sector net lending, and that the forecast was based on the available data. It said the forecast for business investment has been revised down because of the uncertainty created by Brexit. 

Still, if the “Office of Budget Responsibility” was true to its name, it should be sounding off the alarm bells right about now. So far all we've got is one mention of private debt and a mild warning about the rise of personal debt from the Bank of England, which did not however connect the problem to austerity, and one fairly strong statement from a maverick columnist in the Daily Mail. Otherwise, silence. 

The only plausible explanation is that institutions like the Treasury, OBR, and to a degree as well the Bank of England can't, by definition, warn against the dangers of austerity, however alarming the situation, because they have been set up the way they have in order to justify austerity. It's important to emphasise that most professional economists have never supported Conservative policies in this regard. The policy was adopted because it was convenient to politicians; institutions were set up in order to support it; economists were hired in order to come up with arguments for austerity, rather than to judge whether it would be a good idea. At present, this situation has led us to the brink of disaster.

The last time there was a financial crash, the Queen famously asked: why was no one able to foresee this? We now have the tools. Perhaps the most important task for a public inquiry will be to finally ask: what is the real purpose of the institutions that are supposed to foresee such matters, to what degree have they been politicised, and what would it take to turn them back into institutions that can at least inform us if we're staring into the lights of an oncoming train?