In the wake of recent essays about poverty and the World Bank, Pundita has received a flurry of letters asking for ideas on how to improve US policy on helping the world's poorest. One writer asked, "If you could only do one thing to better the world, what would it be?"
Well, given that the United States is at war, I think it's more helpful to tell what the world's smartest terrorists want to do to better the world. They want to shoot all the government leaders who depend on diaspora remittances to keep the poorest in line.
Smart Islamofascists understand the connection between diaspora remittances, tax cheating by the richest in their countries, and the plight of the poorest. They're building coalitions with communists. The only thing that's holding them back is the communists' slowness to realize what century this is, which prevents them from modernizing communist doctrine. The rich per se are not the problem. The problem comes when the rich demand government-built infrastructures but don't want to pay their fair share in taxes to build and maintain the structures. They want the middle class and the poor to pay for them.
Western governments are studiously blind to the connection between diaspora remittances, narco states, terrorism, and the plight of the world's poorest. The US State Department (and the Bush administration) crowed about an initiative under the US-Mexico partnership, which makes it cheaper for poor Mexican immigrants working in this country to send remittances back home. Why don't they just line up Mexico's poor and shoot them? Oh but that's right, Pundita forgot! If you shoot them, you can't bleed them dry.
The US-Mexico initiative is small chips next to what China has done. They set up a program which 'encourages' Chinese working abroad to contribute a portion of their remittances to infrastructure projects in China. The Indian government wants to copy China's program (without the 'encouragements' of course) if they haven't done so already. So, the crime syndicates that have a big say in running those two countries will have even more heat taken off them when tax time comes around.
As to what would happen to Vicente Fox if he pushed to raise and enforce taxes on Mexico's richest--well, he'd have to take the same precautions that President Alvaro Uribe has had to take while standing up to Colombia's drug lords. So, okay, he'd have to live every moment as if it was his last. But this is not the chairmanship of Coca-Cola that Vicente Fox has got. He's supposed to be a national leader--a concept that implies moral and physical courage. And if he was on the level, he could get the Mexican people at this back. Once that happened, he could get the United States government squarely at this back.
But I don't wish to single out one national leader. Go down the list of governments that rely on remittances from their diaspora populations to keep their citizen unrest at bay. You see the same story again and again, whether it's Philippines, Burma, Algeria--you name it.
Education is a part of the solution; immigrants naturally want to send money back home. They need to learn in detail what their acts of generosity support, which is the very system of government that makes life in the old country Hell for their relatives. Yet the situation calls for more than palaver. It calls for Draconian measures on the part of nations that greatly profit from the cheap labor of diaspora populations.
To my knowledge there hasn't been much written recently about the issue of diaspora remittances--at least, not for the general public. That is why I recommend that Pundita readers look at two very short articles by Barbara Walker (links below). The articles are a few years old and look at remittances pretty much within the narrow context of Mexican workers in the US. But the articles are reader-friendly and a good if highly opinionated introduction to a complex subject.
The second Walker article I've listed provides a reading list for those who want to go deeper into the subject. However, I recommend that next you glance through the report from the UK Parliament House of Commons (third link below). If I recall the data is a few years old but the report is a primer on the subject of diaspora remittances. The bonus is that the report is well written and has cool charts, which at a glance can teach you a lot.
The caveat is that the Parliament report looks at everything upside down. The consensus in the development community (which the US-Mexico partnership follows) is to find ways to better use remittances to help poor countries. This is refusing to acknowledge that remittances are like methadone; they provide just enough of a cash flow fix so that corrupt/inefficient governments can avoid going after the biggest tax cheats in their country--the biggest being the crime bosses.
Once you realize what the avoidance has created for the poorest, you can see why the terrorists and radicals are building a broad platform that transcends cultural/religious boundaries. The platform is more sophisticated than the anti-globalist one because it's targeted, and more in tune with the fact that globalized business is here to stay.
Not to raise your blood pressure any more than it might rise after reading the Walker essays, but at the end of the following list is the link to a 2003 Time article on how Western Union got wildly rich off remittances. The data helps fill in some blanks.