Wednesday, August 24

We interrupt this blogspot on Chinese pig illness to take a question about US policy on global poverty

"Hi, Pundita:
I've been seeing a lot of press about the U.N. millennium challenge. I realize you're insanely busy, but whenever you have a moment I'd be interested in seeing your take on this approach:

Sachs says the 1.1 billion people who currently live in extreme poverty - - defined as living on $1 a day or less -- would escape their misery by 2025 if only the U.S. government could be convinced that crime and terrorism feed on poverty and that the best route to national security would be to cut off this nourishment.
Best wishes, Dr. Ernie"

"I have made my position very clear on this issue in many posts (kindly see Pundita sidebar -- Pundita Essays by Theme -- or type in keywords (e.g., poverty, Africa, India, Sachs, etc., etc.) on Pundita search engine to pull up a list of posts that treat the issue).

Ah, thanks. My browser does a lousy job of rendering your site, so I have a hard time seeing those articles; I apologize for the stupid question.

If I may summarize, it sounds like your position is that poverty is primarily structural, so we need to force or incentivize systemic change if we really want to cure poverty.

That would imply ground-level bottom-up assistance a la Sachs is better than top-down projects that breed corruption, but since [the former] still rely on handouts that would reinforce crippling paternalistic stereotypes.

Is that a fair characterization?
Dr. Ernie"

"Dear Dr. Ernie:
What makes Sachs or you assume that "ground level" projects don't breed corruption? The World Bank once funded a micro project to give high-tech stoves to villagers so the villagers wouldn't have to walk miles to obtain firewood for cooking. When they went back to check on the progress of the project, the Bank discovered that the slickest in the village had snapped up the free stoves then rented them to the other villagers.

Yet are we talking about the same Sachs? Forgive the question but I did not click on the link you provided. This is because my blood pressure is already elevated. This is due to giving up my vacation because people in the media, public health sector and medical/biomedical fields decided the best way to research reports on "pig disease" in China is to play Pin the Tail on the Donkey, with the fallback research method of studying the arrangement of dregs in the bottom of their coffee cup.

If you are referring to Jeffrey Sachs, I think his detractors might agree with the characterization that he is the Dr. Strangelove of development economics. And if one wanted to be truly unkind, one might describe him as a consultant to Kofi Annan, which I believe he is, when I last heard.

It's a vain hope, but Pundita is hoping that Mr. Annan will be fired from his job so that both he and his son hopefully face criminal charges in the coming year. That, I might add, would be infinitely kinder than turning them over to the Iraqi people with the recommendation that they be tried along with Saddam Hussein and Chemical Ali.

Mr. Sachs has a history, Dr. Ernie. He has a history of taking a blitzkrieg approach to solving the problems of people in poor countries. That approach pays no mind to the horrific consequences that occur when one treats large numbers of people like game pieces on a chess board.

So if by "ground-level bottom-up" assistance you mean financing microprojects à la Aga Khan Foundation or Grameen Bank, in a pig's eye -- pardon -- will Jeffrey Sachs support the small-is-beautiful approach. He might say he supports it, but his history suggests that what he means is now everybody must do microprojects or face a firing squad.

Sachs aside, it is not by any one way that the world's poorest nations got into their predicament. Thus, it is not by any one way that they extricate themselves. To help them do this takes a variety of approaches, administered on a case-by-case basis, as I indicated in my "Africa who?" essay.

This said, during the past half century there have been recurring patterns in the administrations that have presided over the world's poorest nations. And there are recurring patterns in how the richest countries (via outright aid and via the World Bank, IMF, ADB, etc.) have sought to solve these problems.

There have been great successes on both sides. However, there is also a pattern of catastrophic failures. So the question is the extent to which the rich countries can and should continue to intervene.

In other words, should the developed countries continue to take a "paternalistic" approach? Or should they take the position that no matter how poor an adult is, he's still an adult and thus he should act like one?

I've heard excuses from heads of state that are straight out of the Two-year Old's Manual of Manipulating the Big People. Many if not virtually all well-informed people in those poor countries are aware of these flimsy excuses and their implications.

Indeed, on the eve of the Gleneagles G8 meeting, an African economist pleaded to the world's development nations, "For God's sake, stop the aid to Africa!"

I wouldn't go that far but his point is well taken. It's gone beyond swallowing obvious lies. In many cases we have been actively encouraging criminal and even fiendish behavior.

Just one example among countless of where this has led: After that meth lab explosion, or whatever it was that horribly burned several North Koreans, Kim Jong-il demanded that color television sets be included in the emergency aid package. How does a national leader get to that point? Only after years of being encouraged to arrive there.

From what I have read of his mission to save the world's poorest, Jeffrey Sachs and the crew he represents are making a specious argument. They're implying that there is a cause-and-effect connection between poverty and crime/terrorism. Or as the quote you provided puts it, crime and terrorism "feed" on poverty.

That argument grossly insults human beings and it completely ignores character, not to mention facts on the ground. Many if not most of the world's poorest refuse to engage in crime, or terrorist attacks on civilians, because they believe it's wrong.

And most terrorism today is state-sponsored -- a fact that Kofi Annan and the lice he's spent years covering for at the UN know very well.

As for crime: the world's transnational crime syndicates arose out of a faction(s) in a government and/or were outright started by a government or receive tremendous support from a government.

Who do you think runs the Russian mobs? Potato farmers? The bosses are ex-Soviet military, ex-KGB and from other elements in the Soviet government. Who do you think runs China's crime syndicates? And Japan's? Go on down the list. These people are not the world's downtrodden.

The governments that sponsor and/or work with TOC and major terror organizations are run by people who have gained vast power and mean to hold onto it. Yet when you start digging into how they got all that power, in many cases the trail leads straight to government policies of the richest counties.

Thus, helping the poor in a way that doesn't line the pockets of thugs takes great creativity and great attention to the projects. Above all, it requires a demand for accountability that is backed up by punitive measures.

If you consider the example I gave about the stoves, it's easy to think of ways that could have avoided the situation. They shouldn't have given the stoves; they should have set up a program to rent them, with the proceeds to be spent on improvements for the village.

Even selling the stoves to the villagers wouldn't have worked because they would have turned around and resold them to people who would then rent them out! Double profit, in their mind, and face tomorrow when it comes.

That kind of thinking does not arise from poverty. It arises from no confidence in the long term, which goes hand-in-hand with living under governments that are run by thugs and riddled with corruption.

Also, before we tell others how to clean up their show, we should first get our own show in order. We can start by asking, "What is the real aim of a US-sponsored aid program?"

We need to make a sharp distinction between trying to help a country solve their problems and trying to help them fit into the WTO/globalized trade machine. Because the first is not necessarily the second, when looking for solutions.

A variation of the same tough question should be put to US companies and religious charitable organizations that throw aid money at the poor in the poorest countries. If you've spent billions over decades in bribe money so you can do business or proselytize in a country run by thugs, I don't want to hear that this is the way to help the world's poorest. What it's done is reinforce criminal behavior on the part of governments that take the bribes.

Good programs to help the poor start at home. Pundita has spent years trying to figure how to get parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania declared a Third World country so they can qualify for World Bank development loans. My point is that the best method of correcting others is by setting an example, isn't it so?

This said, the US government has started to wise up. But this unleashes a new set of problems. If the crooks can't flimflam money out of USAID, they'll just go weeping and wailing to a government that would love to stick it to the USA and/or needs a coveted natural resource. That is what happened with Robert Mugabe. When the US told him they weren't going to support his despotism, he got help from China's government.

Speaking of China, now Pundita has to return to matters of pig. It's Rugby, you understand -- or maybe not, if you haven't been reading Pundita for long. I've received at last count 58 emails from him. He suspects foul play against the pigs in Sichuan; no surprise, given his opinion of humans. Yet what would a laboratory rat know about pigs, beyond what he Googles?

Unless he's found a wing in the lab that experiments on pigs. That could mean he's figured out the master code for the security keypads, as he's been boasting for weeks.

Incidentally, Pundita would love to know the name of that lab because I want to drop a line to their suggestion box. In their quest to increase intelligence in rodents they should try to breed the ability to conceive of a Spell-Check computer function.

No comments: