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Do you really care about the starving children of Africa.
February 27, 2008 6:24 PM   Subscribe

Development porn and Humanitarian badges. A moment of Truth
posted by Student of Man (56 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
All told, the West has given some $568 billion in foreign aid to Africa over the last four decades, with little to show for it. Between 1990 and 2001, the number of people in sub-Saharan Africa below what the UN calls the “extreme poverty line”—that is, living on less than $1 a day—increased from 227 million to 313 million, while their inflation-adjusted average daily income actually fell, from 62 cents to 60. At the same time, nearly half the continent’s population—46 percent—languishes in what the UN defines as ordinary poverty.

I'm taking a class with Sachs right now and his argument is that African economic growth has been stagnant or well below world averages because they cannot grow enough food to support an economy that goes beyond subsistence-level farming. Why can't they grow enough food? Certain factors of the Green Revolution that have allowed some of the population in certain countries to devote their energy to other tasks besides feeding people are too expensive for African farmers to afford: high-yield seeds, irrigated farmland, fertilizer to fix nitrogen in the soil. In 1960, use of these techniques was the same in Africa, South Asia, East Asia, and Latin America. Today, however, there is a huge gap between Asia/Latin America and subsaharan Africa in the use of these techniques to increase crop yields. Thus, what you have is a growing population whose economy is stagnant because the economy above subsistence-level farming is moribund due to the lack of infrastructure and capital. (leading to the falling average daily income). This author also fails to consider the unique disease ecology of Subsaharan Africa. Sach's argument is that 0.7 percent of developed-country GNP will be enough money to provide fertilizer, seed subsidies as well as invest in other treatments that will improve health and education.

Sorry for the lecture regurgitation.
posted by ofthestrait at 6:40 PM on February 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Points taken, but conclusion not. There's definitely a practical and functioning middle-ground between "a collection of fiefdoms dependent on subsidies and celebrity pity" and our export of the Wealth of Nations.
posted by DenOfSizer at 6:42 PM on February 27, 2008


I think it's a tad disingenuous to suggest that Sachs & co.'s plan is just to throw money and food at Africa. It's a bit more targeted than that.
posted by naoko at 6:52 PM on February 27, 2008


This is what I've always thought:
The poorest regions of Africa are those where the climate is most uninhabitable. It is not surprising people are starving and dying- they are trying to live in a barren wasteland. It is no wonder the economy is bad- there are no natural resources. And the few natural resources which do exist are constantly under dispute- leading to wars and bloodshed. No amount of economics is going to fix the problem- there are simply not enough resources to support the number of people living in that region of the world.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, I would honestly like to know.
posted by proj08 at 7:04 PM on February 27, 2008


Anecdotally, I was suprised at how many middle-class Ethiopians, bemoaning the state of their country, laid the blame at the feet of a welfare mentality: "Our people are lazy. We do not build factories & businesses like you in the west. We just farm, and when the harvests are bad, western governments & NGOs show up & give food to the people, so they have no incentive to develop themselves..."

It seems that, if nothing else, we have exported the right-wingers' arguments that poverty is caused by laziness.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:08 PM on February 27, 2008


It is not surprising people are starving and dying- they are trying to live in a barren wasteland.

Speaking of Ethiopia again, that's exactly the case. Much of the country is a temperate, fertile plateau. However, overpopulation has caused the government to encourage people to settle in the more barren and drought-prone lowlands. When you see stories of yet another drought & famine in Ethiopia, my understanding is that it's the lowlanders whose agriculture has collapsed, leading to massive famine there, which flows on to the highlanders.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:11 PM on February 27, 2008


Personally, I think it's a combination of overpopulation and cultural kleptocracy. Africa is still a tribal continent in every sense of that word, and I doubt that "MOR FREE MARKETZ" is going to change that.

Also, it's a little nuts to compare Sachs and Bono to Colonel Kurtz. I mean, really?

I could see Madonna as Kurtz, though.
posted by Avenger at 7:22 PM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


It is not surprising people are starving and dying- they are trying to live in a barren wasteland. It is no wonder the economy is bad- there are no natural resources.

This theory doesn't hold up when you look at examples like Zimbabwe, which, as the article mentions, was once the bread-basket of Africa but is now broken and impoverished after years of misrule.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 7:25 PM on February 27, 2008


Hmmm are you implying the problem rests with personal responsibility? As valid as that may seem , I thought the author made clear that the lack of capital was related to the lack of business investments/partnerships that would make it possible for Africans to help themselves. Ecologically, aids and malaria are hardly unique to Africa.

My take was; any relations with Africa was masked as aide when in truth they were capitalistic and diminished any chance to improve Africa's economy. I read that when it comes to subsidies, thats a bad thing for third world countries because it drives farmers out of business (selling crops to third the third world is capitalistic). Helping Africa would be best achieved through business partnerships and investment rather than throwing money at this "giant crisis". so you see, the answer isn't Hollywood stars or subsidized medicine or wheat & rice it is viewing this as a human problem, not a black problem.
posted by Student of Man at 7:26 PM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


No amount of economics is going to fix the problem- there are simply not enough resources to support the number of people living in that region of the world.


This may be true to a certain extent, but Japan is usually brought up as an example of a rich country with few natural resources. I think plenty of countries have more people than their land could support, but those nations have the infrastructure, human capital, etc. to export goods in return for food.
posted by thrako at 7:27 PM on February 27, 2008


This theory doesn't hold up when you look at examples like Zimbabwe, which, as the article mentions, was once the bread-basket of Africa but is now broken and impoverished after years of misrule.

ok. thanks.
posted by proj08 at 7:28 PM on February 27, 2008


It's an interesting article, but the belittling and taunting tone is just childish. I think it's unfair to suggest that Sach's and Bono's motives are driven by some sort of need to be idolized like Kurtz. I know a lot of people who work in development and I'm quite sure this is not why they do it. Many of them put their lives at risk in dangerous areas simply because they want to help others, not because they want to be worshiped as the "white savior" -- and in fact many of them aren't even white.

But I personally know little about development theory, and some of the ideas here sound reasonable. I'd like to hear them addressed by somebody from the other side with experience in the field.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 7:32 PM on February 27, 2008


This theory doesn't hold up when you look at examples like Zimbabwe, which, as the article mentions, was once the bread-basket of Africa

Not to mention China's recent moves to secure resources in the continent.
posted by Student of Man at 7:32 PM on February 27, 2008


Proj08, I used to think just like you do (of course they're poor! they live in a desert!) but the more you learn about Africa (which is an enormous and wildly ecologically diverse continent) and its more recent history (colonization and subjugation by invading nations, then the chaos of the power vacuum left in their wake) the more you realize that this statement:

It is no wonder the economy is bad- there are no natural resources.

is, literally, the opposite of true. Why do you suppose all those European nations were fighting over territory? Because it was worthless?
posted by moxiedoll at 7:46 PM on February 27, 2008 [8 favorites]


Timothy Mitchell's excellent essay, "The Object of Development: America's Egypt" (available via Jonathan Crush's edited collection "Power of Development" in Google Books), illustrates the way Western (USAID) contributions are used to increase the divide between rich and poor. It's a disturbing and necessary read, and a welcome antidote to the ugly Sam Kinison white man's scream of "Why don't you go where the food is?"
posted by vitia at 7:54 PM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


i thought ethiopia had a fifteen year long famine because of industrial pollution elsewhere in the world
posted by rmd1023 at 7:56 PM on February 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


No amount of economics is going to fix the problem- there are simply not enough resources to support the number of people living in that region of the world.

Your point is well taken, but you could equally say the same thing about much of Australia. Not to mention that even regions with suitable-to-abundant levels of natural resources are equally rife with poverty. Clearly this wasn't your point, but trying to separate local factors, wretched governments and international markets is very difficult.
posted by Adam_S at 8:04 PM on February 27, 2008


From What I've read about Sachs and seen in documentaries Sachs is a man we should hold in the highest esteem. It's the Stars who may be driven by an unconscious selfish desire to be idolized.

Personally, I've always viewed aide workers from wealthy nations as patronizing and paternalistic. They get to travel, come back and tell stories and reap the credits. it's a luxury that living in a wealthy country affords you. plus it falls in line with a certain radical leftist sentiment or political worldview . In reality, real progress comes from different avenues such as trade and business partnerships. Africa is far from a barren land. There are many exotic animals and plants. It is indeed very fertile.
posted by Student of Man at 8:08 PM on February 27, 2008


It's certainly the case the most Africans would far prefer fair trade to charitable aid. But so long as the US and Europe engage in unfair subsidization of agriculture that competes with Africans who have been forced by structural adjustment to eliminate their own subsidies, it's absurd to claim that we should also cut off the meager funds we supply to the continent as well, especially given the role colonialism has played in preserving tribalism and retarding development.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:13 PM on February 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


Not to say that this alone would discredit the piece, but it's worth noting that City Journal is the publication of a think tank whose stated mission is "to develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and personal responsibility."
posted by BT at 8:13 PM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I might add that certain factions in the British Parliament said that London should refuse to send food relief to Ireland during the potato famine because this would interfere with the free market. So, instead, Irish crops got exported out of the country in order to be sold to those who could pay for it. Nice to see that this mindset -- regarded as an economically immature attitude in the early days of the study of capitalism -- is alive and well and living at the City Journal.

Amartya Sen won the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work examining how famine was not caused by simply a lack of food but in large part by political issues which prevented food from getting to people in need, regardless of how much food was raised or delivered. It also seems like certain right-wing conservatives have decided to take this idea and run with it in order to fit it into their pre-existing ideas about how the real issue is that Africans need to starve to death in sufficient numbers so that they can create capitalism.
posted by deanc at 8:25 PM on February 27, 2008 [4 favorites]


rmd1023 that article is a boldfaced lie. Even the title is utterly absurd. The whole articled is fraught with conjecture and stunk of misdeeds. That was misinformation funneled to probably bury some dirt. If you believe that, then I wouldn't blame you if you believed that Africa just has bad luck or drew the short straw. I wouldn't even be surprised if your philosophy was that the poor deserved their lot. That kind of journalism targets the whose who are short on their time, caught up in their lives and just need short, easy answers.
posted by Student of Man at 8:27 PM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is specious rightwing twaddle. So, so many things wrong with this article.


Identify problem with corruption in countries and further illustrate terribleness of situation by using examples of vainglorious attention seekers*1.

Draw comparison with non-analgous situations in the west*2. Make spurious accusations about the fundamental foolishness of the mission.*3

Find friendly native to back up rightwing predetermined answer to everything:*4

Throw in a few exhortations to free market demigods, continue to demonize people with ad hominem attacks.

Finish off with rounding condemnation of anything governmental, have one last Rayndian wank.*5


---


*1 See donald trump, michael miliken, enron, the whole millitary-industrial-complex, etc. Free market practicioners and boosters have no assholes. None whatsoever.


*2 "disease, dirty water, hunger—not their underlying causes, which the West, too, once struggled with" I believe this was socialistic, state funded enterprises such as vaccination programs, public sewer works and programs such as agricultural subsidies that dragged the west out of this mire.


* 3 A “massive agency of apparatchiks who are in the absurd situation of, on the one hand, being dedicated to the fight against hunger while, on the other hand, being faced with unemployment were hunger actually eliminated."
By this analysis, I presume he proposes the elimination of all armed forces. Armies that win wars put themselves out of business: better not have any! Doctors that make people well: better not have any!

4* Freedom = Free markets access. No mention that kleptocracy, weak governments and property rights have thrived, nay symbiotically co-existed in other states: see central america post-his-beautiful Thatcherite shock, cuba circa 1940s, etc etc.

5* If you listen really carefully, you can actually hear his breathing get heavier as he utters the magic incantation that will save freedom fearing people from the predations of government and propel them into the joyous arms of unfettered capitalism: Baaacon, Haaaayekkkkkhhhh, de Sooooohhhtoooooooooooo.......
posted by lalochezia at 8:31 PM on February 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Your point is well taken, but you could equally say the same thing about much of Australia.

You mean, like those vast swathes of desert where nobody lives?
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:31 PM on February 27, 2008


Beran makes several good points in his article about unsustainable aid to Africa. However, his vilification of Sachs borders on the slanderous. Sachs speech in Uganda could hardly be considered paternalistic if one were to understand the context of Uganda's anti-malaria program, which has begun using social marketing techniques to increase the use of insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs). This market-based approach, which replaced a former strategy that simply gave the nets away for free, has seen a dramatic increase in proper use of ITNs.

Sachs was not speaking to the villagers as if they were children. Sachs remarks in Uganda were part of the Ugandan ITN social marketing program, attempting to drum up support for the nets and increase consumer demand for them.

If you want a really good case against voluntourism, read this piece by Ivan Illich: To Hell With Good Intentions.

If you have any sense of responsibility at all, stay with your riots here at home. Work for the coming elections: You will know what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how to communicate with those to whom you speak. And you will know when you fail. If you insist on working with the poor, if this is your vocation, then at least work among the poor who can tell you to go to hell.

posted by The White Hat at 9:10 PM on February 27, 2008 [3 favorites]


I feel like i've read this screed several times before.

this article is terrible, simplistically ideological, and, for its obnoxious length, doesn't even critique Sachs' program effectively. It's paper-thin identity politics smashed on top of Ayn Rand.

part of Sachs' book/MDP argues that "poor" countries should organize their own economic plans. those economic plans should then be funded by the west. Undoubtedly, those plans will require more money than the amount the donor nations give out now, so, we've to ask for more money. Transparency in the planning process is a check against corruption in the donors and the receivers.

the problem with the old model is that donor governments and foreign corporations do the economic planning for African/"poor" countries. Too much potential for corruption and profiteering that way. See Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.

It's also interesting to me the different ways Western capitalism and Chinese capitalism have been exploiting Africa. The West just saps natural resources--Diamonds, fisheries; where China on the whole seems to be building factories and exploiting labor.

Now, every African i've talked to is rather pessimistic about Sachs'/the UN's deal actually working, but it is not the same old New Deal. but even the New Deal wasn't like this writer would like it to have been.
posted by eustatic at 9:24 PM on February 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


it never ceases to make me loathe "us". there always seems to be someone criticizing people that are trying to help... while they themselves are just compensating for their own lack of compassion (which they are aware of and guilty of). But, instead of implementing their own ideas, or making some positive effort to "out do" the altruistic gesture in question, they just accuse, point fingers, make fun of, whine. why? its pathetic and transparently self-serving to their ego. they gather some troll group of nay-sayers, and then by association feel less like the bunch of useless misers that they are. not helping is helping? all altruists are doing it for pr or to serve their paternalist egos or messianic complex?? just shut the hell up and get out of the way!
posted by [son] QUAALUDE at 9:26 PM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


plus, as porn it just not that great...
posted by [son] QUAALUDE at 9:31 PM on February 27, 2008


I've always viewed aide workers from wealthy nations as patronizing and paternalistic. They get to travel, come back and tell stories and reap the credits. it's a luxury that living in a wealthy country affords you.
Much like being able to afford to go to medical school is also a luxury that being wealthy affords you. Those darn doctors, working night shifts in the emergency room just so they can come home and tell stories about how they heroically saved the life of a stab victim and take the credit. *pfft!*

The relative wealth of us westerners that allows those of us who choose to be able to use our leisure time to help others should be viewed as a feature, not a bug. Though if you really think it's a problem, you should worry about the danger of increasing Africa's prosperity, which might unleash an avalanche of patronizing and paternalistic aid workers on the rest of the world from these newly wealthy countries.
posted by deanc at 9:36 PM on February 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


the economy above subsistence-level farming is moribund due to the lack of infrastructure and capital

There's a great TED talk about how the infrastructure that's missing is market infrastructure. Due to a lack of communication technology, transportation networks, pricing standards, regional stability, and quality certification, small farmers are at the whims of the tiny pocket markets where they happen live and this gives them no control, a lot of risk, and shuts them out of their biggest opportunities. I can't explain it nearly as well as Eleni Gabre-Madhin. Just go watch it.
posted by scarabic at 9:57 PM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I feel vindicated in my position with the do-gooders. I was having a conversation with this white lady at a bar and she was telling me of her friend was a relief aide worker. She said places like Haiti have diseases that Americans have never heard of before. (I knew she totally made that up or she got some seriously bad information). Or it may have been the result of that phenomenon we all have that fills in the intellectual gaps with a bite sized, plausible falsehoods or platitudes. then I proceeded to deconstruct the whole sham to her along with some background history of the place, much in the same fashion as Mr. Illich. It was a good time and she thanked me for the history lesson at the end.

To be fair there are diseases particular to tropical lands but nothing undocumented or unstudied in a 1st world country at the bleeding edge of medical and technological research.
posted by Student of Man at 10:04 PM on February 27, 2008


Student of Man: after your impressive display of knowledgeability, did she end up going home with you?
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:09 PM on February 27, 2008 [6 favorites]


lalochezia
quaalude
deanc

of course you lash back. Anything that forces you to take a long hard look, or to use your brain is quickly rebuffed. You take it as an affront to the aide workers while ignoring the larger question. What are the underlying causes of the situation on that continent? What really needs to be done?
Is there an angle to view the prism of this distinctive American values to incorporate all walks of life from every nation?

Pointing out the futility of aide workers is important because it's a very weak part of a band-aide to a hemorrhage wound. you are the miser for your display of ignorance.
posted by Student of Man at 10:26 PM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


She said places like Haiti have diseases that Americans have never heard of before.

Actually, Krugman's written a lot about how ethnomedical systems construct disease differently in different cultures. I had no clue what susto or qaug dab peg were last year, and I'm still unsure as to everything that the two illnesses entail. I'm not trying to discount western medicine, but if you look at everything from an exclusively biomedical/western perspective, you may end up hurting patients.
posted by The White Hat at 10:27 PM on February 27, 2008


We actually cleared that up before we launched into conversation. But to be sure if she wasn't married, the size of my brain isn't all i'd be showing off that night.
posted by Student of Man at 10:28 PM on February 27, 2008


you are the miser for your display of ignorance.

honestly, is this just some sort of pro-active trolling? of your own post? i won't be baited...


conclusion: FAIL
posted by [son] QUAALUDE at 10:31 PM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Apologies for the doublepost, got a little trigger happy. Anyway, how this all ties in is that the most important thing isn't sending money over. The few QI studies that have been done on how aid money is spent suggest that as little as 70% makes it outside the DC Beltway and less than 1% makes it to the community level. This has huge implications for programs as large as PEPFAR. The most important thing to do is understand who you're trying to help and determine how you can help them in a culturally sensitive, sustainable, and efficient way. The Peace Corps is starting to understand this and has been advising English majors to get some appreciable technical training before shipping off to pick up his share of the white man's burden. Ivan Illich was on the right track, but his conclusions were faulty. Aid doesn't need to be curtailed or scaled back. It just needs to be more intelligently and sensitively applied.
posted by The White Hat at 10:34 PM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


(the following comment is rambling and misspelled, but I've been thinking about African economic history lately, so I feel the need to share. Obviously, it's a huge continent, and there are many gross generalizations, though often with some specific example in my head)

The African economy is still very underdeveloped for many reasons, including that

a) in many places, there really wasn't land pressure in pre-colonial Africa to make landless people who would be cheap labour for the expansion of manufacturing, as happened in China, Japan, India, the rest of Asia, and Europe (who then exported its economic methods to its settler colonies in the US, Can, NZ, etc); there was healthy, low scale production in agriculture and manufactures, but nothing like the increase in agricultural and manufactures production you see in advanced organic economies because there wasn't that much need for it

b) during the colonial regimes, there was little to no capital accumulation in Africa - most of the profits from its exports went overseas (so little local investment); production encouraged by the colonial powers tended towards cash crops and/or extraction of resources, with little to no value added processes or diversification encouraged

c) and despite the fact that colonial regimes took taxes, unlike governments in the first world, they didn't spend these taxes doing all sorts of things that help economies grow and diversify: building up very good infrastructure, encouraging industry, protecting fledging industries (just about every first world place was protectionist when it tried to get it's economy really going, including Britain and the US), or investing in human capital through education or research -- just think about how many agricultural colleges were founded in the US versus Africa

So, you have a place which was not as economically developed as Europe or Asia in 1800 -- not so much poorer per capita, but not striving for the same increases in production, because production wasn't a problem because the population was quite low (partly due to the slave trade, for places like West Africa). It's not a judgement, just a reality that Europe and Asia had to produce more because they were supporting more people - they were near the max of production in an organic economy (that is, one without mineral energy).

Then you have colonization in the late 19th century, and another population drop and huge disruption to all aspects of life -- 10 million people dead in the Congo in a generation is going to disrupt the local economy. Then you have gov'ts who sometimes act directly to basically screw the local economy and extract what they want (of which the aforementioned Congo was simply the most extreme), or sometimes they don't really do anything, and just have lassez faire policies, and don't do any of the investment that they are doing in their own settler colonies or at home (building roads, helping businesses get started and using protectionist policies to protect them, funding universal education, founding agricultural colleges to improve outputs, etc). Due to racist policies, black Africans have a much harder time borrowing capital to start businesses or industries or improve their farms; they are also kept out of the upper echelons of business or much of gov't.

So you don't see capital investment in Africa, improvements in production (especially agricultural), or diversification into value-added industries which is where much of the money in a modern economy is made.

Then the colonialists pull out, leaving power vacuums and sometimes chaos and fragile governments. And yes, many of those governments made many mistakes, continuing colonial policies that were bad for the economy or starting new ones. And some are taken over by strong men and dictators. African's post-colonial leaders have much to answer for, but so do Africa's colonial leaders.

Then add to that environmental problems, which are linked to global warming (and thus industrial pollution elsewhere) -- desertification just south of the Sahara is connected to global warming which is changing whether patterns.

And international farm subsidies, which continually undermine their productions, and the fact that many major companies in Africa are still owned by expatriots of other companies, fueling profits out of the continent.

And, yes, aid which disrupts the local economy (by flooding it with grain, for instance) and makes it harder for it to recover.


When I think about what Africa needs to develop, I think it needs investment -- investment in new industries, especially value-adding onto the products it already produces. Like processing cocoa, roasting coffee, spinning and weaving cotton, sewing clothes. But the important part is thinking about investment which builds off existing products, can make a good return to investment (so thinking perhaps small, cheaper industries, rather than throwing money like some post colonial gov'ts did at expensive and unsustainable but higher status industries) -- and also those that would stimulate growth by spurring on secondary industries, and which keep profits local so that they will be spent and invested locally. And investment in the infrastructure all economies need to function - transport, credit, etc - and investment in human capital through education and research.

I don't think the methods used in the West are necessarily the best ways of doing things -- our methods are based in our own society and economy. Many GM crops, for instance, are bred for maximum productivity with minimum labour under ideal conditions (for soil, water, and fertilizer). But they don't perform well under adverse conditions, and they don't breed at all well in the second generation (since the company doesn't want you to use you grain for seed, but buy more from them). They are basically designed for Western industrial farming, but don't suit the needs of small scale farmers for whom labour may be much cheaper than perfect irrigation or expensive chemical fertilizers.

And judicious protectionism to protect development may actually be neccessary. There is all sorts of research which suggests that free trade is really the best way to help economies grow, and that is probably true for developed economies, but frankly the free traders tend to just ignore the fact that just about every developed country in the world today was protectionist when it was developing, including Britain -- famously so. In Europe, those countries whose economies grew the most c1500-1800 were those who were integrated within themselves, but not intregrated with world markets -- in other words, practicing protectionism.
posted by jb at 10:57 PM on February 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


weather patterns! not whether. I never mix up those words, but my mental spell check apparently did. (Also, I haven't slept much this week.)
posted by jb at 11:01 PM on February 27, 2008


LALALALALA I HATE LIBERTARIANS SO I CAN'T HEEEEEEAR YOU
NEENER NEENER
posted by nasreddin at 11:09 PM on February 27, 2008



of course you lash back. Anything that forces you to take a long hard look, or to use your brain is quickly rebuffed.


Thanks for that SoM. Of course my brain wasn't used for my analysis of the article: I was using my spleen.


What really needs to be done?


Good question: something that the article singularly fails to address. I can say one thing: not the blind application of solely-"market-based" economic solutions that have wrecked south/central america.

Controls on corruption: genuinely democratic (not fronts for corporatistic) institutions installed : removal of subsidy to the west in competing markets. Allowance for industries and cultures to form themselves themselves in harmony with local institutions and traditions, not immediate opening up to the rapacious forces of global capital.


Is there an angle to view the prism of this distinctive American values to incorporate all walks of life from every nation?

Pointing out the futility of aide workers is important because it's a very weak part of a band-aide to a hemorrhage wound. you are the miser for your display of ignorance.


Please write in English. It would help your cause.
posted by lalochezia at 12:09 AM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


It would be a lot easier for Africa to compete if the EU/US dropped their agricultural subsidies , something Dubya has said he would do if the EU did it as well (which he knows they won't so it's a safe claim for him to make). I can still go to the store and buy Irish butter that is priced the exact same as local made butter despite the fact the Irish produce is made a few thousand kilometers away and then shipped here by a workforce probably three times as expensive as the one here.
posted by PenDevil at 12:34 AM on February 28, 2008


He's on a bit of broad brush downer about paternalism too, isn't he? If he looked at Victorian Britain, there were plenty of examples where it worked very well. Companies such as Cadbury and Rowntree were bywords for and the embodiment of paternalism - and did a great deal to improve the lives of the poor working class, by, y'know throwing free education and subsidised housing at them. But why let that get in the way of blithe statements like "paternalism’s centrally directed systems of subsidies failed to raise up submerged classes"?
posted by rhymer at 2:22 AM on February 28, 2008


The author is clearly an idiot based on his first paragraph, which isn't even about Africa.
... welfare-state social policy, beginning with Otto von Bismarck’s first Wohlfahrtsstaat experiments in nineteenth-century Germany. But paternalism’s centrally directed systems of subsidies failed to raise up submerged classes, and by the end of the twentieth century even many liberals, surveying the cultural wreckage left behind by the Great Society, had abandoned their faith in the welfare state.

This is, of course, idiotic. He starts with Germany and ends with America 'dropping' our welfare state, yet, clearly Europe never did. There are lots and lots of European countries with generous welfare systems, and they're all doing fine. More then that, poverty has been largely eradicated in western Europe (IIRC). Once you see something that disingenuous, there can be hardly any reason to read on, since there is no way to know if anything else he's saying is true.
posted by delmoi at 6:30 AM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


I feel vindicated in my position with the do-gooders. I was having a conversation with this white lady at a bar and she was telling me of her friend was a relief aide worker. She said places like Haiti have diseases that Americans have never heard of before. (I knew she totally made that up or she got some seriously bad information) ... then I proceeded to deconstruct the whole sham to her along with some background history of the place, much in the same fashion as Mr. Illich. It was a good time and she thanked me for the history lesson at the end.

I think you've got a bit of a case of paternalism yourself, and it may be impacting your ability to get laid.

And yeah, that snark is derivative, I'll admit it, UbuRoivas got there first.
posted by delmoi at 6:40 AM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


And yeah, that snark is derivative, I'll admit it, UbuRoivas got there first.

So that would make it slop--oh god never mind.

And judicious protectionism to protect development may actually be neccessary. There is all sorts of research which suggests that free trade is really the best way to help economies grow, and that is probably true for developed economies, but frankly the free traders tend to just ignore the fact that just about every developed country in the world today was protectionist when it was developing, including Britain -- famously so. In Europe, those countries whose economies grew the most c1500-1800 were those who were integrated within themselves, but not intregrated with world markets -- in other words, practicing protectionism.

jb, if you have the background, I'd love to hear more about how you think this should apply in the contemporary regime. I'm a pretty recent convert to WTO-style globalization, in large part because of the way that Oxfam and other organizations I respect have begun to change their tune. But my first intuition is to say that of course poor countries need protectionionism to develop industries that can compete globally, and I haven't yet worked out whether the WTO is simply the best of a bad batch of options, or if it's something else. The idea that African nations can sue the US and Europe, AND WIN in the WTO appeals to my sense of justice and ressentiment, but that's not necessarily the best thing for anyone involved.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:07 AM on February 28, 2008


Sorry for my garrulous comments. It was very late in the evening.
What do you mean by protectionism? And how can that be achieved. Do you mean strengthening these nations armies military wise--as that would serve as a deterrent to powerful countries encroachment? that would make sense. Because one of the reasons African nations are so ripe for dictators (both home bred and foreign installed) is it's millitary weakness.

I remember reading in Tom Friedman's book four years ago that globalization is bad news for struggling nations and there will be a "great sorting out" necessary because many will be left behind. Likewise, I remember him saying NAFTA and the WTO gives powerful countries the final say in trade practices. But I'm not up to speed on the details, can anyone elucidate? btw did China finally join the WTO?
posted by Student of Man at 8:31 AM on February 28, 2008


What do you mean by protectionism? And how can that be achieved.

I think they mean trade protectionism, not military defense. Erecting trade barriers such as import tariffs, quotas and domestic subsidies to keep out lower-priced imports in order to foster domestic industries.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 8:41 AM on February 28, 2008


This guy lost me with the idiotic and needless pejorative "Africrats."
posted by tkchrist at 9:31 AM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


not the blind application of solely-"market-based" economic solutions that have wrecked south/central america.

I know what you mean. But what about market oriented tactics?

We in the west sometimes forget/are blind to the huge amount of investment which has been made by non-market actors (eg, governments both local, regional and national and various kinds of non-profits, etc) in infrastructure which is market oriented. Every road that is built, every railroad, every corn or stock exchange (which were both originally literally for the exchange of grain and/or animals), the founding of regular markets, the regulation of those markets (to ensure honesty, etc in trading), the founding of education and research institutions, good courts, policing -- all of these are not done by market forces, but by political forces acting to make the markets work better. Our agriculture is extremely productive because we have publically founded and funded universities who do research in agriculture and train agriculturalists. This is the kind of investment which never happened in colonial Africa, but did in colonial/semi-indipendent NZ, Canada, Australia, etc.

As said above, aid shouldn't just address the symptoms of economic problems, but the causes - and one of the big causes is lack of infrastructure. There are also problems with corruption, lack of responsible government and violence/breakdown of society -- of which the last is itself spurred on by economic problems.

jb, if you have the background

Sadly, I don't have enough background. My own research is extremely parochial and of no interest to anyone or practical application. But I have been attending talks over the last few years (related to economic development in Europe, Asia) and doing some reading (most recently on Africa), and so this is coming out of a somewhat partially informed lay person's opinion. I am not an economist, I am a European historian who attends economic lectures, and I think I understand the basics, maybe. Then they bring out the big words and the formulas, and my eyes glaze over.

Like you, I have recently begun rethinking my basic instinctual reaction that free trade is bad - a reaction based out of Canada's worries over NAFTA (and the basic freetrade= Brian "I wish I were Regan" Mulroney and the Conservative party). But NAFTA has actually been pretty good for Canada; when it hasn't, it's because the United States is actually violating the terms of the agreement and putting in blatently protectionist policies (like on softwood lumber).

It hasn't been universally good -- NAFTA has been used, for instance, to violate Canada's environmental laws by forcing the acceptance of products (with hazardous ingrediants) which don't even fit the US's environmental protection regulations. This is (for me) a violation of sovriegnty and and example of a case when a non-market concern should trump a market concern.

But a market based system - especially an unregulated market system - always favours larger producers over small, because they have economy of scale and a stronger ability to weather economic difficulties.* So if you are talking about a fledgling industry/production, it's not going to compete as well against larger or more established firms - and even if it does, it might very well be bought up by them. And history does show that the West used protectionism to protect their economies and/or specific industries at critical development moments, and that this worked well.

(yes, I do mean economic protectionism)

So basically, I feel the WTO is too one-sided. Protectionism by the West - especially in the form of agricultural subsidies - is terrible for the whole world, and especially developing economies. I wish the WTO would fight them harder on that. But protectionism, perhaps just selective, can be used by developing economies to get them going, and they should be supported in these choices. It doesn't make sense to enforce the same rules on all, because we are not all the same.


* I think this leads to a tendancy towards monopolies - and while there are some market/society-based forces which fight against this, they are often not strong enough, so we have to use political force to break up monopolies, or at least try to (as with Microsoft, though that failed).
posted by jb at 10:10 AM on February 28, 2008


So basically, I feel the WTO is too one-sided.

As I understand it, the WTO's decisions go against the US when they're supposed to. The problem is that taking a case to the WTO is expensive and time-consuming, and the only punitive power available is tariffs, which aren't as effective for African nations with few imports. The press likes to call WTO decisions fines, but they're really not: just trade sanctions that are only enforceable if the country in question is a valuable trading partner. But I'm mostly hoping someone with a little more info can fill in the blanks.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:22 AM on February 28, 2008


Not to mention that you can count cases taken up against the US since the board's inception on your fingers and toes, and you can count rulings against the US on one hand.
posted by The White Hat at 3:07 PM on February 28, 2008


I just read some of the article that vitia mentioned and it's really excellent. Summary: problems with malnutrition aren't do to limited resources, but to the increased consumption of meat by tourists and wealthier Egyptians, which has redirected farming from crops used to feed people towards crops used to feed animals. As someone who ate their fair share of meat in Egypt, I suppose I am then partially responsible for any ongoing problems in malnutrition in Egypt. But it's also the case that a good deal of Egyptian poverty arises from continued stagnation of the middle class. There are some really, really wealthy people in Egypt, and some eye-poppingly poor people in Egypt but I rarely saw anyone in the middle. In order for there to be real growth that touches everyone, wealth really does have to be distributed. This is probably not going to change until there's a real change in the Egyptian government, which in turn is unlikely to happen so long as it effectively has a green light from the US to remain undemocratic (which, to be fair, is in turn because the feared alternative is the Muslim Brotherhood).
posted by Deathalicious at 6:05 PM on February 28, 2008


What really needs to be done?

Access to Fincance for small and medium-sized African agribusinesses.
That is what I am working on at least.
posted by pwedza at 7:30 AM on February 29, 2008


'Finance' that would be.
posted by pwedza at 7:30 AM on February 29, 2008


God, what a shit article.

Paternalism starts with an uncited Bismackian internal policy? Without the context of German dynamics that led to, again, the internal policy? Because while Bismarck may have been arguably paternalistic, that was neither the beginning of the welfare state, nor the beginning of the modern welfare state, nor concerned with foreign aid. Further, Bismarck was dogmatically domestic in his sphere—he resisted the Kaiser's entreaties to expand Germany's colonial holdings as much as possible, feeling that this weakened Germany's ability to respond effectively to the always complicated diplomatic dilemma of its position between Russia and France.

Then he goes on to hammer away at aid inefficiencies in a bizarro-Randian way, blaming the left for things that they've been working on changing for years—traditionally US developmental aid has been more for the benefit of the US, especially agricultural subsidies and developmental loans based on an extraction-based developmental regime.

So, in the end, shitty polemics from someone with an agenda, read with too much credulity by people whose biases it confirms.
posted by klangklangston at 10:11 AM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


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