Saturday, June 11, 2005

Live 8, The British Initiative and Victory Over Want 

Live 8, The British Initiative and The Project for Victory Over Want

Bob Geldof's campaign for Africa is magnificent and unique. His persistence over a full generation is a measure of his dedication to a great humanitarian cause.
The proposals of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his Treasurer Gordon Brown and their Government also deserve support, both in themselves and in the impact that we hope they will have on the policies of the governments of other highly-developed economies including the United States.
Our aim - the aim of all of us - should be to make these efforts as successful and productive as we possibly can. However, although some of the more prominent proposals, such as cancellation of debt, can be applauded, they will do little, if anything, to reduce poverty or stimulate self-sustaining growth in the recipient countries.
As an Australian diplomat, I have been associated with aid programs for more than fifty years - since immediately after the Second World War. Service as Australian High Commissioner in West Africa left me with a deep affection for the African people and an appreciation of the magnitude of the economic, social and political challenges they face, including those challenges left behind by the former colonial powers.
The case for helping the Africans to meet these challenges is unassailable.
The case for helping other people living in poverty in other continents, is equally unassailable.
All of us in more comfortable circumstances should do what we can to banish poverty and its attendant suffering from the face of the Earth.
It was with that in mind that, at the beginning of 2002, I launched the project for "Victory Over Want". My view then was that it was not a matter of helping the poor, at the "cost" of the rich. Rather all of us - rich and poor - would "profit" if we were to use enlightened policies to help those poorer than ourselves. We will all grow richer if we can abolish poverty. We will all grow more secure if we can abolish poverty. We will all grow more comfortable in mind and body if we can abolish poverty wherever it occurs.
We must always bear in mind that severe poverty exists even in the richest as well as the poorer countries. In recent years, the threat of economic recession or depression has become more acute and widespread. Millions of people are unemployed and needy in Western Europe, North America, Australia and other "developed" areas. Even many of those who are employed are still impoverished if we apply reasonable standards of human welfare.
VOW therefore continues to have two overriding purposes:
(1) To halt the slide of the world economy into recession or depression and to re-launch it, through direct public and private investment, in ways that are effective, sustainable and equitable for all the world¹s people.
(2) To enhance the economic and, with it, the social and political infrastructure of all countries and regions, at whatever stage of development, so that both individuals and their societies can realise their potential in economic, social, political, cultural and other terms.
Within these overriding purposes, VOW asserts the right of all societies to invest their human and material resources for peaceful purposes, in ways that they see as fundamentally important to themselves and to vary the mix of public and private investment and enterprise in ways that they freely and democratically choose.
VOW is directed to serve all countries and regions around the world. It is concerned with the developed countries and regions as well as with the less and the least developed. Even in the richest areas of Europe, such as the South of France, many people are poor and homeless. Appeals for donations of food - "Marchons contre la faim" - are a recurring feature of daily life. In North America, millions, including children, are homeless and millions more live in sub-standard accommodation. Many are educated to levels far below their potential and some fifty million people - equal to almost the total population of Britain, France or Italy - have no medical insurance.
We will all benefit from enlightened policies of development. The rich will grow richer - and be more assured that they will retain their income and wealth - through abolishing poverty in the poorer areas. As one commentator recently put it: "One way out [of the problems of the rich developed countries] is faster development in the emerging economies, which will give rise to more consumption there. In this regard, the high-speed growth in India and China is very positive. China imported US$560 billion worth of goods in 2004, and this statistic could reach US$1 trillion by 2009. India, Russia, Brazil and many other emerging nations have been sharply increasing their consumption of late. One thing is clear, developed nations and the late developers are more than ever in the same boat."
That means that, to defeat poverty everywhere, we need to return to the attitudes of mind we had after World War Two. Then, in a world devastated by war, we were driven by a determination to avoid any recurrence of the economic suffering of the 1930s, the emergence of extremist régimes and the horrors of armed conflict. Policies of stable economic growth, social welfare and full employment were pursued nationally and through the United Nations and other international agencies. Then, in 1947, the Marshall Plan was launched.
The Marshall Plan had two crucial elements. The first was that it benefitted those who provided the finance, the productive potential, and the products of a dynamic economy, as well as those who received them. The second was that programs and projects were conceived, designed and carried through in a process of cooperation between those who provided the resources and those who received them. A continuing organisation - the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC) - was set up to supervise and administer the Marshall-Plan process.
The Marshall Plan was one of the most efficient and successful enterprises in international cooperation in the twentieth century. It achieved its goals and the OEEC was transformed into the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). OECD still exists though with less effectiveness in devising sound and creative policies for the developed countries and imaginative aid policies for the less developed countries than, at an earlier stage, we might have hoped.
The VOW approach is to use essentially the processes of the Marshall Plan to enable us to banish poverty, through practical, day-to-day cooperation among participants and by using efficient economic, financial and business techniques. In that approach, the Marshall Plan is defined, not in a loose way as an unsupervised and poorly managed outpouring of aid funds, but as a hard-headed, cooperative program of investment, productivity and production that, by its very success, will contrive its own demise.
VOW contemplates that the process of eliminating want should start by coordinated definition of the problem and seek a solution through the participation of all, both poor and rich. Initially, a small executive working group (EWG) of no more than a dozen members, representative of all the continents, should be set up. This group should establish the broad parameters of the project. It should also arrange the appointment of commissions on, for example, economic stability and growth; full employment; transport and communications; the environment; health; and others.
The commissions should bring together experts in their fields but, above all, they should be representative of as wide a variety as possible of geographical areas, races, religions and stages of economic development. They should be charged with submitting their reports to the EWG within as short a period as practicable, say, three to six months. Those reports should, inter alia, seek to establish why some countries, especially in East and South Asia, have made unprecedented economic progress while other countries, especially in Africa, have been going backwards, even after having received substantial aid for decades. The reports should seek to show how fixed-capital investment, public and private, can, as in some parts of Asia, be used to boost productivity and production on a continuing basis and so raise employment, living standards and, generally, levels of human well-being. The reports should show how infrastructure investment, largely by public and international agencies, can be associated with private enterprise in coordinated programs of development. In brief, the aim will be to map out arrangements that will achieve real, self-generating growth - growth that can be sustained in the way that such growth has been achieved and sustained in the "Asian Tiger" countries over the past thirty years, and, more recently, in China and India.
Those reports would then form the basis of discussion and decision at a world conference which would be convened to launch the Program for Victory Over Want. As well as agreeing the broad guidelines for such a program, it would also establish a widely representative multinational body to oversee the administration and execution of the program. That executive body would continue in existence until such time as it could be demonstrated that victory over want had been achieved.
One of the principal features of these arrangements is that they would be expressions of direct democracy. The Marshall Plan was essentially governmental. However, especially in the last twenty to thirty years, governments have abdicated their responsibilities in most if not all of our most urgent national and international concerns, whether economic, social, political or strategic. In effect, governments have withdrawn from practical attention to the most urgent issues of our time. For some years, the people have expressed their unease through demonstrations or sometimes through formal democratic processes, such as the recent "No" vote on the EU Constitution expressed so unambiguously by the people of France and The Netherlands. In several countries around the world, governments have been overturned by their people acting outside the formal democratic or constitutional processes.
It is vital therefore that the VOW process should not be dominated by governments which have failed so dismally to meet the expectations of their electorates. Some government representatives should be accepted if they embrace the purposes of VOW but the principal inspiration and drive should come from a variety of representatives of grass-roots democracy.
Will such a process of grass-roots democracy be effective in eliminating want and creating a more cooperative, peaceful and secure world society?
All that we can guarantee is that a purposeful, well-organised process would seem to give us the best chance of achieving a cooperative, peaceful and secure world society. This is particularly so in a situation that has shown such serious deterioration over the fifteen years since the end of the Cold War. Cold War tensions have been followed by governmental confusion, chaos and culpable inactivity so dangerous that they could lead to catastrophic, worldwide suffering and conflict.
The VOW process would establish a program and a Charter that would serve as a basis on which national governments and international agencies, including the United Nations and associated agencies, could build with assurance and widespread support. The program and Charter would not be imposed by any one group of countries or people on others but drafted by all in fundamentally democratic cooperation.
While the Charter would be a product of direct democracy rather than of governments or international agencies, its ultimate acceptance and implementation by governments will be essential. Some non-governmental resources will be available to implement the program but it is likely that only governments will have the resources necessary to carry the whole program through on a long-term basis. Governments are already providing large amounts of aid, said to be, in the case of the EU, some $56 billion and, in the case of the United States, some $20 billion a year. However, this aid has been and is being provided in a way that has contributed and will contribute little or nothing to real development or reduction of poverty. Indeed, poverty now afflicts more people in many countries, developed and developing, than it did some decades ago.
Will acceptance of the Charter by governments be forthcoming?
Much will depend on the quality of the Charter. The careful multinational, multi-cultural process of drafting embodied in the VOW arrangements should ensure that the resultant Charter is of high quality and that it will acquire an authority that governments will be unable to resist.
As the drafting proceeds, governments are likely to manifest increasing interest in the Charter. Whether by formal participation or by informally feeding views into the drafting process, the Charter is therefore likely to become an international instrument that governments will be able - and perhaps obliged - to accept. In the field of international action to fight poverty, the Charter might thus become the equivalent to the Dumbarton Oaks proposals of 1944 which were then, in their essence, adopted by governments to become the Charter of the United Nations at the San Francisco Conference in 1945.
Will finance be available?
Millions of people around the world have shown their willingness to contribute huge sums to international aid, whether to alleviate chronic suffering or to help after a particular event such as the tsunami of 26 December 2004.
We need to divide the financial requirements into two parts:
(1) The costs of forming the executive working group, convening the commissions and running the World Conference; and
(2) The costs of formulating and implementing actual programs and projects.
The finance required for (1) is tiny in relation to the huge amounts of aid that have been disbursed in the past and that are currently being disbursed or proposed.
The initial finance required to launch the process by forming and convening the executive working group could be as little as $250,000. Costs would increase with the appointment of commissions and the convening of the World Conference but could probably be accommodated within a budget of about $10 million. That would be a tiny fraction of the amount already being spent on aid each day and would provide us with guidelines for the effective provision of aid of a quality and authority we have never had before.
The finance required for (2) would be considerably greater but would not necessarily exceed the amount already being spent under existing bilateral and multilateral aid programs. The difference would lie in the effectiveness of the aid. Growth of an economy depends ultimately on the size and quality of its public and private fixed-capital investment. As this investment and the consequent leap in productivity and production yielded a new dynamism in the participating economies, growth would become self-sustaining. Over what could be a relatively short period of, let us say, ten or fifteen years, that growth would enable aid to be phased out, just as it was in western Europe after the Second World War and as it was in a large part of east and south Asia in the latter part of the 20th century.
Through this process, we would eliminate poverty in both the richer and the poorer countries, we would achieve a greater equality among both individuals and societies and we would reduce the risks of conflict through war or terrorism. We would have the resources to enable us to protect our environment and our planet; and we could start to reverse the terrifying proliferation of conventional and nuclear arms around the world.
All of this is possible if we work together in enlightened and cooperative ways - ways indeed that are not strange or exotic but that we have already used effectively in the past.

A more detailed account of Victory Over Want (VOW) may be seen at -
The web page of the initiator of Victory Over Want is at -

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