Thursday, August 25, 2005

End Poverty by being Smart and Determined 

My involvement in aid of a variety of kinds goes back to the years immediately after WW2, with UNRRA and post-UNRRA Relief, then the Point Four Programs, the Colombo Plan, Marshall Aid, UNCTAD, World Food Program, UNIDO and so on and on - and on.

We can divide aid into two broad categories: (1) emergency aid - essential to prevent threats to life right now - and (2)longer term aid, intended to enable the recipients to build up their capacity to produce for themselves - and deal with emergencies as they arise. Though not given as swiftly and generously as it often should be, emergency aid is a must, if we are to embrace reasonably humanitarian principles and practices. We should not let our fellow human beings, especially vulnerable women and children, starve, die from treatable illnesses or suffer painful and humiliating conditions of living, if we can prevent it.

However, longer term aid is equally essential if we are to prevent chronic suffering and/or the recurrence of a more or less regular cycle of emergency need. Unless we can dramatically lift the productive capacity of some areas, they will always contrast with the relative prosperity, wealth and security of societies such as those in Europe, north America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. In some ways poverty and inequality diverge; but both, at least in their more extreme and humiliating forms, are to be avoided, if we are to be able to look towards reasonably stable international political, economic and strategic security.

In this context, it is vital that we be more fully aware of the almost miraculous progress in productive capacity and living levels that have occurred in the "Asian Tiger" economies since the 1970s. Progress of a similar kind - a progress which is even more startling because of the size of the communities involved - is now being made by China and India.
The contrast between these "Tiger" economies and the African economies over the same period and in what have appeared to be the same world trading conditions, is so striking that we must search vigorously for the causes. If we can accurately identify those causes, we might be close to finding the formula for launching the African and other "least developed" economies on the same growth path.

My experience of Africa consists mainly of service as Australian High Commissioner in Nigeria, a post which also took in Sierra Leone and those countries from Benin in the north-west to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the south-east. I made extensive tours in Africa, the longest covering, not only West African countries, but also Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Mauritius.

Over the years - around forty since independence for most African countries - substantial emergency and long-term aid has gone to Africa, delivered under both bilateral and multilateral programs. Emergency aid has tended to be as repetitive in scale and scope as the emergencies. Ethiopia needed emergency aid twenty years ago; Ethiopia needs emergency aid today. Niger, in or on the edge of the Sahara, always has been a candidate for widespread misery and starvation. Its plight today can be no real surprise and that plight will be repeated unless we find a way of removing its fundamental causes in the aid that we provide.

In all of these cases, we must ask: what should we do to make the country or region self-sustaining over the long haul - and self-sustaining at a level of living that, in the 21st century, we have come to regard as acceptable or at least tolerable?

Long-term aid, bilateral or multilateral, has had little effect in most of the less developed countries. Agriculture has stagnated or declined, secondary industry has shown little development, no matter how large and persistent the capital and technical assistance. Exploitation of often huge and valuable natural resources - oil, diamonds and the rest - has brought little benefit to the general population, nor has it brought sustained, diversified growth to the economy. Broadly, those resources have been squandered to the advantage of foreigners, speculators and a diversified group of political opportunists and warlords. Overall, most African countries have probably received less long-term, fixed-capital aid than many countries elsewhere; but there is little convincing evidence that more aid of this kind would anyway have had much more beneficial effect. For example, an international organisation like UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation) seems to have had a negligible impact in developing manufacturing in the African countries, despite its efforts over some forty years. The same may be said of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, although these two institutions have helped to establish some infrastructure - not always in ways most helpful to the recipient country.

Can we expect anything more of the aid which is now proposed? Can our hopes be higher for the alleged expansion and modest diversification of aid which is now proposed?

The short answer is that, if it is no different from past aid, the odds are that it will be no more effective than past aid.

The evidence is that cancellation of debt will, in itself, have negligible impact on expansion of fixed-capital investment which is the key to sustainable, long-term growth. The same is true of relaxation of restrictions on the trade of the least-developed countries. Those restrictions, including subsidies, should be removed; but, in itself, the increase in foreign-exchange revenues will not be enough to affect economic development and growth dramatically; and, in any case, those revenues will need to be applied in ways distinct from those of the past if more beneficial results are to be achieved. We must again bear in mind the ways in which revenues from oil and, for example, diamonds, have been squandered.

None of that means that we should not offer that relief; nor does it mean that the kind of emergency aid proposed by Bob Geldof and Bono should not be extended and expanded. On the contrary, it should and our continuing awareness of the desperate need of the people living in poverty should provide a stimulus for us to try constantly to find longer-term and more satisfying solutions to the problems of chronic or long-term poverty everywhere.

We must remember that the problems of poverty are not confined to developing countries. We have substantial and widespread poverty in the world's richest countries. We have inequalities which are unacceptable - or should be unacceptable - to all societies, rich or poor. We have instabilities too - and speculative and corrupt practices - which are unacceptable. Those instabilities and practices afflict all countries, everywhere, the richest as well as the poorest.

Here may indeed lie a key to the solution of the problem of poverty in the poorest countries. We in the rich countries can resolve our own problems by resolving the problems of the poorest countries at the same time as we ameliorate the misery of the poor in our own countries whom we have neglected for far too long. The two can and should go together.

Let us go back for a moment to the years immediately after the Second World War. After the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Second World War, we were determined to construct a postwar world society that avoided both economic depression and armed conflict. At the multilateral level, we created the United Nations, with economic and social responsibilities as well as responsibilities for world peace. We set up such organisations as an array of regional and technical commissions within the framework of the United Nations to report through an Economic and Social Council to the General Assembly of the United Nations. We created a Food and Agriculture Organisation, The Bretton Woods twins - the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank - an International Labour Office, a General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. These and many others flourished in the years between 1945 and 1970 but have sadly languished since.

We can eliminate poverty everywhere. People as different as former President Bill Clinton and Jane Goodall have assured us not only that we should but that we can do it in a reasonable period of time.

I too believe we can.

But we will need to change the policies we have adopted over the last thirty years. Those policies have emphasised reliance on the "free" market and the private sector. They have advocated reduction of the role of government and public investment. They have advocated a "freedom" in economic policies that guarantees power and privilege for the relatively few, and instability, inequality and/or poverty for most of us.

As we learned in the decades before the Second World War, a "perfect" market economy can never deliver economic stability and full employment, except for relatively brief moments. Economic stability and full employment - with high levels of growth and innovation - can be delivered only by a mixed economy, that is, one in which public participation in the economy is substantial, imaginative and energetic.

That does not mean a centrally-planned economy. It means a mixed economy in which we avoid the inadequacies of both the centrally-planned economies and the present so-called "free" market economies.
It means the widespread adoption of policies, similar to those adopted between 1945 and 1970, by means of which we can resume our conquest of poverty, inequality and social and political instability, everywhere in the world. Without it, we will never have reliable, persistent full employment and relatively equal opportunity, we will never have well-founded peace and peaceful change, and we will never have, in fulfilment of our universal human aspirations, a spontaneous, co-operative resumption of such enterprises as the conquest of space. Without it, we may never again land on the moon, whether it be an actual moon landing or a satisfaction of our human aspirations in other visionary ways, such as the conquest of poverty everywhere on our own planet Earth.

Those who would like to find a design - for a practical and practicable process for the elimination of poverty - might like to visit http://VictoryOverWant.org.

VOW suggests that governments have failed to address problems of world poverty and that a democratic initiative, outside the frontiers of present governments and established international institutions, is required. That initiative should not be undertaken by the rich only, to minister patronisingly to the needs of the poor. It should be a combined effort by all countries, all regions, all races, all religions. It should be an investigation, an enquiry and a co-operative effort by people of all political persuasions, driven by solving not only the problems of others but, essentially, the problems of every one of us. The effort should be driven by the need to find peace and, even beyond that, to devise means of achieving and maintaining peaceful change.

VOW does not advocate a helter-skelter, revolutionary overthrow of our economic, social and political systems. Instead, it advocates the rational application of the knowledge we have gathered - scientific and other - to create a world society that is progressive and peaceloving and that is free of poverty and the grossest of the inequalities that beset us now.

The task may be difficult - and may seem forbidding to many - but we can certainly manage it, if we have the will and the preparedness to make those changes that will sustain us, not only as individuals or societies but even as a species. It is what we must do if we are to ensure that we will be capable of survival, in the years and through the generations ahead.

James Cumes

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Terror and the Self 

by Scarlette McCallum (reader) at 7/17/2005 11:29:37 AM
Mr. Cumes, I just read your terrific article, “Terror and the Self” forwarded by Dr. Valkin. Thank you for the insight into “group think” phenomena. You present a fascinating perspective. I have written two little articles about the Domestic Violence Movement because I found myself swept up it’s in tide wave. I am a nubile writer who can not seem to quiet the raging voice within me, so I put it to paper as best I can. I have been struggling to understand how the DV movement, and its equally narcissistic counterpart, known as the Father’s Right Movement, could so blatantly ignore the real life consequences to children of their gender wars. Both groups have cult-like characteristics and have gained a great deal of power in our family courts, seemingly without consequence or scrutiny. Your article gave me a lot to think about. Thanks again! Best, Scarlette McCallum
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Posted by James Cumes (author) at 8/6/2005 6:36:45 AM Reply to James Cumes
Hi Scarlette McCallum: Thanks for your message. I think we underestimate the power of many associations - associations of virtually all kinds, whether related to politics, religion, nationality, race, social and economic groups, sport, entertainment and the rest.

Whether it's fathers or men more generally, the individual gains - or can gain - power through the group. He may sometimes IMAGINE he gains power but, often, if not always, he also gains power in reality. Strength is in numbers, no matter how unworthy the cause.

When he becomes aware of this gain in personal power, he will tend to give "loyalty" to the group even though he might think the group has gone to extremes that he would not earlier have approved or accepted. There is great danger in this human behaviour - even more danger because it is so normal, so natural and so widespread.

It is, in many ways, the riot behaviour of the crowd out of control. However, it seems more rational than crowd madness because often the group or association or cult - or even corporation or sporting association - is spelt out in such conventional, orthodox, essentially harmless terms.

I have little knowledge of the Fathers' Associations or Domestic Violence groups you mention; but I can readily conceive that, under a conventional umbrella, they might seek privileges and advantages for members of their group which outrage the rights of others. That represents a trend which we must try constantly and vigorously to resist.

James Cumes

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