Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Tsunami Aid and Stinginess
I'm still in the midst of moving and the busiest work month of the year, so I don't have much time to comment, but here's a round-up of some other thoughts on the UN, US and Tsunami aid that I found compelling.
One of the problems with simply giving aid is that it often only gets to whichever two-bit dictator runs the recipient country. Instead of alleviating the wretched conditions the citizenry live under, said two-bit dictator buys another Mercedes so he can continue to drive circles around his palace. Why circles? Because it's the only goddamned road in the country because no money is ever spent on any infrastructure.
With that, from the trade not aid department comes this from The Australian
First, in 2002, official development assistance, according to the OECD, totalled $US58 billion, an increase in real terms of 7 per cent over 2001 and the highest real level achieved since 1992. Under the Monterrey Consensus, Western donor nations have pledged to increase ODA by 32 per cent by 2006.
Second, these claims assume that the more aid the better. Setting aside the emergency relief being rushed to tsunami survivors, which is vital and absolutely necessary, foreign aid has, in general, not been very effective. Indeed, if the aid industry's effectiveness was judged by its success in poverty alleviation, it would have been shut down years ago.
For example, according to World Bank figures, despite spending $US100 billion in aid in sub-Saharan Africa between 1970 and 1999, about 17 countries experienced a decline in real per capita gross national product.
It's not surprising that Oxfam's Ensor would speak glowingly of how "aid works". As Alex de Waal observes in his book Famine Crimes, non-government organisations and aid agencies are alike in that they do not commission public evaluations or publicise their internal assessments because the demands of fundraising and institutional survival make it imperative not to admit failures.
There is a disconnect between how effective the public thinks its aid contributions are and the reality of aid. Western governments, which to a degree evaluate their own aid funding, are aware of its frequent failures. This explains, in large measure, the donor fatigue felt by Western governments. They are not just aware of aid's ineffectiveness; they are also aware of how aid, even emergency relief, when channelled into conflict zones, serves to feed armed conflict and undermine the ability of local economies to recover.
Read the rest. Looking for some proof that free trade is an effective antidote to poverty? From the San Francisco Chronicle comes this.
It should come as heartening news that 2004 was one of the most prosperous years in history. Not because the U.S. economy grew by a solid 4.3 percent, but because developing countries experienced an explosive 6.1 percent economic growth.
Think where you and/or your family might be if there were no mortgage lenders, no car loans, and no credit cards, if you everything you purchased had to be paid for in full up front. What would you have? It's worth remembering that the only true cure for poverty is wealth. Free trade and open markets are the mechanisms that foster this growth.
According to a recent study by the World Bank, 2004's growth reflected "an expansion without precedent over the past 30 years." Equally encouraging, the report notes that "the rapid growth of developing economies ... has produced a spectacular, if not historic, fall in poverty."
Amazingly, the World Bank report did not get much coverage in our mainstream media. It seems the press was more interested in covering the evils of globalization than in taking notice of how world trade -- which grew by an astounding 10.2 percent this year -- is driving economic growth.
When Americans do hear about the World Bank, it's usually because an unruly mob is protesting against it. The protesters are long on rhetoric but short on facts.
But it's not just protesters who are misguided. Many of our nation's teachers also don't realize why poverty in developing countries is declining at such a rapid rate. Far too often, teachers are uneasy when they realize that free markets are the best way to help those in poverty.
For example, most Americans would be surprised to learn that millions of poor people who live on less than $1 per day would be better off if they could go into debt. The reason they can't is that the institutions required to sustain capitalism are not present.
...One big reason people in more advanced societies are able to enjoy a more comfortable existence is that they are able to purchase items by going into debt. Americans take that for granted. Any person living in absolute poverty would love to trade positions with any one of us and walk in our shoes -- to have a job and be able to borrow money for a car or a home.
It's a shame that America's youth do not understand these basic economic concepts. If they did, they'd be less inclined to join globalization protests because they would understand why the economies of China and India grew by 8.8 percent and 6 percent, respectively, last year.
In fact, the recent success of developing countries at fighting poverty could be an Economics 101 lesson for today's American classroom. In East Asia and the Pacific region alone, the number of poor dropped from 472 million in 1990 to 271 million in 2001. By 2015, that number should shrink to 19 million, according to the World Bank.
While the above offer some longer term solutions for third world advancement, the devastation brought by the tsunami obviously requires more immediate aid and action. Something tailor made for the U.N. right? In rhetoric only it seems.
Once again as the UN talks of it's "unique moral authority", others, more capable, act.
The helicopters are taking off and landing now in the tsunami-shattered villages and towns. The sick are being taken for treatment. Clean water is being delivered. Food is arriving. Soon the work of reconstruction will begin.
The countries doing this good work have politely agreed to acknowledge the "coordinating" role of the United Nations. But it is hard to see how precisely the rescue work would be affected if the UN's officials all stayed in New York - or indeed if the UN did not exist at all.
The UN describes its role in South Asia as one of "assessment" and "coordination." Even this, however, seems to many to be a role unnecessary to the plot. The Daily Telegraph last week described the frustration of in-country UN officials who found they had nothing to do as the Americans, Australians, Indonesians, and Malaysians flew missions.
...Whence exactly does this moral authority emanate? How did the UN get it? Did it earn it by championing liberty, justice, and other high ideals? That seems a strange thing to say about a body that voted in 2003 to award the chair of its commission on human rights to Mummar Gaddafi's Libya.
Did it earn it by the efficacy of its aid work? On the contrary, the UN's efforts in Iraq have led to the largest financial scandal in the organisation's history: as much as $20 billion unaccounted for in oil-for-food funds. UN aid efforts in the Congo have been besmirched by allegations of sexual abuse of children; in the Balkans, by charges of sex trafficking.
Is the UN a defender of the weak against aggression by the powerful? Not exactly. Two of this planet's most intractable conflicts pit small democracies against vastly more populous neighbouring states. In both cases, the UN treats the democracies – Israel, Taiwan – like pariahs.
This record may explain why the UN is regarded by so many Americans as neither moral nor authoritative – and why American leaders of both political parties reject UN attempts to control American actions.
Mark Steyn takes a pass on political correctness to carve out some truth.
The path of the tsunamis tracked the arc of the Muslim world, from Sumatra to Somalia; the most devastated country is the world's most populous Muslim nation, and the most devastated part of that country is the one province living under the strictures of sharia.
And finally, in a column where I could easily excerpt the whole thing, the incomparable Victor Davis Hanson, reflects on a changing American mood.
But, as usual, when disaster strikes it's the Great Satan and his various Little Satans who leap to respond. In the decade before September 11, the US military functioned, more or less exclusively, as a Muslim rapid reaction force – coming to the aid of Kuwaiti Muslims, Bosnian Muslims, Somali Muslims and Albanian Muslims. Since then, with the help of its Anglo-Australian allies, it's liberated 50 million Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq.
That's not how the West's anti-war movements see it. I found myself behind a car the other day bearing the bumper sticker, "War Is Costly. Peace Is Priceless" – which is standard progressive generic autopilot boilerplate, that somehow waging war and doing good are mutually exclusive. But you can't help noticing that when disaster strikes, it's the warmongers who are also the compassion-mongers. Of the top six donor nations to tsunami relief, four are members of George W. Bush's reviled "coalition of the willing".
What was it the Romans said? "If you seek peace, prepare for war." It's truer than they know. It's because Australia's prepared for war that it can do all the feelgood humanitarian stuff – such as landing 10 army engineers in Banda Aceh to attach a mobile filtration system to the decrepit mains pipes and thereby not merely restore the water supply but improve it.
There is a new strange mood of acceptance among Americans about the world beyond our shores. Of course, we are not becoming naïve isolationists of 1930s vintage, who believe that we are safe by ourselves inside fortress America — not after September 11. Nor do citizens deny that America has military and moral obligations to stay engaged abroad — at least for a while yet. Certainly the United States is not mired in a Vietnam-era depression and stagflation and thus ready to wallow in Carteresque malaise. Indeed, if anything Americans remain muscular and are more defiant than ever.
Read the rest, especially if you are a fan of American Western cinema.
Instead, there is a new sort of resignation rising in the country, as the United States sheds its naiveté that grew up in the aftermath of the Cold War. Clintonism may have assumed that terrorism was but a police matter, that the military could be slashed and used for domestic social reform by fiat, that our de facto neutrals were truly our friends, and that the end of the old smash-mouth history was at hand. The chaotic events following the demise of the Soviet Union, the mass murder on September 11, and the new strain of deductive anti-Americanism abroad cured most of all that.
Imagine a world in which there was no United States during the last 15 years. Iraq, Iran, and Libya would now have nukes. Afghanistan would remain a seventh-century Islamic terrorist haven sending out the minions of Zarqawi and Bin Laden worldwide. The lieutenants of Noriega, Milosevic, Mullah Omar, Saddam, and Moammar Khaddafi would no doubt be adjudicating human rights at the United Nations. The Ortega Brothers and Fidel Castro, not democracy, would be the exemplars of Latin America. Bosnia and Kosovo would be national graveyards like Pol Pot's Cambodia. Add in Kurdistan as well — the periodic laboratory for Saddam's latest varieties of gas. Saddam himself, of course, would have statues throughout the Gulf attesting to his control of half the world's oil reservoirs. Europeans would be in two-day mourning that their arms sales to Arab monstrocracies ensured a second holocaust. North Korea would be shooting missiles over Tokyo from its new bases around Seoul and Pusan. For their own survival, Germany, Taiwan, and Japan would all now be nuclear. Americans know all that — and yet they grasp that their own vigilance and military sacrifices have earned them spite rather than gratitude. And they are ever so slowly learning not much to care anymore.
...So an entire mythology has grown up to accommodate this false world of ours — sadly never more evident than during the recent tsunami disaster, a tragedy that has juxtaposed rhetoric with reality in a way that becomes each day more surreal. The wealthy Gulf States pledge very little of their vast petrol-dollar reserves — swollen from last year's jacked-up gasoline prices — to aid the ravaged homelands of their Islamic nannies, drivers, and janitors. Indeed, Muslim charities advertise to their donors that their aid goes to fellow Muslims — as if a dying Buddhist or Christian is less deserving of the Muslim Street's aid. In defense, officials argue that the ostracism of "charities" that funded suicide killers to the tune of $150 million has hampered their humanitarian efforts at scraping up a fifth of that sum. But then blowing apart Americans or Jews is always a higher priority than saving innocent Muslim children.
So even in death and misery, the world's pathologies remain — as Israel is disinvited to help the dying as the most benevolent United States, which freed Afghanistan and toppled Saddam, is supposedly under scrutiny to "regain" its stature for its "crimes" of jailing a mass murderer and sponsoring elections in his place. Last year alone the United States gave more direct money to Egypt and Jordan than what the entire billion-person Muslim world has given for the dead in Indonesia.
China, flush with billions in trade surplus, first offers a few million to its immediate Asian neighbors before increasing its contributions in the wake of massive gifts from Japan and the United States. Peking's gesture was what the usually harsh New York Times magnanimously called "slightly belated." In this weird sort of global high-stakes charity poker, no one asks why tiny Taiwan out-gives one billion mainlanders or why Japan proves about the most generous of all — worried the answer might suggest that postwar democratic republics, resurrected and nourished by the United States and now deeply entrenched in the Western liberal tradition of democracy, capitalism, and humanitarianism, are more civil societies than the Islamic theocracies, socialist republics, and authoritarian autocracies of the once-romanticized third world.
While it is heartening to see the outpouring of generosity from our nation, I couldn't help but wonder why the tsunami victims are so much more deserving of the left's compassion than the victims of Saddam Hussein. After all, Hussein's regime slaughtered at least 5 times as many humans as the tsunami did. Perhaps someone can explain to me what I am overlooking?