Sunday, July 03, 2005

Critique of Live 8: Simon Jenkins & Niall Ferguson & Mark Steyn

(Update, July 5, 2005: Actually, the most blistering and the best is Mark Steyn, here, from the Daily Telegraph.)

Not everyone is entranced by Live 8. I have mixed views, although they lean heavily towards the critique by Niall Ferguson (photo at left) that appears below. However, here is one of the most trenchant and blistering, by Simon Jenkins in the Sunday Times of London, Sunday, July 3, 2005. Excerpts:

"Live 8 is clearly an echo of Live Aid, Geldof’s money-raising spectacular for Ethiopian famine in 1985. Live Aid was a spontaneous response to what television presented as a crisis. Its outcome has been hotly debated, most recently by David Rieff in this month’s Prospect magazine. Showering money, trucks and food on Mengistu’s Ethiopia entrenched a vicious regime and aided one of the most cruel forced migrations in history. Ethiopia was never short of food.

"Live 8 seems to acknowledge this critique. The £20m it raises will go not on poverty but on itself. Not a penny will go to Africa. Indeed a potential fundraising opportunity, which might at least have bought a planeload of anti-Aids drugs, has become an exhibition of high-tech media co-ordination and a celebrity fiesta. Geldof has given up on money. He rephrases Lennon’s “All you need is love” as “All you need is awareness”.

"All this asks to be taken seriously as politics. So let’s do so — and as more than background schmooze for Blair’s G8 spectacular at Gleneagles. The G8 is not a decision-making body but a “conversation” between rich nations. It has no constitution and no executive. The United Nations, not the G8, is the proper forum for collective action onworld poverty.

"Targeting the G8 is in truth a hangover from 1960s left-wing agitprop, which held that the evils of the world were due to capitalism and colonial exploitation. Conventional wisdom was to dump the West’s surplus savings and produce on Africa, and then to wail when the continent was predictably corrupted. At a rough estimate some $500 billion was tipped into Africa over the past 40 years. Most observers maintain this contributed to political instability and a negative growth rate.

"Geldof disagrees. He is a big-time interventionist. He claims legitimacy not by democratic mandate but by the dubious franchise of rock concert attendances. He tells his audiences that they do not need to give money or think. They can feel better just by chanting a mantra like monks. Awareness is self-defining. It accepts no responsibility for any political outcomes. Blame is transferred to elected politicians.

"Buried behind these antics are two strongly contrasting arguments. Live 8’s demand is apparently that governments should up the Sixties game and assume the mantle of global welfare. Voluntary giving to charity should become compulsory. The humanitarian urge should be nationalised. In addition, outcomes do not matter. Geldof is quoted in the International Herald Tribune as claiming that something must be done “even if it doesn’t work”. For him, doing something useless even if harmful is a moral advance on doing nothing.

"On this argument it does not matter if the West merely gives money to power. Too bad if it distorts markets, inflates currencies and depletes incentives. Too bad if, as an IMF report suggested last week, aid does not lead to higher growth in most of Africa and possibly the reverse. In Ethiopia Geldof appeared to agree. Aid must somehow trickle down from power to poor. Hence the continued demand to “double aid”. It is like the Pentagon strategy for bombing Iraq. Some of it must hit a target.

"The second argument responds to this implied criticism by demanding that aid be “smart”. It should be conditional on countries engaging in political and economic reform, as according to George Bush. Aid should go only to those who mean to help themselves. Africa should be a continent on workfare. There should be no subsidies to corruption. Aid is a tool of the global democratic crusade.

"Thus one speaker last week demanded that debt relief — aid by another name — should depend upon monitored elections, anti-corruption courts and “green” audits. All this would need the revival of Africa’s old ruling class, the unemployed offspring of Europe’s rich. The Lugard tradition of Britain’s indirect imperialism returns as expatriate NGOs in white 4x4s.

"I go along with neither argument. Yet my response is unlikely to be heard amid the din. If $500 billion has done Africa more harm than good, how can doubling it possibly do more good than harm? We know that aid induces dependency. The idea of aiding only those governments of whose policies we approve is what happens when charity is nationalised. It denies the humanitarian imperative, which by its nature is ad hoc and personal.

"Helping only those that help themselves is a contradiction in terms. A child dying on television may be distressing, but children are dying “off television” the world over. Western peace of mind may be a worthy goal of policy, but it cannot justify a new age of imperialism in Africa."

(Update, Sunday, July 3, 2005: See also this excellent critique by Niall Ferguson, in the Sunday, July 3, 2005 Daily Telegraph, here. Note his comments on Sachs and on the naivete of the Live 8 enthusiasts:

"It may come as a surprise to Live 8 fans, but the top three reasons why most African countries are economic basket cases are not lack of aid, excessive debt service payments and protectionism by developed countries. They are in fact chronic misgovernment, recurrent civil war and the high incidence of diseases such as malaria and Aids. It is just possible that more aid, debt relief and freer trade could mitigate these problems. But experience is not encouraging.
Between 1975 and 1984, real net aid from the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development to Sub-Saharan African countries grew at a rate of nearly 8 per cent, two and a half times faster than in the past 10 years. Yet African growth was 2 per cent a year, compared with more than 3 per cent since 1995. With the exception of the compulsively optimistic Jeff Sachs - Bono's new best friend - most economists today acknowledge that higher growth in Africa will only come when there is real political reform in countries such as Zimbabwe, and real peace in countries such as the Congo.

"Will Live 8 put pressure on Robert Mugabe to step down? Will it put pressure on Congo's warring factions to lay down their arms? Hm, that's funny; those demands don't seem to have made it into Sir Bob's manifesto. And it's easy to see why not. It's so much more satisfying for the Jellybys to make believe that Africa's woes are the responsibility of those "eight (white, terminally uncool) men" who lead the G8 countries.

"So yesterday's feel-good / do-good extravaganza was fundamentally misconceived. But it was also - and hence my allusion to Dickens - deeply anachronistic. A century ago, it made some sense for Victorian Britons to believe that they could help Africa. Britain in those days was the workshop of the world - the first industrial nation, but also the first financial nation.

"Britain was in a position to do more than dispense aid to Africa. British warships stamped out the Atlantic slave trade. British capital built the railways and ports that encouraged more benign kinds of trade, not to mention the mines that remain central to South Africa's relative prosperity. British missionaries built an impressive network of schools."

No comments: