The View From 1776
Sunday, July 10, 2005
African Poverty: What to Do?
People who campaign to eliminate poverty in Africa via increased G8 aid are undoubtedly serious and caring individuals. And who can disagree with the goals they champion? The question is whether their solutions will do the job, or make matters worse.
A reader in the UK emailed his disagreements with the views I had expressed in G8 Socialist Gospel. His arguments deserve a considered answer.
The following email from a reader in the UK reached me today:
“If wanting to lift destitute people from poverty is ‘socialist’ then I’m a socialist.
The vast majority of ‘socialists’ understand that corrupt leadership in Africa is a major cause of avoidable suffering. Live8, Make Poverty History, Action Aid, Cafod?and numerous other aid organisatoins cite corruption as a major problem, and most of them will not send aid dirctly to governments but prefer to fund and run projects themselves or in partnership with other NGO’s.
But whilst denegrating someone who has worked tirelessly to save lives in Africa and has succeded, you offer no solution to the plight of millions. Presumably 50,000 deaths per day are fine with you as long as you can blame them on an obsolete ideology.”
First, wanting to help the unfortunate and lift destitute people from poverty is, of itself, not socialism. That impulse originated historically in the moral views fostered by the Judeo-Christian tradition identified, in Europe, with the Roman Catholic Church and later Protestant denominations. It was based on the commandment in the Jewish Old Testament and the Christian New Testament, to each person as an individual, to love his neighbor as himself.
All persons of spiritual religious faith ought to applaud the impulse of human kindness animating this reader and the many people who want to help their fellow human beings. But seeking to do so through the collectivized, atheistic, materialistic agency of national states will not do it and, judging from past results, may well make matters worse.
I do not blame the deaths in Africa on any ideology, socialism or otherwise. Nor am I indifferent to the large numbers of deaths occurring daily in Africa. The inescapable historical fact, however, is that socialist national states, purporting to perfect humanity, end wars, and eliminate poverty, gave us instead increased poverty and the mass murders of tens of millions of innocent people in the 20th century.
Looking, as Messrs. Geldof and Bono do, to entrust the fate of Africa’s millions to the socialistic national states of Europe is therefore naivete bordering upon criminality. If France and Germany don’t revert to their historical impulses to dominate and to control, which led to the socialism of Napoleon’s Empire and Hitler’s Third Reich, they will kill Africans through bureaucratic bungling.
Parenthetically, note that by no means are all, or even most, of the deaths each day in Africa attributable to poverty. European socialist nations stood silently by while millions of Africans were slaughtered by their own people in tribal warfare, as African socialistic regimes fell apart under the weight of their own greed and incompetence. Those incompetent socialistic regimes were based on precisely the same secular religion as the Godless European Union. The United States, not Europe, took the lead in forcing Kofi Anan’s henchmen in the UN (the world conference of socialism) to acknowledge what was happening in Darfur.
Let it be noted that much of the impetus for the Millennium Project to end poverty comes from the G8’s socialistic Continental European nations, themselves sinking slowly into the economic quicksand precisely because of their obsession with collectivized state-planning and pervasive controls on all aspects of human activity. It is no more than elementary caution that leads one to fear that the spirit of the Glastonbury Festival and the Gleneagles concert is simply a proxy for such repeatedly failed socialistic policies, aiming this time at a unified world government ruled by councils of intellectuals schooled by France’s Hautes ?coles.
National states are not, and cannot be, motivated by the same personal standards of morality engendered by our Judeo-Christian heritage. It is not cynical, merely realistic, to observe that many nations, France for instance, are motivated to take a controlling role in the movement “to end poverty” in order to insure their own political and economic influence in the affected African states. For them the Millennium Project is, at least in part, a continuation of colonialism by other means.
Second, I do not denigrate the efforts and sincerity of people who work passionately and hard in the effort to end poverty in Africa. What I blame is socialism and its view of human nature that lead to statist and often totalitarian “solutions.” The throngs of people at mass demonstrations such as Gleneagles and Glastonbury don’t understand the realities of history and economics, because their socialist education systems have inculcated in them the ignorance of Auguste Comte’s Religion of Humanity. Comte’s atheistic socialism proclaimed that the proper object of worship is an abstraction called Humanity, interpreted by intellectuals.
It is therefore hardly surprising that great mass meetings and mob demonstrations in the streets are the only mode of religious expression available to a secularized society. It is hardly surprising that the masses are swept up in vague emotional orgies such as Gleneagles and Glastonbury, in just the same way that Germans were swept up in Hitler’s mass assemblies and torchlight street parades in an earlier version of socialism that saw the national state as the only source of salvation.
Socialism is an anti-individualistic, atheistic, materialistic, and secular religion that presumes individuals are incapable of helping themselves. In the socialistic catechism of social justice, only the political state can effect changes that will improve people’s lives. Socialism requires the attitude that the intellectuals running the political state’s regulatory bureaus know what is best for you, and you had better accept their dictates. It is what Hilaire Belloc called the Servile State.
We have, in fact, an exact parallel in the failed plans for post-World War II Britain. As I wrote in Liberalism: The Procrustean Brand:
“Mr. [Theodore] Dalrymple discusses how the British Labour Party (the socialists) immediately after World War II set out to bring perfection to the United Kingdom:
?The war having instantaneously created a nostalgia for the sense of unity and transcendent purpose that prevailed in those years, the population naturally enough asked why such a mood could not persist into the peace that followed. Why couldn?t the dedication of millions, centrally coordinated by the government?a coordinated dedication that had produced unprecedented quantities of aircraft and munitions?be adapted to defeat what London School of Economics head Sir William Beveridge, in his wartime report on social services that was to usher in the full-scale welfare state in Britain, called the ?five giants on the road to reconstruction?: Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor, and Idleness?
?By the time Beveridge published his report in 1942, most of the intellectuals of the day assumed that the government, and only the government, could accomplish these desirable goals. Indeed, it all seemed so simple a matter that only the cupidity and stupidity of the rich could have prevented these ends from already having been achieved. The Beveridge Report states, for example, that want ?could have been abolished in Britain before the present war? and that ?the income available to the British people was ample for such a purpose.? It was just a matter of dividing the national income cake into more equal slices by means of redistributive taxation. If the political will was there, the way was there; there was no need to worry about effects on wealth creation or any other adverse effects.?
No one in the United States who lived through the disaster wrought by President Lyndon Johnson?s Great Society will be surprised to learn that matters did not turn out as Sir William Beveridge expected.”
British socialists’ plans for perfecting the UK in 1945 sound uncomfortably similar to CAFOD’s policy paper titled “What Are We Calling For?” which cites the Millennium Development Goals, the pledge at the start of the 21st century by 191 nations, to end extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. As a general policy statement, CAFOD says:
“In the 21st century, poverty is not inevitable. The Millennium Development Goals recognise that the world has both the resources and the know-how to make poverty history: all that is missing is the political will.”
Finally, what then do I advocate? Not intervention by national states, and certainly not by the UN, that den of iniquity that gave us the African and Balkan sexual abuses by UN “peacekeepers” and Kofi Anan’s blood-for-oil scandal in Iraq, the greatest financial crime in world history. Those wishing to help African peoples should be guided by the medical profession’s guideline: first, do no harm, in this case, by involving national political states in the process.
Rather, let all of us find effective and properly oriented charitable organizations and donate, as individuals, as much as we can afford to help their work in Africa and wherever disasters strike. Let those able to do so volunteer their time and labor to those organizations.
The massive response to the recent tsunami disaster by individuals in the United States, through their churches, synagogues, and charitable organizations, demonstrates the real effectiveness of individual effort. Privately-financed aid had been fully operative on the scene weeks before Kofi Anan got around to declaring that only the UN had a right to do such work. And nothing that the UN has done since comes close to matching what was spontaneously financed by private donations from individual American citizens.
I recognize that, outside the United States, reliance upon individual contributions may not be fully effective. Europe’s socialistic nations have a higher overall tax capture rate to pay for their welfare states, leaving less available to individuals. Nonetheless, even the little that individuals in Europe have to contribute will be more effective than the sledge-hammer bluntness of G8 compromises compounded by national-state ambitions.
In reviewing websites of the organizations mentioned by the reader in his message, I found unfortunately far too much vague generality and readiness to identify with the socialistic gospel that blames the world’s ills on rich nations and corporations.
CAFOD (Catholic Agency for Overseas Development), Live8, Make Poverty History, and ActionAid, the organizations mentioned by the reader, we may hope, have realistic understandings that their aid should be channeled through local groups in Africa, not directly to African governments. ActionAid International’s website, for example, tells us:
“We have a unique vision and direction. We don’t impose solutions, but work with communities over many years to strengthen their own efforts to throw off poverty. We constantly seek new solutions and ask ourselves how we can make the greatest impact with our resources. We make the most of our skills and abilities by working at many levels - local, national, regional and international.”
That aspect of their programs is commendable realism. Seeking aid from G8 national political states, which will take control and pursue their own foreign policy agendas, is far from prudent realism.
The antipathy of organizations mentioned by our reader toward corporations and private property is just a present-day version of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s foundational doctrine for socialism. According to Rousseau, original sin was the advent of private property, which in socialist theory defiled a previously humane and benevolent word with greed, jealousy, aggression, crime, and wars.
Just as Rousseau and his fellow French intellectuals of the Revolution theorized that humanity could be perfected by redistributing property, present day charitable organizations blame human nature upon corporations and the enterprising nature of private individuals. Their view is that working hard, as an individual, is selfish greed. This leaves them, perhaps not intentionally, supporting collective effort of the sort extolled by Lenin, Mussolini, and Hitler, under the command of the national political state.