Friday, July 01, 2005

How Not to Fight World Poverty

Live8 (LiveEight?) takes place tomorrow, and world leaders are gearing up for the G8 summit, so there's lots of discussion about how to end the terrible poverty that has gripped much of Africa for so long. Well, honestly, I don't know, but I do feel pretty certain that many of the simplistic solutions bandied about by idealistic activists are not the answer. You know, the sort of, for just the price of a daily cup of Starbucks coffee, we could feed someone in Africa. Or, for a fraction of what we spend on the military, we could eradicate world poverty. These are the sorts of conscience-tugging lines that impress you when you're young, but you really should know better once you're past 30.

A really good, and frankly depressing, article in the New Republic offers a brief analysis of some of the current anti-poverty campaigns. Particularly interesting is this assessment of the impact of LiveAid: has only to consider Geldof's previous endeavor, Live Aid, which raised $100 million for relief of the Ethiopian famine in 1985. It's an open question whether Live Aid did more harm or good. As David Rieff explains in the British magazine Prospect, organizations involved in delivering relief became complicit in the Ethiopian government's Stalinist program of forced agricultural collectivization and relocation, which helped create the disaster. Today, Ethiopia is significantly poorer than it was 20 years ago, and, as David Plotz explained in this 2003 dispatch, perpetually dependent on charity. This is, sadly, the story of aid to sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. While the developed world has contributed more than $500 billion over the last 40 years, Africans have continued to fall farther behind.

What a bummer. I loved LiveAid (still think U2 was the best thing about it), and was into the whole idea.

Of course, talking about this stuff is what tends to get me labelled as a "conservative" by my old friends...but it's not "conservative" to want to be effective at solving problems. Anyway, ironically, this article says that the Bush Administration's Millennium Challenge Account is a really good idea, but that it has been woefully underfunded and inept at spending what money it does have.

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