Saturday, 26 January 2013

Hunger will disappear IF...we stop subsidising poverty and promote free trade


This year, many of the world’s most powerful leaders will meet in the UK. They must change the future for millions of people who live with the day to day struggle against hunger. But that will only happen IF we get together and make them act.

So goes the blurb from the latest campaign to feed the starving and hungry. As ever, the campaign has roped in a cavalcade of the great and good – Desmond Tutu, Bill Gates and even pretty pop boys, One Direction. And we are enjoined – nay, demanded – to take part in the great campaign to feed the hungry! To take this message to the G8 – that hunger will disappear if:

    • IF we give enough aid to stop children dying from hunger and help the poorest families feed themselves
    • IF governments stop big companies dodging tax in poor countries, so that millions of people can free themselves from hunger
    • IF we stop poor farmers being forced off their land and we grow crops to feed people not fuel cars
    • IF governments and big companies are honest and open about their actions that stop people getting enough food
      All sounds pretty good stuff doesn’t it folks! Until of course you actually think about it for a minute.

      Firstly, this is 100 organisations – NGOs they like to call themselves until they ask us for money when they suddenly become charities – that are very interested in how much aid is given. And, of course, most of the aid does very little to “stop children dying of hunger” since governments prefer instead to prop up badly managed national budgets, lecture poor countries about climate change and, more of this in a minute, keep subsistence farmers trapped in subsistence farming.

      Corporate tax-dodging is the issue du jour – no progressive campaign would be complete without a call for action on tax-dodging by “big” companies. It may be the case that large companies aren’t paying enough tax in Kenya or Peru but where is the connection with getting people out of hunger? Unless you live in a sort of Stalinist world where only the benign state can feed people (which didn’t work in the Ukraine or China, I seem to recall).

      Now we get to the big issue – those big companies, secretly backed by the World Bank “behind the scenes”, as Oxfam put it, are buying up land and forcing farmers off that land so they can grow commercial crops (too many of which, because of our bonkers response to climate change are bio-fuels). Yes folks, you’ve guessed it – the reason for all those taxes is so we can pay poor farmers to stay poor farmers.

      This is a monumentally stupid proposal – that very subsistence farming, dirt-scrabble and back-breaking, is the main reason why people in these places fall repeatedly into famine and starvation. We should be encouraging more efficient farming – after all Oxfam and their mates aren’t suggesting that we G8 residents step away from our computers and return to the land! Nor are these NGOs proposing that the big British or Canadian farms are broken up and handed out in parcels to city dwellers – doubtless with a hoe, a horse and a plough.

      So why on earth do these organisations want to condemn this and future generations of Africans to live a short, unpleasant life scraping a bare existence from a tiny farm? Why do Oxfam and others believe that subsidising subsistence is the way to proceed? Why do all the great and good – the bishops, pop stars and philanthropists – think it fine for them to live a comfortable life with soft hands but that those Africans cannot aspire to be web designers, software writers or management consultants?

      Why does this alliance for good not campaign for the G8 to make some changes that really will help those Africans out of poverty – things like removing agricultural tariffs and trade barriers, ending the subsidising of industrial agriculture and promoting trade rather than the dependence of aid?

      I can only conclude that these campaigners believe Africans to be somehow different – that free markets and free trade won’t make them rich as they made us rich. Only through state direction and intervention will people be fed and the resources for this feeding will come from our taxes distributed to the grateful peasants of Ethiopia and Laos through the agency of Oxfam and others in the aid industry.

      So I won’t be supporting this “If...” campaign – not because I don’t care but because the best way to stop Africans – and other poor people around the world – from starving is to do business with them, to set them free from the tyranny of subsistence and to promote free enterprise and free trade.



      Anonymous said...

      International Charitable Aid - poor folk in rich countries giving money to rich folk in poor countries.

      Always was, always will be.

      Anonymous said...

      Conservative bullshit