John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Sunday, June 26, 2005
  Poverty and Aid (Justice and Equity)
Response to question:

I have been supporting the Make Poverty History campaign. If we really mean to make poverty history, however, we need to understand the nature of political structures and how this country through its influence can either make things better or worse.

Much of international politics is based upon interests rather than principles. The "Ethical Foreign Policy" that this country was supposed to have involves accepting evidence collected under torture from a country which boils people alive (Uzbekistan).

On a superficial level accepting such evidence seems reasonable. The problem is that it endorses the behaviour which led to obtaining the evidence. The evidence itself is also unreliable. However, the biggest problem is that the patterns of behaviour then lead to further conflict with the UK and the citizens of that country.

Much human conflict is based upon "them and us". The groups that are "them and us" can vary. They can be Shi'a and Sunni muslims. They can be Protestant and Catholic Christians. They can be Sikhs and Hindus. They can indeed have the same religion, but a different tribe. It is important in this to note that religion tends to follow tribal identity. It is the nature of tribal allegiances that lead to the conflict not the religion. The religion is sometimes used to justify the conflict. That does not mean that the conflict would not have happened.

The biggest problem in dealing with poverty globally is war which is generally a form of tribal conflict of some form (Hutus Tutsis etc).

The conflict has a number of elements. The most important element is often "tit-for-tat" where gradually a feudal type feud is developed.

There is always a balance between tribal loyalties and commitments to the rule of law in societies. This can also link to the concept of Social Capital.

If the tribal links are stronger then the society can end up with low Social Capital an in a Machiavellian form of society where power is all and there are low levels of trust. From the perspective of game theory and enlightened self interest operating according to the rule of law gives a long term advantage. Developing patterns of behaviour that lead to this, however, is difficult. There is frequently a short term loss in doing so.

The corruption in many parts of Africa somes from a "winner takes all" "elective dictatorship" style of democracy whereby whoever wins the elections then has the ability to operate as a robber baron and essentially undermine the rule of law.

This leads to conflict as minorities (or even majorities) find that they lose out through traditional tribal nepotism being used for putting people into state employment and through other forms of abuses such as the use of monopolies and trading constraints.

To avoid conflict and improve social capital, therefore, requires moving the states towards a system whereby members of tribes are treated equitably and the rule of law applies more than might is right.

If this is not resolved then the conflicts and corruption will continue and people will continue to operate on the basis of a shorttermist priority.

In many ways with the Western World trying to force a pattern of democracy that is based upon a class based society into those which are segemented in itself causes a lot of the problems. Inherently in a segmented society there will be a larger coalition and a smaller coalition and the larger group will abuse the smaller group(s). It frequently ends up as gangster politics and in hotter countries will end up being more violent.

The HIPC* programme is a useful programme for reducing the problems encountered by the developing world. It is important, however, to remember that it only relates to the debt that countries cannot pay.

I have worked in support of Make Poverty History, but I take the view that the three objectives of Trade Justice, Drop the Debt and More and Better Aid are insufficient in themselves. We need to also add the boring one of Justice and Equity. ie "the rule of law and opposition to discrimination between tribes".

The UK government is supporting HIPC which is helpful, but only rational in any event. I am uncomfortable with the reports of a plan to hypothecate aid in future years as it would lead to a splurge of money mostly being wasted and no flexibility for the future. Most importantly the "Justice and Equity" element seems to be misunderstood and ignored.

Developing a successful society with a high regard for the rule of law and high Social Capital takes at least a generation. It is not merely a question of building a couple of factories. The danger of many of the approaches here is they merely shore up a failing system.

In the mean time, however, the Western world itself has a problem with reducing social capital and greater materialism. Furthermore we face resource constraints which will impact harder given the dominant materialist culture. However, we have the opportunity to work for improvements and I will support those working in that way.

*HIPC Highly Indebted Poor Countries
 
Comments:
the problem is that Make Poverty History is commitment to 'infant industry protection', something that no respectable economist thinks is good for 3rd world economies.
 
I take the view that if I support a "campaign" that does not necessarily mean I support every dot and comma in the campaign's platform.
 
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