This place has been hideously left wing for a week while Blimpish and I have had our backs turned, so I thought I’d rustle up some hate-filled bile to even the score.
Today Gordon Brown announced his plan to save Africa from poverty, which he hopes, in vain, to tie up at the G8 summit in Scotland next month. Well done, Gordon. You’ve triangulated the master of triangulation, Tony Blair, by getting your own name in lights above this one. Political strategy aside, however, I really don’t get this plan. I’m not an economist by trade, and I’m certainly not a political theorist. I’m self-taught in both fields, and proud of it, but it does tend to mean I’m probably more rigid in my own ideas than if I were brought up with them. The well documented phenomenon of people moving to the right as they get older is probably partly to do with people being tribally left through upbringing until they realise that right is, erm, right.
So what’s the deal? Gordon’s plan is threefold:
i) Doubling aid to Africa.
ii) 100% debt relief.
iii) Ending trade subsidies.
I remain skeptical about his ability to pull it off, particularly the third point, which mainly relates to agricultural subsidies. Firstly, the EU has to agree on that, and the CAP isn’t scheduled for shutdown any time soon. With the French voting for protectionism in their recent referendum (or so twas spun), it probably isn’t politically feasible either. Finally, and correct me if I am wrong, there is no veto on agricultural policy in the EU, but there is a convention whereby if a decision is against a country’s ‘vital interests’ it will not be taken. France, of course, claim that CAP reform would be against their vital interests. I’d love to see trade subsidy reform, because I think it is the only economically sensible policy to bring Africa out of poverty. Ending the practice of dumping our overproduction on third world countries, and preventing them from competing freely in our own markets against local producers, would allow the third world to work their way out of absolute poverty in a generation. Plus, we end up with cheaper food. Win-win. Even if the EU won’t shut down the CAP, I assume, and again may be mistaken – this is pure prejudice – that Britain could not unilaterally pull out of EU mandated trade subsidy levels, in the same way that we are no longer able to reduce VAT below a minimum threshold. So point iii) is probably a non-starter.
This leaves us with points i) and ii), or the Geldof gambit, as it will be henceforth known. I have no problem in principle with increasing aid to Africa, as long as it actually goes to help Africans who need aid, not Africans who need a new BMW. I’m not sure that with the types of government that exist over there, that’s entirely likely, but I’m a cynic when it comes to
pissing away spending taxpayer’s money. Africa needs many things, but a good proportion of them could be accomplished using a few battalions of US Marines. Of course, we’d have to fight the legions of Guardian reading lunatics who object to freeing people from poverty, oppressive dictatorships, starvation, and all those good things when there might be a bit of collateral damage, or when America is even tangentially involved. Ignoring the problem or, even better, implementing an expensive solution that is doomed to failure, but that makes the implementor feel good, all while giving him/her work for a few years, is a far more refined attitude to hold, it seems.
Then there’s debt relief. Again, on the face of it, it seems like a wonderful idea. All those oppressive dictatorships who racked up expensive debts buying arms to oppress their people with, private jets, missile defense systems, and the like, can spend all the interest payments on healthcare, education, and lesbian outreach workers instead. Just who are we trying to kid here? Plus, there’s the somewhat cold-hearted, but entirely correct, argument that cancelling people’s debts tends to make it more expensive for them to borrow in the future. That’s not a great idea when these countries are going to want to build mobile phone networks and other such bastions of Western civilisation in the near future. Don’t believe me? Try missing your mortgage payments for a year, and buying AK-47s with the money. Don’t worry, Gordon has a Marshall plan for you…
All very cynical, I know, so would some of you compassionate lefties care to explain why Make Poverty History isn’t just economic illiteracy and pie-in-the-sky wooly liberal optimism? That would be much appreciated.