Friday, July 01, 2005

Column on G8 Ethics

Ethics at the Movie

Tibor R. Machan

The Girl in the Café is a very recent film about two people who meet,
begin to like each other, then go together to a G8 meeting in Reykjavik,
Iceland, and cause a stir with their unorthodox way of attempting to
influence those taking part to solve world poverty. The bottom line of
their exhortation to the G8 representatives is to spend billions and
billions, which the two protagonists are represented as believing will
indeed achieve the goal. All skeptics are dismissed as corrupt, greedy,
petty and lazy realists, without an ounce of ethics to their characters.

The resistance to their message consists of pretty unconvincing, shallow
reasons, with only a bit of substance and mainly outrage at the
intrusiveness of the girl from the café who is accompanying the British
bureaucrat, her love interest, as she offers uninvited advice on various
ceremonial occasions (during which all are expected to ignore the agenda).
The message of the girl?and thus the movie?completely ignores the task of
the diplomats and of how nearly impossible it is for them to do much
besides posturing a lot and making futile deals with other peoples?

Indeed, this is perhaps the most glaring folly of this movie, as it is of
those who keep imploring the G8 representatives each year?this time
meeting in Scotland in early July?to solve the problem of poverty around
the globe, especially, of course, in Africa. The exhortation here depicted
assumes, without any serious reflection and discussion, that (a) these
diplomats own the resources with which they are to solve the problem of
poverty, (b) the poverty is a kind of problem that can be solved by
forking out huge amounts of money and paying someone with the required
skills to do the work, and (c) poverty is indeed something that can be
dealt with independently of a great number of other problems faced in the
regions of the world where it is so widespread. Let?s take a brief look at
these assumptions.

The diplomats at G8 meetings are not a group of billionaires on the order
of a Bill Gates who might have the realistic option to write a check and
buy poor people whatever would alleviate their poverty once and for all.
They are elected and appointed officials of mixed regimes who must give an
account of their decisions to citizens, voters, supporters, opponents and
so forth in their countries. Many of these people ?back home? do not even
believe, for a variety of good or bad reasons, that their resources ought
to be devoted to what is quite controversially called ?poverty
elimination? around the globe. So exhortations to the G8 are misdirected,
plain and simple?both in this movie and among thousands who chime in on
this topic every year around the world.

As to the next assumption, poverty is not some disease that the right
dosage of a medication, applied by a competent physician, will cure.
Poverty is a condition of lacking resources that has a great variety of
causes, some completely out of the hands of those who are poor, some to a
small extent under their control, and some even of their own making.
Sending billions to the poor isn?t even in the cards?the billions go to
politicians and bureaucrats and they haven?t a clue (or have no interest
in) what to do to solve the problem.

Then we come to the greatest source of poverty, namely, the massive
political mismanagement that is routine in most poor societies,
mismanagement that includes taking billions of attempted aid and pocketing
it for the politicians and bureaucrats officially in charge of helping out
the poor. Another, even more crucial, part of this mismanagement is the
utterly perverse legal infrastructure of the societies in which poverty is
rife and renders its eradication virtually impossible without out and out
revolutionary changes. People in most of the poverty stricken regions of
the globe are not permitted to produce and keep the fruits of their work,
they cannot invest, they are taxed and otherwise put down on a regular
basis and no amount of help is going to work unless these circumstances
are permanently altered, something which the G8 diplomats cannot do.

The Girl in the Café makes for a heart-rendering story but it is
completely misguided and casts totally unjust aspersions on many people
who would certainly be interested in solving the problem of world poverty
if it were in their legitimate power to do so. But it isn?t, not with all
the phony national sovereignty?which actually means ruthless, oppressive,
dictatorial force?at the disposal of those political leaders and
bureaucrats in the relevant regions who have no interest at all in
pitching in with what is really needed to deal with the problem.

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