Saturday, September 16, 2006

Defending Wolfowitz -- Maybe

by Tibor R. Machan

Paul Wolfowitz hasn't been my hero by a long shot, given his hand in getting the United States government into the Iraq war mess. Sure, Saddam Hussein deserved to be deposed and jailed for life, although not by the American government and military. But leave that aside for now. Wolfowitz may redeem himself as President of the World Bank, what with his reported efforts to end corruption in the countries where the Bank is supporting efforts to reduce poverty.

OK, the World Bank is itself a fundamentally corrupt organization
because it lives off taxes and taxes are extorted funds, collected
coercively by governments that threaten to rob people of everything if they fail to pay up. Yes, Virginia, taxation is on par with serfdom -- the latter is the subjugation of human beings to the will of monarchs (thus the term "subjects" to designate such people, as in "a British subject"), the former a confiscation of their property, expropriation at the point of a gun.

But if one is going to be extorted, perhaps the funds could be used with some measure of prudence and wisdom. But no. As William
Easterly shows, in his The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (Penguin, 2006), nearly all efforts to aid the poor abroad have ended up making various crooked leaders rich while leaving the poor just as they were. The corruption in these countries is staggering and apparently irreparable.

Wolfowitz, who not long ago became president of the World Bank, has made some moves toward insisting that before further money is sent to these countries, the corruption must stop. For this, however, he has been getting a lot of flak, and no wonder. The report about it in The New York Times, rather sympathetic to Wolfowitz's critics, notes that as much as 10 to 25% of funds sent to such countries have been "improperly diverted."

That's way below the far more reasonable estimate in Easterly's book and what can be expected given the kind of dictatorial rule that is routine in most of the recipient countries. But Wolfowitz and others, such as John Githongo, an anti-corruption activist from Kenya "who has fled to safety in Britain" but continues to advise Wolfowitz, are criticized by anonymous UN officials -- who else, given that body's sterling record of above-board dealings -- such as the unnamed "senior French finance official," whom The Times quotes saying, "We must not use corruption as an excuse for a massive withdrawal of our help."

Oh, Yeah? What if that "help" in fact does no good at all, as
Easterly shows, other than to keep the corrupt rulers living in
obscene luxury, with enormous Swiss bank accounts? Well, I guess this French finance official isn't interested in actually helping those who need the help but in continuing the expropriation of citizens in the countries which supply the World Bank and the UN and who knows how many other organizations -- governments or NGOs -- with the funds that are being wasted. One may suppose that the French financial official knows that if it really came about that no money would be moved to these countries until they stopped their massive corruption, (a) folks may start resisting the extortion and (b) the poor of those countries might actually improve their lot on their own, given that what they produce wouldn't be robbed from them constantly as it is now and has been for decades on end.

Problem is, of course, that the World Bank cannot really occupy the moral high ground when it comes to corruption, Wolfowitz or no
Wolfowitz. As noted already, the Bank itself flourishes -- and most of its staff live about as high on the hog as do the corrupt
officials in the poor countries it is supposed to be helping out of their poverty -- because of the corrupt practice of taxation. All that first class flying about, attending of conferences in plush places around the globe, funding luxurious housing and education for their kids that World Bank officers and staff receive is not exactly an example of frugal living for the leaders of the poor countries. Quite the contrary -- it looks to me like a bunch of "respectable" crooks in fancy suits wanting to reform a bunch of disrespectable crooks in fancy uniforms. One might even suspect a bit of racism here -- it's OK for the World Bank's high and mighty to rip off the rest of us but not OK for those leaders of the poor countries! Well, maybe not.

Still, in this instance I side with Wolfowitz and wish him well in
his efforts to make something of a dent in Third World corruption.
But I am not holding my breath!

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