Friday, March 31, 2006

What's wrong with Oxfam?


After all, they want to fight poverty worldwide don't they?
.
I just got accosted by an Oxfam campaigner. Not an unusual thing in the UK, as there are people out for your money at every corner, but I confronted him and said 2 days a week I pay taxes for the government – and on top of that if he wanted to eradicate poverty he should start advocating free trade, unlike Oxfam.
.
He was stunned and I walked away.
.
So I thought I’d see if my own prejudices against Oxfam are well founded. I figure it is just a bunch of leftie do-gooders out for more state intervention, placing guilt upon the most productive to help the least, and generally being anti-capitalist.
.
The Oxfam website states “Oxfam International is a confederation of 12 organizations working together with over 3,000 partners in more than 100 countries to find lasting solutions to poverty, suffering and injustice. “
.
Poverty presumably means anyone struggling to survive day by day materially, but suffering and injustice are a bit more difficult to define. Suffering is a fact of life, I can’t see Oxfam operating an ambulance to help car crash victims, or people suffering from grief. Life inevitably produces a state of suffering for most people at some point – Oxfam is hardly going to fix that. Injustice is slightly more insidious – as it implies something has been “done” to someone else, it can mean Oxfam is a crime fighter or, more likely, Oxfam is out to take from the rich to give to the poor.
.
Now it is a private organization, and as such it can do as it wishes with whatever money it raises from voluntary sources. So from a libertarian perspective, let Oxfam be free to do as it wishes. However, from an objectivist perspective is its goals moral and are the solutions it proposes moral and workable?
.
Oxfam’s beliefs and approach to its goals are contained in its strategic plan are step by step to evaluate it.
.
Oxfams believe that:
.
1. Poverty and powerlessness are avoidable and can be eliminated by human action and
political will.

.
Well poverty is typically avoidable by those who are poor – in some cases it can’t be eliminated because it is due to catastrophe. However, the best cure for poverty is economic development. This allows people to produce surpluses to tide them over bad times, or through disaster. The only economic system that has produced such surpluses is capitalism. Political will, in respect of allowing people to produce, enforcing criminal and civil laws and property rights, is essential in this – though I don’t think it is what Oxfam means.
.
2. Basic human needs and rights can be met. These include the rights to a sustainable
livelihood, and the rights and capacities to participate in societies and make positive
changes to people's lives.

.
Well that’s nice, they can be met – the question is, by whom? Who supplies a right to a sustainable livelihood and what is a sustainable livelihood? Does this mean you have a right to your business continuing to be successful, if so who guarantees that if you have insufficient customers? Does it mean your employer is required to support you, even if you are largely superfluous? Who stops people from participating in societies and the right to make positive changes to your life? In other words, this is wishy washy nonsense,
.
3. Inequalities can be significantly reduced both between rich and poor nations and within
nations.

.
Well, of course then there wouldn’t be rich and poor nations would there. Of course, this is right – look at Korea (South only), Taiwan, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and India – they are certainly getting wealthier, while the socialist France, Italy and Germany haven’t been going anywhere. However, it is telling that there is an emphasis on inequalities. It wouldn’t matter if the poor countries all fed, clothed and housed - what would matter is that there are rich countries where people own cars, engage in travel. No recognition that inequality can reflect the different value of what is being produced, different levels of efficiency and different skills. The assumption is that equality is fair – which is nonsense as well. I am presuming it is material inequality that is the concern, although socialists often say capitalists are only concerned with money – socialists aren’t wanting Britain to have the beaches of the Maldives.
.
4. Peace and substantial arms reduction are essential conditions for development.
.
Peace yes. Arms reduction, no. South Korea has developed very well while remaining well armed – in fact without being armed it would have been invaded by North Korea. The US is well armed and is hardly poor. The issue is what arms are used for, if used for attacking and pillaging then the problem is those actions, if used in self defence they are an asset.
.
Oxfams understand that:
5. Poverty is a state of powerlessness in which people are unable to exercise their basic
human rights or control virtually any aspect of their lives. Poverty manifests itself in the
inadequacy of material goods and lack of access to basic services and opportunities
leading to a condition of insecurity.


Unable to exercise basic human rights? Poor people can’t move or speak? They can’t sell their labour? Patronising nonsense to claim they cannot control their lives or exercise basic human rights. Poverty is a lack of opportunity now – so who owes the poor opportunities? Poverty by definition leaves someone insecure as they lack the necessities of life, but does this mean something else?
.
6. All poverty is almost always rooted in human action or inaction. It can be made worse by
natural calamities, and human violence, oppression and environmental destruction. It is
maintained by entrenched inequalities and institutional and economic mechanisms.

.
Well it is rooted in human action or inaction, such as mistakes or negligence. However, the true agenda is in the second sentence “maintained by entrenched inequalities” (whatever they are ) and “institutional and economic mechanisms” (whatever they are). If I was generous it would because people in poor countries have poor education, no property rights, limited infrastructure and often harassment by governments, paramilitaries or groups keen to keep down anything new or innovative that may challenge their power. I could also say this could mean the nonsense of international trade protectionism and subsidies, and the appalling wastefulness of the UN. Oxfam definitely IS concerned about trade protectionism, but only in one direction – it wants developed countries to open their markets, but not developing countries. This is despite the evidence that closed markets stagnate economies.
.
The Oxfam approach is that:
7. Our programs will:
a. address the structural causes of poverty and related injustice

.
Marxist terminology – but does this include enforcing private property rights? Doubt it.
..................
b. work primarily through local accountable organizations, seeking to strengthen their
empowerment

.
Not individuals, not clear if this is voluntary or government or both. Probably both.
.
c. help people directly where local capacity is insufficient or inappropriate for Oxfams'
purposes

.
Fine
.
d. assist the development of structures which directly benefit people facing the realities of
poverty and injustice and which are accountable to them.

.
What sort of structures? Independent accountable courts and enforceable property rights?
.
8. In all our actions our ultimate goal is to enable people to exercise their rights and manage
their own lives.

.
Wonderful, so let’s ensure governments only protect people from each other.
.
9. For people to be able to exercise their rights:
a. opportunities must be created so people can participate in governing all aspects of their
lives, and

.
No, rights are distinct from opportunities. People should not participate in governing all aspects of their lives, they should be in control of their lives to the extent possible. They govern their bodies, their property and how they contract those with others.
.
b. they must have the genuine capacity to organize and take advantage of those
opportunities.

.
Organise? Like unions? Why can’t people just act? How do you guarantee people have capacity to take advantage of opportunities? You educate them in everything so they can take advantage of any opportunity? Slightly far fetched.
.
10. Gender inequalities and other diversity issues will be addressed in our actions and
programs.

.
Fair enough – much has to be done about discrimination against women or other races, religions, or indeed people of different political beliefs.
.
11. In the economic arena, we will seek:
a. to enable people to meet their needs by creating opportunities within markets, while
protecting themselves against the excesses of unregulated market forces
.
What are these excesses? Why is there no mention of the excesses of unregulated government force?
.
b. to strengthen institutions intervening in the market in the interests of the poor.
.
Regardless of whether those institutions intervening actually advance their interests. Maybe intervening in the market is against their interests.
.
12. Preventing and reversing damage to the environment is essential to achieving
sustainable livelihoods.

.
OK, so let’s destroy buildings, roads, farmland and revert the environment back to how it was before people “damaged” it. Damage could mean any emissions, any earthworks, any weeding. There is no cost/benefit tradeoff here – not cases where “damaging the environment” saves lives.
.
13.. Action against violence must include:
a. coming to the aid of victims,

.
Important, ambulance at the bottom of the cliff though and Red Cross does this well already.
.
b. strengthening people's capacity to peacefully resolve conflicts, and
.
Harmless enough…and
.
c. demanding a determined response from the international community where the situation
warrants it.

.
OK, so aid victims, encourage peaceful resolution and international intervention. What about people’s right to self defence, what about government actions to do violence to people?
.
There you have it. Oxfam has some good goals, and I don’t doubt how positive it would be if more people in poor countries had clean water, housing, adequate food and peace. However, they have no right to claim others in other countries to pay for it for them. The standard of living in the West was earnt through hard work and innovation, the standard of living in the poor countries needs to be earnt the same way.
.
More importantly, Oxfam has a deluded old peace activist socialist view as to why poverty happens. It ignores the importance of property rights and independent fair judiciary to enforce criminal law, contract law and property law. You don’t get this in most countries that are performing badly. Peace is important, but it is not enough- because the importance of peace is not that there is no war, but that there is no violence being initiated. Violence can be initiated by governments against their people and individuals against one another. Any time this happens, it destroys wealth and is psychologically debilitating. Having no legal system able to respond makes it worse.
.
Oxfam would be far better if it focused on three goals:

- End to all forms of initiated force (war, terrorism, crime, government);
- Removing all barriers to free consensual trade across borders and within borders;
- Establishment of private property rights and contract law, able to be defended and enforced with an independent judicial and law enforcement system.
.
Sadly, I just think it is more concerned about making people in richer countries feel guilty. I wont give to Oxfam, because it has a socialist agenda - it is more concerned with fair trade (which is a fraud according to the Adam Smith Institute). Read also this article from the Globalisation Institute, which explains why free trade IS fair trade, and those who argue against free trade are just plain wrong. Oxfam needs to dump its ideological baggage and look at why some poor countries are doing remarkably well - it is not because of Oxfam.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can't see what's wrong with this as a goal:
2. Basic human needs and rights can be met. These include the rights to a sustainable
livelihood, and the rights and capacities to participate in societies and make positive
changes to people's lives.

And I couldn't read beyond your evaluation of this, because I feel you are pedalling a selfish agenda.

libertyscott said...

OK, so YOU say how YOU can guarantee the "right" to a sustainable livelihood, without initiating force against someone else?

How do you give someone the "right" to participate in society?

I'm pedalling an agenda of reason and compassion. Oxfam would achieve much more if it fought tooth and nail for the abolition of the EU Common Agricultural Policy and the US Farm Bill's the duplicate the same thing, both of which impoverish farmers and producers in developing countries.

However, it rejects market economics, it embraces mass state intervention in economies and is dominated by a philosophy that "everyone owes everyone else" a living.

For example, at a time of record food prices, wouldn't it be nice if Europe and the US stopped subsidising exports into foreign markets to undercut developing country competition? However, that involves confronting governments and producer lobbyists in the West, not the popular bogeys of leftwing oriented movements.

The solutions to poverty are around good governance that protects property rights, protects individual rights from violence and fraud, punishes corruption and maintain an open civil society. It isn't around supporting the lord of poverty who make a living out of the international multilateral aid industry - e.g. the UNDP.

Anonymous said...

I happened to find your blog after googling "I hate Oxfam".Why would one do that?I read that Oxfam is one of the organizations supporting a UN treaty that would curb gun rights in USA,and going curious about this organisation I read it's wikipedia page.What was shocking was their stated goal, part of which was "fighting poverty and OTHER INJUSTICE".Since when is poverty an injustice?If someone is poor does it mean injustice has been done to him?What about the lazy,unproductive ones who lag behind and the hard-working enterprising ones who work their way out of a mess?It's obvious Oxfam wants to paint the successful productive people as villians who must be made to pay the penalty for being successful.My comment may not be articulate, but I would like to thank the author of this blog for nailing these leftist thugs so clearly with his words.BTW I am from India,which can be verified from my IP address.

:) said...

I would explain how your logic is flawed, but I don't have a spare few hours. Truly ridiculous piece of writing that fails to take into account the unique circumstances of developing countries and impoverished people, and seemingly fails to recognise that often the West exploits impoverished people and obstructs their ability to end the cycle of poverty.

Libertyscott said...

Have a go, don't be shy. Even if it is single sentence bullets, I am more than happy to debate and be challenged.

From my observations, impoverished people in developing countries are far more routinely exploited by despots, criminals and others who do violence to them than the general bogeyman of "the West". The biggest problem caused by the developed world comes from protectionism, and second best by refusing to apply the same standards of respect for individual sovereignty and property rights in developing countries as they should in developed countries.

Anonymous said...

12/02/2014
OXFAM refuses to help victims of flooding in England. Well they would wouldn't they? After all, they claim we are a rich nation and don't deserve help.... Somehow I think the people in Somerset won't quite agree.
Is OXFAM a Marxist organisation?
Oh yes, I think so.