Monday, July 17, 2006

The recipe for reducing global poverty - Part One

Plenty of bloggers have talked about this (Not PC, Lindsay Mitchell, Writeups, Elliot Who) and they are right , Bob Geldof can just fuck off.
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His contribution to reducing world poverty is nothing compared to the efforts of others who, despite their mixed record, have achieved far far more than he ever could. Take Deng Xiaoping, who took the world’s most populous country and turned its back on policies that saw it stagnate and 60 million of its citizens starve. Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan, who, by ending the Cold War, ended the proxy wars and backing of most of the mad socialist states in Africa and Asia. Democratic accountable government has the best chance in Africa that it has EVER had, but sadly Zimbabwe and South Africa are going in the opposite direction
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Poverty will never be history. There will always be people who through bad luck (disaster), or incompetence lose property and the means to make a living suddenly. There will also always be people who are the far left end of the bell curve – not through illness or disability, but through sheer stupidity. Those people often breed and produce children who, because the parents are incompetent and can’t teach them much, turn out stupid too. All that can be done is to ensure that those who have some competency are not prevented from using it, so that those with a lot of competency can hire them. Remember poverty is almost always relative. By any global measure, there is hardly poverty in New Zealand. Nobody starves to death, few are homeless and all get access to healthcare that everyone else pays for. It is remarkable how so many of the poor have reticulated water, electricity and telecommunications, and have appliances that would hardly ever be seen in an African village. One "answer" to global poverty would be a global welfare scheme - which almost everyone in New Zealand would be paying towards as almost everyone earns more per capita than the global average - of course that would bankrupt humanity.
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So what could dramatically reduce poverty around the world?
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No it is not being an undertalented rock “star” famous for one song (Sir Humphrey's has a marvellous reworking of that song's lyrics) and his (no doubt good intentioned) celebrity guilt mongering.
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No it is not about giving away lots of money to developing countries, it is about getting out of the way of them creating wealth and teaching good governance.
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The first step is freeing up global trade. If Bob wanted to make a difference he would shame the European Union, and France in particular, to making a bold move at the WTO negotiations. The US offered to end agricultural export subsidies, which would be a good step forward, but the EU refused because France says that the EU has “already reformed” its unsustainable and immoral Common Agricultural Policy. If the EU and the US together ended agricultural export subsidies and ended bans and quotas on agricultural imports this would pressure the likes of India and Brazil to open up their markets to more manufactured goods, and pressure Japan to liberalise its markets. This would all benefit developing countries which are more efficient producers of many goods, particularly agricultural commodities, than the EU and US. The most scandalous distortion at the moment is the EU, and while it is too much to hope for all EU agricultural protectionism to end, it is not too much to expect it to open its markets and stop subsidising exports to other markets.
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Secondly, support good government. That is government that has as its cornerstones the development of a clean and independent judiciary and police force. This also means laws to protect private property and enforce contracts. One of Latin America’s biggest problems has been corruption in the core functions of the state. People do not believe they can get justice, so either don’t complain or take matters into their own hands. Good government at its very basics requires:
- Transparent clear laws on real crimes (attacks on people and their property);
- A well paid and adequately equipped Police force which focuses solely on the enforcement of those crimes;
- An effective Police monitoring agency, independent of the Police, to root out corruption, Police malpractice and acts as the public’s watchdog;
- A well paid, politically independent court system. This will include an appeals process. Judges who cannot be bought mean judges paid well and provided adequate protection for verdicts against those who may threaten them.
- A well paid and managed prisons/corrections system. This requires particular monitoring to avoid corruption and abuse, but is more than just managing prisons. This also means the collection of fines and debts for lawsuits. This operation also must be well paid, but is critical to managing the credibility of the judicial system – most commercial infractions are not going to be enforced through prisons.
- Well defined property rights. This may include a land register for identification of land/buildings, or even registers for vehicles. This ensures that title and boundaries in property have certainty.
- Adequate contract and tort law. Agreements between citizens have to be able to be enforced as contracts. Citizens also must be able to sue for actions by individuals, that are not intentional which cause harm.
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Thirdly, support accountability in government. This accountability means not only liberal democracy, free speech and the rule of law, but having the powers of the state limiting itself. It means that governments can be taken to court and decisions overruled for being unconstitutional. It means that politicians are not above the law, and can be sued, charged and convicted when they act illegally.
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Beyond that there are economic policies that will work, and people can give aid voluntarily to support infrastructure development (e.g. clean water supplies, vaccination) which clearly works. The details of all that are for another time, because without government that works, government that can protect the rights of individuals to live and interact with each other voluntarily, everything else will be a struggle. People must have the right to own what they produce, to be able to call upon the state when their body or property is violated, and to not be pushed around by politicians who want to "plan" their lives, and in the meantime harm their livelihood.
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Economic independence requires the state to protect people from thieves, con-artists and the most artful example of those is politicians. There is little point giving a starving man food, if it can be stolen when you have gone. There is little point in helping fields be irrigated, if the state kicks the farmer off the field.

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