Posts Tagged Western

Africa for Norway: The Patronizing Power of Poverty Porn

In a new video crafted to inspire the type self-righteous do-gooderism we Westerners have all grown quite accustomed to, a group of concerned Africans tells us that the “tables have turned,” urging that it’s “time for us to care” (HT).

Prime your Prius for the bumper sticker:

From the Africa for Norway web site:

Imagine if every person in Africa saw the “Africa for Norway” video and this was the only information they ever got about Norway. What would they think about Norway?

If we say Africa, what do you think about? Hunger, poverty, crime or AIDS? No wonder, because in fundraising campaigns and media that’s mainly what you hear about.

The pictures we usually see in fundraisers are of poor African children. Hunger and poverty is ugly, and it calls for action. But while these images can engage people in the short term, we are concerned that many people simply give up because it seems like nothing is getting better. Africa should not just be something that people either give to, or give up on.

The truth is that there are many positive developments in African countries, and we want these to Read the rest of this entry »

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Bono Abandons Babel?

U2 singerThere’s been a bit of buzz over Bono’s recent remarks about the positive role of markets in reducing global poverty and spurring economic development (HT):

The Irish singer and co-founder of ONE, a campaigning group that fights poverty and disease in Africa, said it had been “a humbling thing for me” to realize the importance of capitalism and entrepreneurialism in philanthropy, particularly as someone who “got into this as a righteous anger activist with all the cliches.”

“Job creators and innovators are just the key, and aid is just a bridge,” he told an audience of 200 leading technology entrepreneurs and investors at the F.ounders tech conference in Dublin. “We see it as startup money, investment in new countries. A humbling thing was to learn the role of commerce.”

I’m a bit skeptical about the broader significance of these remarks on Bono’s activism, but I do think they’re illuminating. Over at the Acton Institute, I argue that Bono’s new humbled attitude is precisely what we need in our attempts to improve economic development:

Although I’m not overly confident that Bono’s sudden self-awareness is enough to radically shift his aid efforts away from fostering dependency, this small admission helps illuminate one of our key obstacles to doing good in the world: overzealousness paired with overconfidence.

Bono describes his realization as a “humbling thing,” and “humbling” is precisely what the foreign aid experts and economic planners could use. As Friedrich Hayek famously wrote, “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” As the story of the Tower of Babel well confirms, man has a natural disposition to think he knows more than he knows and can construct beyond what he can construct—all to make a name for himself. The juice of righteous anger is a powerful enabler, and once it’s pumping through our veins it takes even less time for our human tendencies to escalate. After all, we’re only out to deliver humanity to heaven’s doorstep.

Such overconfidence in our own designs can be particularly destructive in the realm of economics, a science that’s in a constant battle over whether it should seek to explain human action, control it, or bypass it altogether. Such planners find a perfect match in eager activists such as Bono. “We can build your tower to heaven,” they’ll say, “and you can make a name for yourself. If only the right policy buttons are pushed and the right economic equilibrium is arranged, the world can be set to rights.”

Of all people, Christians should be aware of the deeper spiritual questions we should be asking, cautious not to be wise in our own eyes:

The economic engineer’s intrusion goes well beyond barging into more natural and effective social institutions. For in doing so, he treats dignified man and the unpredictable, invaluable relationships in which he engages as the mere mingling of predictable pieces in a larger static game. Such an intrusion should cause great alarm for those of us seeking restoration among the suffering. For how can we hope to improve conditions for the human person if we skip past what it means to be a human person? For the Christian in particular, God instructs each of us to do what the Lord wills. Are we really to Read the rest of this entry »

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The Great Despotic Rot: Obamacare, the Supreme Court Ruling, and Spurious Claims to Deity

Health care, sign, rightsDoug Wilson recently wrote a powerful repudiation of Obamacare and the recent Supreme Court ruling, focusing largely on the (non)biblical implications—which is to say, all of the implications (HT).

Wilson begins his critique by exploring the meaning and Biblical importance of limited government, kicking things off with the following verses:

And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus. And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things.

Here we find the gospel, with all of its political implications (meaning authority and submission implications), rubbing up against a culture and a system that has its own version of things. And here, where Christians overtly ride tensions with earthly despots, we see a push toward the intended order of things—a rendering of the rendering, we might say.

Here we see a glimpse of why government must be limited, and what or who does the limiting:

Limited government does not refer to the size of government, but rather refers to a certain concept of government. Limited government means that vast portions of human life and experience lie outside the business of the civil magistrate, and that everyone, both governors and governed, understand this boundary. False concepts of government will indeed affect the size of the state eventually, but the size is not really the main issue. Size is the symptom, not the cause. The cancer is one thing, and the fever, fatigue, or dizziness is quite another. Limited government recognizes, and rejoices in, its finitude. Government that has metastasized does not.

So in the absence of a functional limiting principle, every act of legislation is a grasping after the serpent’s promise—you shall be as God. Absolutist governments are therefore anti-Christian in principle long before any decisions are made, whether those decisions are good or bad. If the Supreme Court upheld a law that required all of us to carry an umbrella whenever it looked like rain, the issue would not be the umbrella, or the rain, or the accuracy of the weather report, or the wisdom of taking the umbrella on any given occasion, but rather what such overreach revealed about who on earth they think they are.

The Bible requires limited government because any claim to unlimited government by mortals is a spurious claim to Deity. To make such claims is a fatal conceit, and to acquiesce in them is cowardice in the face of such conceit.

Next, Wilson applies this approach, revealing the “fatal conceits” and “spurious claims to Deity” in Obamacare and the Supreme Court’s upholding of the law—developments that most Americans seem to now shrug off as inevitable ends of Western civilization.

The application:

The heart of the problem is that the Supreme Court has now in effect declared that there is no limiting principle in our form of government at the federal level. This means that if we are to live under limited government—the kind of government the Bible requires—that limitation must be enforced at the state and local levels and, failing that, at the level of the church, and failing that, at the level of families and individuals.

Simply repealing Obamacare as a policy matter is no longer enough. Obamacare must be rejected because it is inconsistent with the moral obligation of limited government, and not because it was “unpopular” or “will cost too much.” The problem we are facing is not because of a stupid law. Of course Congress will pass stupid laws from time to time. The problem is the claimed prerogative to a stupidity without limit. We can bear with stupidity from time to time. It is the claim to omnipotent stupidity that has awakened our concern. In a godly form of civil government, we must reject anything that concludes with those fatal words—“without limit.”

Congress is not Jesus, the Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being, and there was no baptism for any of them at the Jordan; there was no fluttering dove that descended. Congress did not die for us, and if Congress were to die, Congress could not rise from the dead. This means that Congress does not own me, or the members of this congregation. We have all been purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ, and therefore cannot be possessed in this manner by another. We have already been bought with a price—Christ’s broken body and shed blood. Talk about a single payer.

Lastly, the solution: Read the rest of this entry »

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Communism’s Rational Faith vs. the Logic of the Soul

Witness, Whittaker Chambers, logic of the soulI’m currently reading Witness, an autobiographical account of former Soviet spy Whittaker Chambers’s flight from communism and the events that ensued thereafter.

This week at Values & Capitalism, I take a brief look at two extended quotes from the book’s introduction, each pertaining to the moral and spiritual backdrop of communism.

The first, on communism’s age-old resemblance:

Communists are that part of mankind which has recovered the power to live or die—to bear witness—for its faith. And it is a simple, rational faith that inspires men to live or die for it.

It is not new. It is, in fact, man’s second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “Ye shall be as gods.” It is the great alternative faith of mankind. Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision…The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God.

It is the vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world. It is the vision of man’s liberated mind, by the sole force of its rational intelligence, redirecting man’s destiny and reorganizing man’s life and the world. It is the vision of man, once more the central figure of the Creation, not because God made man in His image, but because man’s mind makes him the most intelligent of the animals. Copernicus and his successors displaced man as the central fact of the universe by proving that the earth was not the central star of the universe. Communism restores man to his sovereignty by the simple method of denying God.

The second, on how one might convert from such a noble, utopian approach:

Yet there is one experience which most sincere ex-Communists share, whether or not they go only part way to the end of the question it poses. The daughter of a former German diplomat in Moscow was trying to explain to me why her father, who, as an enlightened modern man, had been extremely pro-Communist, had become an implacable anti-Communist. It was hard for her because, as an enlightened modern girl, she shared the Communist vision without being a Communist. But she loved her father and the irrationality of his defection embarrassed her. ‘He was immensely pro-Soviet,’ she said,’ and then — you will laugh at me — but you must not laugh at my father — and then — one night — in Moscow — he heard screams. That’s all. Simply one night he heard screams.’

A child of Reason and the 20th century, she knew that there is a logic of the mind. She did not know that the soul has a logic that may be more compelling than the mind’s. She did not know at all that she had swept away the logic of the mind, the logic of history, the logic of politics, the myth of the 20th century, with five annihilating words: one night he heard screams.

Given that communism per se is not currently a prominent threat in the West, how might we think about Chambers’ critique of “rational faith” and his elevation of Read the rest of this entry »

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A Real Fair Trade Solution: Kill the Big Ag Behemoth

I have routinely criticized “fair trade” schemes as ineffective, inefficient and counterproductive — a convoluted form of temporary charity that would be better if treated as temporary charity.

The real problems that cause poverty are deep and complicated, and they cannot be fixed by magical price inflation by Westerners (particularly when our own view of value is as distorted as it is).

As I pointed out in my review of Victor Claar’s book on the subject, one of these problems is often the nature of the given market. When it comes to coffee, for example, Claar explains that “coffee growers are poor because there is too much coffee.” The solution is hardly, “more coffee!”

Many of these realities are difficult to change for good reason: accurate, voluntarily determined prices reflect the real preferences of real people who are just trying to create real value. This includes both the consumer and the creator (the coffee grower). Yet other realities are stubborn because they are involuntarily determined.

This is where we should be setting our sights, and this week at AEI’s newly rebranded project, Values and Capitalism (formerly Common Sense Concept), I focus on one of the biggies: agricultural subsidies.

Here’s a taste:

Although the aims of “fair traders” are often noble (e.g. when “equality of outcome” doesn’t masquerade as “fairness”), their efforts would be much better spent tackling the real problems that impact economic development in the long term. If we’re looking for a game of Demolish the Western Privilege Machine, agricultural subsidies are a marvelous piñata.

The price distortion caused by such subsidies is summed up nicely by Daniel Sumner in an AEI paper on the subject:

Farm commodity subsidies—including price and income supports—crop insurance subsidies, and disaster aid encourage US production and disadvantage farmers who attempt to compete with subsidized production from the United States. These programs stimulate more production when Read the rest of this entry »

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Fair Trade as a Non-Solution: A Christian Response to Price Manipulation

Fair Trade? Its Prospects as a Poverty Solution, Victor Claar, Acton Institute, coffeeFair trade products have become increasingly popular, particularly in churches and various Christian communities. To investigate the merits of this approach, economist and friend of the blog Victor Claar recently wrote Fair Trade: Its Prospects as a Poverty Solution.

This week at Common Sense Concept, I review Claar’s book and echo the key criticisms therein.

A significant part of the book — and a big part of its significance — is its objective examination of coffee markets and the fair trade scheme as a whole:

Given that coffee is perhaps the most popular of fair-trade commodities, Claar focuses his attention there, providing an initial overview of the coffee market itself, followed by a discussion of fair trade strategies as commonly applied. Here, we learn a few important things: (1) coffee is easy to grow, (2) its price is inelastic, and (3) the “market appeal” of one’s beans is essential for success. Additionally, and most importantly, (!!!) demand is dropping while supply is rising. “Simply put,” Claar explains, “coffee growers are poor because there is too much coffee.”

From there, Claar dives into analysis, considering each detail as it relates to common Christian concerns. I’ve read plenty of books that critique fair trade in general terms, but Claar’s views on the proper Christian response are a unique addition to the discussion.

Overall, Claar views such schemes as a means for reinforcing barriers rather than removing them:

Instead of imposing our top-down plans on our neighbors across the globe, Claar suggests that we “work to make trade freer for everyone in our global community: a level playing field for all.” Although it might lack the punch, trendiness, convenience, and immediate satisfaction of buying the right pack of coffee beans at the right socially-conscious grocery store, it actually works (e.g. the 20th century).

To read the full review, click here.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Bad Machines: Economic Myths, Western Arrogance and Indian Textiles

In my most recent post at Common Sense Concept, I examine a recent attempt to prop up India’s handmade textile industry.

The IOU Project recently released an ad chock-full of economic myths and Western arrogance, urging us to buy their products and resist the almighty, domineering force of industrialization.

According to the ad, if we lose the battle against the machines, we will quickly descend into poverty, unemployment, and sameness. (LOL)

This is typical fair-trade manipulation: flooding markets that would naturally subside, retract, or level out, resulting in long-term stagnation, price confusion, and plenty of other things.

In my post, I take a look at six of the ad’s main assertions, arguing that more machinery, freedom, and energy consumption is exactly what India needs.

Here’s an excerpt of my response to the anti-machinery talk:

According to the theories in this video, we [industrialized] Westerners should be helplessly enslaved by now, forced to do the bidding of modern machinery. But perhaps we have been! Here we are, destined to work in high-rise buildings and air-conditioned offices, pining away on the internet and dabbling in ideas when we could be sewing our own clothes, hand-washing our own laundry, growing our own food, and thatching our own huts. Dang machinery!

Here’s my response on the handmade industry being (supposedly) emission free:

The cavemen of yore were certainly more environmentally friendly than we are, but they filled their days hunting for food, trying to stay warm in the winter, and hoping they’d have time to come up with a written language. Such a life might sound like paradise to the idealist sitting in the front row of Eco-Imperialism 101, but at what point are we willing to Read the rest of this entry »

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The Magic of Industrialization: Washing Machines, Productivity, and the Gospel

Hans Rosling recently gave a TED talk on the immense productivity that has come with industrialization (HT). To demonstrate such benefits, Rosling centers his discussion around the washing machine, a tool most Westerners simply take for granted.

Watch the video here:

Although Rosling puts significant emphasis on the silliness and hypocrisy that permeates the green movement, he concludes his talk by pointing back to the productivity factor. When products assume tasks for us — particularly labor- and time-intensive tasks — we are free to pursue other endeavors.

In the case of Rosling’s mother, the washing machine gave her time to go to the library, teach herself English, and inspire a love for scholarship in her son. Such stories should prompt all of us to think critically about Read the rest of this entry »

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The Age of Moderation: Western Ambivalence and the Moral Life

The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes Moral Life, Kenneth Minogue, London School of EconomicsToday at Ethika Politika, I discuss the value that division and conflict can bring to our pursuits of moral truth.

The problem, however, is that divisiveness is particularly out of fashion these days. Indeed, many seek to force “unity” on others from the top down — a feature of modern society that Kenneth Minogue likes to call “Western ambivalence.”

Here’s an excerpt from the post:

We are told to “soften our rhetoric,” to “reach across the aisle,” and to “find common ground.” We are reprimanded for framing matters of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in moral terms. No longer should our debates be about the merits of this vs. that, but rather, we are to concern ourselves with the supremacy of neither. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t get us too excited about anything.

The consequences of this appear quite clear. Without a drive toward engaging ideological struggles (and the ability to do so), how will the moral life ever flourish?

Here’s another excerpt:

The danger of today’s widespread ambivalence, therefore, is not necessarily that everyone might pretend to submit to a single, unified “truth” (although they certainly might), but rather that they would be too ambivalent to know it. As with our competitive endeavors in economics, a retreat from the active, heightened struggle of what Minogue calls the “moral life” will lead to an unauthentic, untried society in which ambivalence equals unity, and unity trumps morality.

As already indicated, Minogue’s views provide some valuable insights on this matter; thus, I found it helpful to leverage a few ideas from his recent book, The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life.

To read the full post, which contains more of my thoughts on Minogue’s book, click here.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Planners and Searchers: Locating Demand Among the Poor

farmer, foreign aid, development, AfricaIn today’s post at Common Sense Concept, I summarize economist William Easterly’s marvelous dichotomy of planners vs. searchers.

Here’s the gist of the contrast:

The planners are the high-level organizers, sitting comfortably in their air-conditioned offices as they crunch numbers and try to plan their way to global prosperity. The searchers, on the other hand, are the folks on the ground, working effortlessly to locate direct needs, collaborate with on-the-ground resources, and create value.

The deeper issue, in my opinion, is that we need not confine such a contrast to matters of economic development. We as Westerners also need to transform our worldview to being that of a searcher.

Here’s another excerpt:

We as individuals, moral agents, and Christians, must become the searchers ourselves. Like an entrepreneur launching a new business opportunity, we need to get as close to the demand as possible. We cannot rely on a “fail-proof” plan for eliminating poverty. We cannot cower to a policy that promises to make the proper transfers on our behalf. Instead, we must expose ourselves to the searching process.

To read the full post, click here.

Read the rest of this entry »

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