TCS Daily

Wake of the Flood, a Plan for Action?

By Tim Worstall - January 6, 2005 12:00 AM

Now that the bottles have been cleared away, now that the symptoms of aspirin poisoning that always seem to accompany my New Year's Day have receded, now is the time to take stock and look forward at the year ahead. The earthquake, tsunami, horrendous devastation and the variedly muddled (UN), effective (US Military and others) and hugely charitable (individuals everywhere, governments less so) reactions to it have been well covered here and elsewhere.

So too has the point that while it is true that the proximate cause of the deaths was that tsunami, the ultimate cause was the poverty of those over whom it washed. Richer countries, richer people, would have been better warned, would not have been living in shacks on beaches, would have a more robust society and civil emergency system to aid them in recovery when it did so. This is now a commonplace of the debate.

We are therefore all agreed, left and right, wingnut and moonbat, that after the dire duty of cleaning up the bodies, repairing those fractured lands, that we must concentrate on how to bring wealth to those who do not have it. Not so as to ward off another earthquake or other natural disaster, for Nature does not recognize the rich man or the poor in such things, but so as to reduce the lethal effects of one as and when it does happen. This is where the real cat fight is, exactly how do we go about doing that? Allow me to hurl my hairball into the ring.

There are three ways in which we can attempt to measure the performance of a society and its Government. Well, actually, there are many more than that but I'm going to use three that at least attempt to be objective.

The first is the Freedom House system of rankings, attempting to measure the political and civil freedom within a country. A country can be Free (F), Partly Free (PF) or Not Free (NF). This is the first column in the following table.

The second is the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom. This is trying, not surprisingly, to measure the amount of economic freedom within a country, measured by those tiresome liberal nostrums like sanctity of contract, rule of law, property rights and all those other things we know contribute to wealth generation. A country can be Free (although you might note that in the following table there are none with that coveted F in the second column), Mostly Free (MF), Mostly Unfree (MU) or Repressed.

The third is the survey on corruption as carried out by Transparency International. Here a country can have a score of 1-10, with the highest being the least corrupt. Places like Finland have a score of 9.6, which I think means that the Mayor of Helsinki once thought of letting his wife off a parking ticket but then thought better of it. Places like Haiti have one of 1.5 or so, meaning, again I think, that there are rumors of people in the Government who will proffer a "Good Morning" without extra payment. Perhaps I exaggerate. Maybe it's "Good Afternoon".

I have limited myself to sub-Saharan Africa for while the tsunami was in SE Asia, most experts are agreed that the most intractable problems of poverty are here, in the only area of the globe that has been going backwards in recent decades. Exactly which countries are part of this area is a little difficult...are the Seychelles? Mauritius? I was also a little surprised to find that there are three different Guineas but Freedom House assures me that this is so, must be just a product of my (and unfortunately, many other's) ignorance of West Africa. Please note that not all countries are rated by each survey, for as is noted in the Heritage documentation, the Congo is currently suffering the bloodiest war since WWII so it's a little obtuse to be trying to measure economic freedom. This explains the NL, for Not Listed, entries

                              FH     WSJ/HF     TI
Angola                NF         NM        2.0
Benin                  F          MU         3.2
Botswana            F          MF          6.0
Burkina Faso        PF         MU          NL
Burundi               PF         NL           NL
Cameroon           NF         MU         2.1
Cape Verde          F          MF          NL
CAR                   NF          MU         NL
Congo Rep.          NF         NL          2.3
Congo DR.           PF          NL         2.0
Djibouti               PF         MU         NL
Eq. Guinea           NF          MU         NL
Eritrea                 NF         NL         2.6
Ethiopia               PF         MU         NL
Gabon                 PF          MU         3.3
The Gambia          PF         MU         2.8
Ghana                 F          MU          3.6
Guinea                NF         MU          NL
Guinea Bissau       PF         MU          NL
Ivory Coast          NF         MU         2.0
Kenya                 PF         MU          2.1
Lesotho               F          MU           NL
Liberia                 PF         NR           NL
Madagascar          PF         MU         3.1
Malawi                 PF         MU         2.8
Mauritius              F           MF         4.1
Mozambique         PF          MU         2.8
Namibia                F           MF         4.1
Nigeria                 PF         MU         1.6
Rwanda               NF         MU          NL
Senegal               F           MU         3.0
Sierra Leone         PF         MU         2.3
Somalia               NF          NL          NL
South Africa          F          MF          4.6
Swaziland             NF         MU         NL
Tanzania              PF         MU         2.8
Togo                   NF         MU          NL
Uganda               PF           MF         2.6
Zambia                PF          MU         2.6
Zimbabwe            NF           R          2.3

What is it that these exciting numbers tell us then?

The Freedom House numbers can be seen as a gauge of how much the Governments of these countries lie. Harsh word to use about the rulers of sovereign states I know but it can be looked at that way. For Freedom House looks at that mysterious document, the UN Charter of Fundamental Human Rights, and then measures how well each country lives up to the ideals and practices therein. As far as I am aware, all of the above countries are members of the UN and have therefore signed up to not just allow these freedoms to their citizens, but to positively encourage them, to regard them as rights which no one should be deprived of.

Out of 40 countries, only nine live up to their solemn treaty obligations.18 must have had their fingers crossed when signing, or perhaps they thought they were aspirations not promises. The other 13 are simply liars, mendacious on a grand scale.

The Heritage numbers can be used as a measure of the basic economic literacy of the rulers. We all know that there are a few basic things that are required for economic growth to occur, the usual list mentioned above. Please note that there is no serious economist out there who does not believe that these things are necessary, the argument (sorry, discussion isn't it in academic circles?) is over whether they are necessary as a beginning, or sufficient in and unto themselves (which would be roughly Adam Smith's view for example. Or was when he was still with us anyway.).

You will note that there are no economically free countries on our list and only 6 which are Mostly Free. The rest are Mostly Unfree with Comrade Bob's Zimbabwe (now there's another place where the US Marines, just one of them who's a good shot, could really make a difference) bringing up the rear as a Repressed economy.

The Transparency International numbers are easier to understand. The more corrupt the place the more of any money we send will end up in Switzerland, spent on the couture of the Big Man's wife, invested in a fleet of Mercedes Benzs (one collective noun for the rulers in Swahili speaking areas is the Wa' Benz, the "tribe who drive Benzs")...well, you get the picture. On our scale of one to ten there is only one country, Botswana that manages above 5. Being purely arbitrary, let us take the middle of that range, that very 5, as our cut-off point between acceptable and not, for we all know that any money spent anywhere by a Government, some will be wasted. Let's just assume that we are willing to accept that wastage by error, by idiocy even, but not by theft.

Now that we have some at least reasonably objective information on the Governments of the area that we need to help, what is it that is seriously being proposed as the method by which we should help their citizens? There is increasing pressure for countries to live up to the promises under the UN (yes, them again) Millennium Development Agenda. The main point here is that the rich countries should be sending 0.7% of their GDP each year to aid development. On the face of it, not all that bad an idea. However, please note that this aid is only the figure for Government to Government aid. There is no notice taken, certainly no inclusion in the figures, of all of the private aid and investment that is also going on. Those $30 a month to sponsor a child programs are not included, Nike building a new factory is not and things like the security guarantees provided by the US and other militaries are not. Adding up the GDP of the US, the EU and Japan we get a shade over $25 trillion or some $175 billion a year of aid that should be flowing to these and similar countries.

Armed with our new knowledge of the Governments under discussion as above we can now make a critical assessment of what we are actually being asked to do. Remember please, that this is the considered plan of the brightest and best in the International Bureaucracies.

Please don't think me too cynical if I suggest that sending 175 billion bucks a year to a group of provenly lying, economically illiterate, thieves is perhaps not quite the best method of dealing with global poverty?

Fortunately I am an optimist (with all the benefits that has for my health, both mental and physical) at heart and I'm sure that we can design a better plan, a more effective way than this, which will be the subject of a piece here shortly.

The author is a TCS contributor. Find more of his writing here.


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