Obligation To The World
By Paul Buchheit
27 June, 2007
President Bush recently stated,
"We have accepted our obligations to defend society from extremists
30,000 people die every day
from hunger and disease, 10 times more than the 9/11 attack on the World
Trade Center. Over 18,000 children die every day, mostly from hunger.
They die from malaria because they can't afford mosquito nets. They
die from diarrhea because they don't have clean water. They die from
accidents in African mines, where they're forced to work in the heat
and toxic dust for 70 hours a week. These are extreme conditions. These
people are living in terror. This is happening every day.
But what can WE do about
it? Foreign aid doesn't work in poverty- stricken African countries.
The money doesn't go to the people who need it. Countries like Nigeria
and Chad and the Congo are cursed with great supplies of oil, diamonds,
and other commodities needed by the rich world, and their corrupt governments
effectively rent their nations out to the highest bidders. The immense
profits enrich the governments and the corporate elite. The inflow of
dollars artificially inflates the local currency, and as a result local
agricultural and manufactured products cost more and imports cost less.
There is less motivation to continue traditional businesses. Many farmers
and merchants and tradespeople look for jobs with the multinational
companies, many of them American, who have taken control of their nations
resources. In Nigeria, agriculture as a percentage of exports decreased
from 81% in 1960 to 2% today.
With windfall incomes and
less of a tax base, governments of developing countries have less need
to collect taxes. They spend their money on military protection against
the very people who used to provide support.
Humanitarian aid groups have
learned that people don't prosper with aid money. This is why the Millennium
Villages project encourages self- sufficiency among village residents,
and why microfinancing rewards people who start their own businesses.
Corporate leaders insist that capitalism and free trade will eventually
empower impoverished countries, if only they'll open their markets.
But agricultural subsidies in Europe and America make this an impossibility.
Farmers in Africa cannot compete with cheap corn and rice and cotton
from our subsidized farms. And, of course, our never-ending need for
oil ensures that Black Gold will remain a curse in countries like Nigeria.
We are not about to give up our lifestyles; it's easier to blame corrupt
And what about those lifestyles
of ours? We say that the spread of democracy will allow everyone to
live like us. But with 5% of the world's population we consume 25% of
the world's resources. If everyone in the world consumed at the U.S.
rate we would need five planet earths to sustain us.
We demand oil and spend more
and more extracting it from other countries, even though the cost of
alternative energies is rapidly going down. The cost of wind power has
decreased from $2 per KWH to 5- 8 cents per KWH in the last 30 years,
and the cost of solar power in 2004 was 1/7 of an equivalent system
in the 1970s. Experience in other countries shows that economies of
scale can further reduce the price.
No, aid doesn't work very
well. The problem goes much deeper. Our way of life depends on a continuation
of the economic and energy policies that keep billions of people in
poverty. But if it's true that economies of scale will reduce our alternative
energy costs, it may just be a matter of transfering money from war
expenses to alternative energy research, and letting good old American
ingenuity take over. This may be our only hope. And Africa's.
is Professor at Harold Washington College and Founder of Global Initiative
1 "Bush talks of freedom as he ends trip," Chicago Tribune,
June 12, 2007
2 "Global Call to Action
Against Poverty," Oxfam International, 2006 (http://www.oxfam.org/en/programs/
3 "18,000 children die
every day of hunger, U.N. says," USA Today, 2/17/2007
4 "Structural re-adjustment
in Nigeria: diagnosis of a severe Dutch disease syndrome," by Fidel
Ezeala-Harrison, American Journal of Economics and Sociology, April,
5 John Ghazvinian, "Untapped:
The Scramble for Africa's Oil"
6 "Nigeria," Blacknet
UK, accessed June 2007
7 United States Department
of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural
Service, June 12, 2007
8 "State of the World
2006: China and India Hold World in Balance," January 11, 2006
9 "World Economy Giving
Less to Poorest in Spite of Global Poverty,"
New Economics Foundation, January 23, 2006
10 "Sunlit uplands:
Wind and solar power are flourishing, thanks to
subsidies," The Economist, June 2, 2007
11 "Research, Solar
Cell Production and Market Implementation in Japan, USA and the European
Union," European Commission Joint Research Centre, 2003
12 "Renewable Energy
Evolution in Belgium 1974 - 2025" Belgian Science
Policy, June 2004,
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