Richard North, 02/12/2004  

Yesterday’s International Herald Tribune carried an article by David Brooks, entitled Good news about global poverty. Citing a recent report by the World Bank (hardly the most optimistic organization known to man), Mr Brooks shows that global poverty is going down and global inequalities in income are decreasing. With that goes a decrease in illiteracy, child labour, high fertility, diseases, all sorts of bad things. In fact the UN’s Millennium Development Goals may well be met in most parts of the world by 2015.

The exception, of course, is sub-Saharan Africa, which is “plagued by bad governments and AIDS”. Actually, it is also plagued by western intervention of the worst kind. For ironically, as Mr Brooks is clearly too polite to point out, the UN target may be achieved by very non-UN, non-NGO, non-transi methods: it is free trade, international investment, globalization that is bringing about the world-wide benefits, not aid workers, international agencies or charities that have long ago become NGOs with their own political agenda.

What, however, made me exclaim “hear, hear”, much to the discomfiture of my fellow passengers on the Jubilee line, were the last two paragraphs of the article. They are worth quoting in full:
“It is worth reminding ourselves that the key taks ahead is spreading the benefits of globalization to Africa and the Middle East. It’s worth noting this perhaps not too surprising phenomenon: as free trade improves the lives of people in poor countries, it is viewed with suspicion by more people in rich countries.

Just once, I’d like to see someone like Bono or Bruce Springsteen stand up at a concert and speak the truth to his fan base: that the world is complicated and there are no free lucnhes. But if you really want to reduce world poverty, you should be cheering on those guys in pinstripe suits at the free-trade negotiatons and those investors jetting around the world. Thanks, in part to them, more people around the world have something to be thankful for.”
Well, dream on, is all I can say. Does anyone really believe that Bono or any other self-appointed spokesman rock musician and their audiences really care about the wretched of the earth?

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