Prepping for the joint Acton/Liberty Fund sponsored conference that begins tonight: Religion & Liberty: Acton and Tocqueville, part of Acton’s Liberty and Markets program, I came across the following thought-provoking quote from Alexis de Tocqueville:
The civil and criminal legislation of the Americans knows only two means of action: prison or bail. The first action in proceedings consists of obtaining bail from the defendant or, if he refuses, of having him incarcerated; afterwards the validity of the evidence or the gravity of the charges is discussed.
Clearly such legislation is directed against the poor and favors only the rich.
A poor man does not always make bail, even in civil matters, and if he is forced to await justice in prison, his forced inactivity soon reduces him to destitution.
A wealthy man, on the contrary, always succeeds in escaping imprisonment in civil matters; even more, if he has committed a crime, he easily evades the punishment awaiting him: after providing bail, he disappears. So it can be said that for him all the penalties of the law are reduced to fines. What is more aristocratic than such legislation? (more…)
PovertyCure’s six-episode DVD series on human flourishing is now available for purchase. This high-energy, 152-minute documentary-style series challenges conventional thinking, reframing the poverty debate around the creative capacity of the human person. Listen to the voices of entrepreneurs, economists, political and religious leaders, missionaries, NGO workers, and everyday people as host Michael Matheson Miller travels around the world to discover the foundations that allow human beings, families, and communities to thrive.
Jim Shaw at the Catholic Herald has written a provocative piece that suggests one of the best ways to fight poverty is to support Catholic religious orders. He writes about his experiences in Africa: the lack of rule of law, the petty corruption that eats away at the poor, how lack of infrastructure obstructs progress for farmers and other businesses. The density of these issues seem insurmountable.
The sheer intractability of these problems should serve as a warning against utopian solutions to world poverty. It may also remind us of the true basis of solidarity between human beings, which is spiritual and personal, not technical or economic. As Pope Benedict XVI has written, we cannot help the poor if we regard their problems in exclusively material terms. Lack of bread and abuse of power are real and must be addressed, but they arise in a human – that is, a spiritual and moral – context.
If we try to fix material problems in isolation, Pope Benedict argues, without recognising the “ordering of goods” which places God at the centre of human life, we will end up replicating the dystopian nightmare of Marxism or the relativistic nihilism of the contemporary West.
Shaw then goes on to suggest that one group of people has remained a fixed and steady influence for progress against poverty: religious orders.
Religious orders’ vows of poverty protect them from the tendency to make a good living out of helping others in distress. Most fundamentally, the fact that their work arises out of, and is constantly renewed by the sacramental life of the Church, means that the poor are not seen as a problem to be solved or an opportunity to be exploited. From the point of view of Catholics living in the West, the missionary orders offer virtually unlimited opportunities to participate in their work.
This piece is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.
In the Nov/Dec issue of Touchstone, I have a piece on the issue of whether government jobs can act as a lever for opportunity and social mobility. My answer is a highly qualified “yes” with a number of cultural caveats. Love to get reactions from the Acton community.
The good people at Touchstone published this one online. You can read it here.
Here’s a teaser:
The question is whether the modern liberal approach to improving the quality of citizens’ lives by sustaining mass numbers of government jobs is workable. The answer is that it can be done (though at the cost of significant economic efficiency), but not with the mix of values currently accepted by modern liberals.
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.”
The remarks have led to relative hype in “pro-market” circles, but I’d remind folks that these are brief statements made to a small group of innovators and entrepreneurs. ONE has plenty of wrinkles in its past, and Bono’s primary legacy in this arena consists of promoting the types of ineffective, top-down social engineering that groups like PovertyCure seek to expose. When Bono continues to claim that foreign aid, as he understands it, is still a “bridge”—even if just a bridge—it’s reasonable to assume that his orientation toward “bridge-building” has been left largely unchanged by his newfound appreciation for markets.
But 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.
Too often, aid for the poor looks like this: A person, organization, or government notices a problem, decides upon a solution for the problem and implements it, with varying degrees of success. One step that is typically missing: no one consults the poor about the problem. No one asks, “Is this really a problem?” or “What do YOU think should be done about this problem?” Instead, an outside entity does it all.
Rose Molokoane, a South African woman, is sick and tired of it. She told an audience in Brazil just that last year: “We are sick and tired of becoming the objects of development. We want to build our own destiny.” With the help of Slum Dwellers International, she is getting that chance.
With 34 affiliate countries, Slum Dwellers International (SDI) explains its work as this:
In each country where SDI has a presence, affiliate organizations come together at the community, city, and national level rooted in specific methodologies. SDI’s mission is to link urban poor communities from cities across the South that have developed successful mobilisation, advocacy, and problem solving strategies. Since SDI is focused on the localized needs of slum dwellers, it has developed the traction to advance the common agenda of creating “pro-poor” cities that address the pervasive exclusion of the poor from the economies and political structures of 21st century cities. Further, SDI uses its global reach to build a platform for slum dwellers to engage directly with governments and international organizations to try new strategies, change policies, and build understanding about the challenges of urban development.
SDI believes that the only way to manage urban growth and to create inclusive cities is for the urban poor to be at the center of strategies for urban development.
Diana Mitlin, a researcher who has worked with SDI, commented on the model of putting the poor in control, “All successful urban initiatives have been ones that have placed people’s knowledge and people’s action at the centre of the process. That doesn’t mean professionals are not needed, but it means professionals acknowledge the limitations of their role.”
Rather than objectifying “the poor” as a problem to be solved, SDI embodies the notion that the poor have the same capacities to solve problems, tackle issues and influence society in a positive manner. As the Rev. Robert Sirico asserts,
It’s so often the case that when people come from the developed world to the developing world and they see the wretchedness of poverty in such close proximity, they experience a kind of a guilt about their own prosperity and translate that guilt into policies that fail to recognize that these people are made of the same stuff as the people in the first world, that they have the same capacity that enabled the developed world to be so prosperous in the first place.
This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.
A few days ago, a documentary entitled: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, a portion of which is devoted to depicting the situation of violence against women in Sierra Leone, aired on Public Broadcasting Station (PBS). Not portrayed in the documentary, but also a factor that puts women in the country at a disadvantage is little or no right to private property. An INRN article states, “…the vast majority of women in Sierra Leone live under traditional land tenure structures that do not recognize a woman’s right to own property.”
These structures have prevented women from owning land, which is vitally important for business operation and personal livelihood. Escape from this land system is nearly impossible. Many of the provinces in Sierra Leone are governed through a legal system run by heads of ruling families, known as paramount chiefs. The article goes on to explain, “Paramount chiefs, the “custodians of the land,” are generally men and most ethnic groups do not allow women to inherit land and property.” (more…)
Speaking at a conference at Bethel College, Acton’s Director of Media, Michael Miller, told the audience that while good intentions are necessary in the fight against poverty, they simply aren’t enough. Miller spoke directly on the topic of foreign aid to developing nations:
Western countries providing financial aid to developing nations seems to make sense, but there is no correlation between the extent of aid and economic progress in those countries, Miller said.
Much of the aid goes to foreign governments and helps subsidize corruption, Miller said. “It’s not actually going to the people,” he said, referring to that system as “crony capitalism.”
And some of the aid goes to subsidize Western companies, which enter poor nations and provide goods or services instead of promoting the ability of residents to establish their own businesses, he said.
“People are saying, ‘We don’t want any more aid. Stop helping us,’ ” Miller said.
Miller, leader of the PovertyCure initiative, noted that free markets offer the best hope for developing nations and their economies. Allowing the people in the developing world to take responsibility for their own economic progress shifts the focus from foreign aid to local businesses, creating sustainable jobs.
Read “Speaker questions providing aid to poor around the world” in the South Bend Tribune.
Alan Duncan, an aid minister in the UK, says his government is “forced” to hand over large amounts of money to the EU’s foreign aid budget, but has no say in how the money is spent. The problem is that much of the $2 billion+ “aid” money (one-sixth of the British budget) goes to projects such as making a Moroccan water park more eco-friendly, an art project in St. Petersburg, and building a hotel and leisure complex in Barbados. Britain’s International Development Committee reports that only 46% of the “development” donations go to “low-income” nations.
Some are urging that the British government “redefine their official development assistance (ODA), through which the relevant EU aid is spent“, with the British Development Committee warning that the situation will “devalue” the concept of aid in the eyes of its citizens.
Oxfam policy adviser Claire Godfrey stated, “If aid is not about helping the poorest then it is not worthy of the name.” Peter Bone, a Tory, had this to say about the money given to wealthier nations:
The Government has been saying for the past two years that this money’s been spent brilliantly. Alan Duncan is right to say the money is being wasted, but wrong to say there’s nothing we can do about it. There is: all you have to do is stop paying the money. It’s no good just crying crocodile tears about wasted money. If we stop paying, what will the EU do: sue us for not funding water parks in Morocco? Come on!
It is good to recall what Robert Woodson, a poverty activist in the U.S. has said about this type of situation:
There is a poverty industrial complex. You’ve got huge numbers of people who profit off our differences. You see, if you are problem oriented, you can write about the problem, you can lecture about the problem, you can consult on the problem. You can do everything but solve the problem.
Clearly, some in the British government are becoming aware of the fact that transparency, accountability, and outcome are absolute necessities in foreign aid and transferring money from one government to another. It remains to be seen if the UK government will take action, or will write, lecture and consult.
This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.