Archived Posts June 2005 - Page 8 of 8 | Acton PowerBlog

Blog author: jspalink
Friday, June 3, 2005

Asia is home to about 2/3 of the world’s poorest people. Underdeveloped nations in Asia (the same is true elsewhere) struggle to maintain a foothold in an ever-globalizing world economy. An approach to helping solve some of these problems was explained in The Japan Times today. Lennart Bage, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development for the United Nations, writes that since 1990 the per capita income of the entire Asian region has increased by 75 percent. What was behind this remarkable improvement? The nations that prospered and advanced the most (in terms of eradicating poverty) were those that pumped money into rural and agricultural development. Bage writes:

Broad-based development in rural areas can boost small-scale agriculture, which increases the demand for seeds, irrigation, fertilizer, tools, processing and transportation — which in turn leads to more jobs in the off-farm sector. With increased incomes, hundreds of millions of rural people are better able to enter into the global economy and purchase manufactured goods and services.

But that’s not the whole story. What Bage fails to mention is that this type of development needs to be a local initiative, and one protected by the rule of law. There is no mention of corruption in central governments or local bureaucracies that, in many places, prevent investment funds for development being converted into bribes and graft. I don’t disagree with the premise that agricultural development is a good idea for undeveloped nations, but for this to be the most "efficient exit" from extreme poverty there needs to be a demand for justice and accountability among those who control the flow of aid. In an Acton Commentary last year, Rev. Michael Oluwatuyi wrote:

Above all, corruption and lack of effective rule of law present huge hurdles to would-be investors. In many countries, much local economic activity is under the control of the state, which necessarily leads to political influence and favoritism. Many government officials, both important and petty, believe that their position allows them to harass business people and extort outrageous fees and bribes. This corruption, combined with excessive regulation, deters both local and foreign investment. It is a problem that must be addressed not only by legal measures but also by the inculcation of a culture of personal moral responsibility that recognizes the damage done to the common good by corrupt exchanges.

Maybe, instead of calling rural and agricultural development THE answer to extreme poverty the United Nations should dig a little deeper and credit the principles of free economy as the solution to poverty. As Oluwatuyi writes, "Economic freedom is a route to ending poverty and starting the process of building a prosperous country." A change in the fundamental economic policies of undeveloped nations — including a greater respect for the rule of law and ethical business practices — is required before the world’s poor can make lasting progress.

I read an interesting article by Dan Griswold today in Cato’s Letter, a quarterly publication of the Cato Institute where Griswold is Director of the Center for Trade Policy Studies. Griswold’s article, "Faith, Commerce, and Freedom," traces the history of the distrust that many Christians feel towards capitalism — and the resulting push for big government to regulate. Griswold points out that William Blake, a British Christian poet (1757–1827) wrote a poem titled "Jerusalem" which, in turn, was turned into a hymn that reflects quite well this hostile view of industry. This is the poem with the well-known line: "And was Jerusalem builded here Among these dark Satanic mills." Griswold comments that what Blake describes as Satanic, a libertarian would view as progressive economy, providing jobs and opportunity, generating wealth, and producing a product useful to others.

Griswold proceeds to systematically walk through the problems that he sees in big government using scriptural examples and supportive theology. As an aside, lots of what he writes sounds like it could have come from the Acton Institute, with its emphasis on the moral framework for free markets. Griswold first presents common beliefs and values that, he argues, Christians and libertarians share. These include ideas such as the dignity of the human person, personal responsibility, objective moral standards, and the Acton principal of power corrupting. He presents short Biblical supports for property rights, civil law, welfare reform, family responsibilities, and charitable giving.

William Blake (writing during a time of significant upheaval due to the Industrial Revolution) viewed industry as evil while John Calvin viewed industry as a vocation to be pursued responsibly.

The rest of Griswold’s article walks through early Protestant thought about economy. Griswold shows how John Calvin encouraged people to understand their vocation as a gift from God to be embraced — working for God while at the same time avoiding "high living" and wasting money. Accumulated capital could be put to productive purposes. The importance here is placed upon living responsibly, not against trade and not against free markets.

The founding fathers also expressed these same views. Living responsibly is the underpinning for a limited government and a free economy. "The more people govern themselves and their own behavior," Griswold writes, "the less demand there will be for restraint from without." Larger government will only bring with it more problems. The answer is a push to return and retain objective moral standards upon which capitalism relies and which our country was built upon.

Read the article here (PDF).

Blog author: mvandermaas
Thursday, June 2, 2005

Bono: Heart in the right place, head not quite there yet

For those PowerBlog readers who don’t follow the world of rock and roll, the man in the photo on the left is Bono (aka Paul Hewson), the lead singer of the biggest rock and roll band in the world – U2. (I feel compelled to mention that I am Acton’s resident U2 Superfan: the proud owner of The Complete U2, regular attender of U2 concerts – I took that photo on May 7 in Chicago – and general aficionado of all things U2-related.)

What you may not have known about Bono is that he has become a relatively influential campaigner on behalf of Africa-related causes – primarily debt reduction, trade issues, and the AIDS crisis. It may surprise you that this rock star has managed to meet with and gain the respect of a wide range of politicians and world leaders, including Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Senator Jesse Helms, Tony Blair, Vladimir Putin, Kofi Anan, and even Pope John Paul II (whom Bono referred to as "the first funky pontiff" after giving the Pope a pair of his trademark fly shades).

As a longtime follower of his career, I believe that Bono is totally sincere in his efforts, but sincerity and good intentions don’t always translate into good policy.

Bono’s latest efforts on behalf of Africa revolve around support for the One Campaign, an effort to raise US foriegn aid to Africa by 1%. The Campaign’s website states rather grandly that:

We believe that allocating an additional ONE percent of the U.S. budget toward providing basic needs like health, education, clean water and food, would transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation of the poorest countries.

On their current Vertigo tour of the US, U2 have been urging their fans to text message their names to the electronic One Campaign petition during concerts with the goal of obtaining a list of 1,000,000 supporters of increased foreign aid. It makes for compelling theater, and they’ve made significant headway toward their goal – almost 650,000 people have sent in their names – but will it really help?

Blog author: jspalink
Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Reverend de Jong voting on the ratification of the proposed EU constitution.

With France voting NO for the ratification of the EU Constitution, a spotlight now follows the current voting on the same issue in the Netherlands. The world is expecting the Dutch to follow suit with the French, although not necessarily for all the same reasons.

The constitution of the EU grants more power to the developing centralized EU government in Brussels. Many fear that this will lead to a diminishing role of their own “state” governments and in turn cause upheaval in local economy and agriculture. The Dutch “no” that is expected results from fear that an EU constitution would further influence the standard of living and the cost of living – both issues that also arose with the replacement of the Dutch guilder with the Euro. Another fear common to all member states in the EU is a loss of personal identity caused by a centralized government. The Dutch want to remain distinctly Dutch, and the French want to remain distinctly French. Finally, there is fear of the de-democratization of the European states as a small political upper class gain more power in Brussels.

Voters in France have rejected the EU constitution, with the Dutch expected to follow suit today. The arrogance and centralizing tendencies of the European political class may finally have hit a roadblock. “The clearest lesson of the failed referendum is that Europe’s governing elite has suffered a tremendous defeat, a symptom of its growing democratic deficit,” writes Kishore Jayabalan, director of Acton’s Rome office.

Read the full text here.