Michael Matheson Miller, Acton’s Director of Media, recently made an appearance on NPO Showcase, a community access show here in the Grand Rapids area, to discuss the PovertyCure initiative. The full 15 minute interview is available for viewing below:
My recent piece in The American Spectator took the left to task for its misuse of the terms justice and social justice. The piece was more than a debate over semantics. In it I noted that Sojourners and its CEO, Jim Wallis, continue to promote well-intended but failed strategies that actually hurt the social and economic well-being of poor communities. I also called on everyone with a heart for the poor to set aside a top-down model of charity that “has trapped so many humans in a vicious cycle of paternalism and dependency” and instead to focus “on cultivating political and economic freedom for the world’s poor.” Sojourners’ Tim King responded here and then emailed me to ask for my thoughts on his response. I’ll start by emphasizing a few areas of agreement, adding a caveat here and there so as not to overstate the areas of overlap, and then I’ll move on to some areas of difference.
First, it’s a matter of record that politicians and other opinion leaders from both major U.S. parties have supported various forms of government-directed charity over the past several decades. Tim King is completely justified in pointing this out, and it’s important to recognize this state of affairs, since it reminds us that transforming the way we do charity won’t occur simply by voting one party out of power. Substantive change will require cultural transformation.
A second area of agreement is that, yes, there is such a thing as smart aid. PovertyCure has a good discussion of smart aid versus damaging aid here, as well as a page here on the good, the bad and the ugly in efforts to fight malaria. And in this Acton Commentary, Jennifer Roback Morse discusses some of the lessons learned in the battle against AIDS in Africa.
Third, Tim King’s blog post gives the reader the impression that that I consigned all uses of the term “social justice” to everlasting perdition, or that I want to ban the use of adjectives from the English language or something. My position is actually a bit more nuanced than this. In my article I noted that the term social justice has “a justifiable raison d’être,” “stretches back to 19th century Catholic social thought” and “was used in the context of nuanced explorations of law, ethics, and justice.” I didn’t have space to elaborate on this in the Spectator article, so I pointed to additional resources in this follow-up blog post.
King went on to say that the adjective social in social justice “highlights that justice deals with systems and structures within a society, not just with individual people. Justice can occur through the punishment of a single person for wrongdoing, but also through ending slavery or apartheid.” Absolutely. Justice deals with those things, a point I underscored in my article.
The thing is, though, that’s not how the religious left generally uses the term social justice, a reality that Tim King himself demonstrated by immediately pointing to the Circle of Protection statement as an embodiment of social justice principles. The statement is about preserving top-down government spending programs on behalf of the poor.
Another way to see how ordinary justice is being leeched out of Sojourners’ brand of social justice is to look at its official position on abortion. On the organization’s Issues page, under “What is Your Position on Abortion?” Sojourners emphasizes that “All life is a sacred gift from God, and public policies should reflect a consistent ethic of life.” Sounds like justice, plain and simple. But then look at their specific recommendations for how to protect the sacred gift of unborn human life:
Dramatically reduce abortion. Our society should support common ground policies that dramatically reduce the abortion rate by preventing unwanted pregnancies, providing meaningful alternatives and necessary supports for women and children, and reforming adoption laws.
Notice what’s missing from the list: A call to extend the most basic human right to unborn babies by making it illegal to kill them. What’s missing, in other words, is a call to extend ordinary justice to the unborn. In its place is a call to prevent “unwanted pregnancies” and to create attractive alternatives to killing unborn babies.
Sojourners and its leader say that laws against abortion are unattainable and ineffectual. But these laws wouldn’t be unattainable if the religious left joined religious conservatives in the fight to extend the right to life to the unborn. And as for ineffectual, University of Alabama professor Michael New studied the question and came to a very different conclusion in State Politics and Policy Quarterly. Here’s how he summarized his findings:
Planned Parenthood and many groups on the Catholic Left often argue that pro-life laws are ineffective. They claim that contraception spending and more generous welfare benefits are the best ways to reduce abortion rates. In reality, however, there is virtually no peer reviewed research, analyzing actual abortion data, which finds that more spending on either contraception or welfare has any effect on the incidence of abortion.
Conversely, this study adds to the sizable body of peer reviewed research which finds that legal protections for the unborn are effective at lowering abortion rates …
The study is now part of a substantial body of academic literature showing that such laws are effective in cutting abortions — and back up the anecdotal evidence seen in states like Mississippi, Michigan, South Carolina, Missouri and others where abortions have been cut by half from their previous highs thanks to the passage of several pro-life measures limiting abortions.
What Sojourners and many others on the left support for the unborn is more of their ineffective brand of redistributionist “social justice,” and never mind about the most basic form of justice for the unborn — a right to life protected by the law.
I’ll close by calling attention to one other thing in Tim King’s response, and that is Sojourners’ whole post-partisan meme. It’s a little surreal that they keep trotting this dog out after the George Soros funding fiasco. As my old colleague Jay Richards and others have reported, Sojourners had already received significant funding from the ultra-liberal, ultra-secular George Soros when Jim Wallis denied it in a public interview, going so far as to answer the charge by saying that World magazine editor and Acton senior fellow Marvin Olasky “lies for a living.” Then it came out that Sojourners has in fact received major funding from Soros, along with major funding from a who’s who list of left and ultra-leftwing organizations.
Sojourners keeps trying to hunt with the “we’re deep, not left” meme, but the dog won’t hunt anymore. A better approach would be to simply identify themselves as members of the religious left and forthrightly make a case for the specifics of their position. An even better approach would be to rethink that position from top to bottom, looking not at just the immediate and obvious effects of various government wealth transfers, but also at those long-term effects that are less obvious and often destructive.
In the mean time, if you are looking for a clear alternative to A Circle of Protection, one that emphasizes the dignity and creative capacity of the poor and the role of Christian worldview in promoting human flourishing, take a look at PovertyCure’s Statement of Principles or PovertyCure’s Facebook page. To sign a letter that directly answers the Circle of Protection, go here to Christians for a Sustainable Economy.
In my opinion, those words coming from the mouth of Declan Ganley were the most memorable from our distinguished speakers at yesterday’s conference “From Aid to Enterprise: Economic Liberty and Solutions to Poverty” in London.
Ganley compared what European governments were doing in their attempts to deal with their sovereign debt problems with the attempts of rock stars to solve the problem of hunger in Africa with Live Aid back in the 1980s. It was just one of many precious remarks coming from the Irish entrepreneur who also led his country’s ultimately unsuccessful campaign against the Lisbon Treaty. As someone who’s quite committed to a unified Europe, he worries a lot about the future of the European project, should the euro no longer serve as a common currency. We’d all be better off if governments just let creditors that made bad loans bear the brunt of their decisions, Ganley told us, instead of trying to prop up banks that are considered “too big to fail.” The problems affecting Europe is also the same one that plagues many developing nations – the collusion of big government and big business to squash competition. As a result, Europe and to a lesser degree the United State are in no position to preach and need to get their own houses in order, a lack of meddling that could well benefit poor countries in the end if we recover the importance of enterprise and trade.
Some of the other speakers, such as Lord Brian Griffiths and our own Anielka Munkel, very ably addressed the importance and centrality of the human person along with the vital role played by social institutions such as the family and churches in the free society. It’s a relatively straightforward, even obvious point but one that’s under attack in international development circles. (I can add from my personal experience with the Holy See at the United Nations that many developed, and especially European, governments refuse to admit the role of parents and the family in development, and I have the battle scars to prove it!)
Antoinette Kankindi of Strathmore University in Nairobi did something I’d never seen before as a student of political philosophy and economics by bringing Aristotle and his discussion of work and leisure into a conference on foreign aid. Prof. James Tooley gave the remarkable story of low-cost private schools in many parts of the developing world and how they thrive where governments are most inefficient and and ineffective, all drawn from his book The Beautiful Tree. The Ghanian entrepreneur Herman Chinery-Hesse also related many funny-if-not-sad accounts of doing business in places where State officials try to pick winners and losers.
For me, the most edifying presentation was the one by Marcela Escobari from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, of all places. Using a lot of new mapping data, she destroyed many of the myths surround how countries grow out of poverty and underlined the importance of increasing economic complexity, the diversity of knowledge and even imitation, rather than narrow specialization and an overemphasis on innovation, for developing countries. We don’t often have a speaker with such a good grasp of new research and important technical details at an Acton conference but her contribution makes me think that we should.
There were many good questions from the audience about the challenges of Christian individuals and organizations in the development field and I’d say the take-away message from our panel was: do not involve yourselves in misguided foreign aid schemes in the name of charity, which only serve to exacerbate the scandal of poverty and corruption in many parts of the world. It looks like the message was well-received, even if, in the end, a certain Londoner named Tony did not grace us with his presence.
Greetings from London, which is only partially shut down today due to a public sector strike over the British government’s not-so-temporary austerity plan. The worst fears of extremely long delays at the airports and of possible violence have yet to materialize and let’s hope they never do.
We’ll be holding the last of our Poverty and Development conferences here tomorrow on the theme “From Aid to Enterprise: Economic Liberty and Solutions to Poverty.” Our speakers will look at the (rare) successes and (recurring) failures of government-to-government development assistance, and it just so turns out that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair weighted in on the subject with a Washington Post op-ed last Sunday entitled “Ending global aid in a generation.” Blair boldly and confidently predicts: “I believe that within a generation no country need be dependent on aid. This matters around the world but especially to Africa, the continent most dependent on aid and a focus of my own work. ” You’d be forgiven for thinking that Blair was the keynote speaker at our event, having seen the light on the futility of Official Development Assistance (ODA).
Alas, you’d be wrong. For while Blair does cite the positive example of South Korea’s development based on enterprise, he still clings to the dogma of the church of ODA: governments must still fulfill their commitments to provide 0.7 percent of GDP to ODA. He doesn’t seem to ask the obvious question, which will surely be raised at our conference: if ODA is generally ineffective, in some cases counterproductive to the cause of development and only serves to breed economic dependence, why should governments continue to honor their commitments to a failed policy? Courage in the service of an ignoble end is no virtue, after all.
I, for one, still note an lingering prejudice against free enterprise in Blair’s supposed conversion: “Lord, make me trade with others as equals, but not yet”, to adapt St. Augustine. Like everyone else in these times of austerity, Blair preaches the need for economic growth. But also like many others, he doesn’t seem to realize how to achieve it. Yes, he addresses important factors such as governance and investment, which only leaves me wondering why he couldn’t seem to mention that dreaded word “business” in his article. Development, for Blair, remains in the hands of government leaders and aid experts, rather than in the hands of the people who take risks, seek new opportunities to provide goods and services to others, and thereby create wealth.
In the words of a former U.S. president, “Yo, Blair!” You should stop by our conference tomorrow to complete your bold vision of world without foreign aid.
Yesterday it was announced by the State Department that the United States will provide an additional $105 million in aid to famine-stricken East Africa (we had previously contributed $405 million to fight drought in the region). Vice President Biden’s wife has just returned from a humanitarian visit, where she visited a camp of starving refugees and met with Kenyan leaders who are dealing with an influx of famished Somalis. Said Jill of her trip,
One of the reasons to be here is just to ask Americans and people worldwide, the global community, the human family, if they could just reach a little deeper into their pockets and give money to help these poor people, these poor mothers and children.
And another U.S. official: “Hundreds of thousands of kids could die.”
This is madness. The United States has funneled untold millions of dollars into Somalia over the years, and the situation is exactly the same: the country is so war-torn that aid we send doesn’t get to the children it’s supposed to help. According to Transparency International, Somalia is the most corrupt country in the world. The U.N.’s top humanitarian officer in the country admitted that aid reaches only 20 percent of needy Somalis, although in the capital, he said, the situation is better; there aid reaches about half the city’s inhabitants.
But there’s a deeper problem—one that the U.N. official doesn’t see, even though he’s surrounded by the data. It shouldn’t be that 50 or 60 or 70 percent of Somalis are considered perpetually “in need,” to be propped up by colonialist aid from the U.S. and Western Europe. In fact, it is exactly that dependent relationship that has rendered Somalia helpless in the face of drought. (Compare it with Texas, for example, where a majority of the state’s crops have been severely damaged by a record drought.)
The question arises then, what if we didn’t send the aid? To be frank, we don’t know the answer to that—the European Union and other countries also send substantial amounts to Somalia, but no one really knows how much food gets to refugees. All that Jill Biden can say is, “There is hope if people start to pay attention to this.”
Somalis don’t need another 20 years of U.S. handouts. They need a civil society and the opportunity to enter into exchange with the developed world. As easy as it is for America to throw money at their problems, that kind of aid can’t really help.
Acton’s Rev. Robert A. Sirico published an article in Religion and Liberty in the fall of 2010 on Haiti and how we could help it recover. It has been several months since then, and eighteen months since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti near Port-au-Prince, killing around 230,000 people. Eighteen months is a long time and many, including myself, have pushed Haiti into the background of their minds. However, Haiti is still desperately struggling to recover from this terrible disaster.
Excerpts from a letter written to the International Organization of Migration by a Haitian citizen show just how dire the situation is: “Since January 12th, things have only gotten worse and worse. We do not have work and we do not have money. There is no supervision. We are shown hope, but nothing has come to us except the hurricane season.”
Another letter written to the IOM by a Haitian citizen states: “What will be done for those of us living in tents? We are eating dust. We want to go home. How can you help? There are talks of a rebuilding process since IOM carried out a registration in the camp but nothing has happened. Must we wait for ever? We want to find work, because it is very painful to wait and be dependent on others for help. When we work, we suffer less. We believe that if IOM could give us work, things would be better for us and our families.”
The Haitian people are still struggling mightily to merely survive. How did this happen?
It has not been from a lack of generosity. According to the British charity Oxfam, “over $1 billion was quickly raised for the emergency response… [it was] ‘unprecedented generosity’ shown by the world for Haiti.”
In fact, the aid has helped in many ways: “U.N. figures show around 4 million people received food assistance, emergency shelter materials were delivered to 1.5 million, safe water was distributed to more than a million, while a million more benefited from cash for work programs. The U.N. World Food Program continues to help close to two million Haitians with school meals, nutrition and cash-and-food-for work programs.”
However, as the recovery has dragged on, Oxfam reports that “few damaged houses have been repaired and only 15 percent of the basic and temporary new housing required has yet been built.” Also, much of the rubble from the earthquake has yet to be cleared, which has significantly slowed rebuilding and recovery efforts.
In terms of human health, the president of Doctors Without Borders International “blasted what he called the ‘failure of the humanitarian relief system’ to stem cholera epidemic deaths in Haiti.”
In addition, Oxfam reports “The World Bank says almost half of the $5.3 billion — about $2.6 billion — has been approved in donors’ budgets, while a separate Bank document said [only] $1.2 billion had been actually disbursed to date for program support.” Only about 23 percent of the funds available for Haiti’s recovery have been dispersed, and this has certainly slowed rebuilding.
Oxfam has called the situation a “quagmire”. The lack of progress is not surprising given the leadership vacuum in Haiti: “[the earthquake] has brought together a weakened and struggling Haitian government, an alphabet soup of U.N. agencies, other governments from around the world and an army of private charities that some estimate at more than 10,000.”
Although the relief effort started off well, the chaos of a situation with no clear leader has stifled a true recovery and left the Haitian people in despair unnecessarily. If the Haitian government has been unwilling or unable to lead due to the magnitude of the disaster, then another organization or country needs to step up and help Haiti organize the charities and aid dispersal. Waiting for “someone else” to take the lead has just caused more suffering.
Ted Constan, chief program officer of Boston-based Partners In Health, said, “We need to think about getting money down into the communities to produce jobs for people because that’s the only way people are going to get on their feet economically. We’d like to see more of a ‘pull’ policy being generated around getting people out of the camps – markets, jobs, healthcare, clean water, stable housing etc.” Helping Haitians get jobs and adequate housing is fundamental to the rebirth of the country.
In the words of Rev. Sirico: “Haiti needs practical help and generous charity right now — implemented intelligently, and with a keen eye for existing conditions. We need to support aid agencies that provide water and medicine.” This is still as true today as it was in the fall of 2010. As much as possible, we need to support organizations that can successfully accomplish this.
Finally, as Rev. Sirico has previously stated: “In the long run, we have to look at what Haiti needs to prevent such disasters and minimize their impact. What the country needs is economic development and a culture that can support such development. What Haiti needs are the institutions that provide protection and cushioning in cases of emergency. Most of all, it needs to develop economically.” Hopefully, this will happen soon, but, until then, we can keep Haiti in mind, pray for the people there, remember to support the charity efforts there, and have a desire to help the country progress and develop in the future.