Posts tagged with: millennium development goals

Bono, foreign aid, development, capitalismBono, lead singer of U2 and co-founder of charity-group ONE, recently offered some positive words about the role of markets in reducing global poverty and spurring economic development (HT):

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.
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The President of Chile, Sebastián Piñera, visited Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican yesterday, and the Vatican’s daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano carried a front-page article by Piñera on “Economic Development and Integral Development,” a theme of great interest to us at Acton and the subject of our current conference series Poverty, Entrepreneurship and Integral Development.

Chile is justly famous for its acceptance of free-market economics through the influence of the “Chicago Boys” who studied under Milton Friedman and others at the University of Chicago. Chileans can and should be grateful that their dictator, Agosto Pinochet, decided to leave the economy alone, unlike the other meddling dictators in Latin America who submitted their peoples to decades of economic planning and resulting misery. (Watch this clip from the fascinating PBS documentary The Commanding Heights on the Chicago Boys and Pinochet.)

Piñera’s article is noteworthy because 1) he takes economics seriously as a moral and human endeavor and doesn’t simply assume that it is vulgar albeit necessary aspect of life, and 2) he realizes that as important as economics is, it is just one aspect of life. He also backs up his economic arguments with facts and gives concrete examples of what his government plans to achieve.

If I were to quibble with anything, it would be his support of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG). No one will deny that the MDG are laubable goals, but as someone who worked for the Holy See Mission to the UN when these were being drafted, I find it a stretch to support them from a Catholic free-market perspective. The MDG rely far too much on mechanisms of the state to re-distribute wealth and do far too little to encourage entrepreunership through the core functions of the state – fighting crime, protecting private property, etc. Acton followers will recognize these arguments in our Poverty Cure initiative.

All in all, the President of Chile should be forgiven this misstep. His article nicely encapsulates what many of us know to be the surest way to promote material and spiritual advancment – through the promotion of a limited government, free entreprise, and a civil society based on sound religious and moral principles.

It doesn’t sound like rocket science, I know, but it’s always surprising how many religious leaders and development “experts” miss the boat on this.

Here’s my translation of Piñera’s piece from the Italian:

Economic Development and Integral Development
by Sebastián Piñera, President of the Republic of Chile
L’Osservatore Romano Italian daily edition, 3 March 2011

Development has always been a central objective of humanity and constitutes a top priority for nations, governments and the international community. Countries are usually classified as developed or developing, but in recent years a third category has arisen: emerging nations.

True development, however, is much more than the simple production of goods or the attainment of a certain economic output. In Caritas in veritate, Benedict XVI has deepened and emphasized the concept and necessity of an integral development, as proposed by Catholic social doctrine. Such development must favor the realization of the human person in his material and spiritual dimensions. So conceived – embracing the whole dimension of man – development is called to promote the quality of life, the common good, and defend the life and inalienable rights of the human person at all times and in all places and circumstances, with a view to a transcendent humanism. (more…)

Robert Joustra, writing on the website of the Canadian think tank Cardus, has published a thoughtful review of Jordan Ballor’s Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness. The reviewer understands that when,

… controversial social science infiltrates ecclesial confessions, twin dangers emerge: compromising the integrity of the Gospel, and splitting the church on political and economic issues. Ecumenical superstructures claiming to speak with ecclesial authority on technical matters worry me, even when technical experts are enlisted. The point is not just that expertise can be limited in these cases—it’s that different institutions have differing spheres of authority and competency.

How, then, should the church speak? Ballor provides good signposts by talking about churches preaching justice, rather than prescribing policy. The environment, for example, must be stewarded and protected, certainly. But does that specifically mean cap and trade or renewable energy investment? Should the church as denomination really have an opinion on these particular issues? Wouldn’t such an opinion violate its own sphere of authority and uncomfortably blur lines with the task of government and public policy? Accountability on principles is one thing; policy advocacy is quite another.

Joustra weighs in none too soon. Over the past few days, Christian ecumenical organizations have been busy issuing press releases and official statements in and around and following the UN summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which took place in New York on Sept. 20-22.

Typical of the language employed by the ecumenical-industrial complex (Jordan’s apt phrase) are these lines from a letter sent by World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

In pursuit of just trade, churches have specifically called for international regulations to end agricultural import dumping which has displaced and impoverished millions of small farmers. Just trade also means addressing declining terms of trade faced by developing countries by establishing international commodity agreements setting stable base prices for products.

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Insofar as nation-states have the responsibility for upholding peoples’ economic, social and cultural rights, the MDG Review Summit must put in place binding mechanisms and accountability frameworks to ensure that commitments are met and the maximum of resources are made available for the MDGs.

You would think from reading this that ending global poverty was simply a matter of the UN master minds “regulating” the global economy and dumping more money into the MDG programs. Fortunately, no such power is vested in the UN.

Read the Joustra review. He warns that “a tyrannizing ecumenical agenda fashioned from all-too-controversial political and economic assumptions stands to do more harm than good.” Is it too much to hope that Ecumenical Babel gets a reading at the UN or WCC?

Last Friday I attended a day’s worth of events at the Assembly of World-Wide Partners of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. I was volunteering to write up summaries of some of the elements of the conference. I was assigned three items: the Friday morning plenary address by Ruth Padilla deBorst, “Together in Missions in the 21st Century”; the Friday workshop sessions on “Christian Education in Ministry”; and the Friday evening plenary address by WARC general secretary Rev. Setri Nyomi, “Partnering in a Global Context: Principles and Patterns that will Shape Us.”

In a series of posts through this week, I’m going to add my reflections and analysis to these summaries. Before I get to those events in particular, however, I want to say a little bit about how Friday morning opened.

Before Ruth Padilla deBorst gave her talk, two representatives from the Micah Challenge addressed the packed audience. First was Michael Smitheram, who is International Coordinator for the Micah Challenge. He introduced various folks attending the conference who are involved in the Micah Challenge’s work. He also provided a summary of what he thought the mission of the Micah Challenge was: “In the Micah Challenge, the body of Christ is finding its voice as a global constituency for the poor.” To be clear, by “constituency” Smitheram means a political constituency. We’ll get back to that point a bit later.

The second representative of the Micah Challenge was Rev. Joel Edwards, President of the Evangelical Alliance (UK) and International Chair of the Micah Challenge. Rev. Edwards discussed three “miracles” in the fight against global poverty:

  1. Jubilee 2000, a historic “miracle,” in which God galvanized the world to engage poverty, with the church at the epicenter.

  2. Governments pledging to halve absolute poverty (MDGs)
  3. The Micah Challenge.

Rev. Edwards clarified the genesis of the Micah Challenge, as the result of combined efforts of the Micah Network and World Evangelical Alliance.

Heading toward 2015, the Micah Challenge focuses on eight “covenants” with the poor (corresponding with the eight Millennium Development Goals), which go beyond “checkbook Christianity” to address heart and lifestyle changes (Micah 6:8).

“If we fail our promises to the poor,” says Rev. Edwards, “The world will be in a spiritually catastrophic place in 2015.”

I got the distinct impression that the Micah Challenge is really just the overtly religious equivalent of the ONE Campaign. There’s not much that is identifiably Christian about the aims of the Micah Challenge. The differences really lie in the motivation and basis for the Micah Challenge, which are clearly Christian.

But there needs to be a difference between something like the ONE Campaign and the Micah Challenge not only in the motivation (secular vs. religious), but in the telos. For a Christian, as I’ve said before, achievement of the Millennium Development Goals is not enough: “The service of the body must be done in view of the greater purpose of Christian missions: the salvation of souls. And this is something the government simply cannot do.”

To challenge Smitheram’s idea about the role of the Micah Challenge, the church’s work cannot simply be reduced to that of another special-interest group or political action committee, even if the poor are those who are ostensibly represented.

Ecumenical News International (ENI) relates the launch last month of a new initiative in Africa, designed to “to mobilise a strong African voice in development.” The effort is called African Monitor and is led by the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, Njongonkulu Ndungane.


Anyone who spends much time at all looking at the economic development situation in Africa quickly realizes the lack of independent, nongovernmental, native voices. As African Monitor states, “This African civil society voice can thus be seen as the too often missing ‘fourth piece of the jigsaw’ alongside existing stakeholders of donor governments and institutions; their African counterparts; and donor-based NGOs and civil society.”

African Monitor’s mission is to begin to fill this need: “African Monitor is an independent body, acting as a catalyst within Africa’s civil society, to bring a strong African voice to the development debate, and to raise key questions from an African perspective.” The initiative represents a truly unique and much needed enterprise, since before the creation of African Monitor “there was no existing pan-African network that can provide such a catalyst across the sub-Saharan region, and taking a perspective across aid, trade, development and financial flows.”

In his address before the opening of the group, titled, “Let African Voices speak out for effective action on Africa’s development,” Archbishop Ndungane emphasized the need for accountability and true follow-through on the part of donors and developed nations: “We saw that Africa’s grassroots voices, currently marginalised and fragmented, could be harnessed to pursue these ends, and that faith communities, the most extensive civil society bodies on the continent, could provide the backbone of networks to bring these voices into the public arena.”

The Acton Institute has long supported the claim that African civil society needs to take a leading role in the development of the African continent. See, for example, the conversation with Rev. Bernard Njoroge, bishop of the diocese of Nairobi in the Episcopal Church of Africa, and Chanshi Chanda, chairman of the Institute of Freedom for the Study of Human Dignity in Kitwe, Zambia, about the issues of debt cancellation the moral nature of business (video clips, .wmv format, available for Rev. Njoroge and Mr. Chanda).

Bono and Sachs: Does The Edge feel left out?

Although I am a year behind here, I have just started reading Jeffrey Sachs’s The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, paperback just released by Penguin (with a foreword by Bono!). I’ll avoid the urge to comment on everything that strikes me this or that way in the book–and I most certainly am not going to try to go head to head with Sachs on economic matters. But, being a student of language, I would like to point out a subtlety some might consider benign, but I suspect is of relevance. It exists in the following passage from the Preface to the Paperback Edition: (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, February 9, 2006
By

The traditional formula for understanding the relationship between the developed and the developing world is the following: Aid = Economic Growth. That is, foreign aid spurs economic development in poorer nations.

A new study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research challenges this wisdom, however. “Aid and Growth: What Does the Cross-Country Evidence Really Show?” by Raghuram G. Rajan and Arvind Subramanian shows that “regardless of the situation — for example, in countries that have adopted sound economic policies or improved government institutions — or the type of assistance involved, aid does not appear to stimulate growth over the short or long term.”

Findings like this should cause advocates of aid-oriented programs like the ONE Campaign and the Micah Challenge to reassess their efforts. One way to change things would be to focus on actual outcomes rather than simply looking at the inflow of aid. The ONE Campaign by definition is focused on the front side, the supply of aid, rather than any actual effects of the aid: “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.”

A summary of the NBER paper states, “Challenging the simplistic but seductive view that increased assistance from rich countries is likely to put many poor countries on the path to prosperity, a new study on the impact of foreign aid finds ‘little evidence’ that it ever has a positive effect on economic growth.” So the real-world formula looks something like this: Aid ≠ Economic Growth.

“Rajan and Subramanian observe that there is a tendency in analyzing the impact of aid for economists to take sides and conclude that it is good or bad for growth. But the authors argue that neither assertion is valid because the data supporting either argument is so ‘fragile’ that with only minor tweaks, it can yield the opposite result. For example, they take an analysis.”

The important thing to realize is that past aid programs have had no provable positive effect. The conclusion is not that aid has no part to play in future development, but simply that it cannot be the only answer, and as part of the solution, “the aid apparatus (in terms of how aid should be delivered, to whom, in what form, and under what conditions) will have to be rethought.”

There’s a big, fairly new, global effort by Christians to cut worldwide poverty in half by 2015. Just what is this effort? A new giving initiative? A new network connecting churches in the first world with churches in the third world? A new global faith-based NGO?

Sadly, no. The new effort is called the “Micah Challenge,” which turns out really to be a challenge to get Christians to call for government action. The Micah Challenge is described as “a global Christian movement that’s working to overcome poverty by encouraging our leaders to meet their commitments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals – poverty-eradicating goals that all the member states of the United Nations have promised to achieve by 2015.”

So just how are Christians to help the poor? By petitioning government, of course! Here’s a typical example, “Micah Challenge Canada Says Govt. Aid ‘Far Short.'”

Since when did Christian charity get reduced to political lobbying? Is the Church just another interest group? Maybe the Micah Challenge should register as a PAC.

Or maybe the Church should look to its own house. Perhaps the fact that “7% of Protestants tithed to churches” (and how much of that money is spent helping the poor, either domestically or abroad?) has something to do with the fact that the churches feel the need to rely on the government to get things done.

“…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” – Micah 6:8

Just who is Micah talking to? In focusing almost exclusively on lobbying governments to fight poverty, the Micah Challenge is missing the Church’s main responsibilities in terms of charity (which itself is secondary and derivative of the primary task of the Church, the proclamation of the Gospel).

In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “there are three possible ways in which the church can act towards the state: in the first place, as has been said, it can ask the state whether its actions are legitimate and in accordance with its character as state, i.e. it can throw the state back on its responsibilities.” So far, so good. This is what the Micah Challenge intends to do.

But the Micah Challenge effectively ignores the Church’s corresponding responsibilities, to “aid the victims of state action. The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering of society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community. ‘Do good to all men.’…the church may in no way withdraw itself from these two tasks.” The third way that the church can act is “not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself.”

What the Micah Call and the Micah Challenge largely miss are the second (and third) activities of the Church, direct intervention to lift up the poor and oppressed. Instead of merely calling nations to be accountable to the MDGs, why doesn’t the Micah Challenge also put forth goals for the Church to accomplish on its own?

In fairness to the Micah Challenge, there is a lot of material on its site, some good, some bad. And some of it focuses on the direct role of Christians in the lives of the poor. But the words of the Micah Call, as well as the action plan for the Challenge, focus almost exclusively on the petition of governments rather than direct Christian intervention. If the Micah Challenge were truly a challenge to the Church to act directly, then it would become a comprehensive call for Christian stewardship. As it stands now, the Micah Challenge is incomplete, inadequate, and irresponsible.