Sunday, August 06, 2006

Virtuous Circles and Fragile States

"Democracy don't rule the world, You'd better get that in your head; This world is ruled by violence, But I guess that's better left unsaid." -- Bob Dylan

From Jeffrey Sachs in the latest issue of Scientific American:

If U.S. leaders better understood the politics of impoverished and crisis-ridden countries, they would more effectively protect American national security by advancing the causes of economic development and democracy. Although the administration of George W. Bush has often stated its commitment to the spread of democracy, partly to combat the risks of terror, it relies excessively on military approaches and threats rather than strategic aid. Timely development assistance to places hovering between democracy and disarray can yield enormous benefits.

For nations in a deep crisis, the greatest danger is a self-fulfilling prophecy of disaster. Consider Liberia, just emerging from a prolonged civil war, and Haiti, which has suffered decades of intense political instability. Both nations have recently elected new democratic governments, but both face continuing possibilities of internal violence and disorder.

When the public thinks that a newly elected national government will succeed, local leaders throw their support behind it. Expectations of the government's longevity rise. Individuals and companies become much more likely to pay their taxes, because they assume that the government will have the police power to enforce the tax laws.
A virtuous circle is created. Rising tax revenues strengthen not only the budget but also political authority and enable key investments--in police, teachers, roads, electricity--that promote public order and economic development. They also bolster confidence in the currency. Money flows into the commercial banks, easing the specter of banking crises.

When the public believes that a government will fail, the same process runs in reverse. Pessimism splinters political forces. Tax payments and budget revenues wane. The police and other public officials go unpaid. The currency weakens. Banks face a withdrawal of deposits and the risk of banking panics. Disaster feeds more pessimism.

By attending to the most urgent needs of these fragile states, U.S. foreign policy can tilt the scales to favor the consolidation of democracy and economic improvement. To an informed and empathetic observer, the necessary actions will usually be clear. Both Liberia and Haiti lack electricity service, even in their capital cities. Both countries face massive crises of hunger and insufficient food production. Both suffer from pervasive infectious diseases that are controllable but largely uncontrolled.

But if each impoverished farm family is given a bag of fertilizer and a tin of high-yield seeds, a good harvest with ample food output can be promoted within a single growing season. A nationwide campaign to spread immunizations, antimalaria bed nets and medicines, vitamin supplements and deworming agents can improve the health of the population even without longer-term fixes of the public health system. Electric power can be restored quickly in key regions. And safe water outlets, including boreholes and protected natural springs, can be constructed by the thousands within a year.

All these initiatives require financial aid, but the costs are small. Far too often, however, the U.S. response is neglect. Rather than giving practical help, the rich countries and international agencies send an endless stream of consultants to design projects that arrive too late, if ever. They ignore emergency appeals for food aid. After a few months, the hungry, divided, disease-burdened public begins to murmur that "nothing has changed," and the downward spiral recommences. Pessimism breeds pessimism. Eventually the government falls, and the nascent democracy is often extinguished.

By thinking through the underlying ecological challenges facing a country--drought, poor crops, disease, physical isolation--and raising the lot of the average household through quick-disbursing and well-targeted assistance, U.S. foreign policy makers would provide an invaluable investment in democracy, development and U.S. national security. Liberia and Haiti are two important places to begin to make good on the Bush administration's pledge to spread democracy.


Jeffrey D. Sachs is director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and of the U.N.’s Millennium Project.

If you discount for a moment that the Iraq war is an unjust war (which it is), then you would think that those who planned it would at least foresee the aftermath. Some plan that would encompass re-building the infrastructure, employing people, taking care of basic needs, etc. would be your first step. This was a step that was forgotten or ignored and we are seeing the results now. Why do we keep making the same mistakes? Because we don't learn from the past and always think we are smarter than those who came before us.

"The true democrat is he who with purely nonviolent means defends his liberty and, therefore, his country's and ultimately that of the whole of mankind" -- Mahatma Gandhi


CyberKitten said...

Sounds like excellent sense to me...

dbackdad said...

I'd heard this guy Sachs speak before on the Al Franken Show about a year ago. He was talking about the UN Millenium Project -- practical, inexpensive and untimately more effective means of bringing the world out of poverty and as a result, increasing security. He's a pretty bright guy.

Laura said...

Democracy don't rule the world, money does... I don't see why this is so hard for many people to understand. Even in the human rights community, they split the political & civil rights from economic and social rights because the US (among other powerful countries) decided that guaranteeing economic rights was not as important as political rights. But if you do not have economic and social security, you do not have the resources to exercise your political rights. Poverty stricken people are among the most vulnerable and desperate in the world - why do they think Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah keep recruiting people from economically and socially depressed places?

My word verify, btw, was sfuddys hee hee

Scott said...

Democracy don't even rule the US.

Instead of preaching the goods of rule by popular vote to countries where the majority prefer violence we ought to be preaching the means to a civilized society; gender equality, protection of private property, separation of church and state. These shouldn't be known as Western ideals, they should be known as the right ideas.

As for Sachs, giving more money to Africa isn't going to fix anything because a lack of aid didn't cause the problem. I've been reading Sachs for a while because he's entrenched with the religious left in America. He's always preaching more aid! more aid! citing that all we need to do is increase our spending by 1 percent. However, he ignores the fact that private citizens already give 3 and a half times as much money to Africa as the Government does.

Unfortunately the thing that has actually shown to work in improving working conditions and poverty levels in impoverished areas like Vietnam, India, China, and to some extent Uganda is the one thing both Republicans and Democrats fight in one form or another: Globalization.

Every year since the 60's we give more and more money to Africa, and every year their standard of living goes down. Instead of even considering that he aid may be part of the problem we continue to rely on it as the true solution.

dbackdad said...

In general, Scott, I'd agree with your "means to a civilized society".

Where I'd differ would be on the benefits of globalization. In theory, globalization would be the answer. The problem is that there are no guarantees that countries will recognize basic human rights or protect the environment. From Mother Jones

- "... According to the China Poverty-Relief Fund, some 30 million of its people live in absolute poverty, defined as not having enough money for food or clothes. Another 60 million make less than 28 cents a day. Income for rural Chinese—where 800 million of China's 1.3 billion people live—is one-third of those in urban areas, a gap, according to government studies, that threatens to widen over the next half decade ... "

So far, the ones benefitting most from globalization are fat-cat corporations in the U.S. who have taken tax incentives to export jobs overseas and multi-national companies like Haliburton that use their government connections to secure no-bid contracts. We've replaced military imperialism with corporate imperialism.

That's not to say that there aren't benefits to globalization. It has certainly raised literacy worldwide. But it shouldn't be unrestrained and it should be part of a larger package of aid and debt relief. If people can't eat or are dying from disease, they can't exactly reap the benefits.

Laura said...

I have to agree with both of your points. Globalization can bring economic opportunity to the most impoverished areas of the globe and reduce their dependence on foreign aid (which I agree won't solve the problem all by itself). However, global capitalism is, at heart, about extracting the most for the least and not about uplifting those in need. Unrestrained globalization will only provide a facade of economic opportunity, but will, for the most part, create nations of psuedo slaves beholden to their corporate employers. Part of the reason why corporations seek out cheap labor in certain countries is because many of those companies already have laws against unionization and very few worker rights. Globalization could be a good thing if the corporations gave up a little bit of profit for the general good of humanity by pushing for fair labor practices and democratic ideals. But I'm not holding my breath on that.

Laura said...

oops... because many of those countries (not companies) already have laws against unionization

Sadie Lou said...

Scott said...
These shouldn't be known as Western ideals, they should be known as the right ideas.

Awesome point.