A Dissenter Among Dissenters

In the spirit of the G8 protests, an activist that my friend saw in Bostonlast week carried a sign that said ’Abolish Poverty.’ No explanation on how todo it. Just a call to action.

That sign best describes the G8 protests that I saw in Edinburgh, UK last Saturday. BobGeldorf expressed the event’s basic premise on UKradio when he said, “We’ve never been wealthier, we’ve never beenhealthier,” so we must be able to abolish world poverty. Although the organizersof the event had a policy agenda (drop the debt/increase foreign aid/make tradejust), they emphasized that simply something must be done, because it isthe humane thing to do.

The leaders at the protest unabashedly admitted their inexperience inpolitics, economics, and development. The main speaker told the crowd how hehad never thought about the political world until the music of a fellow artistinspired him two decades ago. They made it apparent that the purpose of theevent was not to win specific actions from government. They instead stressed that they wanted to demonstrate to the governments of rich countries that their constituents areconcerned about world poverty, and that they want their governments to do somethingabout it.

While I appreciate activists who care passionately about broader society andwho act to inspire younger generations, I think that Bob Geldorf may have somedifficulty in finding someone who does not want to ’abolish poverty.’ For thelast fifty years, governments of rich countries have tried, and failed, toencourage economic growth in poor countries. I’m not convinced that Geldorf’sinsistence that governments of rich countries must act will improve the plightof the poor. In fact, I fear that it may make it worse.

As I understand it, the central issue in development revolves around how toeffectively do it. Unless Bob Geldorf can bring convincing arguments on how toreduce world poverty to the policy debate, I doubt his efforts will have anyimpact on the poor.