Gongol.com Archives: July 2005
Brian Gongol

News (7.2.2005)
Live 8 Team Claims Preposterous Number of Viewers
It's simply impossible for 3 billion people to have watched anything. It was probably big -- huge, even -- but not three billion big. Though "Make Poverty History" is a decent advertising slogan, it really doesn't do justice to public comprehension of the matter. "Ending" poverty, at least in the relative sense, is impossible: Half of any population makes or has less than the average, and is thus relatively poor. But the real sticking point is that the Live 8 campaign, as well-meaning as it may be, is purely a populist propaganda event.

When people hear "trade justice," they probably believe something warm and fuzzy is afoot. But "Make Poverty History" paints the WTO as a sinister cabal, rather than as an effective means of achieving global trade liberalization. Somehow it's probably missed by most folks that true "trade liberalization" would require ending farm subsidies in rich countries, for instance. Would that be good economic policy? Probably. But that's not quite the same thing as "putting it to the Man" in the way that Live 8 frames it. "Dropping the Debt" is another delightful-on-paper kind of idea, but not when Make Poverty History specifically rejects the notion of economic liberalization as a prerequisite to aid. Debt relief isn't purely good, nor purely bad; it is, however, a terribly incomplete solution to the problem of real poverty.

Make Poverty History can say, "we need a fair and transparent international process to make sure that human need takes priority over debt repayments", but that doesn't mean that the private markets will suddenly reject hundreds of years of lending behavior based on numbers, not feelings; nor does it mean that the poor American taxpayers of Appalachia ought to subsidize the lifestyles of tinpot dictators half a world away. Debt relief must be inextricably linked to government reforms and market liberalization in order to end poverty.

"More and Better Aid" horribly misses the point when it quite radically assumes that increasing aid spending alone will solve the problem; the US has been fighting a "War on Poverty" since 1964, and billions of dollars later, some Americans are still poor. It's naive to think that money alone is enough to reduce poverty -- Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto very clearly argues for the centrality of reforms to the system of property rights in order for any lasting, meaningful improvements to take place.

But, truly, concerts make people feel good, and taking part in a supposed mass movement to end poverty while watching a Pink Floyd reunion offers Live 8 participants a combination of visceral satisfaction and a sense of self-worth. What's unfortunate is that the rules for truly "making poverty history" aren't quite what the movement makes them out to be, and that in trivializing some of the difficult (and often market-oriented) efforts required to create wealth, Make Poverty History risks Making Poverty Worse.