Pavlos (pavlos) wrote,

G8: Everyone now wear white and walk in a circle chanting!

So, I went out and joined the Make Poverty History march for a leisurely walk around Edinburgh. I kind of felt I had to. It's a call to stand up and be counted, so I stood up, walked around, and hopefully was filmed and counted. It was good to be surrounded by so many well-meaning people. Otherwise I have a pretty low opinion of the media-friendly, boringly dress-coded "mass protest".

Banner history

It's not a protest, for a start. It's an expression of noble sentiments. That's fine, on balance noble sentiments are good to have. "Make Poverty History" the people say. Well, who could disagree? Poverty bad, prosperity good. Fantastic idea. It's very easy for everyone, including the establishment, to support this slogan, as indeed they do. Even the fucking castle, a military headquarters, sports a "Make Poverty History" banner. An initiative that everyone can easily support does not qualify as a protest, in the same hard way that an untestable idea does not qualify as a physical theory. When you protest, you demand something that some group of people, somewhere, would oppose. Individual groups in the march, such as Fair Trade or freedom for Palestine, had a message you could call protest, but the overall event was just a feelgood party.

The idea, presumably, is that the protest is directed at eight people, the G8 "leaders". But hang on a minute, these eight are not acting in self-interest, nor are they leading anything much. They are heads of organisations, essentially managers, whose job is to appease the people (us) and promote the welfare of their backers (capital). They vary as to how democratically they represent capital (many people of modest wealth, or a few rich people), but it's capital they represent. They gather not to sadistically oppress the poor but to look after the prosperity of the rich. So when we say "Make Poverty History" what does this mean? For us?

Make poverty history how exactly? Well, there are two ways. By charity or by economic development. Let's consider development first. If our good leaders take steps, like debt cancellation or fairer trade, to promote economic development in poor countries what would happen? Either nothing (it's all an empty gesture) or poor countries would in fact develop. And if they do, we'd see three effects. Firstly, we would no longer be able to use their labour and resources pretty much for free, so we'd no longer be able to buy inane disposable manufactured goods. Well, maybe we could live with that. But the second and more painful effect is that our own economic elite would run out of a population (that of the third world) to oppress. What would they do, being so deprived of their quarry? Becoming productive might be an idea, but it's not really very likely, is it? More likely, they'll seek new ways to exploit us and the now more wealthy Africans alike, and we'll essentially have to fight a class war that poverty elsewhere now spares us. The third effect is a positive one, that the newly wealthy nations would have advanced things such as factories and universities, and would produce interesting products. But that also means they'll have a well-educated and industrious middle class that will compete with ours - largely with the sort of people who have free Saturdays to go marches.

Now about the charity-based path out of poverty. It has a lot of bad press due to a history of circular aid, flowing trough corrupt regimes back to Western contractors. It also, obviously, places a lower value on some humans, but let's assume for the moment it's a necessary option, and see what it would entail. Piecemeal charity whenever there is a tsunami or draught would clearly not sustain lives. Charity would work if a global welfare system was established, where productive work was sensibly taxed by governments, and people in rich and poor countries who could not create material wealth, for population or technological reasons, were supported and guaranteed a basic quality of life. From each according to his ability to each... hang on! Well, yes, global socialism is a charity-based path out of poverty that would in fact work.

Do the comfortable-looking, white-clad "protesters" make these implications? If they do, do they have any real desire to absorb some consequences, or fight politically so that more deserving targets (the economic elite) absorb the consequences? If they wanted that, would they be up to the complexity of such a fight? I was under the impression that socialist theories were kind of out of fashion recently, so I'm guessing that no, the "protesters" merely would like poverty to go away but do not wish to make a connection to any sort of sacrifice or conflict back home. If I were one of the G8 leaders, I would also conclude that there is no political will for anything but token heart-warming statements. That would make me feel good about my job.

Not one Make Poverty History marcher put forward the message "I'm willing to fight or sacrifice something to make poverty history". I noticed one very un-middle-class, very not-dressed-in-white guy standing to the side of the march yelling arguments to that effect. But did any of the marchers display any form of commitment or resolve? No, not one.

And I wish Mr Geldof good luck in his stupidity.

Live stupidity
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