Monday, June 13, 2005

a time for boldness

After the announcement of a deal to write off the debts of the world’s poorest 30 countries by the countries forming the G8 (that's Germany, Canada, the United States, France, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and Russia), totalling a potential $55 billion, the Economist points out a few things worthy of note.

The first is the importance of stable governments as a prime factor for economic advancement: throwing money at a problem without noting the underlying political problem does little help. Some African countries are not governed democratically. But waiting for these countries to have democratically elected governments might be a long way away, and in the meantime, thousands starve and die.

Second is the perception in the United States that we are a generous people with respect to aid: "The American government is notoriously stingy with its foreign aid, giving just 0.2% of GDP to poor countries every year. Even when Americans’ ample private donations are added in, America still falls near the bottom of the rich-nation pack in generosity to those abroad." That is interesting. If anything that fact is a call to do more.

And thirdly, a really bold move with respect to helping Africa is the reduction of the agricultural subsidies in the UK and in the US "that keep African products out of rich-country markets." These subsides, with tariffs raised against African products coming to the US, hurt their export revenues, and thereby making economic progress much more difficult. Having to persuade our farmers here to give up their subsidies would be a very brave and bold move indeed.

But it seems this is the time for it, as the voice of Africa's hungry and suffering rise ever louder. Gordon Brown, the UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, “This is not a time for timidity but a time for boldness and not a time for settling for second best but for aiming high.”

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