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March 17, 2009

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Rob Knight

Not disagreeing with the ethical rights and wrongs that you identify, but if the trust problem is the cause, to what extent will addressing the symptom (poverty) address the trust problem? Would giving money to Africans without addressing the trust problem create other problems? Do we even have a right to make the interventions in African societies that might be necessary to repair the damage that our ancestors did?

Brian Finch

Help for Africa that is predicated on restoration for guilt seems to miss the point. After all, if one focuses on responsibility, one quickly gets into a debate about the internal slave trade and about the Arab slave trade and its effect and also its role in sparking the European and American trade. However the point is that irrespective of causation and responsibility what can be done to improve the situation? The question here is whether aid from outside is a help or a curse; aid increases dependency, distorts economics, fuels corruption and breaks down the need for rulers to earn tax from their populations which, in turn, leads to those rulers not caring about their welfare, only their availability as soldiers. The evidence is that huge influxes of aid have achieved no improvement whatever: the situation in Africa seems to be deteriorating and climate change threatens to make a terrible situation even worse. Working to improve the terms of trade with more developed countries - which are currently a disgrace - might be far more effective than any possible aid package.

dearieme

Hurray, the British must be paid huge sums of money by the Germans and Irish to compensate us for the near millenium-and-a-half of "lack of development" brought about by the barbarian invasions of Krauts and Micks from the fourth century onwards.

Chris Clark

Ego aside for a moment, since when has politics been about anything other than self-interest? Given that, within a democracy, we a free to define our own self-interest, why should it ever be otherwise?

Luis Enrique

It's not obvious what the welfare gain from redistributing income is. Say the rich countries got together and transferred $1000 real income annually to every adult in Africa. What would the consequences of that be on domestic production, exchange rates, productivity growth etc.

Remember that for a real transfer of resources to take place, a corresponding increase in imports has to take place, so by "redistributing income" you mean supplying free imports.

I'm not suggesting the net effect would be negative - just complicated.

Martin Spencer

European slave traders paid the locals for the slaves they took to the Americas, but North African slavers kidnapped the slaves they took from Europe. Mustn't we therefore be owed more in compensation by the current inhabitants of North Africa than we owe to the current inhabitants of West Central Africa?

When a guilt-ridden citizensof Morocco sends me a cheque for £1,000 I'll happily write out one for £999 (I'm not greedy)to someone in Ghana.

Nick

I think you completely miss the point. If its trust in institutions that is important, then simple redistribution will do nothing. Though I hazard a lot of cash will end up back in European bank accounts one way or another so perhaps that is why it is avocated so much by the powers that be.

If we are interested in trust-bearing institutions then we may indeed have a moral duty to try and develop them. But it may turn out that state action isn't very good at doing such subtlety. I would guess that the spreading of systems like Western Union (remission payments) and mobile phone networks (giving Africans the ability to text credit to each other) has done rather a lot more to create institutions they can trust than manifold government interventions.

MJW

This argument does seem to rest on one of those very fashionable, but ultimately fictional guilt-trip interpretations of slavery where it was something done to unsuspecting black Africans by pantomime villain white Europeans (picture Hollywoodesque aristorcratic British redcoats). I understand it to be a more politically correct view of history than the reality (paternalistically protecting Africans from their own history), where slave traders from different backgrounds exploited long-standing mechanisms for economic rather than racial reasons (the European one's were quite happy to exploit mechanisms at home e.g. indentured labour), but that makes it none the less silly.

If the west is to pay reparations for slavery what about powerful modern day African families whose ancestors were selling their neighbours into slavery long before European traders arrived on the scene? This is a whole can of worms that the politically correct fictional view of slavery would probably not want to address.

Stuart

Your quote,

"The low levels of trust in Africa can be traced back to the legacy of the slave trade. In particular, we find that individuals’ trust in their relatives, neighbors, and local government is lower if their ancestors were heavily threatened by the slave trade."

may well establish correlation, but how does it establish causation? Has he managed an analysis of pre-slave-trade trust in Africa? After all, might it not be the other way round: That the distrust of neighbours is a requisite for enslaving them?

Also, "some people were sold into slavery as a result of being found guilty of crimes - with the result that crime rose": I'm not sure I follow the logic. Do you mean that there was a tendancy to convict innocent people, to increase the supply of saleable people? Otherwise, surely removing criminals from society reduces crime? Isn't that one of the points of jails?

Tim J

Wait a minute - where in Africa? The European slave trade for which Britain bears any responsibility was limited to relatively small parts of West Africa. Does this explain Zimbabwe's lack of development? Or Tanzania's? Or Uganda's?

Plus surely one thing that the history of aid in Africa has demonstrated is that you can't make poor people rich by giving them a bunch of money.

Last point - slavery was never Africa-specific. What explains the lack of African-style poverty in SE Asia, India or South America?

Rob Spear

Redistributing income to people does not help them get over their cultural bad habits. If you really wanted to help them, rather than making them dependent clients of the redistributing agency, you should invent a religion which requires self reliance and hard work to find salvation, and then arrange to have yourself martyred in its name, so as to spread the word.

Alex

Chris

Generally a good post but I'd take issue with the following line:

"Any individual who thinks their wealth is the result of their own effort is just an idiot."

That seems to me too extreme; if you qualified as "...entirely the result of their own effort..." I might agree.

There's clearly a large portion of our income and lifestyle that is determined by background and which is therefore out of our control, however let's not ignore the real contribution of an individual's choices and efforts.

dirigible

"let's not ignore the real contribution of an individual's choices and efforts"

Particularly their hairstyle.

Bob B

"Hurray, the British must be paid huge sums of money by the Germans and Irish to compensate us for the near millenium-and-a-half of 'lack of development' brought about by the barbarian invasions of Krauts and Micks from the fourth century onwards."

What of the successive invasions of Britain by the Celts, Romans and Vikings? Aren't we due reparations for those?

Isn't much of Asia and Eastern Europe due substantial reparations from the Republic of Mongolia for the hugely destructive Mongol invasions of the 13th and 14th centuries?

To what source should Spain and Portgual look for compensation for the Moorish invasions starting in the 8th century? What of the (eventually unsuccessul but prolonged) seige of Vienna in 1683 by the forces of the Ottoman Empire?

What of the Barbary Coast pirates?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbary_Pirates

gm

What of the Barbary Coast pirates? We can't demand reparations from them; that would be Islamophobic!

Bob B

"We can't demand reparations from them; that would be Islamophobic!"

Quite so - as doubtless is mention of the Moorish invasions of the Iberian Peninsula from the 8th century through the 15th:

"In 711 CE, a North African Moorish Umayyad army invaded Visigothic Christian Hispania. Under their leader Tariq ibn-Ziyad, they landed at Gibraltar and brought most of the Iberian Peninsula under Islamic rule in an eight-year campaign. Al-Andalūs is the Arabic name given the Iberian Peninsula by its Muslim conquerors and its subsesquent inhabitants.

"From the 8th to the 15th centuries, parts of the Iberian peninsula were ruled by the Moors (mainly Berber and Arab) who had crossed over from North Africa."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iberian_Peninsula

We can observe in passing that the first of the Crusades was not launched until 1095 - by Pope Urban II.

FWIW I entirely concur with the transient claims made that there is nothing about the course of the various Crusades that western Christendom can uphold as morally worthy of emulation but then as much can be said of the Thirty Years War (1618-48) in which the armies of various European sovereigns sought to foist their particular brands of Christianity on neighbouring states in order to save the immortal souls of the respective citizens. Perhaps the one saving grace of that war was the Treaties of Westphalia which brought the conflict to an end and established the enduring principle in international relations thereafter that the internal affairs of a nation state are the sole prerogative of its sovereign government. As Tony Blair put it in a keynote speech in Chicago in 1999:

"If we want a world ruled by law and by international co-operation then we have to support the UN as its central pillar."
http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page1297.asp

Wolfie

This ignorant drivel doesn't warrant a dignified response. The clue is that this wacky idea hails from Harvard, the epicentre of risk-free derivative theory and alma mater of credit collapse.

Mark

Surely the only rational conclusion which can be reached from this analysis is that we should reinstitute slavery. Or at the very least be as ruthless as possible since this is what clearly increases wealth.

Which is exactly why we shouldn't give money to africa.

john malpas

Hand everything over to the chinese and retire.

Gstyle

I may be one of the richest 0.01% in the world on income. But based on what's left after rent, bills, etc, I must be one of the bottom 0.01% in terms of leftover capital!!!

Tom Addison

I'm not sure about these arguments that aid doesn't work. If you think of the poverty in Africa as a raging forest fire, you're going to need a lot of water to put it out. You can't just fly over in a helicopter, pour a kettle of water on the fire and say, "See, pouring water on the fire doesn't put it out." Well next time use more water and see how it works, nobhead!

So with aid, we can't just continually go throwing small/insufficient amounts (and amounts that in the end up even smaller in the end due to corruption) and claiming it doesn't work. If you're going to do something, at least do it well.

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