Saturday, February 01, 2003

Jay Manifold quotes Lee Harris

If the whole of the United States were to disappear tomorrow in a catastrophic earthquake like a second Atlantis, it would not materially benefit a single suffering man, woman, or child anywhere on our planet.

there is only one way that ... goal[s] can be achieved on [an] extraordinary scale ... and that is if the United States of America continues to be rich, powerful, and superbly organized.

I was reading an observation from someone (which may have been Bruce Sterling, but I am not sure where I read it) observing that a weakness of our present world system is that all the power is focused in Washington, and that the whole global system is held together by implicit and explicit guarantees made by organisations and people based there, and if (say) someone were to explode a nuclear weapon there, then there is a possibility that the political and economic institutions of the world would simply collapse. Although I think this may be too pessimistic, it worried me, because I am not sure it is too pessimistic. Lee is arguing something more general than this, but this is at least one aspect of what he is saying.

This also makes me think of something else. When I was a youthful lefty, I swallowed most of the "Africa and the poor world is poor because the rich world exploits it to its own ends" guff. As I got older, I actually learned the truth, which is both better and worse than this. And the truth can be best summarised by this observation: If the whole of Africa were to disappear tomorrow in a catastrophic earthquake, the rest of the world would barely notice . Africa is so marginal to the rest of the world both economically and politically that our lives would simply not be affected by such an event in any meaningful way. If we were exploiting Africa, we would at least have some incentive to improve the continent's political, legal, and economic institutions, but we do not.

Of course, there actually are plenty of individual instances of people in the developed world exploiting Africans, but the damage done by these is small compared to the damage done by simple ignorance and stupidity. This is why the reality is perhaps worse than the caricature. If we were exploiting Africa to be rich ourselves, there would at least be a certain amount of logic in it. Instead though we have huge levels of agricultural subsidy for our farmers, which in return for helping make Africa much poorer than it needs to be, make us a little poorer as well.

As far as helping Africa is concerned, I would personally like to participate in some rowdy demonstrations and marches through our capital cities in violent protest against rich world agricultural subsidies. However, this isn't a cause for which I see much great passionate support.

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