August 10, 2006

alaluyah! Reverend Billy

Filed under: Consumerism — ken finn @ 8:50 pm

The Reverend Billy

Confess your shopping sins and find salvation.

Listen to the gospel according to Reverend Billy and find the path to righteousness.

Visit the Church of Stop Shopping!


August 9, 2006

Wrong Question, Wrong Response

Filed under: Poverty — ken finn @ 6:34 pm


Some weeks ago I was invited to Westminster to be a ‘witness’ at The Conservative’s Globalisation and Global Poverty focus group. David Cameron has said he’s serious about dealing with poverty in the developing world and has invited some big names to help find solutions.
Offering their views on the day were Sir Geldoff, Duncan Green from Oxfam, Mike Moore ex Director General of the World Trade Organisation and Kurt Hoffman director of the Shell Foundation.

I have no reason to doubt David Cameron is sincere in his desire to eradicate poverty. Listening to the evidence though I couldn’t help but think that the assembled experts were bound to offer solutions shaped to fit the needs of the global corporate economy. In fact the process seems about finding new ways to make old and largely failed strategies work. Duncan Green from Oxfam in his opening statement said, “Bad rules are better than no rules,” referring to the flawed WTO regimes imposed on developing countries. The rules that have ensured that very little of the wealth generated in the last 20 years has found its way into the hands of the poor. It’s hard to imagine how much worse it could be without rules.

It seems to me that the experts are starting from the same old premise. The accepted mantra is increased trade generates development which creates wealth that alleviates poverty. All strategies that deviate from this formula are deemed unrealistic. Yet you don’t have to look far to see that there is no hard link between wealth creation and poverty reduction.

I saw a great poster the other day; it read, “If war is the answer, we’re asking the wrong question.”  It seems to me that Free Trade is the wrong response to poverty

What institutions like the IMF and the World Bank offer the developing world as a model is flawed. It’s unsustainable and inequitable; in truth it’s not much more than an extension of colonialism. Crumbs from the top table in return for hard labour and the resources of their lands on the cheap

Thriving communities have at their heart all kinds of exchanges, goods, services and knowledge and more.  Trading systems should help to distribute the resources that people need to live happy healthy lives, tools to achieve an equitable balance, that’s all. Trade isn’t community and when we make economic activity the barometer for a healthy lifestyle we are bound to overlook the fundamental elements of a happy life. Trade serves people best when people aren’t in servitude to trade.

The developed nations of the world are approaching a major change point. Rapid and continuous economic growth has been possible through cheap and abundant oil. Resources like minerals and timber have been there for the taking. The speed at which we’re using these commodities became unsustainable even before economies like China entered the game. Like it not the developed economies are in for a shock sometime soon. It will be hard enough for wealthy countries to adapt to the coming energy shock of rising oil prices and insecurities of supply but to encourage poor countries to adopt our energy intensive economic model will be a disaster. For instance what will happen to the farmers in Africa growing flowers for the European market when aviation fuel costs make it prohibitive to send their blooms to market?

It’s about time we realised that we don’t have all the answers. In fact it may be that developing nations will have a thing or two to tell us about adapting our economies to living within our means and creating local solutions and local markets as the energy crisis bites. If anything this could be a wonderful opportunity for a true exchange of ideas rather than the perpetuating the idea that the west knows best and that a free global economy is the answer to poverty.