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It's Never Enough

Mises Daily: Wednesday, July 06, 2005 by

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The Group of Eight finance ministers will meet this week in Perthshire, Scotland to address various weighty financial decisions that their governments have expropriated from the more-capable hands of their citizens. Thanks in part to the globally choreographed performances of dozens of famous, caring, and would-be-famous-and-caring rock stars, the G-8—a group, not of countries, but of governments of countries—are being cajoled to “make poverty history” by…by…it isn’t very clear, but it involves a lot of things, most of all money.

It seems to involve first “forgiving” the extensive debt (actual money amounts of which are incredibly elusive in media accounts) of “poor” countries to “rich” countries and then making even larger fresh loans that are forgiven in advance, making them grants in aid.

An article (subscription required for this link) on the front page of the Wall Street Journal for July 1 describes an “unlikely backer” of this global din of music-powered altruism in Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom, who would seem to have been recruited to oppose the very policies that his own chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown, has been faithfully implementing throughout Blair’s government these several years, now. But wait! Who is that prancing among the over 200,000 demonstrators who encircled Edinburgh on July 1? Why, none other than Rt. Hon. Mr. Brown himself! Clearly, Scrooge is bearded in his own den.

The heavy-metal assault on global miserliness is not just obvious and noisy—it is also sprung on unsuspecting television audiences such as HBO’s, who choose their recent movie offering The Girl in the Cafe on the basis of a description such as this from the Dish Network: “Shy bureaucrat meets mysterious woman and invites her to attend an economic summit with him.”

The bumbling bachelor bureaucrat, played by Bill Nighy, invites the mousy, self-deprecating girl (Kelly MacDonald) sipping tea by herself in a London tea shop to accompany him to the “economic summit,” at which, upon the sight of ministers from the rich and powerful of the world’s governments, she turns into a dogged, irresistible pleader for the interests of the world’s extremely impoverished, ultimately shaming the prime minister of her own country into leading the final charge on global poverty.

And stealth, it turns out, is eminently appropriate as a route by which to mobilize the hearts and pocketbooks (but definitely not the minds) of the world’s voters, because nowhere in all of the music, in all of the movies, in all of the mush and mayhem for appropriating poverty into history, is it ever even hinted at how the fruits of productive labor and capital shall be placed at the disposal of the world’s poor, least of all, from whose labor and capital it shall be extracted.

Soaking the rich, ever the ruse by which new expenditures, then new taxes, and then further new expenditures are sold to the toiling, voting, feeling masses, has here been extended through a whole new layer. In that the G-8 represent eight of the largest economies in the world, the ploy has now become soaking the rich of the richest countries, broadening its scope to a compass that would bring gladness to the heart of any member of the Communist International.

There are today, of course, more people than ever living in “extreme poverty,” despite many decades of lavishing foreign aid much like that being proposed on the very countries in which the millions in extreme poverty are to be found today. In fact, thanks to the stunning fecundity of poverty wherever it receives proper nourishment, it may now be seen that those long years of dribbling aid appropriations are finally bearing the tragic fruit that will finally empower governments to confiscate the wealth and energy of their populations on a truly grand scale. That fruit is the extremely impoverished themselves. And how might they themselves be the product of past years of misspent aid?

To start with, that aid, being rendered by governments to governments, has enabled dictators such as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe to gain, wield, and hold power quite independently of support from their own populations. This power to impoverish is in fact the root cause of the problem. Second, such aid as the Mugabes and their apparatuses allowed to filter down to their populations in the previous generation made its recipients dependent on handouts and withered such resources of skill, energy, and capital as they may have commanded before the manna descended. And finally, it fed this earlier generation better than they otherwise would have been, enabling many to give birth to and raise to adulthood the present teeming generation of the extremely impoverished.

As this bonfire of the vanities gathers its own fuel and rages ever higher, compassionate musicians and politicians throw themselves into it in a frenzied rush to ride the updraft. They will burn brightly this week—not only finance ministers but heads of state themselves, Tony Blair, George Bush and a cast of thousands drawn mostly from the governing class. It promises to be nothing short of the globalization of welfare from which only the powerful ultimately benefit.

Make Poverty History, of course, has a web site , and its indignant opening line is, “Millions of people across the world said enough is enough . . .”

But it isn’t. And it never can be.

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N. Joseph Potts studies economics at his home in South Florida. [email]. See his archive. Comment on the Blog.