As an economist who lived in Zaire, Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa for more than twenty years, I have been following Jeffrey Sachs’ involvement in several places, but particularly in my native Poland, regarding his Millennium plan to alleviate world poverty.
The advice he gave to Poland’s former minister of finance, Leszek Balcerowicz (a professor of central planning, who would become the father of the Polish liberal economy) regarding anti-inflation policy, for instance, had some good results. Inflation and the budget deficit came under control for some time, but Sachs’ ideas ultimately fell on infertile ground because they needed the involvement and trust of all citizens and institutions.
The Sachs plan may work in some other countries that need an economic “fire brigade”. But belt tightening for countries like Poland with a “martyr past” has already reached its last notches.
Recently, we had a meeting at Warsaw University about the Sachs Millennium plan. It was easy for me to cool down the enthusiasm of some intellectuals and politicians gathered who build their careers on ideas that never materialize. The whole socialist system was built on wishful thinking, distributing wealth that nobody knew how to create. Even now, Poland joining the European Economic Community is being considered by some ideologically and not in terms of economics: Give us money first, and we will know how to spend it.
Economists often look for magic and short-term solutions but they forget that many theoretical models have been based on a perfect world, perfect competition, etc. The reality is different.
The same reality exists East and South. Statistics have been manipulated. No instruments exist to take proper decisions so everything is politicized. Institutions do not work. People do not have confidence in their governments. And the greatest of tragedies is the death of people’s initiative and creativity.
In our search in the West for our own interests, we have made these populations in the East and South “our political muppets” dependents of our charity, our corruption, and our security systems. And then we ask ourselves why these people, for whom we did so much, do not love us.
At the Warsaw meeting I even proposed to work on Millennium goals for the West, not only for the East and South. Why? Because our own mental attitude has to change!
We have to stop giving charity to the world’s poor and start to understand that people everywhere want genuine independence. But what we can give is help in improving environment, so people can create and produce for themselves. This gesture will assure the world’s poor that there are no tricks behind our “assistance”.
Example: we speak about implementing democracy, but we are interested in mineral resources. We say people can chose their leaders, but we help them to chose the “right” ones.
There is a conflict of interest between the vision of what should be done urgently to avoid catastrophe and the petty interest of Western business and politics. We do not act as entrepreneurs and industrialists who build something solid and lasting. Our vision is short-term, immediate gains.
I have been involved in a water supply project in Africa, co-financed by an aid program of one of the Western governments. This project was deliberately sabotaged after seven years of struggle, because of a conflict over financing of Western political parties. A film could be made about the intrigues — the role of secret services, death threats, corruption and the way the aid is being utilized by multinationals. Who cares if the population has the vital water supply? Or perhaps you prefer to hear about the most modern and expensive hospitals, built with foreign aid in order to sell equipment when there is no money to operate them and they simply turn into useless monuments. And the dispensaries have no medication to save lives.
To implement programs institutions, experts, and projects are needed. This requires political stability, confidence and local expertise. Not UN experts sitting in a five-star hotel built for them with a view from the window on the poverty of Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa.
What matters most are the small efforts that save peoples’ lives or allow for education, such as in village schools where children cannot study because they do not have anything to write on, or where so many of them die just because a cheap malaria pill is not available. (Do you think they care much about the use of condoms and the fear of diseases that could affect the wealthy West?). Aid then goes directly where it should — not to institutions, civil servants and organizations that then use it for political gain.
Too much aid has such strings attached and it is better to just say no!
Clearly, the giving of aid needs strategic thinking. But an analogy of the right approach might be in the education of a child by their parents.
Which is better? Loving your child so much that you tell them all the time what they should do you give them pocket money and so many hugs that you risk strangling them. Or that you love your child so much that you prepare them to survive on their own you kick them out of the house when they have matured, even if it is painful for you. I believe the latter and that they will respect you for the rest of your life. The former will put the guilt of all the child’s failures on you. And they will keep asking for more money!
The populations of the East and the South are fed up with the West’s charity policy. Only their politicians remain interested in its continuation, because they capitalize on it.
Jerzy Mankowski is an economist and owner of the Brodnica Mansion Hotel in Brodnica, nr Poznan, Poland He is writing a book for the Thomas More Institute about the West’s charity to the world’s poor. Email: email@example.com