Friday, 23 September 2005

Making poverty history

Maybe I am very naive, but there's something about this whole 'Make poverty history' campaign, led by rich and famous 'celebs' that somehow does not ring true. We live in a world dominated by capitalism and one of the facts of capitalism is that the rich get richer, so inevitably, by comparison the poor get poorer. This is to me inescapable, and easily illustrated at the local, community level. If you are living on the breadline, and do not have a car, you go to the local shop and buy your food and other essentials. If you are slightly wealthier, you have a car, can drive to a supermarket and benefit from discounts. If you are even wealthier, you can shop around and afford to buy in bulk, taking full advantage of special offers, and laying in stocks when commodities are cheap.

We live in an era when governments are obsessed with low taxation. One does not need to be an ecomomic genius to realise that this benefits the rich more than the poor, since the latter are more dependent on the facilities that are provided by taxes.

So am I being naive, or can an economist out there explain how, without some neo-socialist radical redistribution of wealth, we are going to make poverty history? Hand-outs from charity and foreign aid programmes demonstrably do not work -- yet that is all that is really on offer at present. Well intentioned as I am sure they are, sending used computers to the third world, old wellington boots, used spectacles may make the donors feel good, but I believe they do nothing at all to solve the long term problems. Nor do big grants to, often, corrupt governments.

In fact, many of the solutions may exacerbate the environmental problems that organisations such as the World Land Trust are trying to combat. Extending irrigation, providing goats to poor families, 'modernising' agriculture, all have potentially serious damaging environmental impacts.

I don't know the answers, but I am pretty sure that the evidence of the past 50 years is that hand-outs and foreign aid do little to 'make poverty history'. They may even have caused it.

The main cause of third world poverty is surely the constant leakage of capital from the poor countries to the rich? And that is why the WLT's modus operandum is likely to be relatively effective in the long term. In essence all we are doing is providing the capital, to acquire land, the ownership of which then stays where it belongs, in its country of origin. That land cannot be sold to overseas investors, and income generated by the ownership of the land will help provide sustainable incomes for those working in and around the reserves; and protect the wildlife and biodiversity the reserves contain. It's a simple concept, but I believe it is effective and sustainable, and if we could carry out our activities on a much larger scale, then we might even be making a contribution to 'making poverty history'.

Wednesday, 21 September 2005

Pets' birthdays

I have just read an horrendous headline in last week's The Independent. The British spent £294 MILLION last year on birthday presents for their pets. Now I have gone on and on in these columns about mumbo jumbo of various sorts. But this needs to be put into some kind of perspective. And one perspective is that that sort of money could buy outright something like 20 million acres of rainforests and other habitats.That's an area bigger than Scotland. And add to that the £900 million spent on cat food in the UK alone, and an area bigger than the rest of Britain could have been bought. That's without dogfood, and a whole host of other pet related expenditure. If we could channel one half of one half a percent of the money spent on British pets into saving forests -- just think how much we could save.

So why not drop 5p or 10p into a tin every time you feed the cat (or even 1p) and then once a year send it to the WLT to buy land?

Sunday, 11 September 2005

Mumbo jumbo

I noted that last week an extensive piece of research in Switzerland into homeopathy concluded that there was no effect greater than that of the placebo effect. In other words, homeopathy has absolutely no scientific basis whatsoever, despite the scientific mumbo jumbo that its proponents dress it up in. Like the so-called Bach remedies and countless other 'alternative' medicines or 'complimentary' treatments, they use what appears to be scientific terminology, but when subjected to scientific scrutiny fail. While all science and medicine has its failings, and fashions and theories change, at least these can be tried and tested. The problem with homeopathy and many related alternatives, is either they cannot be tested, or when tested produce results that re easily explained by placebo effect. Thought about rationally, even some of the more plausible become difficult to accept. aromatherapy -- if the oils did indeed perform the extraordinary feats attributed to them, would presumably cause havoc in the bodies of the masseur or masseuses. Of the more bizarre claims, reflexology takes some beating for irrationality -- tickling the feet to affect the head and shoulders. But the millions of pounds spent each year by the gullible public is simply an indication of conspicuous consumption -- as described in that often overlooked masterpiece by Thorstein Vebelin, written over a century ago, The Theory of the Leisure Class. We will spend millions on perfumes, cosmetics, bottled water, and quack medicines, while allowing the environment to deteriorate. It's a paradox, easily explained by the fact that business has yet to find a way of exploiting the natural environment that is as profitable as bottled water, quack medicines and costmetics. That's the challenge for the future.