L. Neil Smith's
Number 330, July 31, 2005

"For THIS we survived Auschwitz?"

Live-8: What a Crock
by Charles McDowell

Special to TLE

Live-8 makes me sad. You'd think it would be merely amusing or comical; it's idiotic on so many levels, and the people involved are so ridiculous and self-important. But the fact that nobody else is laughing — and that lots of people are taking it very seriously &mdash makes it simply depressing.

There comes a point in every superstar's development when he realizes that he is no longer like other people. On account of his fantastic physical beauty, outstanding personal charisma, and tolerable thespian talents, he is no longer on the same plane as other mere mortals. When this time comes — when the superstar is able to reflect on his greatness with absolute clarity — the path forward becomes clear: he must assemble an entourage and take a well publicized tour of third world poverty.

What is Live-8? As far as I can tell, it is (or was at this point) simply the latest pet project of a bunch of self important celebrities, most of them washed up "classic rock" types who it is doubtful made it through the 60's with half their original brain cells intact. It seems that a few of them must have taken those celebrity vacation tours through the most impoverished parts of Africa. Now they feel bad about it and the remedy is to abuse their celebrity influence by shoving non-solutions down our throats and making things worse for everyone. Amazingly (or not, I don't know anymore), more than a few foolish follower types jumped right on board with their silly rockstar idols.

Cynicism temporarily aside, I'll try to explain what Live-8 is supposed to be about. Well, what Live-8 is is a bunch of rock concerts coinciding with the G8 conference in Scotland. What the Live-8 people want is to dump more money into poor African countries in the form of debt relief and outright free cash, and to promote "trade justice." Now, if you can tell me what "trade justice" means, I'd really like to know. I tried to figure it out on the web, but to no avail. The Live-8 site says this:

It's an obvious solution—challenge and change the rules so they work for poor countries. Re-write them so poor countries can develop, build their own industries, grow stronger, and one day compete as equals.

Totally obvious, eh? Maybe they want free trade (which "works" for everyone), in which case I'd probably be behind them, but I seriously doubt it. You might think there'd be more info if you clicked on "learn more," but you'd be wrong. What you'd actually find is a bunch of pointless verbage like this:

... the rules are rigged—loaded in favour of the wealthiest countries and their business interests.

and then the previously quoted section is repeated verbatim. So, they either have no real idea what they want, or they don't want to tell us. More on that later.

Celebrity Myth: The opinions of famous people are more valid than those of the unwashed masses or even trained experts.
Truth: The opinions of famous people are often more
important than those of the unwashed masses or even trained experts.

The most annoying thing about the whole Live-8 deal is the complete anti-credibility of the people leading the charge. Who the hell is Bono or Paul McCartney to lecture us on politics or economics? These people are rock stars for crying out loud. I doubt half of them graduated high school. Most of them aren't even particularly talented in their chosen line of work.

"Our guest speaker today, speaking on international macro-economics and trade policy is: Brad Pitt."

Give me a break.

Of course, I'm criticizing these people as though they had a rational argument at all. We all know that what this is really about is celebrities stroking their own egos and abusing their ability to get in front of the camera. Maybe some of them really want to "make a difference" and this is the best they could come up with; rock stars don't normally have to use their limited intellectual prowess to contemplate complex subjects (except maybe the one about the entire universe being contained within the toenail of a giant — I hear this is fascinating to ponder when stoned); they see starving people and conclude that we should buy them food. Brilliant!

The thing is, these jerks aren't trying to raise money for their supposed cause. If they were simply asking for donations, or donating concert proceeds, it really wouldn't matter. What they're really doing though, is lobbying the government. So if they get their way, we all have to pay. Government money isn't free; if the "government" gives money to Africa they'll get it from us either through taxes or inflation (or carry it along as debt and make our kids pay for it later). Which is great if you want a bunch of money to go to some special cause and you don't want to have to pay for it yourself — get the cost spread over the whole population and you only have to pay a fraction. It's a nice scam if you can pull it off, but pretty shady if you ask me.

It also seems just a little hypocritical to lobby to raise the taxes of people who are just trying to get ahead while you kick back in one of your fourteen vacation mansions admiring your fleet of italian sports cars. Maybe if Bradd Pitt — who made $25 million last year — gave about $24.9 million of that to starving Africans and started living like the rest of us, I'd take him a little more seriously. Well, to be honest, I still wouldn't, but at least I'd believe he was serious.

And what's with the "debt relief" red herring? If you owe me $10, it's no less cost to me to cancel that debt than to simply give you $10 outright (which you could turn around and use to pay me back). They seem to want to imply that debt relief is cheaper than plain old cash. The taxpayers get soaked the same amount either way.

So let's recap. Live-8 is a bunch of self important celebrities abusing their ability to manipulate the media in order to force the rest of us to pay for their favorite pet cause. Having said that, we can also consider whether their policy "suggestions" would even serve the stated purpose of reducing poverty in Africa. Since "debt relief" and aid are really the same thing, there are really two proposal: more aid (free money) and "trade justice."

Let's start with trade. As I stated above, I really don't even know what the Live-8 crowd has in mind, but given the left slant of the people involved, I strongly doubt they want free trade; I bet they're advocating protectionism of some sort or another. But how can they square this with sending in billions in free money? People in Africa are starving. Is the plan to send them money and then suggest that the price of imported food products be artificially raised so that less food can be purchased? If the plan is to buy food outside Africa and send it there directly, that sure makes it kind of difficult for local farmers to compete, doesn't it? Talk about "dumping."

If the Live-8 plan is to advocate free trade, then I apologize. I could not get that from any of the available material on-line. But even with that, local farming and industry has little incentive to grow as long as money and goods flow in for free from the outside world. It's impossible to compete with free. And that's not an argument for protectionism, since normally other countries don't provide goods for free. If another country is profitably providing goods more cheaply than they can be produced at home, then it's smart to take advantage of that. In this case though, I assume we don't desire to continue to feed all of Africa forever; we want them to take care of themselves.

The sad fact that people need to come to grips with is that the situation in Africa is not a temporary anomaly. It's not as though everything was fine and then a unexpected natural disaster wiped everything out. In such a case, it seems reasonable to consider aid as a means to get people back up on their feet. In the case of Africa, the status quo is poverty, AIDS, and starvation. If you send money to countries that are in this conditon, you are rewarding them and they will not change. Sending money down there without major strings attached rewards the status quo, discourages growth and encourages the existing institutions — including corrupt governments.

I contend that simply pumping money into Africa will only make matters worse, both for us and for them. At best some suffering could be postponed, but when the aid is turned off there will be more people on the verge of starvation and a larger fraction of the people will be infected with AIDS. More likely, the additional money will further entrench current corrupt governments and harmful policies, industry will stagnate, and people will continue to starve (with the population growing with extra food aid).

How about advocating policy changes in Africa that will actually have a positive effect? Since the status quo is terrible, advocate change to the underlying systems that are making it terrible. Economic freedom, capitalism, and free trade would be a great place to start. Don't expect conditions to improve overnight. If people in Africa are willing to work for a seeming pittance for a foreign corporation, so be it. This is an improvement, and things will get better over time, as they did in the developed world.

The prosperity we spent hundreds of years attaining in the western world cannot be achieved overnight in Africa. These silly Live-8 celebrities seem to think that the correct approach is to use their celebrity status to soak us all for billions of dollars. They are mistaken. Not only is the approach shameful, it will not have the desired effect. If these people really cared about this problem, they would attack it at its source — and do it using their own personal fortunes, not our hard earned money.

Contact Charles McDowell at charles@unallied.com. See more of his essays at www.unallied.com.



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