Some cutting-edge technologies for achieving poverty

Billions of people still rely on backbreaking labour and low-intensity subsistence farming, not out of choice but out of necessity. No small achievement by their governments. Until the nineties, the easiest and most obvious way to achieve poverty and qualify for foreign aid was to implement out-and-out communism. Many governments followed that route with stunning success.

But nowadays the communist route is all but unavailable, and times are harder for governments wanting their people to be seriously poor. So much wealth and opportunity now sloshes around in the global economy that much more skill and subterfuge is required

You have to pretend to uphold democratic values and promote human rights. At the same time you are well advised to ask rich countries to send you 'technical assistance', which is always available for the asking. You also need the help of local experts and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to promote lots of 'sustainable undevelopment'.

One reason why first world countries didn't achieve abject poverty may be that all their experts had gone overseas as emissaries to keep the third world third. But now the Cold War has ended. Second world countries have opted for either first or third world status. And all the experts have gone back home to roost or to try to achieve poverty at home.

Meanwhile, without their help, Africa is somehow failing to stay poor – instead the dark and 'hopeless' continent is growing at an average 3-4% annually. So governments and their experts desperately promote new initiatives like the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) to find new ways of achieving poverty once more.

Consider some of the latest cutting-edge technological recommendations:
  • Don't use (up) the cheapest unrenewable energy sources like coal, oil or natural gas.
  • Don't use cheap nuclear fission however clean, safe and sustainably unlimited.
  • Ban CFC refrigerant gases so that people in hot climates can't keep cool and productive except at great cost.
  • Don't cook with modern technology where coal and dung are available to cause respiratory diseases.
  • Control interest rates with usury laws so that the poor cannot get capital and wealth stays in wealthy hands.
  • Maintain price controls to remove supplier incentives and enable those with assets to use them more lavishly.
  • Use suitable labour laws to discourage employing the poor and encourage importing machinery to use up forex so that it can’t be used to import cheap consumer goods.

    A host of such in-house techniques are available to any government with enough political will to work the ‘miracle’ of poverty. And then to sustain it in a cruelly hostile 'global warming' climate of rapidly growing economies all eager to trade for mutual (dread word) profit. Empirical evidence shows us that if left to their own devices people will just naturally work their way out of poverty and it is only the implementation of all these well-worn techniques that keeps people in an unnatural state of misery. Poverty is therefore truly a modern-day miracle.

    Although governments often lack expert resources there's no need for them to try and do it all alone and unaided. There are plenty of NGOs that stand always ready with limitless advice, at no cost to the government, on how to get there. Many are the paths to success. All the superhighways of government intervention lead to the Rome of sustainable undevelopment.

    Let us recall, moreover, that we are not alone in our struggle. Thousands of international experts like India's Ms Vandana Shiva stand ever ready to advise. In Johannesburg last year for the WSSD, she won New Delhi's Liberty Institute award for sustaining poverty. The award – bull manure mounted on a plaque – represented the low-intensity traditional agricultural technology that she and other eco-imperialists favour over the modern technologies preferred by poor rural farmers. What, after all, do the farmers know about the best ways to sustain poverty!

    The WSSD attracted the crowd that, back in the seventies, was so enamoured of the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth. That more honest slogan didn't sell well in the developing world. Now it has been re-branded by a semantic fraud as Sustainable Development. Who could oppose such an innocuous notion?

    Yet 'sustainable' is an environmentalist code word for limited, curtailed, prohibited, suppressed growth. It is meant to convey the idea of providing for current needs without compromising the future. But it's really about denying existing poor people the right to use available resources, their pathway out of poverty, whose use would somehow harm future generations.

    Instead, where choice is unavoidable, any humanist would prioritise the dire needs of existing human beings higher than such things as rare birds in rare bushes. The 'bird in the hand' is maximum development now. This happens also to be best for future generations. Past generations always looked after themselves and developed to the fullest possible extent. When they thought about it, they assumed that those who followed would be better off thanks to the ever-accumulating human inheritance of wealth and technology. They developed for themselves, and later we got the benefits.

    Backward countries can best do the same. They should develop themselves in single-minded fashion by so-called exploitation of swamps, jungles, coal and so on. They should fret not at all about depleting their flint, lard, tin, surface deposits, marshes and forests as they create productive cities and harbours.

    No-one calls for turning London or Rotterdam back into swamps. 'Sustainable' means limiting growth, which the first world didn't. The developing world should likewise ignore environmental concerns as it develops. Although the growth-limiting school of Rachel Carson and Paul Ehrlich is always (like the poor) very much with us, we need to firmly resist its deadly message.

    Author: Leon Louw is the Executive Director of the Free Market Foundation. This article may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author. The views expressed in the article are the author’s and they are not necessarily shared by the members of the Free Market Foundation.

    FMF Feature Article\24 June 2003 Policy Bulletin 05 May 2009

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