Saturday, 23 July 2011

Drought, famine, disease and pestilence

Sudan, Somalia, parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, the list of countries facing the grim reaper due to drought and subsequent crop failure or warlords and oppression, is depressingly long; and that's only Africa.

Redundant in twenty years?

Back in the 1980s (so I recall) we had the Brandt Commission to look at world poverty and starvation and to come up with some suggestions as to how the wealthier nations could support the third world developing world emerging world (that's the latest pc descriptor).
The commission (under the steer of Herr Willy Brandt) came up with a series of suggestions as you would expect but one in particular has stuck in my memory (and not many things do these days).

It was the suggestion that the 'civilised' world create a tax per head of population - not a big tax as I recall, in fact, I think it was pennies; but this tax would be levied every year.
Like most tax ideas it went as far as the round file and all forgot about it pdq except for moi.

I like the idea of a compulsory tax aimed at totally eradicating world poverty say, in a 20 year time frame. I do not like the idea of the British Government giving our hard won dosh to countries that, to my mind, do not meet the description of starving and impoverished; I believe at present we contribute to countries such as Malaysia and China and, in my book, they should be able to look after their own.

But a yearly tax of, let us say, £1 per head of population (excluding the unemployed but only the unemployed) would yield a massive
£1 billion pounds! That's 1.6266 billion US dollars. Of course that's not just Great Britain, it must come from all of the European and English speaking world. So I calculate, very roughly, that the total population of GB., USA., Mainland Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand is c. 1.225 billion, lose 20% as being unemployed and you are left with the mathematically convenient sum of £1,000,000,000.
Now, multiply that over a twenty year perid and you have a grand total awful lot of noughts and cash!

Next comes stage two; Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith had a good article in The Catholic Herald recently covering the sound strategy of providing foreign aid in the form of vouchers rather than foodstuffs or implements which are promptly nabbed by the warlords who get rich on the back of their fellow countrymen's misfortunes. The vouchers help support the local economy and slowly the wheels of feeding the hungry start to roll.
But, of course, the income from taxation must be put to many uses remembering the old adage, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for one day; teach him how to fish and you feed him for life". It would be essential to create an comprehensive and lasting infrastructure; roads, railways, irrigation, reservoirs, anti erosion planting schemes, cooperatives, training (especially training) and so on.

This all sounds very simplistic I agree but it is, in essence, one of the main thrusts produced by the Brandt Commission so better minds than mine have thought this through. It should be possible to tackle one or two countries each year and maybe, just maybe, after twenty or thirty years one could say that there is no longer an emerging world but rather an emerged world.

The burning question is: would the European and English speaking communities of the world stand for an annual tax? I think that they would; after all, £1  or 1.6 US dollars is not too much to pay to have all those images of emaciated, dying children and pot-bellied infants removed for ever from our television screens.
Is it?


  1. This is such a dilemma. The automatic response is one of compassion for human beings in extremis. And yet. And yet. All the downsides niggle away and one asks if it's really worth giving when never-ending conflict seems to be the major cause of famine and death.
    In stricken Somalia the controlling Muslim cadre is denying entry to certain major aid groups they don't like. Their obduracy is predicted to result in people dying, not in their in their thousands, but in their millions.
    For the same reason attempts to give the people the skills of survival seem similarly doomed. Even were one willing to give up a tiny proportion of income on a formal basis there is no guarantee it would end up where needed. This is the perennial problem.
    One is tempted to shrug and think: The hell with it. But my two donations have gone off and a third will be sent this week with the prayer that what I give will, in fact, reach where it should and do what it should.
    At bottom it is not the construct of state intervention which will eradicate this suffering but God's intervention in the construct of the human heart.

  2. I'm all for a tax, provided none of it is used to abort and condomize problem peoples down to manageable numbers or out of existence.

    Chris Wright