Free markets save lives - not vanity rock concerts
While the Live-8 concerts held this past weekend around the world may have been a big ol’ vanity gig for Bob Geldolf and other aging rockers, they did serve the very important purpose of focusing world debate on if and how developed countries can help out those less fortunate – particularly Africa which has struggled for decades under the weight of oppressive dictators and the misguided “aid” efforts of richer nations.
What amazes me is the still-large community of anti-globalization activists who believe that the solution to the scandal of poverty and starvation lies in more aid, more cash, and more shipments of Saskatchewan wheat – but not the liberalization of trade and the support of democratic governments.
In the 60s and 70s, rich “know-better” countries thought that increasing the food production capacity of African nations was the solution. After all, if we could, in our all-knowing, white, Anglo-Saxon superiority, only teach those poor misguided souls the “right” way to do things, they would be so much better off.
We sent over scores of young, idealistic folks to Africa to “teach” Africans how to farm and low and behold, they actually already knew how to farm, but – and this is the kicker – they couldn’t sell their production because it was cheaper for Africans to buy imported grain from North America and Europe.
Hmmm. Now how could this be right? How could it actually cost less to grow wheat in Brandon, Manitoba, load it onto a rail car, transport it to a port, transfer it onto a boat, ship it across the Atlantic and then unload it on the other side?
It is very simple and it is due to nothing more than the massive and immoral farm subsidies that North American and European governments lavish on their agri-biz sector.
Our governments are paying our farmers to produce – and thereby skewing the global food market so badly that we are starving a continent.
These policies don’t just affect Africans. Right here in BC we pay much more for a litre of milk than is necessary. In fact, Canadians pay $2.5 billion per year extra for milk and dairy products because of the government subsidies and production protection structures for this industry. Cotton producers in the US received $3 billion in subsidies last year – that’s more than the entire economic output of Burkino Faso, a prime African cotton producing nation.
Dismantling agriculture subsidies and opening up trade barriers are difficult medicine for westerners to swallow – and so much harder than writing our yearly cheque to World Vision and feeling guilty at Christmas.
Cotton, wheat, and dairy producers won’t like it and they will scream that we are exporting jobs and opening ourselves up to an unstable domestic food supply, something that hasn’t bothered us when it comes to other sectors.
Free trade and no more farm subsidies – perhaps too complex for the old rockers to suggest – but the right solutions if we are truly committed to helping out our global cousins.
But maybe it is just easier to stage a flashy concert and demand that governments continue shoveling blood money to Africa and bribe money to our farmers, rather than fighting for the tough, but fair, solutions that might actually save lives.
(As seen today in 24 Hours Daily)