The miserable and predictable failure of planning and philanthropy 131

Seeking the “origins of poverty”  is like seeking the “origins of nakedness”. Absurd. Nakedness and poverty are the natural state of man. (Quiet, feminists, or leave the room!)

But man found a way to become well-supplied with what he needs and a lot of what he desires in addition – those delicious luxuries. The magic goes under the name of Capitalism. It is the only magic that works. The Invisible Hand stirs the cauldrons of human voracity and ingenuity, and the rest is noisy market traffic.

The community organizers of the world don’t like it. It is chaotic, unpredictable, messy, uncontrollable. And some get more than others in their pursuit of sustenance and pleasure.

The community organizers think that’s immoral, wrong, unfair. So they want to abolish the market. They believe that wealth lies in or on the ground and can be dug up or cut down and distributed equally. They visualize wealth as a “pie” – a fixed amount. They know by gut feeling that poverty is caused by some people grabbing too much of it. Therefore, they hold, the rich are rich because the poor are poor, and the poor are poor because the rich are rich. Their solution to poverty is to slice up “the pie” and hand out the slices.

It would be an orderly procedure, totally under their control. Like handing out the bowls of thin gruel in Oliver Twist’s orphanage. And if you complain, they won’t hand you your slice or bowl – so there!

The UN wants to be the slicer and giver to the world. It had a plan to make the poor, wherever they are in the world (except any they don’t like), not-poor. Or anyway a bit less poor. Central planning on a grand scale would do the trick, the UN intelligentsia imagined.

But they have found – to their chagrin – that central planning does not work.  

Claudia Rosett, the go-to writer for reliable news of Evil Central aka the UN, writes:

At the United Nations, America’s new ambassador, Samantha Power, reported for duty on Monday. In remarks just before presenting her credentials, Power listed some of the top items on her UN to-do list, including working together “to alleviate global poverty.”

Let’s hope Power takes a look at a new study of UN development efforts, which the UN has declined to release — though it was done by one of the UN’s own staffers, Howard Steven Friedman, a statistician with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). Friedman took a look at the results of the UN’s centerpiece development scheme, the UN Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs.

Launched with great fanfare by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2000, the MDGs were supposed to speed the the world toward an array of specific development targets set by the UN for the year 2015, including reducing disease and hunger, and halving [the number of people in] extreme poverty.

The UN, on its MDG web site, boasts that these UN targets “have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest.”

But UN-galvanized efforts do not necessarily translate into the promised results. Friedman’s bombshell finding is that the Millennium Development Goals have made virtually no difference in the pace of development.

So, small wonder that the UN chose not to release his study — claiming, among other objections, that Friedman’s report does not count because he did it while on sabbatical. … [!]

Fortunately, Friedman’s study was published independently … You can find it here, both the abstract and the full report. Unlike the UN public relations machine, Friedman took the sensible tack of looking not just at the years since the program began, but at the longer-term overall trajectory of the development indicators involved, from 1992-2008 — starting eight years before the UN kicked off its global MDGs, through the eighth year of the program. He found that “the data show clearly that the activities following the MDG Declaration did not provide an acceleration in most of the development goals.” …

But broadly speaking, Friedman is highlighting data and questions that ought to be the subject of rapt attention and genuine debate at a UN that advertises itself as dedicated to helping the poor — and solicits billions of taxpayer dollars in the name of that cause. The MDGs have become one of the UN’s justifications for its ever-growing appetite for money. Meanwhile. the most highly visible and consistent beneficiaries of the UN Millennium Development Goals are not the poor. The clear beneficiaries are the first-class passengers on the UN gravy train — UN officials themselves, along with the constellations of well-paid consultants and jet-set conference-goers. The MDGs began with a huge New York summit for the signing of the Millennial Declaration, which Annan has since described as one of the highlights of his UN career. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has carried on in similar vein, touting and lauding the MDGs, and urging that member states pour resources into this UN campaign. The UN has held not only the initial 2000 Millennium Summit, but an MDG 2005 summit, a 2008 “High-Level Event,” a 2010 summit, countless conferences around the globe, and with the original MDG deadline of 2015 now getting near, there are plans afoot for a program of post-2015 MDGs.

The deeper problem here is that the MDGs, for all their lofty aims, amount in many ways to simply a UN-repackaged version of central planning. While we can all agree that it is profoundly desirable to end poverty, the real avenue to that goal is not a set of bureaucratically defined targets, but decent government, protecting a framework of law that leaves individuals free to choose for themselves the tradeoffs with which they try to improve their lives. At a UN where the majority of the 193 member states are not free market democracies, that’s a goal much harder to promote than a set of slickly packaged MDGs. But if the aim is to make a difference, that’s what needs galvanizing. Something the U.S. ambassador could usefully contribute would be to call attention to Friedman’s study, and ask the assembled worthies, in public, why on earth the UN would have the arrogance to consider such damning findings irrelevant.

We doubt Samantha Power will take that good advice.

On the harm that philanthropy does, especially government-to-government aid, Jerry Bowyer writes at Townhall:

Peter Greer of Hope International describes the ways in which government to government aid can be even more harmful [than private philanthropy]. The timing is lamentably good as the Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has managed to get himself ‘re-elected’ to another term as President and his first policy act is to appropriate property from white owned businesses to give to black citizens. …

Jerry: “What about government aid? Are the problems associated with that similar to, greater than, or less than the problems that you’re talking about when it comes to private philanthropy?”

Peter: “There are certainly a lot of similarities, but … [it] actually might be even worse. … By pouring in billions of dollars of aid, and by having it … go through corrupt governments, [it] might prop them up, might actually make it more difficult for development to occur. … [The] places that have received the largest amount of aid — they’re actually experiencing economic stagnation, and oftentimes decline, and part of that is because aid can sabotage the democratic process. …  When I was in Zimbabwe, this was when Robert Mugabe was having one of his “elections” … [and] he was using the international food aid to reward those places that voted for him and to punish those places that had not voted for him. So, the message was pretty clear: If you want any of the maize, if you want any of the food aid, you vote for me. …”

Power (pun intended) is the name of the game.


P.S. The UN must be destroyed.