We want everything you have

If you the time, go read this BBC news story about debt relief for the poorest countries. If you don’t, maybe make time and do it later.
About half way down, Mr Andrew says:

“We want houses made from cement with zinc roofing. Then they won’t collapse in the heavy rains, which can kill people. We want combine harvesters so we don’t have to bend down with cutlasses to do the farming. We want everything you have.”

Seems reasonable for him to want what I have: a job with a nice office, a computer with two screens, a nice appartment with a view over a park with trees in it, enough money to fly back to the UK now and then to be with my loved ones, a rental property in the UK earning me money. That’s what he said isn’t it? Oh, no, he said he wants a cement house with a zinc roof and a combine harvester.

What if it didn’t add up? What if when you put everyone in the world in to a nice appartment with a view, and give them the computers and combine harvesters they need to do their work, there isn’t enough to go round? What if when we do, we start to use up the resources of our planet at a faster rate then they can be replaced?

What if “We want everything you have” translates not to “We want to be equally wealthy” but to “We want us all to be equal”?

If, and I mean if — this is a hypothetical question, if we could help those Ghanaians (and Kenyans, and the peoples of the other disadvantaged countries) by giving up a chunk of our wealth, by accepting a drop in our standard of living, by giving up our iPods and HDTVs (if not our harvesting machines and our information tools), if there were some way — I know there isn’t, but bear with me for a minute — if there were some way to redress the imbalance among our nations but at a cost greater than buying xmas gifts at Oxfam

Would we do it?

10 Comments

  1. christine Says:

    mark this is too sound of you! i think it could help much more if your if’s could be possiblilities.Atleast the world would be a better place to be in.
    miss u here in kenya.

  2. Mark Says:

    Hi Christine

    How lovely that the first comment here comes from Kenya!

    It’s the unspoken question on this page that I am trying to understand. Not whether it is technically or logistically possible, in some way, for people from wealthy countries to reallocte their advantage to those in poor countries; that’s a kind of rhetorical question posed here as a way to get to the real question.

    When I wrote this I considered speaking that question at the end, after ‘would we do it’:

    And if not, what are the consequences?

    One of the consequences, I suspect, would be that the world would not be a better place to live in. What do you think?

  3. zoe :P Says:

    Hi bitterjug,
    I think that your last sentence is the very final and perfect conclusion of your question : poverty in all domains is so present from 500 meters next to us to 40000 kms away from us that we could die of sadness trying to really feel it…

  4. Sheila Says:

    Hi Mark i am sure there is an answer to your question much more profound than i could give, so i will just say hello to you instead. I guess blogging is beyond someone of my advanced years. I was trying to find out how you were and what you were up to now in France. I know the answer is some where on the site but cant find it. Take care.

  5. dominic Says:

    hey mark
    remember the saying “do not give me the fish but show me how to fish. These is just about what most third world countries ask but alas the developed countries continue giving fish. Remember my case my friend in Germany wants to send money to a joint account here but my request is to first give me money to enable me register our activiities so that we can play by the rules-she doesnt want to do this. why i cant tell.

  6. mungbean Says:

    Well, Capitalism is predicated on inequality isn’t it?

    Somebody has to be the exploited underclass or else it doesn’t work.

    I see this as being absolutely fundamental to problems of poverty and inequality on a global scale, and all attempts to make small incremental improvements are ultimately doomed because the underlying cause – Capitalism – will remain, and the rule of The Market will continue to dominate. Greenhouse gas emissions and the debts of developing nations are actually being *traded* as we speak.

    Discuss.

  7. temo Says:

    I think all life is predicated on inequality.

  8. Sophia Drossopoulou Says:

    I think that the world would be a much better place to live, if shared with everybody, and if we learnt how not to build our happiness around posessions, consumerism, and destruction of our beauriful planet. I think we do not have the economic models to even envisage how to achieve that, but we urgently need to do that, and I hope we will.

    Sophia

  9. Will Says:

    agree with statements that having money is not everything etc. Is there inequlity in capitalism? yes, as there is in communism. Envy is a human characteristic, envy of wealth, envy of the girl with purple hair, envy of our neighbors with a bigger backyard.

    problems with proposed theory

    1. what we do not earn, we do not treasure
    2. relocation of wealth, either from developed countries or some wealthier individuals, has thus far proven to be inefficient and unsuccessful method of alleviating poverty.
    3. imagine if you get a check in your bank account from a wealthy uncle on a monthly basis, would you change your spending habits? would you use the money towards an productive fashion for long term economic growth? would you open your account for third party auditing?

  10. Mark Says:

    I have been imagining this last point. Sometimes I imagine an island with no exports and no imports, there is one small village of people there who grow some things, pick some things that grow wild and fish a bit. Let’s say they are having a tough time somehow (this involves all sorts of judgments that I have not gone into here) and I’d to help out.

    If I go give them a bunch of money, it doesn’t make them richer and doesn’t improve their life. If I give them a bunch of a precious substance like Gold, that doesn’t help either, unless one of them takes a bunch and runs off with it to someplace where he or she can exchange it for stuff, its as useless as the money.

    If I visit, Im making their scarce resources stretch further. If I bring my own food and drink with me, they’d probably like me to leave as much of it as possible behind when I go. Here’s a danger, because if I do that someone might think he can live off what I left for a while, and stop his fishing, picking or tending, then when it runs out he might have a more serious problem.

    Perhaps there are more productive ways to grow stuff that I could share with them. If they are interested, and if they successfully apply these techniques, will the population not increase to match the available foods? Might the result be that the resources of the island are used at a faster rate and afdter a few seasons those techniques no longer work because the nitrates in the soil are used up? What then?

    But what does it mean ‘they are having a tough time’? What is my assumption here that makes me think that there is something to do? Some help to be given?

    What if the island is not isolated but has a small import and export trade and a government that is in touch with those neighbouring countries. What if one of those countries lent the government of this island some money in the past and is now expecting repayments that they are having a hard time to meet. What about when they suggest that the islanders stop fishing to let the fleet of that country take their fish instead while they reduce the debt. That would put a squeeze on the islanders, now they are having a tough time. What can I do to help them now?