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The starving at the West's gate
I didn't hear our (not so)youth(ful) worker's annual Christian Aid spiel at church yesterday as I was doing my turn in the creche for fretful babies (full marks for my forward planning there). I would have liked to have heard the sermon given by Edward Lucas at the Christian Aid Week service in Canterbury Cathedral yesterday, and which forms the basis of this article in today's Times. I might send a copy to our YW for her attention, hem!
The reason for Third World poverty was already obvious centuries ago. Just ask Amos.
CHRISTIAN AID WEEK is rightly a time for warmheartedness. But that is no excuse for softheadedness. It is sloppy thinking, for example, to believe poverty in one place is caused by wealth in another. To share the wealth of the rich world evenly among the poor would temporarily dent poverty, not end it. Redistribution invariably destroys wealth in one place; it rarely creates it in another. The redistributed money would mostly go on short-term consumption or be stolen by corrupt officials. The root cause of poverty, above all injustice, would remain.
That still eludes much of the anti-poverty lobby. But the prophet Amos, writing three millennia ago, clearly spotted the link between poverty and injustice. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins — you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.
When Amos mentioned those who “push aside the needy in the gate” he was referring chiefly to law courts but also the route to markets in towns and cities, where the poor and powerless were at the mercy of corrupt gatekeepers. Third World small businesses on the way to market suffer similarly from corrupt bureaucrats and policemen today.
Technology and capitalism now have made cheap and accurate weighing scales widely affordable, ending one of the most common ways in which the poor are cheated. But the grossly unjust taxes imposed by fiddling with money, through inflation and non-convertibility, continue. The rich and powerful can use hard currencies and foreign bank accounts; for the weak and poor, the lack of a safe way to save is yet another burden.
Since Amos’s day it has become pretty clear how wealth is created. There is no example of a country where trade, competition and the rule of law have not brought prosperity. Bad government, the favouring of elites, protectionism and monopoly all entrench poverty. Modern prosperity is the result of specific institutions and habits. But like water flowing downhill, wealth trickles away unless it is well husbanded.
Polite Christian society does not celebrate the wondrous wealth-creating processes of global capitalism. It winces at them. Worries about inequality (ultimately a secondary question to poverty) and, worse, a distaste for wealth, eclipse the extraordinary way in which the embrace of capitalism and global trade in India and China have lifted hundreds of millions of people from poverty in the past two decades.
This anti-capitalist attitude is as absurd as a Christian distaste for the laws of physics. It also leads to a very damaging conflation of private generosity with public policy. The overwhelming lesson of five decades of Third World aid is that, paid from taxation, it takes money from poor people in rich countries and gives it to rich people in poor ones.
And talking of the poor there is a report issued today, commissioned by the Department of the Deputy Prime Minister (yes him) which reveals that Muslims are the UK's "Most deprived minority" At time of writing the Times only has a brief paragraph on it as breaking news. The BBC, of course, carries the report as a "Top story"
The report revealed Muslims were more likely than any other faith group to be jobless and living in poor conditions.
It said half of Muslims aged over 25 were unemployed, and one in three lived in the most deprived areas of England.
Interestingly the Times comment, brief as it is, reports this particular fact as "Half of Muslims aged over 25 are not in the formal labour market," an apparently slight, but telling difference.
University researchers in Birmingham, Derby, Oxford, and Warwick also found they had poorer levels of education.
"Taking the Muslim population as a whole, they face some of the most acute conditions of multiple deprivation," the report said.
John Prescott's former department, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), commissioned the academics to review data on the Hindu, Sikh and Muslim communities.
So how are the Hindu and Sikh communities fixed? I bet they are working hard, getting on and doing well. An asset not a burden. And what are the poor hard up Muslims doing in the BBC's picture? Rolling out a prayer mat.
Don't they realise, Laborare est Orare. Time they were told.