Grounding the Spaceship Earth

Barbara Amiel September 27 1982

Grounding the Spaceship Earth

Barbara Amiel September 27 1982

Grounding the Spaceship Earth


Barbara Amiel

As ever, the Eastern Europeans have a joke for it. Behind the Iron Curtain, current wit goes as follows:

Question: What is the New International Economic Order?

Answer: The New International Economic Order is a system whereby poor people of rich countries give assistance to the rich people of poor countries.

Nothing could bring home the accuracy of the joke better than watching the joint meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank held in Toronto earlier this month, where senior diplomats from some of the poorest countries in the world seemed intent on setting new records for personal and national ostentation. Observers noted wryly that those countries with the largest delegations, longest stretch limousines and most elegant clothing also scored high on the closest-to-bankrupt index.

To Toronto they all came, carrying with them schemes and scenarios for global income redistribution. Behind the schemes lies the belief that it is morally right, practically desirable and possible to transfer the resources and wealth of the industrialized nations to the underdeveloped countries. Though acceptance of this varied in degree, with the possible exception of the United States, no country raised any serious questions about such a conclusion. The only problem seemed simply to be a question of finding the right alchemy.

Canada has long been an advocate of global income redistribution. Progressive Conservative MP Douglas Roche is a leading member of our foreign aid industry. In his book Justice Not Charity, Roche gives a somewhat emotional rendition of the seminal thought of all those who talk about North-South dialogues, new economic orders, economic liberation, and so on. According to Roche, the problem is that Canadians— like most in the First World—have and consume more than their fair share of resources. “Along with Americans and Western Europeans we earn more, spend more, eat more, and waste more than was ever imagined possible by our ancestors .... With only 0.6 per cent of the world’s population we have 7.3 per cent of the earth’s land surface, 15 per cent of its known freshwater resources. ..,” etcetera.

Roche’s conclusion: we have at the expense of others not having. The interna-

tional solution: global socialism. On an individual level he lists 45 things Canadians can personally do, including eating less meat, stopping the fertilizing of lawns, and putting up a picture of Tanzanian strongman Julius Nyerere in their homes! (Nyerere’s forced and bloody collectivization turned a selfsufficient country into a basket case.)

Implicit in this approach is the idea that resources belong to the whole world and that no action on any one country’s part is a sovereign or isolated matter. This is the concept of the planet as “Spaceship Earth” and the concept behind Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s speech to the IMF delegates calling on nations to show less national selfishness. With this attitude we must understand that there is no such thing as Canadian wheat-the world has grain of which Canada consumes too much. There is no such thing as American

The basic problems of developing countries are with their own corrupt and inefficient systems

beef—only the world’s meat of which Americans raise a disproportionate amount and eat far too much. The resources that the Western World has and what they do with them are a matter of international, not sovereign, concern.

What is intriguing about this Spaceship Earth theory is that it breaks down as soon as it is applied to the Third World. Details about the resources of the Third World and how it uses them are a matter of sovereign interest and not to be meddled in by paternalistic Westerners. If anyone suggests that economic aid for poor countries should be tied to a look at the ways in which they use their resources, the response is immediate—this is unwarranted interference in the sovereign affairs of developing countries, whose basic problems are clearly not with our wealth but with their own corrupt and inefficient economic and political systems.

The foreign aid lobby cannot have it both ways. Either the world’s resources are owned and developed by each nation in its own national interest, which has been the standard assumption till recently, or, if this is not so and we all own

everything, then the first question we have to ask is why the Soviet Union, which covers one-sixth of the world’s total land area, cannot feed its own people without buying grain from the West. The Soviet system mismanages resources.

This obvious statement has a curious consequence. By now the economic and political theories of the Soviet Union are the theories that rule most of the poorest countries in the world. But that philosophy is not the only element in those countries’ disastrous economies. Many Third World countries have managed to combine the mismanagement inherent in Marxist-socialism, which would cause even the Swiss to ruin their balance sheet if it were introduced there, with the mismanagement inherent in purely personal, almost feudal-style corruption. Lenin, Dzerzhinsky and Stalin managed to ruin their nation’s economy even while living in threadbare suits and sleeping on cots. _r

But in Latin America or Africa no such restraint is seen. Watching three senior African delegates in front of Toronto’s Sheraton Centre, their suits the epitome of elegance, their chauffeurs at the ready, one could only imagine the conditions in which most of their people lived in order to finance this scale of consumption—likely unmatched by any North American government official. One is reminded of the plaintive comments made by our ambassador to China, Michel Gauvin, who, when returning to Peking, sitting, correctly, as all Canadian ambassadors do, in the economy section of the plane, glimpsed beyond the first-class curtain where three Third World representatives were flying home in style after negotiating CIDA grants.

These observations indicate both the priorities and the personal morality of the recipients of our aid, who are most often a corrupt bureaucracy. It confirms the observation made by economist P.T. Bauer in his book Equality & the Third World, in speaking of the aid bureaucracy: “as so often happens, people who set out to do good, do well.” Very well—for themselves.

Surely by now it must be evident to our foreign aid lobby that it is not the gluttony of our citizens that has any bearing on world poverty or hunger. No profligate playboy of the Western World could begin to match the squander that takes place when corrupt governments commit themselves to Marxist policies of wasting resources.