fredag 23 april 2010

Pushed to the corner

In a lecture at the university a fellow student was exposing the social and economic structure of the conflict in Sri Lanka. In an effort to make his point clear once and for all, he lifted his hands as if he was holding a big water melon, looked at the audience and said “things are not black or white, you know”... paused and added “they are grey”. The lecturer raised his hands and interrupted “no, that's not true. Things are colorful”. The speaker could not make much sense of the comment, being all nervous as he was, nor could the audience, and an awkward silence expanded for some seconds.

This simple though far-reaching assertion stuck beyond what I could think at the time. It does not go a week where I wonder, if things are made of colors and combinations of colors, why do we find ourselves so often discussing how grey they are? Or worse, why do we find ourselves pondering if they are white or black? China or the States? Real Madrid or Barcelona? Alliansen or Rödgröna? Mountain or beach? Against the possibilities that one would think the world gives, we are offered two, or a combination of them in different proportions, which we call “center” or "moderate".

Like boxers, we are pushed to the corner so our options are limited. The boxer in the corner cannot step back, cannot step to the sides. Can just take the punches and wait for a mistake of the opponent. Today we had breakfast with another session of the old game. Hans Bergström in Dagens Nyheter reasons that the solution to development is to do away with development aid. The first big dose of (let's call it that) the black or white syrup comes soon. The article assumes that aid is one monolithic thing. No nuances, no angles, no difference of strategies, or players, or contexts. Aid is one thing. Big, according to numbers, but one. Loans of the World Bank to states are the same as loans of micro credit of a local bank or association to women or fishermen. Safe motherhood projects to decrease the number of women and babies that die during delivery are the same as construction of dams in dry areas. Economic literacy of communities the same as purchase of school material. Organization of citizens at community level is the same as organization of states in regional communities. By doing this Bergström is denying the rainbow of aid. He is saying that aid is a big mistake. None of the above seems to work.

The second big dose of the black or white syrup comes with the solution side: we would eventually fix poverty by a radical liberalization of the European trade policy. Again, a simplified version of reality, a single sided tool that will do the trick no other has done in fifty years. Poverty is in reality multidimensional. There is an economic dimension of poverty, but a physical and psychological dimension of poverty too. They are related to democracy, culture, health and others as much as to economy. Experts and authorities do not come to an agreement of what comes first: if a healthy economy will eventually deliver a healthy democracy or the other way around. If healthy and educated people will take the country to an steady economic growth or the opposite. But Bergström seems to have missed this never ending discussion. For him all this fire work that are the different understandings and solutions to poverty comes to a) do away with aid in 5 years and b) do a radical liberalization of European trade policy. Doesn't it look like these two have been hand picked from a basket of colors?

Bergström of course knows better than that, and us should know too. He is taking advantage of that we are already pushed to the corner. We do not have a nuanced view of poverty and aid and we take what we are given. And that applies to most of the political arenas: social security, health, culture, trade, investment. But why would the docent in Political Science do that, simplify too much and propose a one-dimensional solution to poverty? This question, my friend, is for you.

Coming to the aid debate, of course aid needs to be reviewed. So does FIFA and UEFA regulations, screenplay writers collective agreement, the price of the Yuan, bostadsförmedlingen, even the EU trade policy, especially when it comes to coherence with EU aid policy.

Domingo Torres Santos, Diakonia's Latin America Department