Friday, January 28, 2005

Global gimmickery

Although French President Jacques Chirac was right about the Iraq war, he is indeed a slimeball. Not for the reasons war supporters gave, but he is a slimeball nonetheless. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, on the other hand, was wrong about Iraq but is not a slimeball.

Blair has made attacking poverty in Africa one of his goals for this year. His government is one the provided the so-called Marshall Plan for Africa. As I I wrote earlier, it would be a good idea if it placed more emphasis on democracy, human rights, rule of law, respect for private property and good governance. But its heart is in the right place and, with some tweaking, might actually have a chance of badgering some African governments into fundamental change.

Jacques Chirac, for his part, was not happy about being upstaged by Blair. Africa has always been France's plaything, much like Latin America has always been the US' plaything. The French have never wanted the Anglos to gain too much influence in Africa, which is why the Paris backed the francophone genociders in Rwanda against the anglophone rebels.

So Chirac decided to combat Blair's legitimate plan with a gimmick. He wants to institute a global tax on financial transactions to fight global poverty. It would only be a tiny fraction of each transaction, but multiplied by millions of transactions a day, it would be a lot of money.

Or perhaps I should say "He proposes to institute..." because I'm not really sure if he wants to or not. It seems more like a gimmick to gain brownie points and look like he cares about Africa than a serious approach. It's unworkable and Chirac knows it. Who would collect the tax? Who would distribute it? To whom would it be distributed? Besides, Washington, who's approval would be necessary for such a scheme to work, would never ok it anyway. Nor should they.

Prominent African leaders, for their part, continue to insist that opening European markets to African goods would do far more than aid given with countless strings attached or only for disasters.

2 Comments:

At 11:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The implementation of this tax would be tricky, granted. But it is most interesting to note the quarters in which it has been met with the most resistance.

I think that you are unnecessarily taking a stab at the French and at Chirac in particular. At the end of the day, it is the Rwandans themselves who were killing their neighbours. It isn't to be forgotten that Africa's problems are largely internal. Equally so, without much internal self-determination, all the goodwill of the West will come to nought.

You also raise the question of collection and distribution of funds. I'm uncertain as to the collection, but the distribution, well, presumably, the funds will go to the recipient countries. Will this tax money go to the wrong pockets? Can we not ask the same about funds raised through other means?

It's always the same rhetoric. Everyone can glibly check democracy, human rights, rule of law, limited judiciary etc. off their fingers. All this is obvious. When and how will something definitive and durable HAPPEN?

 
At 4:46 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Dear "Anon",

"At the end of the day, it is the Rwandans themselves who were killing their neighbours. It isn't to be forgotten that Africa's problems are largely internal"

First off, most of Africa's internal problems are exacerbated by external meddling. Second off, while the genociders bear PRIMARY responsibility for the genocide, surely those who armed and financed the genociders bear at least secondary blame. I can be enraged at someone but if I'm not armed, there's less likely to be bloodshed. Third, I honestly have no idea why you arbitrarily injected Rwanda into this discussion. I certainly didn't bring it up and it's not really germain to my essay. And Chirac wasn't even in power during the Rwandan genocide. So I question the relevance of even bringing it up.


"I think that you are unnecessarily taking a stab at the French and at Chirac in particular."

I think it's quite necessary. (And it was directed at Chirac in particular, not the French people) The French political establishment has a long history of injurious meddling in Africa. Furthermore, what prominent African leaders are calling for most is not increased aid (either traditional aid or via this tax) but increased access to western markets. I suspect this global tax gimmick is a way for France, which is arguably the most protectionist major economy in the western world, to change the subject.

"I'm uncertain as to the collection..."

Isn't that a rather important detail?

"Will this tax money go to the wrong pockets? Can we not ask the same about funds raised through other means?"

Indeed we can. And this is why aid (whether it's traditional aid or via this global tax gimmick) won't achieve anything unless it's linked to "democracy, human rights, rule of law, limited judiciary etc" as you yourself suggest in the last paragraph.

You gave no compelling reason why global tax could possibly be a good idea, nor why it, as proposed, might have net positive benefits for the developing world. You merely throw out cheap, shadowy comments like, "But it is most interesting to note the quarters in which it has been met with the most resistance" without bothering to specify who and what exactly you're referring to. A substantive defense might make me change my mind about this gimmick, or at least take it more seriously.

 

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