June 27, 2005

Live 8 not that great

By: Rich Trzupek

Capitalism disgusts Bob Geldof, the rock-star-turned-philanthropist whose “Live 8” concert aims to do nothing less than end poverty in Africa. Not by raising money mind you, but by pressuring the world’s richest nations into flushing more cash down the African sinkhole.

Upon hearing that free tickets to his July 2 concert, featuring stars like U2, REM, Madonna and Sir Paul McCartney, were being auctioned off on eBay for hundreds of dollars each, Geldof couldn’t hold back his contempt.

“I am sick of this,” the former Boomtown Rats star said in a statement. “What eBay is doing is profiteering on the backs of the impoverished. The people who are selling it are wretches. But far worse is the corporate culture which capitalizes on people’s misery.”

Huh? How exactly is a private transaction hurting poverty-stricken Africans? Geldof makes it sound like eBay is snatching the tickets out of the hands of Ethiopian kids. More likely, some rich Brits (the concert will be held in London) are redistributing a little wealth by buying from ticket-holders in the UK who can use an extra pound or two. There’s a few poor people in jolly ole England too Bobby, shouldn’t they be able to make a buck?

Obviously not, since the whole point of Live 8 is to force the industrialized nations to increase a massive welfare program that has done little to enhance the lives of African poor. Quite the opposite in fact-it’s helped destroy the one chance that most African nations have to dig themselves out of poverty: democracy and capitalism.

A continent rich in resources, Africa is-as Geldof notes-awash in heart-rendering poverty. Children die by the thousands each month for the want of food. This despite the oil, gold and mineral wealth of the continent, foreign aid that currently runs at $90 billion per year and loans of about half a trillion dollars over the last 40 years.

How can this be? Where does all that money go? The unfortunate answer is all too plain to see. According to the African Union–an association of African nations–corruption costs the continent about $150 billion per year.

$150 billion. Each year. That means that the sum total of all foreign aid, plus a nice hunk of the money that the African countries produce themselves, is washed away into the pockets of corrupt politicos and their cronies. It’s not that we’re not doing enough to help. It’s that the help never gets there.

Geldof’s solution to the problem? Double the amount of aid we send and forgive all African debt. That will solve the problem.

If it actually would, the G8 nations would likely pony up. But it won’t of course. Doubling foreign aid and saying “forget about those loans old chap” is the equivalent of doubling the allowance of a drug-addicted child and paying off his car. Wanna bet how he’s going to spend his new-found wealth?

Immense foreign aid doesn’t help African poor. Instead, it serves to prop up the thieves who run the continent. It pays for their palaces, it pays for their stooges and it pays for arms and soldiers who fight in the deadly, petty wars that dot the continent. Well-intentioned though he may be, Geldof’s naivete is appalling. If the G8 nations were foolish enough to head the rocker’s call, they would be guilty of funding the perpetuation of misery.

What Africa needs–to paraphrase an old saw–isn’t to be given a fish to feed it today, but to learn to fish so it can survive for a lifetime. That means democracy and free markets, and African countries are never, ever going to get there if we continue to prop up thieves and war-mongers.

The next time Geldof runs a concert, he might consider giving tickets away to the impoverished souls in nations like Ethiopia and the Sudan. They could make enough on eBay to feed themselves for months. That would be the sort of lesson in capitalism that both Geldof and Africa desperately seem to need.

Rich Trzupek is a recepient of the 2004 Phillips Foundation Fellowship and is currently working on a project examining the effect of environmental regulations on small to mid-sized businesses.