Tuesday, December 06, 2005

How We Rob Africa

African poverty is the West's fault - say even committed capitalists now.

In recent years, it became a popular tome among our economic, political and media elites that Africa should stop blaming colonialism for their woes, as that was decades ago, now the problem is local: massive corruption.

This is disingenuous at face value already: direct exploitation wasn't the only effect of colonisation, its economic and social and local political distortions are effects lasting for decades - even without considering post-colonial secret service messing-around, corporate corruption and diplomatic gangsterism. However, an even worse picture emerges when we look at the money flows - no, the net flow is not US/European aid money flowing into African sand/mud, it's the other way around, writes The Guardian:

Five trillion dollars has been corruptly removed from the world's poorest countries and lodged permanently in the world's richest countries. That is the "conservative estimate" not of a leftwing anti-globalisation activist but of a leading American businessman and enthusiast for capitalism who has just completed a major study of how multinational corporations, wealthy individuals and unscrupulous governments are using the world's banking systems in ways that spread poverty.

When aid or debt relief are discussed, attention often focuses on corrupt leaders and governments in Africa and other parts of the developing world. But they are amateurs compared with the rich companies and individuals who use the world's tax havens and banking systems to hide sums of money that could address almost all of the continent's financial needs.

The Guardian has this to say about the author of the study:

Raymond Baker is a committed capitalist whose new book, Capitalism's Achilles Heel, has already made waves in the US. In Britain he has been working with the Tax Justice Network, a London-based organisation that seeks to expose the abuse of tax havens and loopholes.

Baker describes capitalism as "the greatest economic arrangement ever devised", but he believes that western governments and banks are failing catastrophically in their duty to police the system. "Falsified pricing, haven and secrecy structures and the illicit movement of trillions of dollars out of developing and transitional economies break the social contract ... that Adam Smith incorporated into the core of the free-market system," he writes.

I more think it's just natural for capitalism to function like that. On one hand, classic capitalism doesn't work without 'new frontiers', without some resource to exploit - without something put beyond the reach of that 'social contract'. On the other hand, tricksery of companies and capital owners is the nature of enterprise - banks are part of this, Western governments are only 'responsible' to their own voters, so are they really failing?...