Sunday, July 03, 2005

An historic day?

That is the drivel offered by the gormless Sunday Telegraph, gushing over the extravaganza organised by a collection of witless, clapped-out rock stars, excused by Saint Gandolf, who bleats: "Even if it doesn't work, what do they (his detractors) propose? Every night forever watching people live on TV dying on our screens?"

There it is, "the answer is simple, something must be done" school of rationality. Better known as the "road to Hell is paved with good intentions" brigade, it is thus armed that dimwits like Gandolf, with their simplistic, brainless mantras, do more harm than good.

As always, the only grown-up newspaper in the sorry collection today is The Business which offers a front-page comment headed, "Live8: a triumph for sentiment, not results". Written by Allister Heath, it sums up this whole putrid display of maudlin sentimentality, pointing out that the concert will have "zero impact" on world poverty.

The paper's main story then clothes the argument with facts, not least the singular and damning statistic that: "A one percent increase in aid (to Africa) produces a 3.5 percent drop in real per capita GDP growth". If there is anything killing Africa, it is morons like Gandolf and his fellow travellers, whose brains are firmly lodged in their behinds.

Crucially (print version only) the paper points out that the problem for developing countries is that they are "usually locked out of the formal, legal economy." They have houses but not titles; crops but not deeds; businesses but not statutes of incorporation. All too often, what passes for ownership is a system of informally evolved and acknowledged property rights, rather than the real thing.

And it is those deficiencies, more than anything else, which explain the impoverishment of Africa. Because the poor lack legal title to their properties, they are unable to use their assets as collateral. They cannot get bank loans to expand their businesses or improve their properties – and there is no point anyway as they have no remedy against arbitrary expropriation.

Governments in developing countries must, therefore, devise a detailed plan to transform the current, extra-legal ownership of assets into real property rights, and to recognise the informal arrangements that function within the communities of the poor. Not said, but equally essential, is a network of honest, accessible courts which can at one settle disputes and uphold property rights, making those rights enforceable against the depredations of the robber barons and the state.

There are few "magic wands" in this world, but there are a few simple, unbreakable principles which, if ignored, bring disaster. But implementing these changes is not "sexy" – they does not have the same cachet as poncing about on a stage in Hyde Park, hectoring an audience of 200,000 and millions more on television, with the moronic slogan, "Make poverty history".

I do wish someone would make Gandolf history. That would be an historic day.

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