Archive for the ‘Foreign Aid’ Category

Why America Doesn’t Talk About Human Rights

May 20, 2016
Child Slavery on Chocolate Plantations

Child Slavery on Chocolate Plantations

Living in a less developed country I hear a lot of general talk about human rights. One of the times this subject normally comes up is when foreigners speak up wanting to do something about the abysmal ways many animals are treated in developing countries (donkeys being abused as working animals, cats and other animals being used for witchcraft purposes, abuse of street animals for amusement–such as cutting off their tails for fun).  Surprisingly, locals’ reaction is often, “We shouldn’t care about ANIMAL RIGHTS; we need to care about HUMAN rights!”

When a friend told me they wanted to study international relations and specialize in “human rights,” I realized that I needed to ask, “What ARE ‘human rights,’ exactly?” When I didn’t get a clear answer, I looked it up.

The European Convention on Human Rights

The European Convention on Human Rights

On Wikipedia, I found something called the European Convention on Human Rights (from 1950). It has sections (not a comprehensive list) discussing some of the following:

Respecting Rights
Life
Torture
Servitude
Liberty and Security
Fair Trial
Privacy
Conscience and Religion
Expression
Association
Marriage
Effective Remedy
Discrimination
Abuse of Rights

Reading this list, I realized why we are not talking about “human rights” in America. Many(but not all) items, in lists of human rights, are already in our Declaration of Independence.

Bill of Rights

The majority of people in America (except immigrants) have never lived in a time or place where the government was authoritarian, and people did not have these rights.  Our Declaration of Independence, particularly the Bill of Rights, is designed to protect Americans from any sort of authoritarian government, and thus, protect our rights.  Therefore, we are complacent (when compared with those living under authoritarian regimes, especially in the developing world), as these conditions are not within living memory of the majority of our citizens.

In contrast, both the Holocaust and life under authoritarian governments are still within recent living memory of Europeans–and are, in fact, still the current condition of many people in the developing world. The precise definition of abuse of human rights, IS essentially, an authoritarian government.

Conservatives Without Conscience_ John W. Dean_

According to Will Byrnes, in his review of Conservatives without Conscience, “Robert Vaughn, a professor at American University’s Washington College of Law, defines democracy and authoritarianism in terms of information policy. Authoritarian governments are identified by ready government access to information about the activities of its citizens and by extensive limitations on the ability of citizens to obtain information about the government. In contrast, democratic governments are marked by significant restrictions on the ability of government to acquire information about its citizens and by ready access by citizens to information about the activities of government.'”

In America, we speak a lot about “individual rights,” (meaning “civil rights”). Civil rights and human rights are not quite the same thing.

Civil rights are an agreement between a given nation and an individual; therefore, civil rights vary with each country according to their constitution. Civil rights result from a “legal granting of that right.” Civil rights protect citizens from discrimination based on certain categories; as well as due process, or free speech,  among others.

Human rights were conceived after World War II (in reaction to the Nazi treatment of the Jews and other groups). An individual is considered to have these rights just for being human; these rights are not considered to be different between one country and another.

Human Rights - Freedom from Torture

A second reason Americans aren’t usually speaking about human rights, and why America has not ratified the European Convention on Human Rights, is that our government doesn’t agree with all provisions.  While there are a number of things, one example the United States disagrees with is that the convention outlaws the death penalty for all crimes, no matter how heinous.

From researching these issues, the next time a friend in a developing country begins speaking to me about human rights, I’ll certainly have a better understanding of why they are speaking about it so passionately.

 

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“Foolish Spending Habits” of the Poor – Now Explained by Economists

June 24, 2015

steak

In America, middle-class people get angry when they see the poor buying steak and lobster with their food stamps, especially when they themselves can’t afford these items.

In India, the middle and upper classes get angry when they see the poor without enough food to eat, wasting money on lavish religious festivals and funerals (up to 40% of their household’s yearly income).  The King of Swaziland banned lavish funerals in 2002 for this same reason.

In Morocco, the middle and upper classes wonder how the village poor can have a satellite dish, a television, a DVD player, and a cell phone, and yet, are subsisting merely on bread and sugary tea!

In all countries, many of the poor seem to be making very poor food choices, spending their very limited food money splurging on junk-food items, rather than on healthy foods which would provide adequate nutrition for their families.  For example, in Britain, George Orwell describes poor British workers as subsisting  on an appalling diet of white bread and margarine, corned beef, sugared tea, and potato.  They prefer this to living on a more healthy diet of brown bread and raw carrots.

So why are the poor, the world over, making these seemingly bad decisions?

The answer, according to economists who have studied this question (Banerjee & Dufflo, Poor Economics, 2011),  is that  things that taste good, or things that make life less boring are a priority for the poor.

“The less money you have, the less you are inclined to spend it on wholesome food…When you are unemployed, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food.  You want to eat something a little tasty.” Examples of tasty food might be cake, fried foods, chocolate,  a bag of chips, or even just a cup of sugary tea.

In America, a poor man in in his early 20’s, with numerous debts to other people, spent his paycheck on personal pleasures.  He purchased new tattoos, new clothes,  a weekend vacation, and some upgraded accessories for his car, instead of making payments to his creditors.

In rural villages, life can be quite boring for the poor.  “There is no movie theater, no concert hall, no place to sit and watch interesting strangers go by.  And not a lot of work, either.”  In modern Morocco, Banerjee & Dufflo found that many men lived in small houses without water or sanitation, and struggled to find work.  “But they all had a television, a satellite dish, a DVD player, and a cell phone,”  even though their families had very little food to eat.  When asked why, one of them responded, “Oh, but television is more important than food!”

So how do the poor survive depressions?  George Orwell explained it perfectly.  “Instead of raging against their destiny, they have made things tolerable by reducing their standards.  But they don’t necessarily reduce their standards by cutting out luxuries, and concentrating on necessities; more often, it is the other way around…Hence, in a decade of unparalleled depression, the consumption of all cheap luxuries has increased.”

According to economists Banerjee & Duflo, “The poor are skeptical about their supposed opportunities, and the possibility of any radical change in their lives…Therefore, they focus on the here and now, on living their lives as pleasantly as possible, and on celebrating when the occasion demands it.”

–Lynne Diligent

 

Civil Service Corruption and What One Country Did to Defeat It

March 19, 2015

Government Corruption

How does corruption among governement officicals become the norm in some countries?

The former head of the civil service of one of the poorest countries in the world describes what happened to the excellent civil service he had helped build in his own country.  During a dinner with Paul Collier (Director for the Study of African Economies at Oxford Uiversity), he describes how the civil service became a vehicle for looting the country, rather than for developing the country.

Paul Collier,

Paul Collier, Director for the Study of African Economies, at Oxford University, England

The former director asked Paul “to imagine being a school boy in his country on the eve of independence.  The bright boys in the class aspired to join the civil service to help build the country.  At the other end of the class, what were the aspirations for the dumb class bully?  Forget the civil service with its tough exam.  So the class bully set his sights on the army.  Fast-forward two decades and a coup d’état.  The army was now running the government.  Between the class bullies, now the generals, and their objective of looting the public sector, stood the class stars now running the civil service.  The generals didn’t like it.  Gradually they replaced the clever boys with people more like themselves.  And as they promoted the dumb and corrupt over the bright and the honest, the good chose to leave.”

Paul Collier says that economists have a name for this:  “selection by intrinsic motiviation.”

While there are probably a number of paths to government officials becoming corrupt, sometimes honest and reform-minded politicians come to power.  “It is very difficult for them to implement change because they inherit a civil service that is an obstacle rather than an instrument.  It is hostile to change because individual civil servants profit fromt he tangled mess of regulations and expenditures over which they preside,” Collier explains.

Fighting bribery and corruption from the top down, by the use of threats, doesn’t seem to help much in diminishing the problem.  How poor governments spend money and their lack of accountability is a major problem.  In Chad (in 2004) only one percent of the money released by the Ministry of Finance intended for rural health clinics actually reached those clinics, according to a tracking survey.  Another survey in Uganda (mid-1990s) found thad only 20 percent of the money that the Ministry of Finance released for primary schools (other than teachers’ salaries) actually reached those schools.

Mutebile-Tumusiime

Mutebile-Tumusiime, now governor of the Central Bank of Uganda

Ugandan Finance Minister Tumusiime-Mutebile (now the governor of the Central Bank of Uganda) decided to try a new approach. Instead of suppressing the shameful report, Tumusiiime-Meutebile took action.  “Each time the Ministry of Finance released money, it informed the local media, and it also sent a poster to each school setting out what it should be getting.”  Only three years later, 90 percent of the money was getting through to the schools.

It’s difficult to find solutions to the power of corruption, but let this example serve as a shining beacon of hope to those who are looking for solutions.

–Lynne Diligent

(For more information see Paul Collier’s excellent small book, written for the general public, The Bottom Billion:  Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can be Done About It, Oxford University Press, 2007.)

The Bottom Billion


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