27 January 2012
from TheGuardian Website
is the wrong one because philanthropy is the enemy of justice'.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty
It's strange that at this week's World
Economic Forum the designated voice of the world's poor has been
Bill Gates, who has pledged £478m to
the Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, telling Davos that
the world economic crisis was no excuse for cutting aid.
It's a loud voice, but the model of development it proclaims is the wrong one because philanthropy is the enemy of justice.
But beware the havoc that power without
oversight and democratic control can wreak.
But if you listen to southern groups such as the Karnataka State Farmers of India, food security is precisely the reason they campaign against GM, because biotech crops are monocrops which are more vulnerable to disease and so need lashings of petrochemical pesticides, insecticides and fungicides - none of them cheap - and whose ruinous costs will rise with the price of oil, bankrupting small family farms first.
Crop diseases mutate, meanwhile, and all the
chemical inputs in the world can't stop disease wiping out whole harvests of
genetically engineered single strands.
It runs from Tsar Alexander I's model village colonies in 1820s Novgorod to 1920s Hollywood film producer Hickman Price, who, as Simon Schama brilliantly describes in The American Future,
His fleet of tractors were kept working day and
night, and the upshot of such sod-busting was the great plains dustbowl. But
there's no stopping a plutocratic philanthropist in a hurry.
When Microsoft was on its board, the American
the AeA, challenged European Union proposals
for a ban on toxic components and for the use of a minimum 5% recycled
plastic in the manufacture of electronic goods.
But many an African country lacks the war chest for such a fight, and so will end up paying for the healthcare of those exposed to leaky old PCs' cadmium, chromium or mercury, instead of embarking on, let's say, a nationwide anti-malaria strategy.
Bill Gates himself may not indeed have known
about what the AeA was doing on Microsoft's behalf, but the fact remains
that if a philanthropist's money comes from externalizing corporate costs to
taxpayers, and that if Microsoft is listed for its own tax purposes as a
partly Puerto Rican and Singaporean company, then the real philanthropists
behind these glittering foundations might be a sight more ragged-trousered
than Bill and Melinda.
To which I reply:
But the point is that the poor are not begging us for charity, they are demanding justice.
And when, on the occasion of his birthday, a sultan or emperor reprieved one thousand prisoners sentenced to death, no one ever called those pardons justice. Nor is it justice when a plutocrat decides to reprieve untold thousands from malaria.
Human beings should not have to depend upon a rich man's whim for the right to life.