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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Alleviating global poverty: The 2009 Montreal Millennium Summit

The Montreal Millennium Summit, an international gathering at which the United Nations' (UN) Millennium Development Goals are being discussed, is currently underway. In 2000, the UN issued a series of noble, if not unrealistic, goals that are supposed to be met by 2015. These include items such as eliminating poverty and hunger, reducing child mortality, and combating AIDS. However, Le Quebecois Libre columnist Bradley Doucet argues the means by which the UN intends to achieve these goals are based on a failed model of aid going from the industrialized world to less developed nations and that the model is based on the incorrect assumption that human rights extend beyond personal freedoms to needs and wants.

In his column Alleviating Global Poverty," reprinted in the Western Standard Bradley Doucet writes:

Traditional human rights are negative in nature. They simply constrain people from infringing on each other's freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of movement, and so on. They exist until and unless they are destroyed. They take nothing from those who respect them. In contrast, health, basic education, and freedom from hunger are positive goods which must be produced by someone. They do not exist until and unless someone produces them. To say that those who cannot afford to provide these values for themselves nonetheless have a right to have them is to say that someone else has a duty to provide them. This notion of unchosen obligations is the very antithesis of true freedom, a perversion of the ideal of liberty.

Read the rest here.

Posted by Jesse Kline on April 16, 2009 in International Affairs | Permalink


Do we have a duty of easy rescue? If I encountereda drowning boy, would I have a responsibility to save him? He may not have the positive right to rescue, but if I have a life vest and can easily save him without adversely affecting myself, don't I have a duty to rescue the boy? Similarly, if we have the ability to easily give life changing donations to children in third world countries, assuming efficiency of delivery and negligible self sacrifice, are we similarly duty bound to perform this 'easy rescue'? The point I am trying to make is that poverty relief is not necessarily a matter of positive rights, but can be construed in terms of responsibilities. To solely treat the issue as one of positive rights is disingenuous at best.

Posted by: James | 2009-04-16 1:24:24 AM

I have $100 I'll send to a charity in whichever country can assemble 100 demonstrators in front of their Canadian embassy protesting our employment equity, or unfair family law, or restrictions on freedom of expression.

Trade, not aid. We should pass the hat around and assemble third world socially conservative propaganda squads to lobby Canada to not suck so badly, they work cheaply offshore.

Posted by: No Commies | 2009-04-16 2:08:10 AM

Do you have a legal duty to rescue the boy, James? No, not unless you are a lifeguard, rescue worker, or someone else whose job it is. Do you have a moral and ethical duty to rescue him? Sure.

Similarly, we have no legal responsibility to save other countries from themselves; saving people or groups from themselves actually has a very poor track record. In fact, such aid is often hijacked by local warlords so they can starve the people into submission. The moral and ethical duty in such cases lies not in sending food (which merely increases the warlord's wealth and power, and therefore the people's misery), but in encouraging better government, without which all aid is not only helpful, but harmful.

The "efficiency of delivery" you so blithely write off as a minor technical quibble is in fact the main obstacle to distributing food in poor, war-torn regions. Sorry, but you don't get to ignore this or that factoid when determining what you ought to do. Unless you're a mental case.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-04-16 6:32:22 AM

That sentence should read, "without which all aid is not only NOT helpful..."

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-04-16 6:33:13 AM

@shane, I do not write off efficiency of delivery, I was merely stating an assumption implied in the argument. Clearly in cases where aid cannot bbe effectively delivered to those who need it, we should not give. Furthermore, I have serious doubts regarding the efficiency of government aid. This does not take away from the point, however, that if we have an effective method a aid, be it micro finance or others, we just might be morally obligated to give.

As for my being a "mental case", I suggest you drop the ad hominem, or return to the cave from whence you came.

PS-ya that's right, I used "whence" LOL

Sent on my iPod

Posted by: James | 2009-04-16 10:05:15 AM

If only the solution were so simple, just send foreign government aid and poverty ceases to exist. Having lived in an African country, I know that such "aid" does nothing except to enrich the Swiss bank accounts of the rulers. The only effective aid is small scale and working directly with the target population without government, local or foreign, involvement. Foreign government aid only makes the problem worse.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-04-16 11:24:36 AM


You're assuming aid actually makes people better off long term. It just makes them dependent. Having good intentions is great. But at what point do we blame those with good intentions whose solutions time after time lead to terrible outcomes?

Posted by: Charles | 2009-04-16 1:19:04 PM

Actually, yes, James, you were writing it off. You stated an argument based on assumption that is not true. Now, if you had done so and then said something like, "But since that's not the case, the ethical thing to do would be X," you'd demonstrate that you were a) being realistic and b) truly interested in a solution that would benefit the people.

"Might" be morally obligated to give? Well, let us know when you're sure. In the meantime, let's not base policy one what "might" be the right thing for us to do, in case it turns out to be more of a "might not."

P.S. "Whence" means "from." So if by saying "from whence you came," you are saying "from from you came." That's a tautology, boyo. :-)

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-04-16 4:27:58 PM

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