Last week, some of the world's most illustrious orators met in New York City for a special session of the United Nations General Assembly. They assembled to discourse upon the rearrangement of all those delicate human connections that comprise economic relations between the prosperous nations and the impoverished, a North-South dialogue as it is called.Characteristic of these conclaves, there was much shouting from the nations of the South, and there was much cringilng from the nations of the North. All things considered, special appreciation ought to go to the designers of the U.N. building's stalwart air-conditioning system; last week, it overcame even more hot air than usual.
Well, what the heck. How should economic relations between the nations of the North and South be reordered? In keeping with the humor of the age, it was, of course, not the prosperous but the penniless nations that addressed the issue most confidently. Instruction came from P. V. Narasimha Rao, foreign minister of India, who explained that there must needs be "a massive transfer of resources on a predictable, long-term and assured basis." Guess whose resources are to be massively transferred?
Actually, there has already been a rather massive transfer of resources from North to South. Wherever the orators of the Third World gather, you will always see an abundance of Rolex watches, Mount Blanc fountain pens, Italian silks, Saville Row tailoring, Mercedes Benzes and so forth. What is vexatious is that the North charges to much for this stuff. I should like to have seen Narasimha Rao's wrist as he harangued for more booty. And I should like to know why he excludes the Soviets from his tirades.
Is it because he and his Third World colleagues realize that Papa Brezhnev has a very low tolerance for Third World guff? Or is it because, knowing that the Kremlin's economic system is pretty much the Third World's system, Narasimha Rao realizes things are tight at the Kremlin? Dr. Marx was a swell rabble-rouser, but he was an economic idiot. Brezhnev might be willing to part with a few tanks and KGB advisers, but accepting booty like this can become dangerous.
The highfalutin hypocrisy of these North-South conclaves on financing development in the Third World is really rather breathtaking. Since the 1973 OPEC oil boycot, the Third World's most obnoxious economic tormentors have been the oil states, not the bankers of the North. This year, the oil exporters will charge Third World importers nearly twice what they receive from foreign aid. It is a condition that worsens, and it worsens not because the North's foreign aid has declined but because OPEC's price gouging has grown so extortionate. Imagine if the United States attempted such highway robbery. Yet Narasimha Rao and his ilk wish to leave OPEC out of their harangues, ever hopeful that the OPEC nations will stop squeezing them.
Last year's U.N. Conference on Trade and Development is illustrative of the South's hypocrisy and cowardliness. In that year, the gougers increased oil prices from $14 a barrel to $30, destroying economic growth in the poor countries. Nonetheless, the orators from the poor nations kept scolding the sybarites of the North. In the southern nations' resolution on the world economy, the word "energy" was not even mentioned, notwithstanding energy's influence on the world economy.
There are monumental falsehoods festering here. In their conceit, the poor nations are attributing their poverty to the imagined exploitations of the North rather than to their own economic systems. A glance at the relative prosperity of Taiwan and, for that matter, French-speaking Africa should be instructive. The OPEC nations' depredations are being denied by the nations of the South as they dream of seducing OPEC and increasing pressure on the prosperous North. Yet two deeper questions about "massive resource transfers" are being ignored.
It is very doubtfull that all those Third World nations squalling for more foreign aid really want economic development. Some do, but do the petty tyrants, the religious fanatics and the simple reactionaries? Do they want extensive affluence, with its easy secularism and social mobility? Equally as pertinent, for those Third World nations that do want affluent societies, is a "massive resource transfer" always the most efficient route?
In the same week that Narasimha Rao was holding forth in the air-conditioned comfort of the U.N. building, The New York Times reported on the horror of life with the Karamojong nomads living in the famine-stricken anarchy of northern Uganda. There, foreign aid has apparently been generous, but its benefits are not so apparent as the orators at the special session of the General Assembly would have us believe.
"While the aid is saving lives, it also is doing some harm," The Times reports. "The people are being made dependent on it. A proposed work-for-food program, building roads for instance, is regarded in some circles as removing the Karamojong another step from self-sufficient farming." The solutions to human misery are, unfortunately, more difficult than the world statesmen declare.