Benevolent Business

Back in 2007, I wrote a post on optimistic populism, or how free markets can be a force for good: by spurring efficiency and innovation, they increase the total amount of wealth in the world, making it possible to raise the standard of living for all people. I also noted the irony that libertarians, the fiercest defenders of the free market, so often misunderstand this. In their jeremiads against taxation, they’re implicitly buying into the view that wealth cannot be created and that the economy is a zero-sum game where the only way to help some people is to harm others.

Today, I want to talk some more about how markets can be harnessed as a power for good. But first, consider the scope of the problem:

According to the CIA Factbook, the world’s GDP was estimated at $69.5 trillion in 2008. If divided by the current world population of around 6.7 billion, that would yield a global per capita income of just over $10,300. This doesn’t seem like much, but it would actually be a vast improvement – the World Bank estimates that in 2001, 2.7 billion people lived on less than $2 a day. (This number has undoubtedly gone down somewhat with the rise of China and India, but is still substantial.)

Of course, achieving this level of income equality would require pooling all the world’s wealth and then redistributing it equally to every person – a proposal which is unlikely ever to be implemented, for a wide variety of reasons. But there’s a bright side to this as well: the fact that billions of people eke out a living on so little means that total income equalization is not necessary. Even a small degree of redistribution would be enough to produce a drastic improvement in the standard of living for the world’s poorest and most desperate.

“Redistribution” is a dirty word in the minds of libertarians and conservatives, who think of it solely as direct aid to developing nations funded by taxation. But that’s an incomplete definition. Any program, public or private, that results in money flowing from the world’s wealthy nations to the developing ones is a form of redistribution. Kiva is one example, a microfinance organization that makes loans to entrepreneurs and businesses in the developing world, which it funds with donations from citizens of wealthy nations.

Wealth-creating free markets have enormous potential to improve the lives of the world’s poor. But billions of people who need those benefits most are unable to tap into them, because poverty is self-perpetuating. People in poor countries can’t access the credit and lack the infrastructure that are needed to create successful businesses. Meanwhile, most of the wealth that’s created in the industrialized world stays in that world, circulating among a small pool of rich stockholders and investors. The U.N.’s target for a meager 0.7% of GDP to be given as aid has been consistently missed by almost all rich nations. Private giving improves these numbers somewhat, but the amount that the rich nations give, compared to what we could give, is still pitifully small – and the wealth gap between rich and poor continues to widen.

To make real progress in ending poverty, we need a different vision of capitalism. We need businesses with a different mission: not to enrich the already wealthy, but to redistribute their profits in beneficial ways. I’m not talking about non-profit foundations that subsist on charity, but real businesses, making a profit by selling goods and services that people need, competing with each other for market share, just as we have now. These businesses would, however, make it a part of their charter to donate all or part of their profits to some worthy cause. Even pledging to donate as little as 10% or 20%, from a large corporation, could be a significant sum.

We already have exemplar companies, like Newman’s Own, which donates all profits to charitable causes. But rather than just a few companies out of many doing this, it should be the norm. Why doesn’t every business have a designated cause which they support? Why isn’t philanthropy part of the core mission of every company, rather than a side pursuit engaged in mainly for the favorable publicity?

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Kallan.G

    Ebon:

    Sounds to me like you’re straying worryingly close to suggesting that maybe that great bastion of creativity and growth the free market is habited by surprisingly uncreative and short-sighted individuals: Shocking!

  • http://www.TLP.ro/ TLP

    I think most libertarians (if not all) will agree that their problem with forced redistribution is the fact that it’s not voluntary, not whether they like or dislike the recipients of the help.

    As to the last question, it seems that there used to be lots of voluntary help, among members of fraternal societies, but something went sour along the way.

    See: http://libertariannation.org/a/f12l3.html

    The article above is blaming the government only, but I guess there were other factors that led to the demise of that habit, such as two world wars and the depression.

    A group of people with average-incomes can devise a working insurance and mutual-help system, without having to rely on mercy from “the rich”.

  • http://www.TLP.ro/ TLP

    GDP is not necessarily a measure of wellbeing.

    For example, social-democracy can induce higher GDP due to the artificially-increased velocity of money. They’re constantly “creating jobs” by redistributing wealth, that is, wealth is being “moved” from place to place, not being created.

    This is the Broken Window Fallacy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_broken_window

    The parable describes a shopkeeper whose window is broken by a little boy. Everyone sympathizes with the man whose window was broken, but pretty soon they start to suggest that the broken window makes work for the glazier, who will then buy bread, benefiting the baker, who will then buy shoes, benefiting the cobbler, etc. Finally, the onlookers conclude that the little boy was not guilty of vandalism; instead he was a public benefactor, creating economic benefits for everyone in town.

    The fallacy of the onlookers’ argument is that they considered only the benefits of purchasing a new window, but they ignored the cost to the shopkeeper. As the shopkeeper was forced to spend his money on a new window, he could not spend it on something else. For example, the shopkeeper might have preferred to spend the money on bread and shoes for himself (thus enriching the baker and cobbler), but now cannot because he must fix his window.

    A common interpretation of the gross domestic product is that increased GDP means the economy is healthier. Some would say that this falsely interprets the proverbial “broken window” as a positive, and that some other, more accurate indicator should be developed. Green economics and welfare economics theorists have proposed a Genuine Progress Indicator as one possible, more realistic indicator of economic health.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Why doesn’t every business have a designated cause which they support?

    Shareholders for one thing, you have more people than the board of directors to worry about when you are a large corporation. Taxation is another, all businesses pay tax to one or more national governments on their profits so it is unsurprising that they don’t feel the need to fund welfare projects in addition to that.

  • Tim

    It’s unsettling to see you talk about the free market, then veer so suddenly away from it. In such a market, there is an incentive for a company to engage in such philanthropy if they so desire. However, many work just to stay afloat, to pay the wages of their own employees, to compete and remain competitive in the world market. In those cases, it makes no sense for the company to pursue philanthropy.

    The argument you’re putting forth is the same Reagan stated: a rising tide lifts all boats. Most companies choose to engage in making a profit that goods and people need where it makes sense. Kiva is, essentially, angel funding for low return, high risk venture capitalism. When a person chooses to engage in such, they are not expecting to “redistribute” their wealth, but to receive a return on their investment, both in terms of how they feel and monetarily.

    However, many of the countries in which Kiva operates are politically unstable or oppressive. In those times, that money is more likely to be misappropriated, unused, lost, or otherwise. It is therefore the decision of every company and every person whether the risk is worth it to them or not. That’s the free market, and the price of improvement includes the risk of the investment.

  • Entomologista

    We really do need to rethink the way we aid people in developing nations, and a business model might do the trick. Take agriculture, for example. People are starving in country X, so we send a shipment of food to ease the immediate suffering. IF the food aid gets to the people and is not confiscated by the local warlord, the free food flooding the market drives local farmers out of business, worsening starvation in the future. It would be far more effective to build infrastructure so local farmers can get their produce to markets and to conduct research and extension programs that are applicable to farmers in those areas to help them increase yields. Farms are a business, after all. If agricultural companies were to help the farm economy in developing nations through charitable work, they could vastly increase the number of potential customers for their products. The other thing we need to recognize is that most subsistence farmers are women, so we need to find ways to cut through the cultural bullshit to get the information to the people who will actually use it.

  • http://piepalace.ca/blog Erigami

    I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned the notion of fair trade. The basic idea is pretty simple: when an economic entity deals with others (particularly folks in underdeveloped countries), they should pay a fair price to the producers. The neat thing about fair trade, as that a portion of the profits are often put into the local community in the form of infrastructure projects.

    As noted by Entomologista, Charity can work to undermine local economies. When a company decides to operate fairly, they are usually still making a profit, just less of a profit. The producers benefit from a fair price, and any infrastructure projects that are part of the deal.

    It’s too bad that first world governments don’t make fair trade a requirement for trade agreements, or tax companies that practice fair trade preferentially.

  • Leum

    I think most libertarians (if not all) will agree that their problem with forced redistribution is the fact that it’s not voluntary, not whether they like or dislike the recipients of the help.

    I’m not so sure. Lots of the arguments against government-funded charity make a big point about how it disincentives the recipients from bothering to work hard. This argument holds for voluntary charity.

    Personally, I believe companies should make an effort to treat their employees as human beings by paying them a decent wage, providing benefits, etc. before they start giving philanthropically (though I certainly support philanthropic giving by companies). The Andrew Carnegie model of building libraries, schools, etc. while crushing unions and paying low wages is not moral.

  • Lynet

    Allow me to second Erigami! I’m a big fan of fair trade. It seems to be a good way to grow industries that will help poor people to care for themselves.

  • Danikajaye

    Consumers also play a large role in this. As consumers we need to be more aware of the impact of the items we choose to buy. Consumers need to create demand for goods that have been produced and manufactured using ethical business practices. One example I have seen lately is coffee beans and also tea leaves(I forget the exact label they have been given) that have been ethically sourced. Consumers need to create demand for these types of products to give businesses an incentive to act in an evironmentally and socially responsible manner. If people are just interested in buying products that are “cheap and easy” rather than playing a few dollars more for those that are a product of ethical business practices then they are the ones to blame. There is no supply without demand.

    I would also like to see more transparent regulated labelling that would allow consumers to make better informed product purchases. Agaiun with the tea and coffee example there is a logo that is now appearing on these items that denotes that they have been purchased using fair trade. I would also love to see a label for footwear- I want to know if my runners have been manufactured by a 10 year old in a sweat shop somewhere or if the person that did my stitching has been paid enough to feed and clothe their family. Hell, I already pay $200 freaking dollars for trainers, why not pay a few more to put some more food in a few mouths?

  • Justin

    For example, social-democracy can induce higher GDP due to the artificially-increased velocity of money. They’re constantly “creating jobs” by redistributing wealth, that is, wealth is being “moved” from place to place, not being created.

    Isn’t the point of an economy to move money around rapidly, as opposed to it accumulating in the hands of a relative few? If redistribution makes money move around faster, (assuming that all the money doesn’t leave the country) doesn’t that benefit the economy?

  • http://mumind.blogspot.com David

    1) “Redistribution” is a dirty word because it implies a third party taking from one pot and adding to another. I don’t think the term fits for voluntary donation: I don’t “redistribute” my money to charities, I just donate it. Just saying…

    2) Aside from the question of how meaningful a metric the GDP is, a “widening wealth gap” is not something inherently sinister, and is not compelling in itself. If the poor stand still and the rich move forward, is that wrong? If the rich were to suddenly vanish, taking all their money and possessions with them, would the poor be any better off? If not, those poor are not oppressed, and they have no binding claim on the rich. The rich group may all be jerks, and you can make it your duty to show them so, but I believe compulsion is out of line in that case.

    Another thought experiment: would it help if we stirred the pot and everyone moved to a random country? That would do a lot to equalize any economic indicators, but it’s difficult to visualize how everything else would shake out.

    3) It often is in a company’s interests to give some profits to charity and then publicize that fact. If you want big corporations to do something against their collective interests, all you can do (in an ideal world) is ask. It’s an abuse of the very notion of government to redistribute wealth since the poor, as a group, would have no case against the rich in court. Nobody can blame you for suggesting it, but it’s no great mystery why companies don’t act against their own interests more often.

  • http://mumind.blogspot.com David

    Isn’t the point of an economy to move money around rapidly, as opposed to it accumulating in the hands of a relative few?
    Moving money in circles doesn’t keep it out of the hands of a relative few. I think you’ve set up a false dichotomy.

    But the point wasn’t whether moving money was good or bad, it was that moving money around inflates the GDP more than it increases real economic health. As a result, the statistics may be misleading.

  • Leum

    Not if the redistribution only moves upwards and sideways.

  • bbk

    Justin, I let me have a crack at it. GDP measures money moving around, even if it is moving because of things such as the need to clean up oil spills. Because of that, we still have to make a somewhat subjective judgment about the utility of such an economy.

    Kallan, I think you hit the nail on the head. There’y plenty of money to be made creating goods and services that are actually useful to poorer people.

  • Alex Weaver

    The article above is blaming the government only, but I guess there were other factors that led to the demise of that habit, such as two world wars and the depression.

    Does it imply anything to you that this habit of mutual assistance was insufficient to address the hardships of the Depression?

    A group of people with average-incomes can devise a working insurance and mutual-help system

    And the others?

  • Entomologista

    It’s an abuse of the very notion of government to redistribute wealth since the poor, as a group, would have no case against the rich in court.

    I love how rich people get rich in a vacuum and don’t benefit from things like a workforce educated by public schools or the interstate highway system. Note to libertards: The Jungle is not a how-to manual.

  • Alex Weaver

    I love how rich people get rich in a vacuum and don’t benefit from things like a workforce educated by public schools or the interstate highway system.

    I also love how rich people don’t think they (would) benefit from not being in a nation full of starving, desperate, angry people while living ostentatiously. Then again, that didn’t cause TOO many problems for the wealthy and powerful in, say, France, or Russia, or…

  • Johan

    I think you begin in the wrong end?

    Why doesn’t companies invest in these countries? At least among the reasons are that these countries lack infrastructure, protection of property rights and are prone to corruption. Hence it’s not safe to invest there. Let these countries have good, non-corrupt governance, and things might start kicking.

    Being colored by having read some economics, I must disagree with you on the issue of “fair trade”. Free trade is good, and it is terrible to know how the EU’s protectionism keeps the third world poor, and how their agricultural subsidies destroy markets. But the lunacy goes on.

    Economists may disagree on issues, but there is broad consensus on that free trade is good for everyone in the long run, and that government should not stop outsourcing.

    And no, I’m not a libertarian.

  • Entomologista

    Economists may disagree on issues, but there is broad consensus on that free trade is good for everyone in the long run, and that government should not stop outsourcing.

    Economists wonder why people walk up stairs but not escalators.

  • John Nernoff

    I didn’t read all the comments here, but Newman is rich and can afford to be extremely charitable. Others just cannot do this. It would seem to be a matter of personal fortune.

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    I see others have pointed out how libertarians and conservatives often feel like it’s “their money,” despite the fact they couldn’t have made that money without the cooperation and investment of other people. I often ask them, “so how much did you pay for the calculus?” Of course, they didn’t: advanced mathematics is a free gift to them from the past, a part of their inheritance of cultural capital. When you point out that maybe they should repay that gift by giving to the future and/or others, they usually slink away.

    But you’re wrong about one thing: making companies into charitable organizations is a bad idea. Companies exist to make a profit. Asking them to do anything else is simply asking too much. If you don’t like the way they make their profits, you can change the rules and regulations until they work in ways that are acceptable (and fair to the rest of society). But you can’t ask them to make decisions about charity work. If you do, they’re going to pick charities the same way they do now: to please their customers, stockholders, or directors.

    Redistributing money so that everyone benefits is the government’s job. Libocons will tell you the only thing the government should do is Defense, to which I always ask them to open their wallet and tell me how much a stable currency is worth. Libocons are wrong, and you shouldn’t let their argument stand even for an instant. Let me repeat: it is the government’s job to redistribute money; that is what governments are for. They redistribute wealth into social services that benefit their society. Military defense is just one example: criminal justice is another. Philosophy, art, and basic research are more examples. So are highways and intra-continental railroads. These are all investments in our social capital – you know, the same stuff we got from the Greeks (democracy) and the Egyptians (literacy) and so on.

    And they are typically investments that corporations cannot make, because corporations exist to make profits for shareholders, not profits for societies. If you think of government as a corporation whose shareholders are its citizens, then their actions become a lot more understandable: like any large company, they exist to profit (increase the wealth of their society) and they sub-contract out to various supplier corporations when it makes economic sense to do so.

    Now some people might not like how the government corporation invests its money. Which is fine. They can disagree, and try to change it, according to the rules and by-laws of the corporation. In our corporation that’s called democracy, and it works better than any other system ever tried.

    Which brings me to the main point: we can’t help downtrodden societies just by giving them money. We need to give them social capital: the ideas, traditions, and institutions that allowed us to become rich. But giving them this capital is viewed by liberals as “cultural domination,” as if liberals can’t understand the link between women’s rights and lower population pressure.

    So the Libocons don’t want to share, and the Liberals don’t want to be dominating, and the developing world continues to starve. If we give them food/medicine/money, the only thing we will accomplish is producing a larger starving population tomorrow. We need to tie aid to concrete cultural changes, like women’s rights, legality of birth control, fair criminal justice systems, and yes – let’s say it right up front – modern ideas of government, which means separation of church and state, which means Islam must change. (Christianity already did change – the Pope is desperately trying to change it back, but his efforts don’t warrant a military response. Yet).

    When I get to the point of explaining how we need to use military force to change Islamic culture, the Liberals usually walk away. Since I’ve already lost the Libocons in the first paragraph, that leaves me nobody to talk to.

    :D

    If you want people to live fair and pleasant lives, it is a two-step process. First you must first convince them that fair and pleasant is possible, and second you must show them how to get there. Religion is the enemy of step 1.

  • Scotlyn

    Yahzi – I like your explanation of the role of government as improving the social capital of its citizens (shareholders) very much. And I also agree wholeheartedly with this statement

    Which brings me to the main point: we can’t help downtrodden societies just by giving them money. We need to give them social capital: the ideas, traditions, and institutions that allowed us to become rich.

    (although I would rephrase to say, “the ideas….that allowed us, as a nation to prosper, although only a few of us became rich). Nevertheless, you are right – many “downtrodden” societies are severely lacking in a rule of law (the complement to democracy that prevents it from degenerating into a tyranny of the majority).

    For example, the biggest bloodshed in the world today is happening in the Congo – with a death toll of between 3.5 – 5 million in the past 10 years. A visitor (“Blood River”, by Tim Butcher) described how the villages he visited emptied as he approached, often stepping over exposed human remains. They had already been raided repeatedly by “rebels,” by government forces, by bandits, and had everything they owned stolen, and were raped, assaulted and killed on a regular basis. They were eking out a feral subsistence, against a background of unrelieved terror, and were suffering appallingly – a state of affairs that persists to this day, with amazingly little media spotlight on it – the most invisible bodycount ever. The people he spoke to reiterated over and over, how much they longed for a rule of law – for the weak to be protected from the worst predations of the strong. If that could be achieved they had hopes they could recover their lives, if not their prosperity. The rule of law is an idea that helps develop social capital, and is worth sharing.

    My “liberal” difference from your statement, Yahzi, is that it is not clear to me how such ideas can be spread by bombing and killing civilians, and destabilising their economies, family and social structures. Most of the US’s 80 or 90 military adventures of the past century had the effect of increasing the grip of the local strongmen on the weaker of their own society, thus reducing the rule of law, and putting off any hope of civilised government until much further down the road – and this pattern can clearly be seen taking place in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan at the moment. So I would argue about the “how”, but not the “why.”

    Johan:

    these countries lack infrastructure, protection of property rights and are prone to corruption.

    Johan, you do not mention the rule of law, but corruption naturally flows from it. But I suspect it is the lack of “protection of property rights” that is the most pertinent to your view. This is the common defense of the rich, who conveniently fail to remember that their property came into being, at some point in the past, by an act of “fencing a common.” The “fencing of the common” is an act of theft – morally. However, it is not a theft in law, since the legalistic definition of theft begins only from the moment the fence exists. It was unfortunate, for example, for the native Americans, that they hadn’t invented fences or property rights (or visas) before the Europeans turned up on their doorstep. But there isn’t a single bit of land in the whole country of the USA, properly and legally registered though it may be, that does not represent an original act of theft.

    So, David, that is why, in your words,

    the poor, as a group, would have no case against the rich in court.

    Not because they have no justifiable claim, but because their ancestors’ original share of the commons is not recognised in law. Property rights only kick in once the commons is fenced, whether by might, guile, or whatever. So those who happened to get “fenced out,” never had any “legal” rights. Nevertheless, morally, the rights of the rich remain somewhat suspect, and IMO it is perfectly legitimate for a government to ask that they contribute a large chunk of the benefits thus gained, back to the “common good.”

    As Leum points out, if this isn’t done, the “redistribution” of wealth that is the means by which rich people get rich (they leverage other people’s labour, need and desperation, into their own pockets), only goes upward.

  • Alex Weaver

    When I get to the point of explaining how we need to use military force to change Islamic culture

    Um…

    How?

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    “it is not clear to me how such ideas can be spread by bombing and killing civilians”

    The creation of new social institutions necessarily requires the destruction of some existing social institutions. Bombs are effective at destroying things. Societies have been successfully inflicting cultural change via military force since the Hyksos.

    The problem with American military adventures of the last 30 years is not that warfare cannot change culture – all one needs to do is look at what we did in Japan and Germany in the 50′s to see the positive, wholesome effects of forced change – but rather the intent. For the last 40 years we did not intend to create cultural change in the places we fought. Our goal was to create a stable climate in which foreign corporations (i.e. ours) could make money. Social justice wasn’t even on the table.

    And guess what we got? A world full of dictators who looted their countries for foreign exports. The history of the last 40 years proves military change does work: we got exactly what we set out to get. We just set out to get something… hideous.

    This is why the Iraq war is so unique. Our stated intent was political reformation, like Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. We sent our own people to fight and die, instead of paying thugs to do it. We sat the Iraqis down at gunpoint and made them write a new constitution, and we made them put things like “women’s rights” in it. All those people who said we went there for the money are talking about the last 40 years. We’ve spent 40 years in Arabia supporting violent dictators and funding wars so we could pump oil. The liberals should have been complaining then, not now; but they were too busy filling up their SUVs.

    It was an unholy conspiracy: the liberals were being “culturally sensitive,” and the conservatives were being “realistically realpolitik,” and between the two they looted the entire developing world.

    Now, let me note I am not promoting war as “good.” It is always the option of last resort. It is just sometimes the least bad choice.

    The Protestant Reformation wracked western civilization for hundreds of years, and killed some staggering percentage of the population. If the Islamic Reformation last 50 years, and kills 100 million people, they’re probably doing better than we did. And anybody who thinks we can sit on the sidelines while Islam thrashes this out themselves need only crack open a history book to see what effect the Protestant Reformation had on Islamic nations of the time. This is a global struggle that is unavoidable, and it will sadly require violence in some form or another, because the power structures we are trying to displace are only displacable by violence. The French couldn’t throw off their theocratic monarchy without a war; neither could the English, or anybody else. America was unique in not waging war to reform its own… oh wait, the American Civil War killed 10% of the population.

    China and Russia reformed their feudal cultures into modern states via the transformative powers of communism. Having survived the disease, they are now moving forwards. Was communism, as bad as it was, any worse than 100 years of slavery and the Civil War? I don’t know.

    Why is it necessary to use violence to change people’s minds? Because some people want it that way. And if that’s how they want it, then there’s nothing you can do about it. Religion has inculcated a defense against reason in the Islamic world, just as Catholicism had in the pre-Reformation Western world. Breaking its hold without some level of violence seems… unlikely.

  • Johan

    “Johan, you do not mention the rule of law, but corruption naturally flows from it. But I suspect it is the lack of “protection of property rights” that is the most pertinent to your view. This is the common defense of the rich, who conveniently fail to remember that their property came into being, at some point in the past, by an act of “fencing a common.” The “fencing of the common” is an act of theft – morally. However, it is not a theft in law, since the legalistic definition of theft begins only from the moment the fence exists. It was unfortunate, for example, for the native Americans, that they hadn’t invented fences or property rights (or visas) before the Europeans turned up on their doorstep. But there isn’t a single bit of land in the whole country of the USA, properly and legally registered though it may be, that does not represent an original act of theft.”

    No, I mean protection of property rights in general, which tend to be quite bad in poor countries. Would you rather invest in Russia or in Germany, for instance? Likewise, the endemic Chinese corruption may hamper Chinese prospects.

    I’m not a libertarian (though close to one on social issues), and I don’t think taxation is theft.

  • Scotlyn

    Johan, I apologise if I misread your viewpoint. However, I do include “property rights in general” in my comment on “fencing the commons.” (a very “un-American” viewpoint, I know). Personally, I would “rather” that both the Russions and the Germans were able to invest in themselves. Or that “foreign investment,” was not another instrument designed to divert funds generated in a specific country away from the needs and aspirations of the citizens in that country.

    Yahzi

    all one needs to do is look at what we did in Japan and Germany in the 50′s to see the positive, wholesome effects of forced change

    this comment implies so many self-serving, and possibly, self-delusional assumptions, that it’s hard to know where to start (but me, I blame the schools). Let me ask one question – have you heard of the Marshall Plan? Why don’t we just skip the bombing and killing of people and go straight to a Marshall Plan, if we really have to “force change.” From the taxpayer’s standpoint, it would probably be cheaper, plus the buildings are still standing.

    But, on a more personal note, I wish you would think seriously about the implications of what you are saying:

    The creation of new social institutions necessarily requires the destruction of some existing social institutions. Bombs are effective at destroying things.

    If you said: 1) “the creation of new social institutions necessarily requires the destruction of people” and 2) “bombs are effective at destroying people“, you would be far more honest, but I wonder if you would be able to keep holding those opinions taken to their logical conclusion? The first is self-evidently false – many new social institutions have not entailed the destruction of people. The second is self-evident, yes, but doesn’t answer the question “why?” Why destroy people?

  • Samuel Skinner

    “this comment implies so many self-serving, and possibly, self-delusional assumptions, that it’s hard to know where to start (but me, I blame the schools). Let me ask one question – have you heard of the Marshall Plan? Why don’t we just skip the bombing and killing of people and go straight to a Marshall Plan, if we really have to “force change.” From the taxpayer’s standpoint, it would probably be cheaper, plus the buildings are still standing.

    But, on a more personal note, I wish you would think seriously about the implications of what you are saying:”

    Prior to the First World war, Germany was an economic superpower on the continent. Japan, will not as strong economically, had turned itself into an industrial society in less than 60 years.

    To say America is responsible for their current, while true, is misleading. Any attempt to do something similar in the Arab world would FAIL, not the least because the smart people would flee the country as soon as the bombs began to fall. The citizens of Japan and Germany did not have that option.

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    “this comment implies so many self-serving, and possibly, self-delusional assumptions,”

    Are you suggesting that the current German government is not a wholly, objectively, and unquestionably an improvement over Nazism? Or that the current Japanese democracy is not wholly better than Imperialism?

    “The first is self-evidently false – many new social institutions have not entailed the destruction of people.”

    Your logic is faulty. The fact that some new social institutions do not entail the destruction of people does not logically necessitate that all new social institutions do not entail the destruction of people.

    “Why don’t we just skip the bombing and killing of people and go straight to a Marshall Plan,”

    The other problem with your argument is that you seem to assume that if we all just sit down, talk calmly, and be rational and fair, then everything will work out. The naivete of this attitude is only exceeded by the irony of it.

    Your position presumes that Americans are mean enough to wage war for narrow self-interest, even while it presumes that non-Americans are always open to reason and never interested in waging war for narrow self-interest.

    You cannot force a man to be reasonable. You are not going to talk imams into releasing their complete domination over the lives of their flock. You can only free slaves by frightening their masters, and you can only frighten slave-masters by killing. I’m sorry there are people like that in the world, but there are.

    We live in a world where leaders of other countries routinely convince their own people to commit suicide while killing their countrymen’s children, and yet you think Americans are the problem.

    We are not saints. America is by no means perfect, and there are many, many ways we must improve. But, as Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

    This is the best we’ve come up with. When you come up with something better, let us know.

  • other scott

    Quite a few interesting ideas Yahzi.
    I agree with many of them but I find myself disagreeing with your war to change others into our way of thinking. Whilst I have no doubt that you CAN bomb a nation into submittion to western ways, I am unable to agree with you saying that it is a good thing to do. Who are we to decide that the way a muslim nation runs is any worse than how we run our countries. You might decide that they have poor living conditions and fewer liberties but it is quite arguable that their way of living is a choice and it is their right to live whichever way they please. It is not our place to look at a nation and decide that our way of living is better and that therefore they must follow suit, forcably if need be.
    All of the coutnries and reforms you mentioned, US civil war,Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, the English, etc. All of these reformations were internal ones. It is immoral to force another nation to go through this reformation process on pain of war. Just like it was immoral for colonials to travel to various tribes around the world and wipe them out or force them to adapt to our way of living. the way we live is great, but other nations need to get their in their own time by themselves, we cannot judge what is right and wrong for another nation.
    Not to mention the fact that when the number one reason a country is living the way it is, is it’s religion. The inability to seperate church from state, etc. It is going to be impossible to FORCE this nation to change it’s ways. If history has taught us anything, it is that opression of a religion or way of life tends to have bad consequences. Religions will go underground and resurface with horrific results, guerilla warfare is a sound tactic.

  • Scotlyn

    Yahzi, other scott

    Whilst I have no doubt that you CAN bomb a nation into submittion to western ways

    What you can do, and all you can do, is bomb a nation into submission. By definition, “submission” is not “western ways.”

    Yahzi:

    But, as Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

    Democracy (which, unadorned, pretty much equals the tyranny of the majority) is not the best the West has to offer. Constitutional Democracy, which includes the brilliant Bill of Rights type of protection for minorities, even of just one person, from the tyranny of the majority, is the best we’ve come up with so far – and it’s pretty damn good.

    Constitutional Democracy does not spread by violence. It may be spread by contagion, contact and example, but not when its most experienced practitioners show that they are prepared to overturn the democratic governments of others – Iran 1956, Chile 1973, Gaza 2008.

    When seeking to impose their will on others (where we consistently choose our self-interest over and above the autonomy of others) Americans are neither worse nor better than anyone else. But right now, we happen to be, by far the best armed, and with a military presence in over 100 foreign countries, by far the most omni-present. What makes America more dangerous than all the rest right now is the sheer excessiveness of its fire-power compared to everyone else in the world put together. That may change. But no one, I don’t care who they are, with that amount of firepower is safe, from the point of view of those who do not possess it.

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    other scott:

    “I am unable to agree with you saying that it is a good thing to do. ”

    It’s not a good thing to do. But sometimes, it’s better than all the alternatives.

    “Who are we to decide that the way a nation runs is any worse than how we run our countries”

    I was just reading a history book, and that exact same quote came up. From Thomas Watson, the head of IBM. Talking about Nazi Germany.

    It is a source of extreme irony to me that liberals today quote the right-wing nut jobs of the past. I guess it’s like bell-bottoms; eventually they’ll come back into style. :D

    Scotlyn:
    “What you can do, and all you can do, is bomb a nation into submission.”

    Sometimes you have to start there, before you can build up. I agree that you can’t merely bomb your way to a better society; I’m just saying that sometimes you can’t get there without dislodging the entrenched power structure by force.

    “Constitutional Democracy does not spread by violence.”

    So the American Revolution wasn’t violent? Nor was it supported by an outside foreign power for its own narrow political ends?

    Or perhaps you’re saying that Germany and Japan are not now Constitutional Democracies?

    Or maybe you’re saying WWII was violent.

    Color me confused, but the last century of history shows that democracy can be spread by violence.

    “When seeking to impose their will on others”

    Forcing countries to grant their women the right to vote does not strike me as “imposing my will.” It strikes me as “imposing fairness and justice.” But hey, your mileage may vary.

  • Alex Weaver

    Or perhaps you’re saying that Germany and Japan are not now Constitutional Democracies?

    Germany was a constitutional democracy prior to Hitler gaining power; Japan was not but “suppressing democratic tendencies among the Japanese people” was one of the crimes for which the Japanese leadership was tried after the war ended. Without either a nascent democratic movement, or a historically democratic society, it is not obvious that Japan or Germany could have been readily reconstructed as democracies after the war. What evidence is there of similar factors in the countries you are thinking of?

  • other scott

    “I was just reading a history book, and that exact same quote came up. From Thomas Watson, the head of IBM. Talking about Nazi Germany.

    It is a source of extreme irony to me that liberals today quote the right-wing nut jobs of the past. I guess it’s like bell-bottoms; eventually they’ll come back into style. :D”

    It’s really not about being liberal or right-wing, it’s about respecting another peoples culture. If all Nazi germany did was boot all the Jews out of their own country or pass laws making Judaism illegal it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal, instead they invaded other countries, imposed their way of life on the conquered populaces and slaughtered millions. They imposed their way of thinking on millions of others through violence and genocide, the EXACT same thing that you are saying we should do. I personally find it ironic that you are abdicating tactics that both Nazi Germany and Japan tried to use whilst also holding them up as evidence that violence against them will change countries like these into western powers.

  • Alex Weaver

    other scott:

    The surgeon at your local hospital cuts into people’s bodies and pokes around, and sometimes removes things. Jeffrey Dahmer did that, too. Clearly this indicates that all surgeons should be arrested and sentenced to life in prison.

    …unless, of course, the details, intentions, or background circumstances attached to a specific instance of a general kind of action have some bearing on the morality of that instance.

  • http://www.WorldOfPrime.com Yahzi

    Alex Weaver:
    “What evidence is there of similar factors in the countries you are thinking of?”

    An excellent point. Which, btw, neatly explains why we invaded Iraq, and not any of those sad African countries. Of all the nations in the Middle East, Iraq had the most developed middle class, the most technological and progressive society. At least, until our economic sanctions crushed them (and incidentally killed 100,000 babies).

    I’m not sure that Iraq is winnable. I’m positive it is less winnable than it would have been, if somebody else had been running the show. Whether or not we should be in Iraq is certainly a debatable point. I was mostly railing against the viewpoint that seems to think it is obvious and unquestionable that we should not be there.

    other scot:
    “If all Nazi germany did was boot all the Jews out of their own country or pass laws making Judaism illegal it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal,”

    You have a very finally graded sense of injustice. I wonder how you would feel if your country outlawed your religion, took your property, and told you to get out or die.

    “They imposed their way of thinking on millions of others”

    Wait a second – are you telling me I can’t impose my way of thinking on others? But in doing so, you are imposing your way of thinking on me.

    How dare you tell me I can’t tell other people what to do! My culture happens to teach me that I should impose my culture on other people, and for you to tell me I can’t means you are imposing your culture on me – the very crime for which you are castigating me!

    rofl! :)

  • other scott

    Haha, good point Yahzi, I think we can both agree that debating viewpoints and bombing view points are a little different though.

    “You have a very finally graded sense of injustice. I wonder how you would feel if your country outlawed your religion, took your property, and told you to get out or die.”

    Of course I’d be majorly pissed, try and fight for my rights, etc, etc, but what I was trying to say, is that the international world would likely turn a blind eye to such a thing. There are numerous refugees even today who are being forced from their homes and countries and yet we are not at war with their opressors. I believe that the only reason the world went to war against germany was taht they began to expand and take other countries.

    I am simply of the opinion that any social change in a country has to come from within, the american civil war, the french revolution, etc were all started by the people occupying these countries. Whilst i have to agree with you that these social changes are no doubt extremely violent and bloody, they were neccesarry for the nation to grow as a whole, simply walking in and slaughtering the current regime will lead to perhaps less bloodshed overall, but very little growth. It may infact harden the populace against an enemy trying to force their ways on them.

    I can certainly tell you that I am willing to put my life on the line for my rights and freedoms, I have no doubt that there are billions of others of the same attitude and whether their beliefs are the same as yours is yet to be seen.

    I would say a better way to affect social change in coutnries that you feel are opressed would simply be to allow them to see how good the rest of us have it, promote human rights and freedoms and allow these people to rise up themselves against any injustice. It seems to me that throwing off the yokes of opressers and rising up to create a true democratic state is a natural process that has occured throughout the old world without outside interference.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    I believe that the only reason the world went to war against germany was taht they began to expand and take other countries.

    Correct of course, Macmillan was happy to appease Hitler until he invaded Poland. I very much doubt if the internal persecution of Jewry alone would have provoked British intervention.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    of course I meant Chamberlain, Macmillan was his tory critic. Duh!!

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I was mostly railing against the viewpoint that seems to think it is obvious and unquestionable that we should not be there.

    Actually, it is obvious. It violates the principle of mass in warfare. Aside from that, the idea of going to war based on fabrications bothers the hell out of me. See, them are real people dying — because of a Nigerian yellowcake deal that wasn’t; because of a “chemical weapons program” that would be shamed by the mess in my Uncle Louie’s Winnebago; because of an Al-Qaeda-Iraq “link” that has been shown to be demonstrably false. These are the things for which people are dying.

    Obviously, anything is, and ought to be, questionable [including opinions on this war]; but in this case, the answers are painfully obvious.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Psst, Steve — Chamberlain.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Psst, Steve — Chamberlain

    Thanks Thump but I caught it (see comment 39). I have a new mantra which goes “engage brain before activating fingers”. A little schoolboy history is a dangerous thing eh?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Blockquote>

    Psst, Steve — Chamberlain

    Thanks Thump but I caught it (see comment 39). I have a new mantra which goes “engage brain before activating fingers”. A little schoolboy history is a dangerous thing eh?

    Mind if borrow your line? (see #41)

  • Scotlyn

    Yahzi

    I wonder how you would feel if your country outlawed your religion, took your property, and told you to get out or die.

    And this is exactly the question I’ve been asking you in all of our exchanges.

    Turn your advocacy of the policy of “killing people in order to transform society” around, and imagine how it would affect you, if you as the subject of such laudable social transformation were to suddenly face a prematurely shortened lifespan – how would you feel? Would you still agree that it was the best of all the worst alternatives, then? Would you feel the other-imposed loss of your own life is a fair exchange for a potentially better future for everyone else?


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