Category Archives: Development

budgetary nihilism: a response to the deferral of foreign aid

Courtesy of the ABC: http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/201305/r1115368_13599551.jpg

Yesterday I was privileged enough to have an article of mine appear on the ABC Religion and Ethics website.

The article is entitled Budgetary nihilism: Deferring foreign aid signals a distorted moral vision. It discusses the recent budgetary decision to defer Australia’s foreign aid commitments under the Millennium Development Goals to 2017–18.

[In this decision to defer our foreign aid commitments] there is, it seems to me, no clearer indication of the nihilism that now permeates politics, for what other than political nihilism could account for the moral obstinacy of diverting foreign aid to help cover a perceived budgetary shortfall? The obscenity of this decision is only compounded when one realises that this shortfall is itself a product of the irrational rhetoric and shameless opportunism of political parties scrambling to annihilate one another and appease a shrill and self-interested minority.

On top of all this, there is the inescapable irony that Prime Minister Julia Gillard recently assumed the role of co-chair of the UN Millennium Development Goal Advocacy Group, charged with “building political will, rallying additional support, and spurring collective action to achieve the [Millenium Development Goals] by 2015.” It is unclear how a leader of our country can do this with any integrity or credibility, given the immorality of one of the world’s most prosperous countries diverting promised money away from programs for the world’s most vulnerable people.

The piece goes on to discuss an approach to the underlying ethics of foreign aid, particularly from a Christian perspective.

The article was also discussed on ABC’s Radio National Drive program (in which I am referred to as a “fiery … obscure PhD student”, which made me laugh).

The article on ABC R&E is largely an updated version of my essay from this time last year (also in response to aid deferrals in the budget) entitled Foreign aid and moral vision.

Enjoy!

MCA

Feature image: http://www.abc.net.au/news/linkableblob/4689470/data/swan-gears-up-for-budget-data.jpg
Small image: http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/201305/r1115368_13599551.jpg
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the jungle booklet: reflections on a trip to india

Back in October I spent 16 days travelling around India with a couple of friends/co-workers visiting some of  TEAR Australia’s partner projects. While that trip occurred a couple of months ago, I’ve been meaning to write something about it since I got back—better late than never I suppose.

Arriving at Delhi Airport is, in most respects, much like arriving at any other major airport in the Asia-Pacific. It’s big, it’s busy and it’s boiling. But what was, until the 1980s, according to one local, “a few runways and some dirt” is now a facility rivalling its cousins in Singapore, Shanghai and Sydney. In a sense the airport is a microcosm of India’s massive growth over recent decades, growth that has benefitted some but also left many behind. With a population tipped to be the largest in the world in the next decade, India is complex: it is a fast growing economy (6.5% growth in 2011-12[1]; as of October 2012 India had 61 billionaires) but it is also home to around one-third of the world’s extreme poor (those living on less than US$1.25 a day).

India is also a place of great beauty. Deserts under the sun’s glow meet lush, green jungles; ancient culture meets modern technology; a multitude of languages meet as neighbours. Stunning ancient architecture and monuments are to be found all over. India is colour personified, both in its natural beauty and in its culture. This colour is particularly striking in the clothing of India’s women—the vibrancy of the sea of saris you experience everyday is hard to describe. And the food…

The first day of our trip was spent Read the rest of this entry

can law bring about true justice?

Below is the rough text of a talk I gave yesterday at the University of Technology Sydney. I was part of a panel who were asked the question, “Is the law sufficient to bring about true justice?”

We were each given seven minutes to give a perspective (no problem!), and thus this is only a sketch of some ideas. There was then some Q&A. I was asked to bring a perspective from a) a Christian and, b) the context of TEAR Australia’s work with the global poor. As a rich, white, educated, Western male I did my best to speak on behalf of the bottom 3-or-so-billion…

Law is a mere tool, a political construction, used by humans to achieve a certain social ends. Like any tool, it is subject to the use and abuse of the one wielding it.

Much of the time law can be understood positively – law created by those elected representatives for the good of most, of not all, people. So long as law serves in this capacity it demands our respect. Such laws help society to construct more just, albeit impersonal, structures.

However law does not always work this way. Read the rest of this entry

abc religion and ethics: foreign aid and moral vision

Yesterday an article I wrote was posted on the ABC Religion and Ethics website entitled Foreign aid and moral vision. Here is an excerpt:

…This leads me to the second reason why we should question that aid is about the wealthy sacrificing their wealth to the poor: the assumption that aid is about charity and generosity. When such intentions, however virtuous and commendable, become the sole moral lens through which foreign aid is viewed, the criticism that aid is really a form of the “White Saviour Complex” can become all too accurate. The truth is that aid is not primarily about generosity – it is about reparation.

In this construal, the “White Saviour Complex” is in fact a “White Sinner Complex,” and it is not inappropriate that we should suffer from it. In truth, the way each of us lives is in some way connected to a global economy that exploits someone on the other end of the production chain. As Thomas Pogge has written:

“affluent countries, partly through the global institutional order they impose, bear a great causal and moral responsibility for the massive global persistence of severe poverty. Citizens of these countries thus have not merely a positive duty to assist innocent persons mired in life-threatening poverty, but also a more stringent negative duty to work politically and personally toward ceasing, or compensating for, their contribution to this ongoing catastrophe.”

That every major world religion ascribes in some way to the ethic of “love your neighbour as yourself” should lead us to deep moral reflection: Who is my neighbour in such a globalised world?

You can read the rest here.

MCA

deferring aid in 2012-13: embodying the alternative

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not reflect the opinions or policies of any group or organisation, including my employers, unless otherwise stated.

The 2012-13 Australian Federal budget, just announced, has incited an outcry from those in and around the aid and development sector who had hoped that the Labor Government would keep its promise to raise the overseas aid budget to 0.5% of GNI by 2015.

In the last fortnight the #DontCutAid hashtag has managed to trend consistently on Twitter as those passionate about alleviating poverty spoke out about Australia’s need to do its fair share. It seems that even in the face of a constant barrage of public messaging (and even public-funded major newspaper spreads) the Government decided to significantly reduce the proposed growth in the aid budget (by $2.9 billion) in order to bring the Federal budget back to surplus.

This insistence on bringing the budget back to surplus has been a recent hallmark not only of Australian economic matters but politics in general. Both sides of politics have communicated the need for a surplus as quickly as possible, and both have expressed a willingness to cut what is necessary to get there despite the widespread criticism of mainstream economists.

Some have called the trading of Australia’s aid commitment for a surplus “immoral” and have already shown signs of continuing to fight for increased aid in line with Australia’s commitment to the MDGs. Read the rest of this entry

cover the night: #kony2012 and the challenge of activism

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not reflect the opinions or policies of any group or organisation, including my employers, unless otherwise stated.

As with my original post about #Kony2012, I write this post with a fair amount of trepidation since I learned from that episode just how emotional this topic can be. My aim here is merely to reflect on what we can learn from the ‘Cover the Night‘ event, not to criticise it, and I will attempt to be as sensitive as I can. For this reason I will not be commenting on the content of the Kony campaign; in any case I have done that previously.

The first thing to note is that the Cover the Night event was highly successful, at least in relation to Invisible Children’s initial expectations prior to the release of Kony 2012.

These expectations included that half a million people would watch Kony 2012. However given that the video became the most successful social media campaign to date, with over 100 million views, the results embodied in Cover the Night were quite disappointing. In my hometown of Sydney 19,000 people clicked on ‘attending’ for the Cover the Night Facebook event, though one report claims only 25 or so people were present at Martin Place, the event’s main centre.

That is not to say it’s all over. The campaign has not ended just because IC’s main event has passed by; there is still the opportunity for further advocacy. However judging by the take-up rate of Cover the Night this seems unlikely.

This is not a reflection of Invisible Children so much as the current state of popular activism; Invisible Children is merely the most publicised instance of the difficulty in translating social media popularity to on-the-ground work. Indeed, many I know who shared the Kony video and criticised those offering a critique stayed home on Saturday night… This is not a problem with IC, but the state of young generations (of which I am part).

So what have we learned from this episode?

Read the rest of this entry

could donating your stuff to the poor do more harm than good?

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not reflect the opinions or policies of any group or organisation, including my employers, unless otherwise stated.

In the last few days my Facebook Wall has been filled with links to a certain organisation which promises to match every pair of shoes bought with a pair delivered to a poor child overseas.

No doubt those beautiful people who post these links have the best of intentions, and really want to do what they can to help out those who are less fortunate.

Nonetheless we need to think clearly and critically about what kind of initiatives we support, lest we do more harm than good.

The organisation described above by no means marks a new phenomenon – lots of organisations and campaigns provide ways for people to donate goods, both new and used, to less fortunate people in situations of poverty. No doubt a child with shoes is better off than a child without them. Same goes for a shirt or school supplies. It can’t be denied that enterprises which facilitate these donations do good things.

But is the good outweighed by harmful side effects?

Sticking with the example of shoes, there are numerous issues. Perhaps the most crucial is Read the rest of this entry

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