“Come, fix upon me that accusing eye. I thirst for accusation. (W. B. Yeats)”
These words of (W. B. Yeats) would certainly have been able to be written to portray the consent patent, even the welcome, of the West to the accusations of being responsible for the poverty of the Third World (that is to say, most of Asia, Africa and Latin America). The Western responsibility in the backlog state of the Third World is a persistent theme of the United Nations and its many affiliates. The spokesman for the Third World and the Communist bloc have been pleased to welcome, especially at international meetings where this theme is frequently accepted by official representatives of the West, especially the United States. It is also widely used in universities, churches and the press around the world.
The acceptance of these harsh declamations of the West’s responsibility for Third World poverty reflects and reinforces the sense of guilt of Westerners. It has weakened Western diplomacy, both in the face of the much more aggressive ideology of the Soviet bloc, and in the face of the Third World. Thus, the West has come to humble itself before countries with negligible resources and devoid of real power. And yet it is demonstrable that these allegations are unfounded. They are accepted without resistance because the Western public has very little first-hand knowledge of the Third World, and because the bad conscience is widely felt. The West has never had a better record, and she has never believed it so bad.
Let illustrate the general theme of Western responsibility from some typical examples. Let’s begin by academics.
The late Paul A. Baran, professor of economics at Stanford, was regarded as an economist specializing in the issues of development. The late Paul A. Baran, economics professor at Stanford, was highly regarded as an economist specializing in development issues. He was an eminent and influential propagandist of Western guilt at the beginning of this scientific branch. He is the author of the chapter on economic development in the Survey of Contemporary Economics published by the American Economic Association; and his book The Political Economy of Growth is recommended by many universities as a reference work. Baran wrote this: “To the dead weight of the stagnation characteristic of the pre-industrial society was added all the restrictive impact of monopoly capitalism. The economic surplus monopolized by the monopolistic corporations in the backward countries is not used for productive purposes. It is neither reinvested in their own companies nor used to develop others.”
This categorical affirmation is totally and visibly untrue because, throughout the underdeveloped world, powerful sets of agricultural, mining, commercial and industrial facilities have been built up with profits reinvested locally.
Prof. Peter Townsend of Essex University is arguably the most distinguished British economic writer on poverty. In his book The Concept of Poverty, he wrote: “I have argued that the poverty of deprived nations can only be understood if we attribute it essentially to the existence of a system of international social stratification, to a hierarchy of societies with vastly unequal resources, which the wealth of some is historically linked and currently to the poverty of others. This system operated openly during the era of colonial rule, and continues to operate today though more subtly, through systems of commerce, education, political relations, military alliances, and anonymous societies industrial”
This too cannot be true. The poorest and most backward countries today have never had economic contacts with the outside world before, and frequently have not been part of the colonies of the West. It is therefore obvious that their backward state cannot be explained by colonial domination or international social stratification. As for industrial anonymous companies, there are none in the least developed countries of the Third World (the so-called Fourth World) such as Afghanistan, Chad, Bhutan, Burundi, Nepal and Sikkim. In this realm of speech, university students echo what they have learned from their mentors. A decade ago a group of Cambridge students published a pamphlet about the West’s moral obligation to the Third World.
“We took rubber from Malaysia, tea from India, raw materials from all parts of the world, and we did not give them anything in return.”
This is undoubtedly the maximum of untruth that can be found. The British brought rubber to Malaysia, and tea to India. There were no rubber trees in Malaysia, nor anywhere in Asia (as the botanical name says: Hevea braziliensis) until the British, about a hundred years ago, imported the first seeds of the Amazon jungle. This is where the huge rubber industry now largely owned by Asians came from.
The tea plants were imported into India by the English a little before; their origin is indicated by the botanical name: Camilla sinensis as well as by the expression “all the tea in China”. Mr. Charles Clarke, former president of the National Union of Students, said in his presidential address in December 1976: “For more than a century, British industry has drained the wealth of these countries”. Far from draining the wealth of the less developed countries, British industry helped to make them appear there, as foreign trade spawned economic progress in vast areas of the Third World where there was no wealth to drain.
In the West, churches and charitable associations are part of the same traveling band. Professor Ronald J. Sider is an eminent American clergyman. In an article entitled “How We Oppress the Poor,” published in Christianity Today, an influential Protestant journal, on July 16, 1976, he described “the noose that the developed West ran around the neck of the Third World,” and went on to say: “It would be unfair to suggest that 210 million Americans alone bear responsibility for all the hunger and injustice in today’s world. All the rich developed countries are directly involved… we participate in a system that condemns more people to death and agony than the slavery system once did.”
These are obviously fanciful images. Famines occur in the Third World in the highly isolated countries of the West. Far from condemning people to starvation in the Third World, it is relations with the West that have been at the origin of the considerable increase in life expectancy in the Third World, which the same critics deplore if often “explosion” demographic. Many charitable organizations have come to think it is advantageous for their audience to also sing the air of Western responsibility. In an abundantly reproduced advertisement of Oxfam, in 1972, it reads: “Coffee is grown in underdeveloped and poor countries like Brazil, Colombia and Uganda. But that does not stop rich countries like Britain from exploiting their economic weakness by paying their raw coffee at the lowest price at which we can win. In addition, we continue to demand more and more for manufactured goods that they are forced to buy from us. So what? We enrich ourselves to their detriment. Business is business.”
The same advertisement circulated about cocoa. Both of these advertisements were later suppressed by protests from subscribers and potential subscribers. The allegations in these press releases are meaningless and unrelated to reality. World coffee and cocoa prices, which in the 1970s were high, are determined by market forces and not dictated by the West. On the other hand, farmers in many exporting countries are paid well below the market price because they are subject to very high export taxes and other taxes.
When we insist on the low prices paid by the West to the producers, and that we omit to mention the fiscal penalty they have to bear, we practice a self-accusing literature revealing more the desire to vilify that of improving the lot of the local population. Intellectuals who are not part of Higher Education or Churches are also in this vanguard. Cyril Connolly wrote in an article entitled “The Burden of the Black Man” (Sunday Times, London, February 23, 1969): “It is surprising that the white man is not more hated radically than he is… In our relations with each country one by one, greed, masked with hypocrisy, has engendered the shameless oppression of the natives… Cruelty, greed and arrogance have characterized what can be summed up in one word: exploitation…”
If the truth were such, Third World countries should now be poorer than they were before their contacts with Westerners. In reality, they are generally much better off than then. The insistence that the West has caused the poverty of the Third World is a collective self-accusation. The very notion originates from the West.
For example, Marxism is a Western ideology, as is the unreasoning idea that economic differences are abnormal and unjust, revealing the existence of exploitation. But the people of the Third World, especially the gifted people who have contacts with the West, were quite happy to hear from leading academics and other intellectuals, especially as it was in keeping with their interests and their inclinations. Inspired by Westerners, Third World politicians have become accustomed to loudly claiming that the West has exploited and continues to exploit their nations.
Dr. N’Krumah, a leading figure in the Third World in the 1950s and 1960s, was a patent propagator of this thesis. He portrayed Western capitalism as “a global system of financial slavery, colonial oppression and exploitation of a vast majority of the world’s population by a handful of so-called civilized countries.”
In fact, until Dr N’Krumah came to power, Ghana (formerly Gold Coast) was a prosperous region because of cocoa exports to the West; native cocoa farmers were the most prosperous population group, and food crop producers the poorest group.
Julius Nyerere, President of Tanzania during colonial era, is a highly regarded and even venerated world figure. “If rich countries continue to enrich themselves more and more at the expense of the poor, the world’s poor must demand that this change…” When the Western countries established regular contacts with the Tanganyika (specifically the current Tanzania) at the nineteenth century, it was an empty region, weakly dotted with tribes exposed to the raids of the merchants of Arab slaves. The relatively modest progress made since then was mainly the work of Asians and Europeans. The theme of the exploitation of the Third World by the West is routine in the publications and statements emanating from Soviet Union and other communist countries. Here is a sample. It is worth to be quoted, because the academician Potekhine was considered in the USSR as authoritative in the field of African, and that the Soviet writings are taken seriously in western universities; “Why is there little capital in Africa? The answer is obvious. A considerable part of the national income which should constitute the savings fund serving as a material basis for progress is exported out of Africa for no consideration.”
West do not export funds from the poorest parts of Africa. What can be transferred from the most prosperous areas of the continent (usually the smallest in the case of Black Africa, to which Potekhine refers) is a fraction of the income generated by resources previously provided. In the most backward regions, there are no foreigners or foreign capital. It is absolutely contrary to the truth to say that if there is little capital in Africa, it is because most of the national income is “exported… without any consideration.” In Africa as elsewhere in the Third World, the most prosperous regions are those with the most trade relations with the West.
I could mention many other allegations of this kind, but these should be enough to illustrate their general content. In the sections that follow I will note some more specific allegations, sometimes more virulent than those already mentioned.
Far from the fact that the West caused poverty in the Third World, contact with it has been the main driver of material progress there. The most advanced societies and regions of the Third World are those with whom the West has formed the most numerous, diversified and extensive relationships; the regions producing goods for export and the port warehouses of South Asia, East, West Africa and Latin America; the mining regions of Africa and the Middle East; and cities and ports from all points of Asia, Africa, the West Indies and Latin America. The level of material development usually decreases as one moves away from the foci of western influence. The poorest and backward populations have little or no external contact; as evidenced by the aborigines, the pygmies, and the people of the desert. All these facts are neither new nor surprising, since the contagion of material progress, from the most advanced to the least advanced, is a commonplace phenomenon in history.
In the Middle Ages, for example, the most developed regions of Central, Eastern and Scandinavian Europe had the most contact with the most advanced areas of the time, France, the Netherlands and Italy. The West was materially much more developed than the countries of the present Third World, when it established wide and varied economic contacts with them during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is by the way thus opened that material and human resources, talents, capital, and new ideas including the very idea of material progress (and, incidentally, Western guilt) have been communicated to one another in the Third World.
In contemporary times, the role of external contacts in promoting the economic development of the Third World has been much greater than in the older history of Europe. To begin with, and as we have just said, the very idea of material progress in the sense of an increasingly secure, continuous and contagious mastery of man over the environment is a Western concept. The people of the Third World did not think in these terms before the advent of Western man. Scholars of philosophical and political opinions as different as, for example, JB Bury and Christopher Dawson have long recognized the Western origin of the idea of material progress.
Westerners established multifaceted contacts with the Third World at one time the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when the gap in economic achievements between the two groups was extremely broad, much wider than their differences in the ages earlier. Thus the contacts in question opened up equally unprecedented prospects, in particular, because of the great progress made in transport and communications over the last two hundred years or so.
Since the middle of the nineteenth century, the commercial networks created by the West have improved the material conditions to the point of rendering unrecognizable the situation of most of the Third World, particularly in South-East Asia; in some parts of the Middle East; in many parts of Africa, especially Western, but also in the East and the South; and in very large parts of Latin America, including Mexico, Guatemala, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina.
The transformation of Malaysia (now Malaysia) is instructive. In the 1890s it was a sparsely populated settlement made up of hamlets and Malay fishing villages. By the 1930s, it had become the global hub of the rubber and tin industries. Large cities and excellent communication networks made it a modern country where now millions of Malays, Chinese and Indians live longer, and better, than they used to do in their home country or in Malaysia, even Guatemala, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay. and Argentina. Chinese and Indians live longer and better than they used to do in their home country or in Malaysia.
Large parts of West Africa have also been transformed during the same period, roughly, by contacts with the West. Before 1890 there was no cocoa production in the Gold Coast or in Nigeria, there was very little cotton and peanut produced, some palm oil and palm kernel were exported from the eastern part of Nigeria. During the 1950s, all these products had become the object of world trade. They were produced by Africans, on lands owned by Africans. But all this was made possible only because originally Europeans established public security and introduced modern methods of transport and communication. During this period, imports of capital and mass consumer goods to Africans went from insignificant amounts to huge volumes.
By themselves, statistics can scarcely measure the considerable scope of the transformation that took place during this period in West Africa and elsewhere in the Third World. In West Africa, for example, the slave trade and slavery itself were still widespread in the late 19th century. They had almost disappeared at the end of the First World War. Many of the major epidemic and endemic diseases are known in the last century as the scourges of West Africa had been defeated by the Second World War. External contacts had brought about changes of comparable magnitude in many parts of Latin America.
The role of Western contacts in the material progress of black Africa deserves attention from other points of view. Until as late as half of the nineteenth century, black Africa did not even have the simplest ingredients of modern social and economic life. It was the Westerners who brought them for a hundred years. This is true for such fundamental aspects as public safety, law and order; Black Africa had not invented the wheel, and before the arrival of the Westerners the transports were almost entirely made by porters; there was no mechanical transport, roads, railways, ports made by human hands; no application of science and technology to economic activity; no cities with important buildings, clean water, and sewers; no public health service, hospitals, control of endemic and epidemic diseases; no schooling.
All these elements of progress were the result of peaceful commercial contacts. These contacts also facilitated the elimination of the slave trade across the Atlantic, the virtual suppression of that which went from Africa to the Middle East, and even the disappearance of slavery within Africa.
Although peaceful commercial contacts have nothing to do with the black slave trade in the Atlantic, it is not possible in the contemporary climate not to mention it in an analysis of the responsibilities of the West in the poverty of the Third World. For the horrible and destructive trade of African slaves, it cannot legitimately be invoked as a cause of the backward state of Africa, let alone the poverty of the Third World. Asia was totally spared. The most primitive parts of Africa, such as the interior of the central and southern parts of the continent, were hardly affected by it.
The slave trade between Africa and the Middle East preceded the Atlantic slave trade by several centuries and lasted much later. Slavery was rampant in most of Africa long before the advent of the black slave trade to the New World, and it was Westerners who finally repressed it. Arabs and Africans do not seem to feel guilty about slavery and the slave trade, but Europeans and Americans often have remorse about it, and they make sure we have it. However, it is to our efforts that these practices have been largely eliminated. The guilt complex is a prerogative of Westerners. Western activity supplemented at times by that of non-Western immigrants, particularly Chinese, Indian and Levantine, whose large-scale migrations were made possible by Western initiatives thus, transformed living conditions in large parts of the Third World.
This is not to say that in the last hundred years there has been a steady pace of material progress throughout the Third World. Large areas, especially in the interior, had little contact with the West. Moreover, most of the time in the Third World the political, social and personal determinants of economic efficiency are not spontaneously favorable to success in this field. And the policy of many governments is clearly an obstacle to economic success and progress. In addition, people themselves often refuse to abandon attitudes and customs that block their way; they are not willing to give up their traditional ways of living in exchange for increased material prosperity. This is a preference that is neither unjustified nor reprehensible.
Such considerations are in no way an argument in support of the allegations of those who see in the contacts with the West the cause which would have blocked or retarded the development of the Third World. Wherever the local situation has allowed it, commercial contacts with Westerners, generally established by them, have eliminated the most pernicious diseases, reduced or eliminated famines, prolonged life expectancy and improved the quality of life.
Frequently, the assertion of Western responsibility in the state of poverty of the Third World is implicitly based on the idea that the prosperity of individuals, groups, and societies enjoying a higher standard of living is achieved at the expense of less favored. This misconception was already underlining in the thesis, which was broken in the first paragraph which claims that the incomes of wealthy people are subtracted from others. In reality, apart from a small number of clearly definable exceptions, which do not apply to relations between the West and the Third World, the incomes of both the rich and the poor are earned by their holders. In the Third World, it is an article of faith of the most gifted and influential groups that their societies have been exploited by the West, both by individuals and by commercial corporations, and also by ethnic minorities residing on place: for example the Chinese in Southeast Asia, the Asians in East Africa, and the Levantines in West Africa. The attraction of such misconceptions is all too common. They are particularly useful to politicians who have promised prosperity they cannot provide. But they are also beneficial to other influential groups in the region, who will benefit from the policy measures taken in the direction of these ideas, including the expropriation of foreign firms or discrimination against minorities.
In recent decades, some easily identifiable influences have reinforced the bias that imputes the prosperity of some groups to the fact that others have been exploited. The impact of Marxist-Leninist ideology is one of these influences; it asserts that any interest in private capital implies exploitation, and considers all service industries unproductive. As a result, income from foreign capital, foreign residents or ethnic minorities engaged in service activities is evidence of some form of exploitation. Moreover, neo-Marxist literature has extended the concept of the proletariat to the people of the Third World, where most individuals are in fact small-scale farmers; in this literature, moreover, a proletariat is exploited by definition, and it is poor because it is exploited.
The idea of Western responsibility in Third World poverty has also been reinforced by the belief in original universal equality of people’s economic capabilities and motivations. This belief is closely related to the egalitarian ideology and corresponding politics, which have become a powerful vogue in recent decades. If the faculties and motivations are the same everywhere, and yet some societies are richer than others, it suggests that the former have exploited the rest as the general public in the West, has little direct contact with the Third World, it is often easy to spread the idea that the behavior of the West and its policies have caused poverty in the Third World.
Similarly, the recent practice of language that refers to the poor as disinherited or underprivileged helps anchor the idea that the rich owe their prosperity to the exploitation of the poor. Yet how could the incomes of the inhabitants of Switzerland, for example, or the United States, have been levied on the native people of Papua, or the tribes of the deserts, or the Pygmies of Africa? In truth, who would have robbed these groups, and of what?
The main ready-made idea behind the notion of Western responsibility in Third World poverty is that the prosperity of individuals and societies generally reflects the exploitation of others. Some variations or derivatives of the theme are often encountered, usually chosen for particular audiences. One of these variants is that colonialism has been the cause of poverty in Asia and Africa. It has a special attraction in the United States, where hostility to colonization is traditional. For the opposite and even opposite reason, it is sometimes effective for awakening remorse in Britain, the main ex-colonial power.
Whatever one thinks of colonialism, they cannot be held responsible for the poverty of the Third World. Some of the most backward countries have never been colonized, for example, Afghanistan, Tibet, Nepal, and Liberia. Ethiopia is perhaps an even more eloquent case (it was an Italian colony for six years, in all its long history).
On the other hand, many settlements in Asia and Africa have advanced at a brisk pace during the period of colonial domination, and much faster than the regions remaining independent in their environs. At present, one of the few remaining European colonies in Hong Kong, whose prosperity should be known to all. It is therefore clear that colonial domination has not been the cause of Third World poverty. Nor is the prosperity of the West the result of colonialism.
The most advanced and wealthy countries never possessed colonies, such as Switzerland and the Scandinavian nations; some other countries were themselves colonies, and colonies became prosperous, such as North America and Australasia. The prosperity of the West was generated by its own people and was not taken away from others. The European nations were already materially strong ahead of the regions where they established their colonies.
In recent years, the accusation of colonialism as the culprit of Third World poverty has been broadened to cover “colonialism in all its forms”. The terms “economic colonialism” and “neo-colonialism” have emerged, encompassing private investment abroad, the activity of multi-national companies, and in fact almost any form of economic relations between regions and relatively wealthy groups and poor. The reference to “colonialism in all its forms” as the cause of Third World poverty is a major theme of the UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) meetings. This terminology has become commonplace both in the academic literature and in the press. It regularly equates poverty with colonial status, a concept that normally meant the absence of political sovereignty.
An exceptionally hypocritical expression was given for these ideas (usually formulated with abundant circumlocutions in the academic and official literature) by June 1978 editorial of the Poverty and Power journal edited by a British charity who calls himself “War on Want” “We view Third World poverty as the result of colonial looting in the past and the neo-colonial exploitation of the present.”
The disappearance of political colonization was probably another important factor pushing this transposition of the vocabulary. In ceasing to exist, colonial domination forced the accusers of the West to seek new bases for their indictments. Hence the expressions of neo-colonialism and economic colonialism. Their uses show both the sliding towards another base of accusation and the care is taken to keep the advantage of the old terminology become familiar.
The influence of Marxist-Leninist doctrine has also favored the adoption of the new terminology. According to this ideology, colonial status and investment abroad are by definition the proof of exploitation. In fact, private investment abroad and the activities of multinational companies have increased development opportunities, personal and government incomes in the Third World. To speak of economic colonialism and neo-colonialism is both sabotaging language and disfiguring the truth.
The West is now accused of manipulating international trade to the detriment of the Third World. This trial is a dominant theme in appeals to a New International Economic Order. In particular, the West is criticized for imposing unfavorable terms of exchange on the Third World and in continual deterioration. Among other adverse effects, this presumed pressure is attributed to a decline in the share of the Third World in total world trade, and at the same time the considerable volume of external debt of the Third World. All these allegations have no bearing or foundation and are often the opposite of the truth.
The poorest regions of the Third World have no foreign trade at all. Their situation shows that the causes of extreme underdevelopment are internal, and that, on the contrary, commercial contacts abroad are advantageous. Even if the terms of trade could be said to be unfavorable according to this or that criterion, all that can be deduced is that people profit less substantially from foreign trade than they would benefit with terms of trade. People have an advantage in seeing the possibilities of foreign trade expand. In addition to this fundamental and ultimate conclusion, there are many other objections to the idea that the terms of trade are, in one way or another, structurally unfavorable to the Third World, and that external business contacts are harmful to him.
Given that the Third World comprises most of the planet, to make an aggregate of the terms of trade relating to all the countries that compose it can hardly give any significant indication. The terms of trade for certain nations and groups of nations evolve differently, and often in opposite directions; the impact of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) price increases on the situation of many Third World countries is a recent and well-known example.
It should be added that, except for some very brief periods, changes in the terms of trade as they are usually measured have very little bearing on welfare if we also take into account changes in the cost of production of exported goods, the range and quality of imports, and the volume of trade. To the extent that changes in the terms of trade actually affect development and welfare, what matters is the volume of imports that can be purchased with a domestic resource unit.
This figure cannot be deduced simply from the relationship between import and export price indices, because they do not take into account the cost of production of the exported products. (In technical terms, comparisons that are meaningful from the point of view of good economic health and development are the factorial terms of exchange, which incorporate changes in the costs of production, and not by the simple proportion of import and export price indexes, i.e. raw goods prices.) Moreover, expressions such as “adverse terms of trade” are meaningless if we do not refer to a base period.
In recent decades, however, even simple gross price ratios have been exceptionally favorable to the Third World. When considering the cost of production, the sharp improvement in the range and quality of imports, and the enormous increase in trade volume, the external purchasing power of Third World exports is currently relatively high, probably more than ever before.
This has made it easier for governments to retain an increased share of foreign claims, with significant increases in mining duties, export taxes, and corporate taxes. The levying of export taxes, often very heavy in the Third World, explains why the terms of trade for a country do not determine the ability of the inhabitants to buy imported goods, let alone their standard of living.
Proponents of the thesis that the terms of trade for the Third World are continually degrading rarely specify the period to which their assertion applies. But the process must inevitably end at some point, at least before trade stops completely. Nor is it generally stated why such a deterioration process is fatal. It seems to be often thought that the West is capable, in one way or another, of manipulating world prices so as to disadvantage the Third World. But the West cannot prescribe these prices; international awards are the result of innumerable decisions of people who participate in the markets. They are not prescribed by an autocratic decision-maker, or even by a handful of people acting in concert.
The share of a country or a group of countries in the world’s total trade is not, by itself, an index of prosperity or well-being. Similarly, a decrease in this share does not in itself entail any unfortunate economic consequences. It often reflects the fact that economic activity and trade have developed in other countries, which normally does not harm but rather benefits those whose relative share has decreased. For example, since the 1950s, Japan’s large increase in foreign trade, the reconstruction of Europe and the liberalization of intra-European trade have resulted in a decrease in the share of other groups in world trade, including those of the United States and Great Britain.
Moreover, the share of a country or a group of countries in world trade is frequently reduced by internal developments, and particularly by political orientations unrelated to the external situation; for example, the allocation to the domestic market of resources previously exported, or the use of inflation, increased duties on exported products, and increased customs protection. By the way, it is worth noting that since the Second World War the share of the Third World in international trade has, in fact, greatly increased compared to earlier periods.
It is evident that this participation has enormously increased during modern times under the influence of the West. Previously, the regions that currently form the Third World had very little foreign trade. Is it not obvious that, if international trade is harmful to the people of the Third World, as the detractors of the West so often claim, it would be to the benefit of the Third World’s share in this trade declines? The supreme economic blessing would be reached when the Third World has no longer any relation with the outside, or at least with the West.
The external debts of the Third World are neither the result nor the reflection of exploitation. They represent resources that have been provided. In reality, a considerable part of the indebtedness of Third World governments consists of concessional loans made under various assistance agreements, frequently accompanied by outright gifts. With world prices rising, including those of Third World exports, even the burden of these soft loans has been greatly reduced. The difficulties that recipients experience in servicing these debts are not the result of unfavorable exploitation or terms of trade. They result from the waste of capital provided or misguided monetary and fiscal policies.
The perpetual deficits in the balance of payments of these countries, in turn, do not mean that they are exploited or impoverished by the West. These deficits are inevitable if the government of a country is it rich or poor, expanding or stagnating lives beyond its means and practices inflationary policy while claiming to maintain an overvalued exchange rate. Persistent balance of payments difficulties mean that external resources continue to be lent to the country all that time.
The decline of particular economic activities, for example, the Indian textile industry in the eighteenth century due to cheaper import competition, is usually evoked as an illustration of the damage done to the Third World by its trade with the West. This argument equates the decline of a particular activity with a decline in the economy as a whole, and the economic interests of a sectorial group with the interests of all members of society. Cheap imports expand people’s choice and economic prospects in poor regions. These imports are usually accompanied by an expansion of other activities; if this were not so, the population would not be able to pay for its imports.
The so-called brain drain, the migration of qualified Third World personnel to the West, is another allegation of the West’s poverty or stagnation of the Third World. This is a more complex question, to a certain extent than those studied so far; but it certainly does not give more solidity to the usual indictment. The training of many of these emigrants had been financed by Westerners. In addition, higher education is not an indispensable instrument, nor even an important factor in the rise out of individual poverty or underdevelopment; the proof is that in many undeveloped countries people who leave schools or even are totally illiterate come quickly to ease.
The forced exodus or even the official expulsion of many enterprising and skilled people from certain Third World countries, the ill-treatment of ethnic minorities or tribal groups, the refusal of many governments to work or installation to foreigners are much more serious obstacles to development than voluntary expatriations. And many of these migrants leave their country only because their own government does not want or cannot use their services. It is not the West, and it is not the emigrants who deprive these societies of productive resources; the fault lies with these governments of the Third World.
It is still said that the West harmed the Third World by ethnic discrimination. But the countries where these discriminations occurred were those in which material progress had been unleashed and promoted by contact with the West. The most backward human groups in the Third World (aborigines, desert nomads and other tribal societies) had not been affected by ethnic discrimination on the part of Europeans.
Many communities against which discrimination has often been practiced are the Chinese in Southeast Asia, the Indians in various parts of Southeast Asia, the Asians in Africa, and others have made great progress. In any case, discrimination based on color or race is not a European invention. Frequently in Africa and Asia, and notoriously in India, it has been endemic for centuries. Finally, any discrimination formerly practiced by Europeans will appear negligible compared to the massive and sometimes brutal persecutions of ethnic or tribal groups, systematically practiced by the governments of many Asian or African independent states.
In all, it is abnormal, and even perverse, to suggest that external trade relations have been detrimental to the development of the standard of living of the peoples of the Third World. They serve as channels for the flow of human and financial resources, as well as new ideas, methods and marketable crops. They benefit people by opening up large and diversified sources of imports and markets for exports.
Due to the strong expansion of world trade in recent decades, and the development of technology in the West, the material benefits of foreign contacts are more significant than ever before. To make believe that these relations are harmful, is not only unfounded but also damaging. In particular, this idea has often served as a specious but plausible justification for the official restrictions on the volume and diversity of these relationships.
The fundamental realities of the effect of external contacts have been masked by the practice, everywhere present in public discussions and the literature on development, of confusing governments and elites with the population as a whole. Many Third World governments and their local supporters often benefit from political controls over economic activity, and in particular restrictions on foreign trade.
Such measures allow the rulers to exercise a stricter power over the citizens, and to profit politically and materially. Other clever and influential local groups also benefit politically and financially by organizing or administering economic controls. These realities are hidden behind allegations that Westerners have forced Third World countries to buy their imports. In fact, what the leaders are protesting against is the desire of their subjects to use the goods thus imported.
When it is claimed that foreign trade, and especially Western imports, are harmful to the people of the Third World, such allegations denote a vainly disguised condescension towards ordinary people living there, except for reparation of contempt. Of course, people want these goods of import; otherwise, these items would not sell. Similarly, people are willing to produce for export in order to pay for these foreign goods. To say that these processes are harmful is to argue that people’s preferences do not guide them to organize their existence.
The effort to discredit the contact with the outside is relatively recent. Before the Second World War, the role of these contacts as instruments of progress in economic methods was widely accepted in theoretical and political discussions. Their importance in providing both new markets and material incentives, as well as changing the behavior of individuals, was a salient theme of classical economists, including authors as different in their views, as Adam Smith John Stuart Mill and Marx.
Besides the damage allegedly caused in the Third World by foreign trade, it is often said today that the mere existence and daily activities of the peoples of the West are harmful to the Third World.
The cheap consumer goods which are abundantly manufactured in the West and which can also be found in the Third World, are said to be an obstacle to the latter’s development because these articles encourage spending and thwart the formation of savings. The mainstream of the literature on development calls this the international effect of demonstration (in the sense of public explanation).
This thesis does not retain the level of consumption and the widening of choices as development criteria. These are precisely the objectives of development. This thesis of the harmfulness of the demonstration effect also ignores the role of external contacts as a vector of growth. It neglects the fact that these new consumption items have to be paid, which generally implies an increased effort of economic performance which includes more work, savings, and investment, as well as the active acceptance to produce for the sale and not just to subsist. Thus this accusation ignores this obvious consideration that a higher and more varied degree of consumption is, at one and the same time, the principal raison to be of material progress and an incentive for further improvements in economic structures.
A revamped version of the international demonstration effect suggests that the readiness of Third World people to accept Western products is a form of cultural dependence provoked by Western businesses. The idea implicit in this version is that people in the Third World are not able to decide for themselves how they spend their income. They are considered children, or even mere puppets that foreigners manipulate at will. In reality, Western goods have, on the contrary, been selectively and not indifferently accepted in the Third World by millions of people to whom they have massively provided services. This accusation of cultural dependence is often accompanied by another: the West also harms the Third World through its patent law. Thus, both the West is criticized for providing its products and not for reproducing them.
It is not surprising that the ideological mobilization has also resorted to the allegedly wasteful consumption argument, pollution and looting of the environment, of which the West would be customary. Stereotypical formulation of this thesis is that the per capita consumption of food and energy in the United States several times what it is in India, so each American consumed-tor several Indian deprive consumers of their legitimate share. Pr. Tibor Mende is a writer on the development influential and widely quoted. There are a few years, he wrote this: “Every American, according to some estimates, has on its environment, as a consumer and polluter, impacting twenty-five times greater than an Indian” (Newsweek, October 23, 1972). Note the reference to every American as consumer and polluter, but not as a producer.
Even babies are enlisted in the campaign to give bad conscience Westerners, including the usual photos of children in the belly distended. An article entitled “The greed of the super-rich” in the Sunday Times (London, 20 August 1978) begins like this: “One American baby consumes fifty times the resources of the world that an Indian baby… wheat requirements of Sahelian populations could have been satisfied with the twentieth part of wheat that European countries annually employ to food livestock.”
Mass cannibalism was even accused of the West. According to Professor Rene Dumont, a French agronomist widely known and expert in international organizations. “…In over-consuming meat that had wasted grain that could have saved them, we ate little children of the Sahel, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh”. This grotesque accusation received very wide coverage in the West. According to Miss Jill Tweedie of the London newspaper The Guardian: “A quarter of the world’s population lives, quite literally, killing the other three quarters” (The Guardian, January 3, 1977). And another article featured in The Guardian, June 11, 1979, evoked: “Social cannibalism which reduced more than three-quarters of humanity begging, poverty and hunger, not because they do not work, but because their wealth is going to feed, clothe and house a few classes NOM bonuses America, Europe, Japan… currency manipulators in London, New York and other living barons seat profit snatched from the world of peasants and workers.”
Such ridiculous statements could be multiplied many times. The fact that they were made by prominent academics and journalists from the so-called quality press speaks volumes about the intellectual panorama of our time.
The West did not cause famine in the Third World. They occurred in under-developed areas with virtually no foreign trade. The lack of exchanges with foreign is also a frequent feature of the underdevelopment of these regions.
Sometimes it reflects the political will of leaders who are hostile to traders, particularly non-native merchants or even hostile to private property. It is interesting to note that the west has had great difficulty to send the relief supplies to parts of the Sahel, due to the lack of good communication channels and ill will or apathy of the officials. If one tried to rescue permanently population of these arrears territories, with blows of government grants from the West, any effort to develop sustainable agriculture there would be inhibited.
Contrary to various claims and allegations in this section, the highest level of consumption in the West is not obtained by robbing other countries of what they have produced. Western consumption is more than paid for by Western production. This production not only finances domestic consummation but also the necessary capital to investment inside, outside as well as the assistance to foreign countries. Therefore, the gap between the production of the West and the Third World production is even greater than the gap between their consumption.
The West has actually contributed to the poverty of the Third World, and that in two ways. But radically different from what is commonly asserted.
First, the behavior of the West since the Second World War did much to politicize economic life in the Third World. During the last years of British colonial rule, the traditional policy of relatively limited government was abandoned in favor of strong government controls over the economy. As a result of this change in policy in most British possessions, except the Far East and Southeast Asia, the newly independent states found themselves present a prepared framework for economies controlled by governments or even to establish a totalitarian system.
The way has been practiced Western official assistance provided to governments of the Third World, also served to politicize life in the Third World, even though some arguments used to justify this assistance and that the criteria by which it was distributed. All these official interventions have resulted in a waste of resources, res-hugging spontaneous economic and social mobility, as well as contacts with foreigners. They also provoked ardent political and social strife. These consequences, in turn, have led to poverty and even large-scale distress.
Many Third World independent governments would probably have in any case largely politicized their economy because it considerably increases the power of the people in power. But it is not likely that they had gone as far as they did in recent years, or that they had succeeded in their adventures, without Western influence and assistance. However, this does not make the position of the guilt preachers of the West unsustainable. The most vocal and successful critics of both colonial domination and Western-Third World contacts have equally emphatically advocated extensive economic control and other forms of politicization of the West’s existence. They also criticized former colonial governors and Western advisers for not introducing this system earlier and more vigorously.
Second, the contact of the West with the Third World have contributed to very pronounced decline in mortality, which is the basis of the recent rapid population growth there. Therefore, these contacts with the West have enabled many more poor people to survive; which reveals to the viewer a growing multitude of poor. But, as I explained above, it is the sign of an improved situation of the population, not the result of a robbery.
Allegations of external contacts as harmful to the Third World are obviously condescending. They clearly imply that these people do not know what is good for them, or even what they need. The image of the Third World taken for an undifferentiated and stagnant mass, devoid of distinctive characters, is another aspect of this pretentious turn of mind. It reflects a stereotype that denies individuals, and societies in the Third World their identity, their character, their personality, and their responsibility. Because it defines this Third World as that which the rest of the world when one puts apart the West and a handful of companies westernized (such as Japan and South Africa), it considers that all its parts are roughly similar across. On many occasions the peddlers of guilt, considering the Third World as an undifferentiated entity, passive, at the mercy of its environment and the powerful West.
The whistle-blowers in the West are then the benevolent protectors of the Third World, suggesting that its Past, Present and Future destiny, is conditioned by the West; that the western exploitation of the past explains the backwardness of the Third World; that the handling of international trade by the West and other harms of its share explain the persistence of poverty; that the economic future of the third world depends largely on the Western subsidies. In this mentality, everything that happens in the Third World is their fault. With such ideas, one feels superior while beating his guilt.
A curious mixture of remorse and condescension is still discerned in the tolerance, and even support, given to the inhuman policies of many Third World governments. The brutalities of the rulers are often excused under the pretext that they only follow the examples given by the West. For example, when African or Asian governments massively persecute ethnic minorities, their western supporters condone them as doing nothing more than local variants of ethnic discrimination on the part of Europeans.
In the same way, the most offensive and unjustified statements of Third World spokesmen should not be taken seriously, because they are only words from the Third World; and this license extended to their lawyers in the West. In this general pattern of world affairs, neither the rulers of the Third World nor their peoples have their own thoughts or will: they are regarded as creatures shaped by the West or, at best, irretrievably captive to their environment. Besides, like children, they are not totally responsible for what they do. In any case, the west must support us, in order to do penance for wrongs that the supposed west ancestors had to their supposed ancestors. And economic assistance is still needed to help grow our children.
The insistence on the help that the West must provide to countries that are not part of it has recently become a major theme of the guilt literature. But whether or not it is linked to patronage relations (it is usually so), the idea of Western guilt is not only groundless, it is itself a singularly inappropriate foundation for practicing assistance. It leads us not to reflect on the effects of aid in the countries that receive it, nor on the conduct of their governments. It discourages even a superficial examination of the likely results political, social and economic of the alms of the West. Above all, it is thought to be taking away resources from the West, but not from the consequences of its gifts.
A feeling of guilt has nothing to do with a sense of responsibility or a sense of compassion. Propagators of a bad conscience are only concerned with their state of mind and that of their fellow citizens, but not with the results of the political operations inspired by these feelings. These policies hurt the West. They are even more damaging to ordinary people in the Third World.
Modified after originally posted on February 19, 2018 @ 6:27 pm