What we need to do to fix the world

Good evening. On Ethel the Frog, tonight, we look at violence…

although today, I’m not talking about British gangland, sarcasm or Spiny Norman.

A billion or more people live on $1.25 per day. This is the definition of extreme poverty. Sounds tough. If you widen the definition to $2 per day, you include another billion people.

We have made great strides towards raising people out of this poverty (the Girl Effect is very powerful indeed here), we will never finish the job until we change our tactics. You see, it’s relatively easy to give a poor person money, or teach them about agriculture or give them micro-loans to start a business, or to give them skills that are useful to their community and a means by which they can earn their own living. Easy. The problem with that approach is that it assumes that the person you are helping lives in a safe place.

It does nobody any good whatsoever to give a person money and training if the next thing that happens is that person’s neighbour shoves her out of her home and off her land by force, taking what was hers for his own and forcing her to watch her own child die from starvation because the neighbour left her with absolutely nothing.

It does nobody any good whatsoever to provide education to a community, to take advantage of the girl effect, if the very girls you are trying to reach are too scared to leave their home because they had been snatched as they walked along and raped. In broad daylight. It was, simply, too dangerous to go out.

This is what happened to Venus and to Griselda. Gary Haugen’s excellent TED talk has changed the way I look at global suffering.

It doesn’t matter how much money you pour into any society, you will not lift that society out of poverty at all unless you also make sure that the vulnerable are protected. Adding money, in many cases, will make matters even worse, because the rich and the powerful have the means to take, by force, whatever money you inject into the society. It doesn’t matter how much money I give to Venus, if it is stolen from her the moment I give it to her, I’m causing more harm than good. The powerful in her society will become more powerful and she will still be starving.

The Mediterranean migration that is currently causing so many deaths has the same cause. It doesn’t matter how many boats that the EU destroys. It doesn’t matter how many boats sink all by themselves. The deaths will continue because the boats are filled with people fleeing violence. I made a tweet, last week, that said

‘s family are in the cellar with an axe murderer. Will pulling up the ladder reduce their desire for escape?

Looking at the tragedy in the Med as an immigration issue, or as a problem with the people in Libya who are willing to take large sums of money in order to shove as many people as possible into a boat as will fit is entirely backwards. The people with the boats don’t care a jot what happens to the people in it. They’ve already been paid. In fact, the more people they cram onto a boat, the more money they get, and the more likely it is to sink. Dead people don’t complain, so they’re onto a double winner. No. If the EU wants to stem the flow across the Med, they need to look a little more closely at what is driving these people into the sea.

Maybe it’s because politicians are not rational people, but they do seem to lose sight of the fact that people rarely do things for no reason. Venus’ neighbour shoved her off her land because he wanted to enrich himself and nobody was going to prevent him from doing it. The men in Griselda’s village wanted to play and nobody was going to stop them. The people getting onto a boat that will sink (and is obvious it will sink) long before it makes it to Italy do so because getting onto the boat makes more sense than staying on land. Behind them is violence; behind them are men (it’s usually men) with guns who will take what they want with impunity; behind them is a completely ineffective system of public order; behind them is a life made unlivable by the actions of others. In front of them is the chance, the faintest hope, that something might be better. Some people make it to Europe and those who do are not raped, murdered, beaten and robbed.

With certain death behind you, even a 27-in-800 chance of survival are odds you are willing to take.

Much of the world is ruled by violence, largely because we are a competitive species and there have always been those who have no problems taking what isn’t theirs just because they can. As Gary Haugen says, putting a comprehensive system of publically-funded justice into a society is difficult, not least because of the blatant corruption that is well-established in many countries. You can’t just put police on the ground, you need straight police officers (I mean not-corrupt, not anything about whom they love), then you need straight prosecutors who build a competent case against offenders, then you need a straight judge in a straight court who can see that justice is done and that the guilty are put away and the wrongly-accused are not, and after that, you need a straight prison service to keep violent people off the streets and, (unrealistically, I know) to rehabilitate them such that they know another way to live by the time they are released.

A pipe-dream, I know, but Gary Haugen’s talk makes it sound within our reach. Maybe the next time someone is asking us for a donation to their charity, we should ask them what they are doing in their target community to support the rule of law, to ensure that all people are treated as people, and that all people are allowed to live in peace with one another.

It is only then that two billion people can hope for a better future.

Leave a Reply