Tina K. Russell

September 10, 2007

And Now, Back to the Rest of the World

Filed under: economics, medicine, poverty, world — Tina Russell @ 3:06 pm

Here’s a New York Times article on how hard it is to get pain medication in developing countries. Basically, there’s such a stigma against addiction and trafficking–a very legitimate stigma, if misapplied in this case–anyone who dies  in a poor country is going to die a painful, sorrowful, undignified death. Often, they suffer needlessly because incredibly cheap drugs are not available.

I know it’s become in vogue–partially because of our bungling of the war in  Iraq, which was kind of a bad idea in the first place–to say that the rest of the world can go screw itself, we should go back to being Fortress America, with our eyes turned inward and pretending that, in a globalized world, one country can be an island and completely independent of foreign goods and services. But honestly, I feel like it is our duty as a developed nation to help countries, on a permanent basis, who are not yet where we are, but will be. It will be good for them, but also, very good for us, giving us a national purpose and something for us to band together on. The war in Iraq has divided America, not united, and that sense of national unity we had on 9/11, that feeling that our individual squabbles  are meaningless in the context of the Big Picture–has been squandered in years since by foolish leaders with no foresight. We have plenty of extra money and we can use it to make the world a better place, which would help America in turn by a) solving the immigration problem by improving people’s native countries and b) improving national security by providing the kind of powerful economies, jobs, and mature populations that deter young people from terrorism.

Plenty of these poor countries, or countries torn asunder by constant civil war, have plenty of money already… in fact, the “resource curse”–a country’s ability to fund a corrupt government by natural resources alone, basically, while the rest of the world turns a blind eye ’cause you can get cheap diamonds here, or oil, or whatever–is a major factor in determining whether or not your country is an impoverished, war-torn hellhole.  Besides that, we’ve learned that throwing money and celebrities at the problem of world poverty for decades has not worked, or at least it has merely blunted the symptoms of an untreated problem (and while there’s definitely a case to be made for that–remember, this discussion began with talk of pain medication–it doesn’t solve the underlying crisis). We now have a more nuanced view of world poverty that takes into account the needs of your average peasant farmer and not just a burgeoning tech sector or natural resources. We need to find out what these countries need and give it to them, no strings attached, because it’s for the good of the world, and good for us in turn. Microfinance can help, because it’s for the good of the local economy. Other things like infrastructure, schools and hospitals, roads, things like that can really help because they form the lifeblood of a local society and help drive out sham doctors, warlords, and other social ills. Technology projects like One Laptop Per Child, I imagine, can really help because children instinctively get technology and it can be used to bring in education and knowledge from afar, so as long as we keep to the commitment and provide them with the kind of content and infrastructure allowing them to take in the world’s combined knowledge from the comfort of their houses or huts. Education is the single most important factor, the measure of how well you can survive in an economy, the one  metric by which you can turn a population mired in poverty to a population flourishing in its livelihood in one generation.
Some liberals say that we cannot export America’s success (sure, we can’t do it for them, but never mind), because that would result in a “monoculture,” a “race to the bottom” where rich fat cats own everything, prices of grain fluctuate according to international whims, and the children’s toy market becomes flooded with Rambo dolls and GI Joe plastic launchers. I think that’s absurd. If people in these countries want help, and we can give it, we ought to. It would be good for them and good for us. Education, whether in Eastern or Western traditions, is always good and vital to a country’s economy. While the opening up of an economy (a different subject, but an important one) to global trade can be traumatic, it’s a vital last step to recovery so that the country has an international web of support to count on, so that the country can be assured that the world will never leave it behind again. Education, economic development, and foreign investment are vital to a country’s humanitarian conditions and to our homeland security, as is cracking down on corruption and promoting democracy. But, we cannot control other countries or determine what systems they live by, we can only help create the conditions by which they may succeed, help them along so that all may partake in the fruits of the 21st century. I’m constantly aghast by the fact that it is 2007 and people are dying all over the world of cheaply preventable diseases, at the same time as I rack up mad high scores on my Xbox 360. It just seems insane, unconscionable, and unsustainable. As much as projects like One Laptop Per Child sound kind of absurd on their face–as though starving children need laptops more than anything–technology can help build up a stagnant economy by bringing in new knowledge and new jobs from outside, and its imperative that the Internet not lose its democracy by allowing only rich countries into the digital club. We have to promote OLPC’s attitude towards technology in all areas, be it finance, education, agriculture, police, healthcare, police, or transportation. We cannot afford to have countries dependent on foreign aid, but we cannot afford to sit around and do nothing while these countries languish and become havens for drugs and terrorism. We must affirm their sovreignty by helping them on their terms and help them build a sustainable infrastructure that will last long after they’ve left the economic doldrums and have joined the ever-increasing ranks of the developed world.

And you know what? We might learn something, too. I know I’m much happier for having a stable housing situation, a nice computer (I just bought a gigabyte of RAM, woo), some videogames, and access to education and knowledge far beyond most of the world’s wildest dreams. If we helped other countries get those things, they’ll teach us things in turn. By adding more brains to global discourse, we can turn America’s standard of innovation into the world’s standard of innovation and make our present standard of living in the developed world look like today’s poor country in comparison to the bright future we are obligated to achieve.

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