Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 284 | Marzo 2005



What Is Morally Unjust Cannot Be Economically Correct

On February 6, the government of Great Britain announced a plan to reduce the foreign debt of 19 countries, among them Nicaragua, based on an agreement by the G-7 countries during their London Summit to annul part of the multilateral debt owed by the poorest countries. In this speech to British development activists last December, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown previewed the various motives and objectives of this urgent proposal, which we can only hope others will adopt as well, and implement in their entirety.

Gordon Brown

What can this generation, working together, each and all of us, do? We are not powerless individuals; acting together, we have the power to shape history, to turn globalization from a force that breeds insecurity to a force for justice on a global scale.

I want to sketch out for you a vision of a new deal that demands a new accountability from both rich and poor countries, a new compact between those to whom so much is given and those who have so little. More than a contract—which is after all one group tied by legal obligations to another—and nothing less than a “covenant”—the richest recognizing out of duty and a deep moral sense of responsibility their obligations to the poorest of the world.

Our commitment, our proposal

At the same time as developing countries are devising their own poverty reduction plans, we the richest countries must take three vital steps:
—first, agree to a comprehensive financing program to complete 100% debt relief, finding a way to persuade others to join us in declaring their timetables on increasing development aid to 0.7% of national income, and immediately raise an additional $50 billion a year—doubling aid to halve poverty—through the creation of a new International Finance Facility.
—second, use this new financing to start meeting the Millennium Development Goals on health, education and halving of poverty; drive forward the internationalization of AIDS research and the advance purchase of HIV/AIDS and malaria vaccines; build the capacity of health and education systems; and deliver our promise of primary education for all the 105 million children who do not go to school today, two thirds of them girls;
—and third, deliver the Doha development round on trade, and make it the first world trade agreement ever to be in the interests of the poorest countries.

Too long to wait

In December 1999 in New York, in a historic declaration, every world leader, every international body, almost every single country, signed on to a shared commitment to right the greatest wrongs of our time; the promise that by 2015 every child would be at school, that avoidable infant deaths would be prevented and that poverty would be halved. This commitment was perhaps the greatest bond of trust pledged between rich and poor.

But already, so close to the start of our journey, we can see that our destination risks receding into the distance. On present progress in Sub Saharan Africa, primary education for all will, at best, be delivered not in 2015, but 2130, 115 years too late; poverty will be halved by 2150, 135 years too late; and avoidable infant deaths will be eliminated by 2165—150 years too late. This is too long to wait for justice, too long to wait when infants are dying in Africa while the rest of the world has the medicines to heal them.

Another round of broken promises?

Martin Luther King spoke of the American Constitution as a promissory note. Yet, for black Americans, the promise of equality for all had not been redeemed. He said that the check offering justice had been returned with ‘insufficient funds’ written on it. He said, ‘we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt,” and that the time had come to ‘cash this check which would give upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.’ In this way, he exposed the gap between promises and reality on racial equality.

But in exactly the same way, today’s Millennium Goals—a commitment backed by a timetable—are now in danger of being downgraded from a pledge to just a possibility to just words, yet another promissory note, another check marked ‘insufficient funds.’ What began as the greatest bond between rich and poor of our time is at risk of ending as the greatest betrayal of the poor by the rich of all time. As a global community we are at risk of being remembered not for what we promised to do but for what we failed to deliver, yet another set of broken hopes that break the trust of the world’s people in the world’s governments.

When we know the scale of suffering that has to be addressed, the problem is not that the promise was wrong, the pledge unrealistic, the commitments unnecessary, but that we have been too slow in developing the means to honor, fulfill and deliver them.

In the past, when we as a global community failed to act, we often blamed our ignorance—we said that we did not know. But now we cannot use ignorance to explain or excuse our inaction. We can see on our TV screens the ravaged faces of too many of the 30,000 children dying unnecessarily each day. We can’t blame our inaction on inadequate science—we know that a quarter of all child deaths can be prevented if children sleep beneath mosquito nets costing only $4 each. We cannot defend our inaction invoking a lack of medical cures—for we know that as many as half of all malaria deaths can be prevented if people have access to diagnosis and drugs that cost no more than $0.12. The world already knows we know enough. But the world knows all too well that we have not done enough. Because what is lacking is will.

Separate strands woven into a garment of destiny

It is morally and practically imperative that we not only declare, but fight and win a war against poverty; that we not only pass resolutions and made demands, but move urgently to remove injustice. Those living in the poorest countries depend on our converting apathy to engagement, sympathy to campaigning, half-hearted concern to wholly committed action in the richest countries.

To dream of a better world is already, in itself, power. We must share the inspiration that such power gives. It is now more urgent than ever that people everywhere are awakened to the duties we owe to people elsewhere whose hopes for life itself depend upon our help. Our dependence upon each other should awaken our conscience to the needs not just of neighbors but also of strangers; more than that, our moral sense should impel us to act out of duty and not just self-interest. The claims of justice are not at odds with the liberties of each individual, but rather a modern expression of them that ensures the dignity of all; there is such a thing as a moral universe.

Did not Martin Luther King show our responsibilities to strangers, to people we have never met and who will never know our names, when he described each of us as strands in an inescapable network of mutuality, woven together into a single garment of destiny?

Just as the industrialization of the eighteenth century opened people up to a society which lay beyond family and village and asked individuals who never met each other to understand the needs of all throughout their own country, so the globalization we are witnessing asks us to open our minds to the plight and pain of millions we will never meet who are continents away, but upon whom we depend for our food, clothes, livelihoods and security as a result of the international division of labor.

We depend upon each other—the nurse, the builder, the farm worker, the seamstress—not just in our own country but across the earth. We are in an era of global interdependence, relying each upon the other—a world society of shared needs, common interests, mutual responsibilities, linked destinies, international solidarity.

Ever since September 11, 2001, there is an even more immediate reason for emphasizing our interdependence and solidarity. Now more than ever we rely on each other not just for our sustenance but for our safety and security. [Then] US Secretary of State Colin Powell states; ‘What poverty does is breed frustration and resentment which ideological entrepreneurs can turn into support for terrorism in countries that lack the political rights, the institutions necessary to guard the society from terrorists. We can’t win the war on terrorism unless we get at the roots of poverty, which are social and political as well as economic in nature.’

Everything we are witnessing across the world today, from discussing global trade to dealing with global terrorism, symbolizes just how closely and irrevocably the fortunes of the richest persons in the richest country are bound together to the fate of the poorest persons in the poorest country of the world. An injury to one must be seen as an injury to all.

The better angels of our nature

But what impels us to act must be far more than enlightened self-interest. Ought we not take our case for a war against poverty to its next stage—from economics to morality, from enlightened self-interest that emphasizes our dependence each upon the other to the true justice that summons us to see that every death from hunger and disease is as if it is a death in the family? Is there not some impulse even greater than the recognition of our interdependence that moves human beings even in the most comfortable places to empathy and anger at the injustice and inhumanity that blights the lives not just of neighbors but of strangers in so many places at so high a cost?

Is it not something greater, more noble, more demanding than just our shared interests that propels us to demand action against deprivation and despair on behalf of strangers as well as neighbors—and is it not our shared values?

It is my belief that even if we are strangers in many ways, dispersed by geography, diverse because of race, differentiated by wealth and income, divided by partisan beliefs and ideology, even as we are different, diverse and often divided, we are not and cannot be moral strangers, for there is a shared moral sense common to us all. Call it as Lincoln did—the better angels of our nature; or as Winstanley did—the light in man; or as Adam Smith did—the moral sentiment; or call it benevolence, as the Victorians did—virtue, the claim of justice, doing one’s duty; or call it as Pope Paul VI did—‘The good of each and all.’

It is precisely because we believe, in that moral sense, that we have obligations to others beyond our front doors, responsibilities to others beyond the city wall, duties to others beyond our national borders as part of one moral universe, precisely because we have a sense of what is just and fair, that we are called to answer the hunger of the hungry, the needs of the needy, the suffering of the sick, whoever and wherever they are, bound together by the duties we feel we owe each other. We cannot be fully human unless we care about the dignity of every human being.

All religions say it

Christians say: “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” Jews say: “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man.” Buddhists say: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Muslims say: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.” Sikhs say: “Treat others as you would be treated yourself.” Hindus say: “This is the sum of duty—do not to others what would cause pain if done to you.”

Faiths that reveal truths not to be found in economic textbooks or political theory—beliefs now held by people of all faiths and none—that emphasize our duty to strangers, our concern for the outsider, the hand of friendship across continents, that say I am my brother’s keeper, that we don’t only want injustice not to happen to us, we don’t want injustice to happen to anyone. Indeed, the golden rule, or what the Bible calls righteousness or what you and I might call justice runs through every great religion, and the words of Gandhi reinforce it: “Whenever you are in doubt, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]…. You will find your doubts melt away.”

So, our interdependence leads us to conclude that when some are poor, our whole society is impoverished. And our moral sense leads us to conclude, as we have been told, that when there is an injustice anywhere, it is a threat to justice everywhere.

The invisible hand and the helping hand

But can we not also say—and this is my third point—that even when we are talking about the needs of strangers, the claims of justice are now more powerful than ever? It is because the dignity of the individual is at the heart of our concerns about human beings that these claims of justice are not—as many once argued—at odds with the requirement for liberty but are essential for the realization of liberty in the modern world.

In her recent book, Gertrude Himmelfaarb shows that when the 17th and 18th centuries brought a revolt against outmoded forms of hierarchy, there was understandably a preoccupation not with justice or duty but with liberty. In 1789, “liberty” literally came before “equality” and “fraternity.” The call for freedom from outmoded forms of hierarchical obligations was then the only path to ending the power of absolute monarchs and repealing old mercantilist laws.

Although the great Enlightenment philosophers marched under the banner of liberty, rightly wishing to prevent any ruler from invading the freedom of the citizen, a closer reading of these writers shows that the march of individual freedoms did not release people from their obligations to their fellow citizens and fulfilling the duties they owed each other. For them, liberty was not at odds with justice or duty, but rather the two advanced together. One of the greatest tribunes of liberty, John Stuart Mill, stated categorically that “there are many positive acts to the benefit of others which anyone may rightfully be obliged to perform.” And Rousseau wrote that “as soon as men cease to consider public service as the principal duty of citizens, we may pronounce the state to be on the verge of ruin.”

As Adam Smith—often wrongly seen as the patron of free-market capitalism without a conscience—put it: the philosophy of “all for ourselves and nothing for other people” was a “vile maxim.” “Perfection of human nature was to feel much for others and little for ourselves, to restrain our selfish and indulge our benevolent affections.” And in that spirit, a dying Smith, who wrote not only about the “invisible hand” but also about the “helping hand,”’ was writing a new chapter for his Theory of Moral Sentiments titled “On the Corruption of our Moral Sentiments” which he explains is occasioned by “the disposition to admire the rich and great and to despise or neglect persons of poor and mean condition.” This great apostle of freedom believed passionately in justice and in duty to others and saw no contradiction in saying so. And in our century this should be our focus. We should be asking not just what rights you can enforce on others but what duties we can discharge for others.

A small vacillating call

Selbourne says duties without rights makes people slaves but rights without duties makes them strangers. Moral strangers demand rights without duties, while moral neighbors say that every time one person’s dignity is diminished or taken away through no fault of there own it is an offence against justice.

My father used to tell me that we can all leave our mark for good or ill—and he quoted Martin Luther King saying that everyone from the poorest to the richest can be great because everyone can serve. One generous act can redeem a life. What really matters is the compassion we show to the weak. And we should value our society not for its wealth and power over others, but by how it can empower the poor and powerless.

That moral sense may no longer be “a strong beacon light radiating outward at all times to illuminate in sharp outline all it touches,” as James Q. Wilson describes so brilliantly. Rather it is like “a small candle flame flickering and spluttering in the strong winds of passion and power, greed and ideology.” As Wilson says, “brought close to the heart and cupped in one’s hand, it dispels the darkness and warms the soul.”

So we do not wipe out the debt of the poorest countries simply because it is not easily paid. We do so because people weighed down by the burden of debts imposed on them by the last generation cannot even begin to build for the next generation. To insist on the payment of these debts offends human dignity—and is therefore unjust. What is morally wrong cannot be economically correct.

The foreign debt:
Three proposed new steps

Let me set out the agenda that flows from our moral sense. In 1997 just one country was going to receive debt relief. Now 27 countries are benefiting with $70 billion of unpayable debt being written off. And it is thanks to the campaigning on debt relief that 4 million more children now go to primary school in Uganda; 31,000 new classrooms have been built and 18,000 new teachers recruited in Tanzania; and half a million children are now being vaccinated against tetanus, whooping cough and diphtheria in Mozambique.

But I’m less interested in what we’ve done than in what is still to do. With many countries still being forced to choose between servicing their debts and making the investments in health, education and infrastructure that would allow them to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, we must do more.

In 2005 we must go much further than we have gone before, and that is why we are proposing a new set of principles to govern the next stage in debt relief. First, that the richest countries match bilateral debt relief of up to 100% with multilateral debt relief of up to 100%, so that all debts are covered. Second, that the cancellation of debts owed to the International Monetary Fund should be financed by using the gold in the IMF reserves, revalued at current gold prices. Third, that instead of running down the resources available internationally for development, donor countries make a unique declaration that they will cover their share of the World Bank and the African Development Bank’s debts on behalf of eligible developing countries. That is why Britain has announced that we will relieve those countries still under the burden of this debt to these banks by unilaterally paying our share—10%—of payments to the World Bank and African Development Bank while urging other countries to do the same.

Fair trade: An end to our hypocrisy

Next, to put our duties to each other at the center of policy, we also insist on a progressive approach to trade. Fair trade is not just about financial gains, it’s also about giving people dignity, enabling them to stand on their own two feet and use trade as a springboard out of poverty.

We know the damage that rich countries’ protectionism has done to entrench the poverty of the poorest countries. We spend as much subsidizing agriculture in the European Union as the whole income of all 689 million people in Sub Saharan Africa taken together. The money that the US spends just in subsidizing 25,000 cotton farmers dwarfs the total income of Burkino Faso, where 2 million people are dependent on cotton for their livelihoods. And for every dollar given to poor countries in aid, two dollars are lost because of unfair trade. So 2005 is the time to send a signal and to agree to a new policy.

First, it is time for the richest countries to agree to end the hypocrisy of developed country protectionism by opening our markets, removing trade-distorting subsidies. In particular, doing more to urgently tackle the scandal and waste of the Common Agricultural Policy shows we believe in fair trade.

Second, it is time to move beyond the old Washington Consensus of the 1980s and recognize that while bringing down unjust tariffs and other barriers can make a difference, developing countries must also be allowed to carefully design and sequence trade reform into their own poverty reduction strategies.

And third, because it is not enough to say, “You’re on your own, simply compete,” we have to say, “We’ll help you build the capacity you need to trade, not just opening the door but helping you gain the strength to cross the threshold.” We have to recognize that developing countries will need additional resources from the richest countries both to build the economic and infrastructure capacity they need to take advantage of trading opportunities and to prevent their most vulnerable people from falling further into poverty.

The essential challenge:
Let’s finally pledge the 0.7%

Our discussion of debt relief and trade leads to the essential challenge of 2005: that our new deal with the developing countries must involve a transfer of resources. Not aid as compensation for being poor but aid as investment in the future. So, like debt and trade, this is about enhancing the dignity and potential of each individual.

Since the 1980s, aid to Africa, which was $33 per person ten years ago, has halved to just $19 per person. So we need a new financing program. Thanks to your campaigning, we are the first UK Government to be able to announce a timetable for 0.7%, and over the next year we plan to ask other countries to join us and nine others in setting a timetable towards 0.7%.

We are proposing an
International Finance Facility

But the truth is that the scale of resources needed immediately to tackle disease, illiteracy and global poverty is far beyond what traditional funding can offer today. That is why the UK Government, as part of its financing package to reach the Millennium Development Goals, has put forward its proposal for stable, predictable, long-term funds frontloaded to tackle today’s problems of poverty, disease and illiteracy through the bold initiative of a new International Finance Facility (IFF).

The international Finance Facility is in the tradition of the Marshall Plan of 1948, when to finance the development of a ravaged postwar Europe, the richest country in the world—the USA—agreed to transfer 1% of its national income each and every year for four years—a transfer equivalent in today’s money to $75 billion a year. It is also modeled on the founding principles of the World Bank in 1945, where nations provided resources to an international institution that then borrowed on the international capital markets.

The IFF is founded upon long-term, binding donor commitments from the richest countries like ourselves. It builds upon the additional $16 billion already pledged at the Monterrey Summit. And on the basis of these commitments and more it leverages additional money from the international capital markets to raise the amount of development aid for the years to 2015.

By locking in commitments from a wide range of donors, the IFF would enable us to front load aid for investment in development, enabling a critical mass of predictable, stable and coordinated aid as investment to be deployed over the next few years when it will have the most impact in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. In other words, we can save lives today that would otherwise be lost.

The IFF would enable us to invest simultaneously across sectors—in education and health, trade capacity and economic development—so that instead of having to choose between urgent emergency disaster relief and long-term investment, the impact of extra resources in one area reinforces the investment in another. In the end, the IFF will allow us to attack the root causes of poverty, not just the symptoms—focusing on developing the capacity and the dignity people need to help themselves.

We want to double development aid
and reduce poverty by half

Let me explain the scale of what I am proposing. In all our campaigns taken together we have managed to raise international aid from $50 million a year to $60 billion. Our proposal is to raise development aid immediately not from $60 billion to $65 billion or even $70 billion, but effectively double aid to over $100 billion per year. With one bold stroke, double development aid to halve poverty. That extra $50 billion will allow us to attack the root causes of poverty, not just the symptoms, and to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

The aim of the International Finance Facility is to bridge the gap between promises and reality, between hopes raised and hopes dashed, between an opportunity seized and an opportunity squandered. Of course, we will continue to look at other means—international taxes, more resources direct to development banks such as the IMF and the World Bank, but the practical benefits of the IFF are that we can provide the support poor countries need immediately to invest in infrastructure, education and health systems, and economic development so they can benefit from access to our markets; we can provide grants to help ensure a sustainable exit from debt; we can make primary schooling for all a practical reality, not just a distant dream—meeting these needs and rights now and not deferring them to an uncertain future; and we can meet our global goals of cutting infant mortality and maternal mortality, eliminating malaria and TB and treating millions more people who are suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In fact, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI)—which has immunized over the last five years a total of 50 million children around the world—is interested in applying the IFF principles to the immunization sector. Donors would make long-term commitments that can be securitized in order to frontload the funding available to tackle disease. So in one fund, with one initiative, we can glimpse the possibilities open to us if we act together. If we could do the same for health, for schools, for debt, for the capacity to trade, for research and advance purchasing of drugs to cure malaria and HIV/AIDS, think of the better world we can achieve.

I thank the Holy See and the growing numbers of countries that have indicated support for the IFF—including the G7, France and Italy. And next year—2005—the year of the UK’s G8 presidency, the push for G8 progress begins. You have set a challenge for 2005 as a make-or-break year for development and debt relief, a challenge that we must not squander but seize for the sake of the world’s poorest. It is an opportunity to make a breakthrough on debt relief and development, on tackling disease and on delivering the Doha development round on trade. We must rise to the challenge and accept that we will be judged by what we achieve.

The task for government now is to replace talk with action, initiatives with results and rise to the challenge—pledging to strive for urgent progress on the priorities of finance for both development and trade. And as you take forward your 2005 campaigns, I know you will hold us accountable as you have done so far, that you will challenge us, as the conscience of the world, the voice that guides us at this crucial crossroads.

We can help millions

Toni Morrison said, “Courage is to recognize and identify evil, but never fear or stand in awe of it.” Let that be our inspiration as we think of Africa, where 30,000 children will die needlessly today. If this happened in our country we would act now, immediately together. We would indeed conclude that it should never be allowed to happen anywhere. Yet today 30,000 children will die. Each child a unique personality, each child precious, each one love, almost every one of whom could live if the medicines and treatments available here were available there.

If together we could help thousands, hundreds of thousands and millions by our actions, if with all the power at our command we could change the common sense of the age so that people saw that poverty was preventable, should be prevented and then had to be prevented, so hat we met the Millennium Development Goals not in 2150 but in 2015, then all else we do in our lives would pale into insignificance and every effort would be worth it.

It’s not enough to describe Everest, we have to climb it. And it’s not enough to picture the New Jerusalem, we must build it. When people say debt relief, trade justice and finance for health and education is an impossible dream, I respond that people thought the original plans for the World Bank were the work of dreamers; people thought the Marshall Plan unattainable; even in 1997, when we came to power, people thought debt relief was an impossible aspiration and yet already we are wiping out up to $100 billion of debt; people thought no more countries would sign up to a timetable for 0.7% in Overseas Development Aid and yet this year alone five countries have done so.

With the scale of the challenge revealed, with the growth of public pressure started in Britain and other countries, I believe that if there is a determination among world leaders to be bold, building upon our moral sense, the arc of the moral universe, while indeed long, will bend toward justice in the months and years to come.

Gordon Brown is Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer. This presentation, synthesized by envío,was delivered on December 8, 2004, at the Pope Paul Memorial Lecture organized annually by CAFOD, a Catholic development cooperation agency.

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