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« Staff Positions Available | Main | What is mechanochemistry? »

January 06, 2005

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» Mike Treder on Nanotech and Poverty from WorldChanging: Another World Is Here
WorldChanging ally Mike Treder, at the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, wrote a great short piece today asking hard questions about the role nanotechnology might play... [Read More]

» Mike Treder on Nanotech and Poverty from WorldChanging: Another World Is Here
WorldChanging ally Mike Treder, at the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, wrote a great short piece today asking hard questions about the role nanotechnology might play... [Read More]

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SonofEris

The reason for the great disparity in wealth distribution between rich and poor countries has a lot to do with the types of governments that exist there. Socialist dictatorships result in poor countries and democratic capitalist nations result in richer countries.
Aid to these countries is not nearly as effective as destroying their present form of government, creating democracy, and allowing in foreign investment on a large scale.
How fairly MNT will become distributed around the world, revolves around the same principle - free trade and democracy will see it quickly spread. Dictatorships will see it never getting to all the hundreds of millions that need it and the suffering will simply continue

Marc_Geddes

It may not be 'politically correct' to say it, but SonofEris is right. Most of the misery and poverty in the world is caused by bad government.

It follows that the only way to eliminate misery and poverty in the long-term is to use nano-tech to build weapons...and then use them to kick all the bozos, thugs and dictators out of power.

Matt

Aid to these countries is not nearly as effective as destroying their present form of government, creating democracy, and allowing in foreign investment on a large scale.

I´ve read somewhere that opening free trade and dropping import tolls only benefits the countries that are already rich, like the western European countries, the USA, Australia. For a developing country, a protectionist approach is more useful in its early phase, like the European powers did 200 years ago.

Everybody sees what free market has brought to, for example, China. Yes, their economy is growing like few others, but only at the expense of the country´s 800 million peasants and to the benefit of maybe 200 million.

Removing government and installing new ones reduce these countries to be lead by mere puppets who can be exchanged at will. And don´t pretend that this can´t happen in such a "democracy", it has happened whenever the USA did "nation building" after WW2. You can´t force democracy on a population that doesn´t know and doesn´t really care about democracy. Well, you can, but in the long run it won´t work. The question whether or not it has been the intention to make it not work, is a different one.

Mike Treder, CRN

SonofEris wrote: The reason for the great disparity in wealth distribution between rich and poor countries has a lot to do with the types of governments that exist there.

Perhaps it is the system of nation-states itself that is flawed.

If we think "out of the box", realizing that the current geopolitical structure has existed only for a relatively short time, and that inevitably it will evolve into something different, perhaps we can guide that evolution into a system that will allow all humans to enjoy full human rights, no matter where they are born or live.

John B

To come out and simply blaim problems on a single factor is at best an oversimplification. At worst, it is criminal negligence.

There are a very large number of factors involved in a given area's economic well-being. While governmental types *are* a part of the equation, they are in no way the only ones. Natural resources, populations, inter- and intra-personal factors, historical factors, neighbors and so on all have significant say in modern economic status.

If we're truely thinking 'out of the box', perhaps we should insist on full human rights - AND RESPONSIBILITIES.

That is, you are fully responsible for both your actions, and those actions taken in your name by organizations, be they a religion, a government, a corporation, or however else people build cliques for advantage.

Anything which doesn't find some balance of both rights and responsibilities is a utopian dream. To fall back on the original meaning of the word, a dream of nowhere. Which is, eventually, where you'll be when you have people with rights but no responsibilities, or vice versa.

In my personal opinion - you're more'n welcome to your points of view.

-John

Mike Treder, CRN

By the way, there is a related -- and very interesting -- discussion about "Ending Poverty" going on at the WorldChanging blog.

Janessa Ravenwood

Mike: I assume you mean one-world government? I keep wondering why you think that's a good idea. As for the UN human rights link, are you aware of who's sitting on the UN's human rights committee? They're not exactly countries with a good track record there hence the phrase "fox guarding the henhouse" comes to mind.

Mike Treder, CRN

Janessa, I'm not endorsing the UN Human Rights committee, nor even the UN itself, but only the concept of universal human rights as adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution back in 1948. Just because the effort to implement has been flawed, that does not mean the objective is bad.

Also, I don't think one-world government is the solution, and I have never said it's a good idea. The best suggestion I've heard so far is network democracy, as described by Jim Garrison.

Janessa Ravenwood

Mike: would you mind expounding on that? I don't plan on paying $25 for his book. From a look at the web page, it does look as if he's just a *tad* on the far left.

Mike Treder, CRN

I doubt I can explain it nearly as well as Garrison does in his book (which you can probably borrow for free from the public library), but I'll try.

He suggests a non-binding deliberative and negotiating collection of nations, corporations, NGOs, and perhaps other stakeholders. (Non-binding because they would not have power to enforce their decisions except through persuasion and peer pressure.) It might be something like the UN, but with other entities involved, so it would be more representative of the way the modern world really operates.

Nation-states are still important, of course, but other organizations have grown to have far more influence than when the UN was created. If I understand it correctly, Garrison asserts that this form of network democracy would seek a three-way balance between political interests (nations), economic interests (corporations), and humanitarian interests (NGOs).

Please note that this synopsis is a gross over-simplification, and may not even directly match what Garrison envisions. I encourage you to read the book.

SonofEris

"To come out and simply blaim problems on a single factor is at best an oversimplification. At worst, it is criminal negligence."

I never said it was the only factor. It is, however, both a significant one and one that people either forget about or don't want to dwell on. Perhaps it is 'policially incorrect'.

"Natural resources, populations, inter- and intra-personal factors, historical factors, neighbors and so on all have significant say in modern economic status."

How are these factors not intimately connected with the type of government that exists in these regions? The way natural resources are cultivated and used depends on the type of government. By neighbours, I assume you are refering to how they relate to neighbours. No need to mention how the typical dictatorship relates to its neighbours!
Much aid was given by generous people around the globe to Ethiopia during the eighties. How much actually got to the people who were suffering? How much went to the warlord and his henchmen? If you really wanted to feed these people, it's quite obvious what you needed to do.

Matt said: "You can´t force democracy on a population that doesn´t know and doesn´t really care about democracy. " Very true. You also can't feed them if the political machinery of an unhelpful parasitic dictatorial government stands in the way.
Perhaps people need to admit, that you can't really help these people much. At least not with 'aid' and certainly not with loans from the World Bank. They will need to help themselves out of the hell hole they are in.

Michael Vassar

It's not obvious to me that we can help most of the people easily, or without careful thought, but it is obvious that they can be helped because outsiders HAVE historically helped impoverished populations significantly, at least on occasion. OTOH, it is also obvious that developing MNT is the most dollar effective way to do this today.
It's worth noting that repairing the damage from a natural disaster requires much less political and economic cleverness than repairing chronic poverty and malnutrition, though it does require some to avoid waste and corruption.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, etc show more or less what is possible when one has almost unlimited money to distribute to an unproductive population. Not pretty, but better than Haiti.

Mike Deering

The problem is that most poor countries have counterproductive cultural values. The answer is TV. Television is the most powerful propaganda tool known to man. The internet, cell phones, pop music, movies, comic books, cartoons, jokes, celebrities, sports, even books by popular authors like Steven King, all serve to destroy non-western cultures and replace them with the values of personal liberty, hedonistic self interest, and democrazy. When the whole world is just like Pittsburg and everyone is speaking English, eating at McDonald's, and driving a Toyota, we will have won the cultural war.

SonofEris

Michael Vassar writes:
"it is obvious that they can be helped because outsiders HAVE historically helped impoverished populations significantly, at least on occasion"

I'm interested. When did this happen and what did they do to improve things?

"The problem is that most poor countries have counterproductive cultural values."

Sad but true. Many would label it "materialism", but these people need to look after themselves and seek betterment economically. I'll also add politically.

John B

To reply to SonofEris' January 7, 2005 10:15 PM post, no, you didn't state that government was the sole factor, but it is the only one you addressed.

While the governmental organizations can affect what resources of a given area are cultivated, as well as HOW they're cultivated, they can't create resources that aren't there. Hence the above statement.

Additionally, a given government is influenced heavily by geography and neighbors. I believe that the Chinese stated at one point that the Korean conflict was an attempt to influence their Japanese neighbors, as one case in point. Also, there's no such thing as a 'typical dictatorship'. There are certain commonalities, but there are at least if not more differences between dictatorships than similarities.

Add in historic factors (this area was controlled by one faction in the Age of Empires, that neighbor was controlled by a foe of theirs, and bad blood resulted), and it's a helluva messy thing, human interactions.

Quoting SonofEris, "Much aid was given by generous people around the globe to Ethiopia during the eighties. How much actually got to the people who were suffering? How much went to the warlord and his henchmen? If you really wanted to feed these people, it's quite obvious what you needed to do."

No, it's NOT "quite obvious". I'd love to hear your opinion as to what's obvious about that ugly, ugly situation.

(As for politically correct or not, I could care less, except as how it is a common preconception that feelings are at least as important as facts if not more so. Feelings need to be considered in diplomacy and almost all other human interactions, but no matter how good you feel about it, facts are facts, and 'empowerment' don't keep you fed.)

Mike Deering said "When the whole world is just like Pittsburg and everyone is speaking English, eating at McDonald's, and driving a Toyota, we will have won the cultural war."

Personally, Mike, I'd think that we /lost/ at that point.

-John

Michael Vassar

son of eris:
Examples of fruitful foreign assistance
The above-mentioned Kuwait. Not so hot, but clear improvement through wealth-redistribution.
Military funding for Israel has allowed them to maintain the security needed for long-term investment, enabling economic growth.
Panama is largely richer than it's neighboors due to the canal the US built for it.
Economic aid to Europe after WWII accelerated reconstruction greatly
Britisn imperialism provided many nations with trade, peace, and financial institutions, and eliminated internal dysfunctions such as the Thuggee
Charitable assistance after disasters such as Hurricaine Mitch substantially accelerated reconstruction.
US financial assistance to Taiwan and South Korea contributed to getting development started in those countries. In addition, independent missionary work was very important in South Korea, many island nations, etc.
Puerto Rico and the US south were substantially built by domestic aid projects such as the Tennessee Valley Project and financial encouragement for manufacturing in Puerto Rico.
The Peace Corps has provided developmental assistance of a variety of types, most significantly educational assistance for people who need English language skills and business skills for integrating with a global economy.
Microlending institutions have provided hundreds of thousands of Bengalis and others with the opportunity to break free from absolute poverty.
I have no idea what the aid European countries provide pays for, but presumably something, although possibly not.

Michael Vassar

Oh yes. International vaccination programs have eliminated smallpox and greatly reduced the incidence of other diseases.

Tom Craver

I've suggested in another thread that just giving the poor access to cheap solar power might be a significant contributer to pulling them up out of poverty. Today's energy sources are either scarce or monopolized. So far that isn't true of solar energy - lots of poor areas have plenty of sunlight, even crowded but sprawling slums. What's been lacking has been a way to convert that to usable forms. Cheaper solar cells (http://www.news.utoronto.ca/bin6/050110-832.asp) will help some. But a lot could be done with with just cheap sunlight-concentrating mirrors, if the poor had the know-how.

SonofEris

Michael,
Good points above. I'll think I need to rephrase my original comment!
What I meant to say is that Aid is good, provided it gets to where it needs to go. And this is where the problems of certain types of unsavory forms of government can get in the way. It is something that is seldom mentioned in the media. It never got mentioned back in the eighties with the "Bob Geldof Save the starving people of Ethiopia" show. It never got mentioned that, although there was a famine occurring, it was the warlord and his thugs which ensured the starvation and death of many more by their forced relocations of the people and redistributions of the vital Aid supplies.
So, John, it is simple and obvious what should have been done. These subhumans should have been wiped out. Killed. Destroyed. Obliterated.
Would that have fixed the problem? Probably not in the long term. A new Warlord could easily rise up to take their place. And all of that wonderful outside assistance would again have little effect on the lives of the people. A lot of people's lives would be saved however. It would have ensured the aid got to those who needed it.
It's like Iraq. The chaos and the killing that exists there now is used as a justification by those against the invasion/liberation. What about all the killing going on befoehand, and with State sanction? The U.S. Military did its bit. Now its up to the people to build a proper republic-like democracy.
To sump up - the whole thing requires - (a) the help/aid must be able to reach those in need. (b) As soon as you can, you must get them to become self-sufficient.

Michael Vassar

Tom: A great deal could be done just by concentrating sunlight (you needn't distill water, for instance. Just put it in a plastic bottle and shine a few times incident UV through it), but there seem to be new developments in solar cells every day. Here's another example http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2005-01/uot-nnp010705.php
The sunlight concentrating thing is surely an essential part of the big picture of making photovoltaics feasible, but it seems unlikely that it will be enough to bring photovoltaics into popular usage until solar cells exceed some unknown price and performance minimums. Once people can generate electricity at home (and possibly re-charge old lead batteries or other power stores) they will be in a much better position to develop, as they will be able to add certain new capabilities without major effort. The fact is, people don't seem to be willing to make major changes to their lifestyles, or even minor ones, even when by doing so they can acquire significant benefits. As an example, when I lived in Kazakhstan, I found the absence of electricity utterly oppressive, but never took the effort to set up a car-battery powered electric lighting system in my home. I wish I had done so, but the fact is, such things seem like too much effort, and possibly danger, unless others are doing them too. Electricity will enable them to use existing products, which are convenient, and possibly even to sell energy to the grid if setting up solar mirrors etc is labor and cheap land intensive. Of course, a pessimist might see visions of a massive Sudanese slave trade providing labor for Saharan electricity plantations. Ugh.
Son of Eris: Based on everything I have read, far more people are being killed per month in Iraq now than pre-occupation. Even if that isn't true, (which I seriously doubt), $120,000,000,000/year and over 1000 soldiers killed, total international hatred, and the loss of military projection power seem to me to be a high price to pay for whatever supposed benefit the Iraquis are recieving. Surely even the default use of this money, reducing the deficit to improve global economic stability, would do more for the world's poor in general.

SonofEris

Again, aid money is fine so long as it gets to those that need it and is not wasted through layers of bureaucracy.

John B

So, just throwing money out of a commercial airliner scheduled to pass over the region is fine, SonofEris? That's about all that you could do without some degree of bureaucracy, short of going there yourself and passing out currency.

Now, I agree, there's excessive wastage in many governmental systems - including the US's in many ways. However, I think that such a draconic position as you seem to be suggesting may be excessive.

-John

Michael Vassar

Please be civil and not rhetorical John.

John B

My apologies if that was taken as uncivil. Wasn't the intent - simply to point out (rhetorically, admittedly - how else?) the problem with the arguement.

-John

SonofEris

"So, just throwing money out of a commercial airliner scheduled to pass over the region is fine, SonofEris?"

That's not even worthy of a comment.

Obviously you need some management. You seem to be continuously misinterpreting what I write or simply exaggerating it to a ridiculous degree. I simply meant that the money goes through layers (emphasis on the plural) of people who take their own share. Eventually it filters down to those that need it. Often, this is minimal and there is no problem. The problem lies with what I was originally talking about - governments that you might say, don't have the best interest of the people at heart, re the Ethiopian Warlord situation.
I'll make this as simple as I can: The political situation, re the type and quality of the governing forces/authority/whatever you want to call it, has to be taken into account before you rush off to give aid. Otherwise you are throwing it away, and yes John you may as well thrown it out of a plane.

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