VOX www.clubofpep.org :: email@example.com The Periodical of Politics, Economics and Philosophy March 2007 :: Volume 2 :: Issue 2 :: Spring Term 2007
Climate of Discontent
Contents A Climate of Discontent Why Don’t We Change the World? No Divine Solution Why Financial Foreign Aid is as Useless as Banning Sex The logo
Welcome to the spring term edition of Vox. Once more we have a select collection of high quality undergraduate articles written explicitly to challenge your opinions, and add to the debate on a wide range of subjects. Should we be worried about climate change? How much good does buying free trade chocolate actually do?
Life’s full of surprises. Who would have thought that talking about the weather might actually become intellectually respectable? Global warming means that Britain’s moment in the sun, literally and metaphorically, seems to have arrived. Unfortunately, not even those who claim expertise in the area can agree on what’s actually happening to the climate or what the implications of global warming might actually be. Apart, of course, from the fact that it doesn’t look too good, whichever part of the planet you happen to inhabit. Paradoxically, that’s potentially also the good news: for much of humanity, the prospects for development have never looked that great. The big difference now is that this prospect is in danger of becoming universal. The sobering reality seems to be that the very things that allowed some of us to escape from poverty seem to be fundamentally incompatible with environmental sustainability.
How much can we expect from each other in order to combat poverty and climate change? Foreign aid: Helping the crisis stricken third world, or simply putting more wood on the fire? International corporations. Built on false advertising and exploitation? If you have an opinion on any of these issues. Read on!! Nick Jones Vox Editor But being consumed with guilt on your next short-hop flight to Paris is just the tip of a rapidly disappearing iceberg. Spare a thought - 1 -
for China and India: at the very moment when their respective governments seem to have figured out how to lift millions of people out of grinding poverty, the principal mechanisms for achieving this —capitalism, industrialisation and the systematic exploitation of the natural environment—also so seem to be inescapably connected with the destruction of the complex eco system upon which we all depend. I can add nothing to the scientific discourse that revolves around such issues, but I can offer some observations on the politics of climate change. Rather depressingly, it seems to be business as usual: ExxonMobil have recently offered funding to scientists and economists who are willing to question the rapidly emerging consensus on climate change, while the Bush administration tries to stop people from actually talking about global warming at all. Given that the US produces about 25% of global CO2 emissions every year, and that not much happens in the international system without American support, then the Bush administration’s attitude has implications for everyone. In this context the record is, once again, rather deflating. The one attempt to actually do something at the international level to address global warming was effectively scuppered by the US when it refused to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol. While there was much talk at the time about equity, inclusiveness and the validity of the scientific arguments, the Bush administration was especially loathe to compromise what it took to be its own national strategic and economic interests. In this, of course, the US is not alone. All countries pursue their ‘national interests’, but what’s striking is how differently they can be conceived. While it is easy to be cynical about the influence of powerful business lobbies over the construction of American foreign policy, we should not lose sight of more fundamental drivers of national policy. In the US’s case, individual liberty, free enterprise and an overwhelming belief in economic development and personal progress have been central. Unfortunately, they are not easy to reconcile with the possibility that, not only might we have to abandon our ideas about the inevitability of material gain, but we
might have to do so on an internationallynegotiated and regulated basis. American political scientists and economists have played a prominent part in trying to understand the sort of ‘collective action’ problems that currently confront humanity. How do we stop countries from ‘free riding’, and not doing their bit to combat global warming? What are the best mechanisms for encouraging ‘good’ behaviour at the individual or state level? The idea that market forces might be part of the problem rather than the solution, or that American freedom of action and choice might have to be constrained in the interest of the global population, are unlikely to be easily accepted, much less prove vote winners. But there will be a new administration in the White House soon, and any new president could hardy be less sympathetic about attempts to address climate change through international cooperation. Equally importantly, American business is not monolithic, and bits of it are waking up to the problem of climate change—and to the possibility of making money from it. My guess is that neither of these developments will prove sufficient, and we will still need to develop—hitherto unimaginable, still rather unlikely— forms of cooperation and coordination if we are to get out of the predicament in which we collectively find ourselves. We may need, in fact, nothing less than the sort of paradigm shift that used to be much discussed a few years ago, but which seems to be out of fashion just when it’s most needed. It might not be out of the question though. After all, if the weather’s thoroughly unpredictable, why shouldn’t we be? Dr Mark Beeson is a lecturer in Politics at the University of York
For other articles on this subject see “Inequality is good for nothing but climate change” www.clubofpep.org/vox
Why Don’t We Change the World? Despite the common and not unfounded attitude that the world is falling apart at the seams, there is reason for optimism. Although there are social and political problems with modern societies, we, the citizens of those societies, are increasingly aware of these - 2 -
deficiencies. We can and will overcome the challenges facing humanity. Many regard this sort of talk as ‘unrealistic’; it would be nice to solve the world’s problems, but we should hardly feel obligated to rise to such an insurmountable task. The following essay will consider an excuse of the ‘realist’: the distinction between duties and virtues. We will see that this distinction is unsound, and leads to apathy and defeatism. Clarification of these terms is needed. Duties are those acts which are morally obligatory; breach of duty is impermissible. Virtues are ‘supererogatory’, i.e. beneficial but not obligatory – not acting virtuously is permissible. Consider the difference between murder and failing to give to charity: not murdering is a duty, something we must do; giving to charity on the other hand is a virtue, something beneficial but not expected. It is easy to see how this doctrine sustains inaction regarding political, environmental and social problems. If such action is supererogatory, then many will see no reason to act charitably. Furthermore, if even insufficient action is held as laudable simply because it is ‘better than nothing’, then those who give insufficiently will continue to do so and those who don’t give will be unlikely to start. Many are too ready to pass the buck onto government or hide in the masses; so long as everyone is inactive, no-one feels in the wrong, which explains common affection for the duty-virtue distinction. What justification is there for this doctrine? Very little. As Singer (2005: 150) argues: When we buy new clothes not to keep ourselves warm but to look “well-dressed” we are not providing for any important need. We would not be sacrificing anything significant if we were to continue to wear our old clothes, and give money to famine relief. By doing so, we would be preventing another person from starving.
If we accept that the suffering caused by famine, war, factory farming etc. is of more moral importance than a marginal reduction in our comfort, then it is wrong not to help as much as we can. We are obligated to help because the reasons for not helping are morally insignificant. If I were to abstain from saving a drowning child in order to avoid getting wet and ruining a nice pair of shoes (Singer 2005: 147), this would be utterly
reprehensible; I would have made a critical error in the ranking of my concerns. The emotive distance of those suffering elsewhere should not alter our response; we should be moved to action even when the crisis is hard to sympathise with.
In opposition to my argument, many people think our moral code cannot demand of us more than what we feel capable of; it seems unreasonable to condemn the majority for their psychological weakness. However, we should not confuse responsibility with condemnation. As Nielsen (1972:149) aptly states, ‘[i]t is understandable that people should act in [a] morally evasive way but this does not make it right’. The second complaint: some argue that morality is about ‘prohibit[ing] behaviour that is intolerable if men are to live together in society’ (Singer 1972: 151), in which case, the job of morality is to prevent us harming one another, but not to require us to help each other; morality is not about making nice people, only acceptable ones. But surely if my failure to give to charity, at little relative cost to myself, results in someone’s prolonged, death, then I am not merely failing to be nice to them; I am doing that person a very serious harm. The distinction between duty and generosity is unjustified. Now, increasingly many issues are acknowledged as practical and ethical problems; our treatment of the environment, of animals and of the poor is scrutinised as never before. Despite this, however, this awareness often fails to trigger change, especially when that change is a matter of personal rather than political responsibility. People are too ready with excuses. On the other hand, despite the commonness of apathy and inactivity, the situation is improving. People are becoming more aware of the ethical repercussions of their lifestyles, and despite widespread inactivity, increasing numbers are changing their lifestyles appropriately. We should not stop trying to make a difference - 3 -
because we feel our voices go unheard. If enough people speak out, and loudly, if we send a message with our social, political and economic choices, then we will see a difference in the world around us for the better.
Still, it seems to be paying off: in less than a decade, sales of products bearing the Fair Trade logo has increased elevenfold; meanwhile the Fair Trade foundation itself is certain that the benefits trickling down to third world producers has been significant.
Dave Allen studies Philosophy at the University of York References: Nielsen, K. 1972: ‘Traditional Morality and Utilitarianism’. In Sterba (ed.) 2005, pp. 142-55. Singer, P. 1972: ‘Famine, Affluence, and Morality’. In Singer (Kuhse (ed.)) 2005, pp. 145-56.
For other articles on this subject see “The Value of Freedom” www.clubofpep.org/vox
PEPtalk On the first of February the club of PEP held it’s AGM. Henry Smith is the new president, Helen Warner is treasurer, Emily Froud is secretary; and many congratulations to Jasper Littmann, and Ilaf Scheikh Elard the new Vox Editors. The Club of PEP held their annual charity spring ball on the 14th of February. The night was a success and raised over £1000 to the St Leonard's Hospice in York.
No Divine Solution Mark has a stable income, and is reasonably aware about the world. He sometimes gives money to charities, and when he goes shopping, he buys the odd bag of coffee or a chocolate bar that bears the fair-trade logo. It’s slightly more expensive, but he feels that paying the extra goes some way towards redressing inequality. He is interested in more than just the product that he is paying for; the difference that he is paying, as far he is concerned, is in some way related to the wellbeing of the third world producer. If pushed, he would admit that he tries to buy fair-trade wherever possible in the hope that all trade will eventually become fair-trade at some point in the future. Not everyone thinks this way. Ethical consumerism is still about consumption, and it seems naïve to assume that all members of society are consistently morally engaged when choosing what to consume. Perhaps we should be, but that would make life considerably more expensive and restrictive. So most of us settle for doing what we consider to be the right thing, on those occasions when it is easy enough.
Trickle down it does, but how much of it goes to the producers? In his article for the New York Times, Tim Terman suggests that our conception of the actual benefit to the producer is skewed. Coffee producers are paid $1.26 for a pound of coffee beans ($0.16 above the commodity rate), regardless of whether that coffee retails for $6 or $10. Here in the UK, a 227 gram pack of Cafedirect Medium Roast and Ground retails for £2.48, while an equivalent version produced by Tesco retails at £1.88. Both bear the same Fair Trade symbol, and are produced from Latin American Arabica beans. The Fair Trade foundation has consistent standards, the growers are paid the same fair price of £0.64 per pound of beans, and the products are of comparable quality. Even were we to make the generous assumption that Tesco sells its fair trade coffee at cost-price, then the Cafedirect mark-up still amounts to £0.60. This can only be due to the relative inefficiency of Cafedirect.
The point of this is not to demonize fair-trade retailers, but rather to understand that fair trade is still trade. There is a flawed, vague assumption amongst consumers that fair trade is desirable because it corrects the iniquities of the free-market mechanism. Strictly speaking, this is not true. It tries to redress wage inequalities between the developed and developing world, and it does so from within the free-market system. This is achieved by providing subsidies to producers to artificially elevate commodity prices. However, in the free-market system, when commodity prices are low, it is because of over-production, and providing a subsidy removes the incentive for farmers and growers in the developing world to diversify into other crops. Fair trade, for all of its good intention and despite the trickle-down - 4 -
benefits, is not a panacea for the problem of global inequality. As consumers, we should begin by asking ourselves why we buy Fair Trade. If the honest answer to this question is that it gives us a vague, ‘feel-good’ sense of helping to eradicate inequality, then we are misguided. The real benefits of Fair Trade, in terms of reducing absolute poverty and raising living standards to above a subsistence level, are confined to the short term. Fair Trade should not be seen as a salve for the conscience, because that allows us to disengage from the actual consequences of our actions, and believe that our occasional purchases will somehow create a better world in the end. We must accept two things: firstly, that inequality is a rampant political problem that must urgently be addressed for the collective betterment; and secondly, that there is no quick-fix solution. That is not to say that we should reject Fair Trade products, but rather that ethical consumerism, in and of itself, is not going to solve the problem. That will come, for example, from demonstrating consistently to those governments in the developed world that still mollycoddle inefficient domestic agricultural sectors with subsidies and tax breaks that what is needed in those sectors is reform, not spoon-feeding. It is direct action of this nature that will more immediately address the problem of inequality. It’s easy to buy into the image and the iconography of Fair Trade and indulge ourselves in the convenience of voting with our trolleys. We feel better for the small choices that we make and leave it at that. It is time to admit that inequality is too large and complex to be quelled by goodwill alone; by all means, buy Fair Trade for its short-term benefits, but accept that the real, enduring solution is much more tedious and inconvenient than that. Ramya Jaidev is a third year PPE student at the University of York
Why Financial Foreign Aid is as Useless as Banning Sex The world has been providing Ethiopia with foreign aid for over two hundred years. Yet still we are bombarded with images in the media of a broken nation full of starving children and rife with disease. Millions have been invested in a country that is no better off than it was when it
first came into existence. The natural conclusion is that foreign aid on its own is simply not enough to save a failing country. Donations from world governments to exceptionally poor countries often carry attached conditions, which benefit the donor rather than the recipient, therefore making a mockery of the term ‘aid’. China recently provided said aid to Zimbabwe in the form of energy and mining deals worth £700 million. Needless to say this aid is not designed to bolster a floundering Zimbabwean economy, but is designed to strengthen China’s already extremely impressive economic prowess by providing access to Zimbabwe's wide variety of precious minerals. These include the world's second largest deposits of platinum as well as gold, chrome, coal, nickel and diamonds. The face of foreign aid is currently undergoing something of a change as a result of Bill Gates’ decision to step back from the day-to-day running of Microsoft, to focus on managing donations from his own foundation. The Bill and Melinda Gates’ foundation has billions of dollars at its disposal and aims to work towards a healthier world by developing a vaccine for both AIDS and malaria. Corporate donations avoid the problem of governmental bias. Nevertheless, even with cash injections, time has demonstrated that these have not been enough to save the majority of African countries from ongoing poverty and disease. Aid alone cannot solve Africa’s problems. I recently returned from carrying out conservation work in Swaziland, an African country no bigger than Wales, nestled between South Africa and a struggling post civil war Mozambique. Like many African countries, Swaziland, the last remaining absolute monarchy in Africa, is plagued by numerous problems that affect both its infrastructure and sustainability. It has the highest AIDS rate in the world, affecting around 40% of the population and a government that does not seem to have the best interests of the nation at heart. Too much of the money that lines the government’s pockets is not spent on hospitals and education, but is instead frittered away on BMWs and Mercedes for politicians. The monarchy, despite its best efforts, is handcuffed by its own government and apparently not provided with enough - 5 -
information regarding the countries financial and health needs. The way forward for Swaziland is not just hindered by financial difficulties, but it is also held back by its own dated attitudes and lack of education. The Swazis must determine their own fate instead of relying on handouts from foreign governments. Most importantly women must rise up and grasp their independence, rather than acting subservient to the men. This would not only improve the women’s standard of living, but would also create a second breadwinner for the family. Through talking to families while staying in Swaziland it seems that a lot of money earned by the men is wasted on excessive amounts of alcohol, instead of being reinvested in the family unit. If women become earners too this would alleviate the male dominance over family finances and potentially place far more emphasis on primary care for children.
The discouragement of subsistence farming should also be implemented in an effort to create more taxpayers. Currently, only 15% of the population pay tax on their earnings. With so few tax payers Swaziland cannot invest money in hospitals or other nationalised institutions. I saw for myself hospitals with blood stained sheets and used needles that were simply left lying around. This practice does nothing to help prevent the spread of AIDS. African countries like Swaziland must help themselves before we can help them. Foreign aid in the form of financial support is simply not enough to create stable African nations. The countries in question must enact effective cultural change and a sensible money management plan before foreign aid can make a lasting difference. Philip Oldershaw is a third year PPE student at the University of York.
For more interesting articles on either of the above articles see “Mr Benn’s fancy dress” “A note on taxation in development” “Compassionate rationality” www.clubofpep.org/vox
In order to combat the AIDS crisis a further adaptation in Swazi culture is required. The nation still actively promotes polygamy, although it has become far too expensive for a man to support both his children and multiple wives. The notion of polygamy however, also promotes a casual attitude towards sex. This attitude is not helped by the exploits of King Mswati III, who just two months ago picked his 14th wife. His policy decisions regarding the AIDS crisis are also highly questionable. In an attempt to control the spread of the disease he banned all young girls from having sex for four years. Unsurprisingly the ban was highly unpopular among young people throughout the country. Any man who contravened the chastity rules would be fined one cow or £152.
Perhaps one of the defining features of the second half of the twentieth century has been the rise of multinational firms, swept irresistibly into our lives on a wave of globalisation. These firms have altered the nature of our social discourse, our preferences as consumers and the very town centres we live in. Naomi Klein explores this theme in great detail in her book “No Logo,” which seems to typify a growing feeling of ill will against corporations such as Nike, whom she blames for everything from the global economic divide to ghettoisation and the break down of free speech. A fully free-market economy may be undesirable, but it is entirely false to claim that it’s only outputs are the insubstantial metaphors of brand image. The basis upon which Klein’s argument appears to rest is that large corporations today are able to mould their brand names to fit within changing socio-cultural fashions without - 6 -
any real product substance. Moreover, that this brand name entrenchment leaves these companies in a wholly dominant position to extort profit from the consumer. Often though, sinking money into advertising indicates to the consumer that the company has confidence in the quality of their product, or that they feel its unique features need promoting. The name iPod is today almost interchangeable with the term MP3 player; no doubt a great deal of this ‘mindshare’ can be attributed to a slick marketing campaign. On the other hand the iPod’s continued success and market dominance surely must reflect something more than the catchy lyrics of Ceasers ‘Jerk it Out,’ now synonymous with the product. Similarly, the success of the “If Carlsberg made…” slogan, would have made little impact if the beer was not upto standard. With regard to Wal-Mart and Starbucks; both heavily criticised by Klein to the point where anyone would be forgiven for thinking they did not deserve their global success: Wal-Mart did not simply grow big overnight; its innovative business model (“Stack ‘em high sell ‘em cheap”) was rewarded by the laws of economics because it represented an efficient way to sell consumer goods. Likewise, Starbucks’ coffee did not appear in every town centre across North America overnight; its combination of ambience, coffee and (over time) it’s reputation as a purveyor of a reliably good cup of coffee at a uniform price across the country, were key factors behind its success. More fundamentally still, does a logo serve only to benefit the ‘evil’ corporation through a one way stream of profits? Or does the money sunk into advertising by companies also reflect a global economy in which consumers are ever more demanding about not just the substance of the product, but what signals that product sends out to their peers? It appears a timeless feature of human nature to acquire things not just for their practical utility, but for the social status they convey.
Finally, does the entrenchment of brand imagery in fact impose a significant business cost or risk on the producer? Changes in the psyche of a society can have major impacts on a producer; Witness McDonalds struggle to shift it’s long entrenched brand image away from transfats and heavily processed meat. The rise in consumption of fair trade goods has undoubtedly impacted on the sales and indeed, procurement strategies, of many large retailers. Yet Klein apparently does not favour such responsiveness when she describes the lengths clothes retailers go to seek out new trends and produce them for the enjoyment of a wider audience; if Nestle were to adopt a company wide policy of ethical trading, would Klein criticise this for making fair trade more mainstream? It is well known that clothes retailers produce their clothes at a low price in developing nations; that such a practice should not continue, whatever the economic arguments, is perhaps indisputable. Yet is this something for which we can honestly blame corporations in their entirety? The very fact it is ‘well known’ that companies such as Nike produce their clothing in these countries suggests it is as much up to us, as responsible consumers, to stop buying these products, or to lobby the companies to change their ways. I am not entirely in support of big corporations, but I think that simply using Klein’s work to dodge our own responsibilities ignores the significant impact we as consumers actually can make. Rather than see the logo as the epitomy of corporate dominance, perhaps we should see it as an opportunity for us to exploit our own power as consumers, by forcing these logos to represent our commitment to social responsibility rather than simply (to quote a recent iPod Nano advert) our personal “rhythm and hues” Daniel Franklin is a second year PPE student at the University of York
If you are interested in writing for the next issue or would like to comment on the articles please write to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Vox, Pep office, Derwent College, University of York. Many thanks to the following Daniel Sjostrom, James Best, Jasper Littmann, Phillip Parnamets, Alex Fenton, Philip Oldershaw, Frederic Kalinke, Kim Maxwell, Ilaf Scheikh Elard, Daniel Franklin, Ramya Jaidev, Faye Wynne, Sofia Tillo, James Kirk, Dave Allen, Nick Jones, Alistair Bullward, Helen Warner, Prof Peter Smith, Prof Mozaffar Qizilbash, Dr Stephen Holland, Dr Tom Parkin, Janet Jenkins and Dr Mark Beeson. - 7 -