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Global Issues: Harmful Economic Systems 2009--the Major Barrier to People's Welfare and Development

 The standard economic model of how things work is that people produce and exchange goods.  Governments exist to provide “government goods”— things that people cannot provide for themselves, such as national defense. Thus the standard economic view is that activities are essentially productive. While this view has made for a thriving profession of economics,  it is not a correct view of reality. The principal difficulty is that there is economic activity that is unproductive and harmful (from the point of view of those being harmed), and that this is a key feature of the economic organization of  societies. What follows is a brief analytical description of these societies.

Many societies are run on this basic set of principals.  Take  and maintain control of the government.  Use powers of the government to obtain income. Key elements of this process are described in five sections:

A fifth section International aspects/imperialism discusses international aspects of harmful economic systems, which many would say is the key part of harm.  A sixth section discusses the Impact on development. A final section Reducing harm gives a too brief discussion of what people are doing to improve matters.

The influence on development of poor nations is profound. For many governments, the government/people in the government, in spite of lip service to the contrary, are not principally engaged in helping the people of the country, but rather in helping themselves. This has had and continues to have a disastrous effect on development and the incomes of poor people. The final section of this article discusses this more fully. This article exists to provide an analytical framework to understand the situation and events in many countries, which, considered separately, may be confusing.

Obtaining income

The basic idea and activity in productive societies is helping to produce goods— things that are useful to someone— food, light bulbs, cars— and then exchanging the income received for goods that are desirable to you.  This fundamental economic mechanism exists in “harmful” economic societies as well. Unfortunately, also existing, and why we describe these societies as harmful, a certain strata— usually the top— also exists to obtain goods through means which may be described as unproductive or extractive.

The principal ways in which income is obtained in a harmful economic system are twofold: 1) obtain it through the government, or, 2) use the government to maintain, consolidate and increase sources of income that are (apparently) obtained in other ways. The first is most typical or at least most evident in developing countries.

Armed conflict--typically the fight for control of the government or territory, frequently with natural resources, by groups deserves a separate discussion, because it has been throughout history the principal way in which harmful economic societies have been established and  because of its importance in the world today.

Obtaining income through the government There are a wide variety of means in which government officials and others obtain revenue from the government. The first thing to recognize is that people at the top of government, or those who have significant control over the government but who are not government officials--often entrepreneurs or corporations) can and do plunder resources coming into the government. Government revenue is often not devoted to productive services but siphoned off by those in control of the government.  A nation expects that its national resources will be used for the benefit of the nation. However very large amounts of such revenue are often used to enrich those in charge of the government. People at lower levels of government can plunder resources too, by not providing services which they are paid to provide, by charging for services which they should provide, or by taking goods, such as medical supplies or automobiles/trucks, which should be used for government service.

Corruption. One name for a particular type of  the unproductive allocation of resources is corruption.

In audit, China finds large ($35 billion) and widespread corruption by government officials David Barboza New York Times  December 29, 2009

Repent or resign, African bishops tell Catholic African politicians: "Many Catholics in high office have fallen woefully short in their performance in office”  Rachel Donadio New York Times October 23, 2009 

China spreads aid in Africa, with some catches (corruption, secrecy and long term indebtedness of the borrowing country) Sharon LaFraniere and John Grobler New York Times September 21, 2009

Above, a hand-painted anticorruption sign in Lusaka, Zambia. Agencies investigating wrongdoing by powerful politicians have been undermined or disbanded and their leaders have been dismissed, threatened with death and driven into exile. Photo: Mariella Furrer/New York Times

Battle to halt corruption in Africa ebbs Celia W. Dugger New York Times June 9, 2009

Perceived corruption in developing countries remains very high, 2007 Transparency International study shows Transparency International September 26, 2007 See the 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index (6 page PDF file)

Corruption can occur in various ways.

Government officials can get extra-official payments (frequently very large but also often very small) for carrying out, or not carrying out duties that they are paid for and obliged to perform as their duties as government officials.

The education minister has been touring schools to count the teachers. Photo: BBC

The education minister has been touring schools to count the teachers. Photo: BBC

Sierra Leone's education minister says he has discovered dozens of non-existent "ghost teachers" invented by officials to embezzle money BBC News August 20,  2008 (You will leave this site.)  

Kenyan minister resigns (temporarily) over accusations that he sold a government hotel for one-third of its value  BBC News July 8, 2008 (You will leave this site)

Zambian ex-president Chiluba to face graft trial Reuters February 15, 2008

Corruption undermining justice in many countries, Transparency International says   BBC News  May 24, 2007 (You will leave this site.) Link to TI's Global Corruption Report 2007: Corruption in Judicial Systems

Pay for little or no work. Another concern is that government officials receive pay without delivering (often anything near) an adequate level of services. What they have done is support the current political system, not deliver government services.

Allocation of resources. The government frequently allocates resources, such as land and other natural resources such as oil, and and business opportunities, directly to itself and its supporters. 

A very large part of this allocation/corruption is diversion of revenues from  goods exported from or imported to the country.

The big ticket item is natural resource exports, including oil. One would think that discovering oil and being able to export it would enable governments in developing countries to provide sufficient resources for assisting poor people in that country to have education and health services and to provide productive employment. NOT!  In fact what HN has described as harmful economic systems mean that very little---a token amount-- gets to poor people.  (See resource curse Wikipedia  especially the corruption section for further information.)

Zimbabwe's diamond production draws scrutiny by  World Diamond Council for human rights abuses by Zimbabwe's army and police, who also take the lion's share of profits from diamond production   Sarah Childress and Farai Mutsaka Wall Street Journal September 14,  2009

9 hostage officers killed at Peruvian oil facility--Amazonian Indians demand that Peruvian president  withdraw decrees that ease the way for companies to carry out major energy and logging projects in the Amazon Simon Romero New York Times June 6, 2009

Zimbabwe vice-president seeks to sell 4 tons of Congo gold Grant Ferrett  BBC News February 24, 2009

Use the government to maintain, consolidate and increase sources of income that are (apparently) obtained in other ways. This is  more difficult to understand. Slavery would be an important and relatively clear example. The slave-owner is able to obtain an increased income from his slave's labor. This income is not income from the government.  Nonetheless, a government--the United States before the Civil War, for example--is necessary to maintain a legal, administrative and police/military structure to permit and enforce slavery. 

Land ownership would be another key example. In many countries there is highly unequal distribution of land.  This ownership is typically derived from a period of conquest where land ownership was based on military force or other aspects of power. Land ownership, in spite of the passage of many years, has continued in a highly unequal fashion, essentially due to the continuance of highly unequal access to sources of power and wealth.

Forms of slavery--now without a strong basis in law--has continued to this day. In the present, a key term is "forced labor."  An invaluable International Labor Organization report, Forced Labor describes the various types of forced labor. More than 12 million are trapped in forced labor worldwide. ) Certainly other aspects of society such as religion, prejudice, or 'scientific thinking' can reinforce the governmental role.  For example, the Indian caste system is a system of stratification of human beings, with the Dalits or untouchables being the lowest caste, and this system has a strong religious component, as well as also being sustained by the people that benefit from the system (Wikipedia Dalit, Caste system in India).

There is also "private enterprise" harmful economic activity, where individuals, groups, and firms play a key role. 

Drug cartels are a very important subset of "private enterprise" harmful economic activity where activities such as bribery, intimidation and murder are frequently employed. 

Soldiers moved into Ciudad Juarez to try to regain control of a city in which more than 2,000 people have been murdered over the past year.  Officials say they intend to have 7,000 troops and police in position by the end of the week. Photo: Associated Press

Soldiers moved into Ciudad Juarez to try to regain control of a city in which more than 2,000 people have been murdered over the past year.  Officials say they intend to have 7,000 troops and police in position by the end of the week. Photo: Associated Press

Mexico troops enter drug war city BBC News March 2, 2009

Guinea-Bissau assassinations: Is Colombia's drug trade behind them?  Scott Baldauf  Christian Science Monitor  March 3, 2009

Crime and looting are examples of harmful economic activity in which poor people can participate. Crime, frequently a terrorist activity--using terror to obtain income ("your money or your life")--happens everywhere.  Even legitimate governments such as in the United States typically deal only partially with crime. Many neighborhoods in the United States are subjugated to gangs that sell drugs, kill people, and maintain control of their activities through intimidation and murder.  This is frequently even more true in developing countries.  Not only neighborhoods, such as Brazilian favelas, but also broad areas of a country can fall under the control of groups that essentially use force and intimidation to maintain control, though they may set forth an ideological justification for their actions. Colombian paramilitaries are an example.  


Gang suspects are arrested in a suburb of San Salvador. Gang violence is one factor in the country’s homicide rate, one of the world’s highest. Slayings averaged almost 12 a day in the first three months of this year. Photo Jose Cabezas / AFP/Getty Images

El Salvador grapples with rising bloodshed--per capita homicide rate is 10 times US Tracy Wilkinson Los Angeles Times May 13, 2009

Armed killings cost nations billions of dollars each year, UN-Swiss study says  Elaine Engler Associated Press/Denver Post September 12, 2008 See study executive summary and main webpage

A high level of "private enterprise" violence can lead to the desire for a more authoritarian government, a government that may restrict personal freedom, but also provides a more orderly society.  As crime increases in Kabul, so does nostalgia for Taliban Pamela Constable Washington Post September 25, 2008 (You will leave this site.)

The Somali pirates have been an interesting new development in privately-run harmful economic activity, which very possibly caused by fishing fleets from various developed countries fishing illegally in Somali waters and depriving coastal Somalis of their livelihood. Behind the bare brick walls of a desolate former British colonial prison, five jailed Somali pirates didn't seem very fearsome at all.  Anarchy in Somalia has not only meant pirates but also vessels from countries such as France, Spain, Indonesia, and South Korea illegally gobbling up hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of fish from Somali waters, leading to destitution among Somali fisherman, and consequently piracy   Shashank Bengali Christian Science Monitor  May 5, 2009  Piracy symptom of bigger problem: Somalis have faced hunger and violence for many years BBC News April 15, 2009 Somalia: Inside a pirate network IRIN News January 13, 2009

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Keeping People Oppressed/Preventing Revolution

In essence,  there is part of the population that is living well because of their control of assets and people. The people whose assets and income have been reallocated don’t like this and thus there is the threat of revolution— overturning the minority in benefit of the majority.  This is prevented in a number of ways.

One favorite way  of maintaining oppression is to stay in power for a long time, frequently by manipulating or subverting an ostensibly democratic legal framework. Election fraud/rigged elections is a principal way of staying in power. A second way— certainly a very clear way— of keeping people oppressed and unable to move to a situation that might be characterized as democratic, is terrorizing the subject population, including beatings, murder and torture. Especially important is killing leaders of the subject population(s) or otherwise keeping them from being a source of  unrest (by such means as imprisonment, exile, or bribery).  Controlling how people are able to communicate, including tracing what they say for possible reprisal, is also important.

Leading Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo, gets 11 year term for subversion after he helped draft a petition known as Charter 08 that demanded the right to free speech, open elections and the rule of law  Andrew Jacobs New York Times  December 24, 2009  With harsh sentence of Liu Xiaobo, China threatens democracy and human rights activists and signals to the West that its concerns don't matter much Andrew Jacobs New York Times  December 25, 2009

Leonel Gómez, 68: Salvadoran activist led probe into killing of 6 Jesuit priests Patricia Sullivan  Washington Post December 15, 2009 T 

Three accused in 1981 murder of Chilean president Alexei Barrrionuevo New York Times  December 7, 2009

Gunman kill union leader in Mexico Elisabeth Malkin New York Times November 1, 2009 

North Korea's military gets priority over civilians for essential supplies. It also keeps the government in power. Photo: AP

North Korea's military gets priority over civilians for essential supplies. It also keeps the government in power. Photo: AP

UN envoy calls North Korea's human rights record abysmal, saying one-third of the country's population was going hungry needlessly, principally because of its 'military first' policy BBC News October 22, 2009 The murky process of hereditary succession in North Korea seems to be suspended for now due to leader's improved health Blaine Harden Washington Post September 11, 2009

n a cellphone photograph given to The New York Times, soldiers surrounded a woman on the ground on Sept. 28 in Conakry, Guinea. Several images appear to show attacks on women.

In a cellphone photograph given to The New York Times, soldiers surrounded a woman on the ground on Sept. 28 in Conakry, Guinea. Several images appear to show attacks on women.

In a Guinea seized by violence, women are prey Adam Nossiter  New York Times  October 4, 2009 Guinea protests will continue after 150 people killed by army BBC News September 29, 2009

Web censoring widens across southeast Asia--technical means, coercion and intimidation are used in efforts to suppress criticism.  China, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam are among countries doing so. James Hookway Wall Street Journal September 14,  2009

There are two powerful ways of changing a harmful economic system--through revolution, or through democracy.  Revolution has been the most common way to attempt to do so in the past--though frequently thwarted by successful opposition by the existing government and its allies or by a revolutionary movement evolving into an oppressive government.  Currently the most frequently used method is by democratic change.  See the further discussion under Reducing harm below.

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Avoiding overthrow

This is very similar to preventing revolution. However, what is emphasized in this section is preventing overthrow by others who would maintain a structure of harm. There are two important issue areas:

  • the struggle for control of the government

  • how is a structure of harm maintained?

The struggle for control of the government

Armed Conflict. There are many examples of armed conflict in the world today. Examined more closely this conflict is typically over control of the government or specific territory--often territory with natural resources. Thus this conflict is over who will establish control over government/territory and subsequently over control over resources, including the power to tax, arrange oil leases, and so on.  In conflict, in addition to the struggle for control over resources, there is typically great harm done to ordinary people, such as murder,  amputation of limbs, rape, taking of family food and other resources. (This can be so bad that an end to conflict, even if it then means establishment of an organized system of oppression, is preferable to people.) 

Revolution against an unjust government (see section above) also causes conflict.  It is often difficult to decide if armed conflict is a way to gain resources, or a reasonable reaction against injustice, or a reasonable reaction by government to what is viewed as dismemberment of its territory.  This in a particular circumstance is usually debatable, however it is possible to form an opinion based on the evidence.  Were severe human rights violations in Bosnia,  or Rwanda and Burundi justified for example?  Who is correct, the government of Sudan or the people of Darfur?  What is the current conflict in Somalia about?

Armed conflict is ongoing in Sudan, principally in its Darfur region.  The conflict has multiple roots and  extends to Chad and the Central African Republic.  Making sense of Chad by Alex de Waal (February 7, 2008)  does a good job of describing the roots of the regional conflict. Also see Hunger Notes section Darfur on this region for further 2008.a and Chad.

The conflict in Somalia also has ethnic and multi-country roots.  See Hunger Notes section on Somalia.

Coup d'etats, 'revolutions,' and other means

There is a substantial amount of more or less violent, more or less legal, rearrangements of governments.

Paraguay president sacks army head BBC News November 5, 2009 

Deal set to restore ousted Honduran president Ginger Thompson and Elisabeth Malkin New York Times October 25, 2009 

Pakistan's real battle: government vs. Army. Though the situation in Swat Valley is improving, the military's success is upsetting Pakistan's fragile internal balance of power. Kathryn Allawalla Christian Science Monitor July 21, 2009

Honduran military ousts President Zelaya  William Booth and Juan Forero Washington Post June 29, 2009 Honduran president fires armed forces boss  BBC News June 25, 2009

 Guinea-Bissau military kills politicians BBC News June 6, 2009

President Joao Bernardo Vieira had ruled intermittently since 1980. Guinea-Bissau is one of the world's poorest states. It has a history of coups and has become a major transit route for smuggling cocaine to Europe. Photo: BBC

President Joao Bernardo Vieira had ruled intermittently since 1980. Guinea-Bissau is one of the world's poorest states. It has a history of coups and has become a major transit route for smuggling cocaine to Europe. Photo: BBC

Guinea-Bissau president shot dead by soldiers--an apparent revenge attack for the killing of the army chief  BBC News March 2, 2009  Guinea-Bissau assassinations: Is Colombia's drug trade behind them?  Scott Baldauf  Christian Science Monitor  March 3, 2009

How is a structure of harm maintained?

One way is by installing supporters in key areas. 

Ahmadinejad reaps benefits of stacking agencies with allies  Neil MacFarquhar New York Times June 24, 2009 This article describes how the President of Iran has created a pervasive network of important officials in the military, security agencies, and major media outlets.

Honduran president Zelaya dismisses the armed forces chief after he refused to give logistical support for a referendum on constitutional change BBC News June 25, 2009 This story describes how the Honduran president wants to hold a referendum that would allow him to serve a second term.  Both the courts and the legislature have said the referendum is illegal, and when the armed forces chief of staff refused to provide logistical support for the referendum, he was fired. 

As noted above, a key way is by killing, imprisoning, or otherwise marginalizing opponents.

A second key way is by controlling sources of wealth and then distributing the resulting income. Those who are responsible for maintaining the structure of power get paid.

Kenyan minister resigns (temporarily) over accusations that he sold a government hotel for one-third of its value  BBC News July 8, 2008 (You will leave this site)

Sanctions on businessman target Syria's inner sanctum Robin Wright Washington Post February 22, 2008 (You will leave this site, be required to register once with the Post and thereafter sign in using your email address.)

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Barriers to entry

Countries have "elites" and people. 

Here is a description of Sudan's elite. Sudan's Unbowed, Unbroken Inner Circle  Emily Wax Washington Post May 3, 2005 (You will leave this site and be required to register [once] with the Post.)

A major barrier to entry is limiting access to worthwhile employment, as well as other social advantages such as education and ability to marry outside of one's class.

Johnny Williams has scrubbed his résumé of any details that might tip off his skin color. Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times

Johnny Williams has scrubbed his résumé of any details that might tip off his skin color. Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times

In job hunt, college degree cannot close racial gap Michael Luo New York Times November 30, 2009

For example, the Indian caste system is a system of stratification of human beings, with the Dalits or untouchables being the lowest caste, and this system has a strong religious component, as well as also being sustained by the people that benefit from the system (Wikipedia Dalit, Caste system in India). A 'broken people' in booming India: low-caste Dalits still face prejudice, grinding poverty  Emily Wax  Washington Post June 21, 2007

African-American Names Penalized During Employment Process, Study Finds Richard Morin  Washington Post, August 3, 2003. (You will leave this site and be required to register [once] with the Post.)

Other barriers to entry are lack of education, poor health, not being sufficiently 'presentable'--all 'natural' barriers that arise from poverty.

Adam Gaines, right, who spent over 13 years in prison, with his sons, Shane, left, and Adam Jr. “I didn’t have a role model,” said Adam Jr., who quit high school. Photo: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Adam Gaines, right, who spent over 13 years in prison, with his sons, Shane, left, and Adam Jr. “I didn’t have a role model,” said Adam Jr., who quit high school. Photo: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

In prisoners' wake, a tide of troubled kids Erik Eckholm New York Times July 4, 2009

Stopping intellectual genocide in African universities Prince Kum'a Ndumbe III University of Yaoundé, Cameroon July 18, 2007

Another way is "putting people down."  Typically minorities/ordinary people have been disparaged in some way--for their supposed (lack of) intelligence, personal appearance or for some other reason. People can be marginalized because of their skin color, ethnic origin, income level or indications of same, such as names This diminishes people's sense of self-worth, and,  combined with actual labor market discrimination based on the same sort of factors, is a major barrier to entry.  There has been a reaction against this in many ways in many countries, but it still persists. 

Ethnic pageants restyle the American beauty contest  Robertha Budy heard the insult when she was a little girl, and now, even at Georgia State University in Atlanta, she still hears it. "You're Liberian? Isn't that in Africa? You don't look like it. You're pretty." Darryl Fears Washington Post October 19, 2005 (You will leave this site and be required to register [once] with the Post.)

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International aspects/imperialism

There are major international aspects to harmful economic systems. In fact many would say that international aspects are the most important.  In order to focus attention on these international aspects, we mention these aspects in a separate section.  However international aspects could as well have been included  in specific sections above.

Farmers in Segou. Rice producer Siaka Daou from Niono, 300km north of the capital Bamako, is among those farmers concerned that they will be reduced to being day laborers for foreign-owned concerns. “The way the government is parcelling out land from Office of Niger [region] is worrisome. This will stamp out small producers. We will no longer have land to cultivate and will be forced to work for industrial agriculture producers.”   Photo: Phuong Tran/IRIN

Farmers in Segou. Rice producer Siaka Daou from Niono, 300km north of the capital Bamako, is among those farmers concerned that they will be reduced to being day laborers for foreign-owned concerns. “The way the government is parceling out land from Office of Niger [region] is worrisome. This will stamp out small producers. We will no longer have land to cultivate and will be forced to work for industrial agriculture producers.”   Photo: Phuong Tran/IRIN

Mali leases 395,000 acres to foreign investors, setting aside farmers' fears that they will be pushed off the land IRIN News  December 2, 2009

African producers may litigate over US cotton subsidies Reuters Africa December 1, 2009 Brazil wins cotton war, but the US cuts no subsidies  Ann Crotty Business Report December 2, 2009 Cleaning house at the WTO: the US and other developed countries continue to defend their own interests rather than addressing the development concerns of poorer countries (opinion) Kevin Gallagher and Timothy Wise The Guardian.co.uk December 1, 2009

A mother feeds her malnourished child in the malnutrition ward in a hospital in the town of Kebri Dehar, in the Somali region of Ethiopia. Photo: David Bebber/The Times

A mother feeds her malnourished child in the malnutrition ward in a hospital in the town of Kebri Dehar, in the Somali region of Ethiopia. Photo: David Bebber/The Times

Wealthy nations flock to farmland in Ethiopia, locking in food supplies grown half a world away, with alarming implications for hunger in Ethiopia, critics say  Stephanie McCrummen Washington Post November 23, 2009

A new megafarm in Western Ethiopia, for palm-oil trees, sugar cane, rice and sesame.  All through the Rift Valley region, there are new fence posts signifying the recent rush for Ethiopian land. In the old days, farmers rarely bothered with such formal lines of demarcation, but now the country’s earth is in demand. One fence stretched on for a mile or more, very possibly belonging to Sheik Mohammed Al Amoudi, a Saudi Arabia-based oil-and-construction billionaire who was born in Ethiopia and maintains a close relationship with the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s autocratic regime.  Photo: Simon Norfolk/New York Times

A new megafarm in Western Ethiopia, for palm-oil trees, sugar cane, rice and sesame.  All through the Rift Valley region, there are new fence posts signifying the recent rush for Ethiopian land. In the old days, farmers rarely bothered with such formal lines of demarcation, but now the country’s earth is in demand. One fence stretched on for a mile or more, very possibly belonging to Sheik Mohammed Al Amoudi, a Saudi Arabia-based oil-and-construction billionaire who was born in Ethiopia and maintains a close relationship with the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s autocratic regime.  Photo: Simon Norfolk/New York Times

Is there such a thing as agro-imperialism?  Andrew Rice New York Times November 16, 2009 For further information on the takeover of developing country land by developed country investors see the Grain website.

Niger's president, Mamadou Tandja, far right, next to Alain Joyandet, France's secretary of state for cooperation.  French president Sarkozy promised “a new relationship” with Africa three years ago, saying it would be “equal, and freed of the scars of the past.” His first cooperation secretary, Jean-Marie Bockel, later reinforced the message, saying he wanted to “sign the death warrant” of the old France-Africa relationship.” But Mr. Bockel was soon out of his post after offending Gabon's President Bongo’s father with his anticorruption declarations. His replacement, Mr. Joyandet, has been careful to moderate his tone when speaking of African autocrats. Photo: Boureima Hama/Agence France-Press — Getty Images

Anger against France grows in  countries formerly part of France's colonial empire as France sides with  autocratic country rulers and not the people Adam Nossiter New York Times November 10, 2009

Rwanda's move into Congo fuels suspicion: some in mineral-rich region see broader motives than disarming Hutu militiamen Stephanie McCrummen Washington Post February 13, 2009

Spain and South Africa both "gave the green light" for a failed coup in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea,  British mercenary tells court BBC News June 17, 2008 (You will leave this site.) 

The politics of United States aid in Venezuela Tom Barry Americas Program, Center for International Policy  August 7, 2007

US military involvement  is extensive in developing countries.  Afghanistan is a major example.  Others include:

Pakistan

US drone strike kills 60 in Pakistan Pir Zubair Shah and Salman Masood New York Times June 23, 2009

Somalia

US sends weapons to Somalia BBC News June 26, 2009

U.S. government links to Somali government warlords and to the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia  BBC News  June 18, 2007 (You will leave this site.) U.S. troops went into Somalia after raid. No top targets confirmed dead. Stephanie McCrummen Washington Post  January 12, 2007 (You will leave this site and be required to register [once] with the Post.) Somalia at the crossroads (commentary)   Harun Hassan January 13, 2007 Somali Capital Awash in Anger At Ethiopia, U.S., Interim Leaders  Stephanie McCrummen   Washington Post  January 11, 2007  U.S. air strike in Somalia targets Al-Qaeda figure  Karen DeYoung  Washington Post  January 9, 2007 Ethiopia urged to leave Somalia  BBC News  December 27, 2006 (You will leave this site.)  SOMALIA: Continuing fighting forces hundreds more to flee homes  IRIN  December 21, 2006 (You will leave this site.)  Somalis 'at war' with Ethiopia  BBC News  December 13, 2006 (You will leave this site.)

Africa

Study says Pentagon's Africa Command needs to refine mission, citing fears that it will militarize US foreign policy in Africa Eric Schmitt New York Times March 25, 2009 

Africom: the new US military command for Africa Daniel Volman African Security Research Project November 15, 2007 See Africom's home page The new military frontier: Africa Frida Berrigan Foreign Policy in Focus September 18, 2007 AFRICOM: wrong for Liberia, disastrous for Africa Ezekiel Pajibo and Emira Woods Foreign Policy in Focus July 26, 2007 Into Africa Conn Hallinan Foreign Policy In Focus  March 15, 2007 U.S. military assistance for Africa: a better solution James Jay Carafano and Nile Gardiner  Heritage Foundation October 15, 2003

Other

New military base in Colombia would spread Pentagon reach throughout Latin America John Lindsay-Poland America's Program, Center for International Policy May 28, 2009

How the U.S. lost a vital air base in Kyrgyzstan  Baktybek Abdrisaev Washington Post February 16, 2009

Corruption as a form of gaining income for international firms is described in the Lynch article.

U.N. Panel Says 2,400 Firms Paid Bribes to Iraq. Oil-for-Food Program Report Alleges $1.8 Billion in Payments  Colum Lynch  Washington Post October 28, 2005 (You will leave this site and be required to register [once] with the Post.) Oil-for-food scandal: key reports  BBC News (You will leave this site.)

The Bond article presents the idea that resource wealth has been taken from Africans to the benefit of developed countries.

Dispossessing Africa's Wealth  Patrick Bond  November 24, 2005

"The question as to who and what  is responsible for African underdevelopment can be answered at two  levels. Firstly, the answer is that the operation of the imperialist system bears major responsibility for African economic retardation by draining African wealth and by making it impossible to develop more  rapidly the resources of the continent."

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Impact on Development

The impact on development of harmful economic systems has been enormous. Try to think about some of the consequences of what has been described above. They include war, continued devastation over centuries, and control of the government and productive resources, that have left hundreds of millions confronting starvation, while those who "govern" and "own" live very well.  A recipe for disaster! And we should not blame the victims--poor people across the world.  Rather we should think about how we can help them.

Neglect of ordinary people

Elites, in control of the government, have directed resources toward themselves, and not towards the poor.

Millions in Kenya free primary education funds appear to have been stolen--World Bank, British government suspend funding Afrique en ligne December 19, 2009

25 years after Live Aid, Ethiopia tries to cover up a new famine Times Online November 18, 2009  Also see Ethiopian government inaction, repression, and obfuscation is a major cause of the developing Ethiopian famine  (opinion)  Alemayehu G. Mariam Huffington Post November 25, 2009 See Hunger Notes special report: Harmful economic systems

High food prices force Kenyan slum dwellers to go hungry IRIN May 27, 2009

The real hunger crisis--persistent poverty in rural Africa and South Asia Robert Paarlberg Foreign Affairs May 24, 2009

Tanzania's ruling elite neglect agriculture and poor farmers  Ng’wanza Kamata University of Dar es Salaam  May 24, 2009

Half the people in Zimbabwe will be dependent on food aid by the end of the year, humanitarian groups warn Al Jazeera February 7, 2009

Seven-year-old Sinikiwe cradles her young brother Simba. Hunger stalks their family. Their local church, supported by the charity Tearfund provides what little food, clothing and seed they have. Photo: BBC

Seven-year-old Sinikiwe cradles her young brother Simba. Hunger stalks their family. Their local church, supported by the charity Tearfund provides what little food, clothing and seed they have. Photo: BBC

Disease and starvation in Zimbabwe  Paul Martin BBC News January 15, 2009 

War  War, caused by armed groups seeking to control the government, or territory or resources, has devastated vast regions of the world, and more importantly, vast numbers of the people of the world.

Fifteen years of conflicts have cost Africa around $300 billion--equal to the amount of international aid received Oxfam International  October 12, 2007 See the full Oxfam study

Where is there major armed conflict now? These countries include Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, and Israel/Palestine. Where has there been major conflict in the past which has abated (in varying degrees), but which has still greatly affected the society and its progress? The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Mozambique, Liberia, Rwanda, Burundi, Sri Lanka, Peru, El Salvador, Guatemala, Northern Uganda, and Colombia--to name a few.  Governments, including tax collection, essential public services, and a fair judiciary, are not easily reestablished after a war (if they ever were established in the first place).

How many people live lives of greatly diminished productivity (and happiness) due to conflict! 

Four months after Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, Suad Khadir and her family are still living in a tent. To escape the heat, they often seek refuge under the rubble. Photo: Ashraf Amra./New York Times

Four months after Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, Suad Khadir and her family are still living in a tent. To escape the heat, they often seek refuge under the rubble. Photo: Ashraf Amra./New York Times

Misery hangs over Gaza despite pledges of help Ethan Bronner  New York Times May 28, 2009

Pakistan seeks aid for 2 million displaced Al Jalazeera  May 21, 2009

Dadaab, in north-eastern Kenya, is the world's biggest refugee camp, home to 260,000 people. It was built in 1991 for Somalis fleeing thefighting that erupted with the collapse of Siad Barre's militaryregime. Eighteen years on, conflict is still raging and Somaliscontinue to seek safety there. Mohammed Nur Hajin arrived in 1992 with his wife and daughter and has since had six more children. Photo: BBC

Dadaab, in north-eastern Kenya, is the world's biggest refugee camp, home to 260,000 people. It was built in 1991 for Somalis fleeing the fighting that erupted with the collapse of Siad Barre's military regime. Eighteen years on, conflict is still raging and Somalis continue to seek safety there. Mohammed Nur Hajin arrived in 1992 with his wife and daughter and has since had six more children. Photo: BBC

In Kenya camp for Somali refugees, opened 18 years ago, many people have never left, others arrive daily  BBC News May 15, 2009 Some 600,000 displaced in Kenya BBC News  February 11, 2008 (You will leave this site.)   

Death of rebel leader marks end of years of fighting in Sri Lanka  Emily Wax Washington Post May 19, 2009 'More than 1000 civilians killed' in attacks on Sri Lanka safe zone--UN says feared bloodbath has become reality Gethin Chamberlain and Mark Tran The Guardian May 11, 2008

Armed Conflicts Now the Leading Cause of Hunger Emergencies, FAO Says  (May 23, 2005)  See also the excellent earlier study by Messer, Cohen and D'Costa  Armed Conflict and Hunger.

Continued Devastation over Centuries

The past five centuries or so have seen considerable hardship for the people living in many (now often past) societies. Africans may be taken as a key example 

The people of Africa--Sub-Saharan Africa-- have been injured greatly by the operation of the world economic/political system. This can be divided into three parts, slavery, "classical" imperialism, and the modern world.

Slavery. How many slaves were taken from Africa? What kind of social system--in Africa and in the world--permitted them to be taken? (Under what circumstances would you give your daughter or son up to slavery  And if the answer is never--what circumstances would make your answer irrelevant?) Slavery and the accompanying social system imposed on Africa began in the 1600s and continued until the late 19th century and, to some extent, even today.

Imperialism. In addition of course to slavery there was a dividing up of the whole continent by England, France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal and Germany.  Why should this be allowed! Well of course it was, due to superior arms and organization, not to mention control of the relevant international organizations which "sanctioned" such things. So the people of the continent spent 100 plus years benefiting these developed nations through such means as exporting resources--gold, diamonds, and  metals.

Dispossessing Africa's Wealth  Patrick Bond  November 24, 2005

"The question as to who and what  is responsible for African underdevelopment can be answered at two  levels. Firstly, the answer is that the operation of the imperialist system bears major responsibility for African economic retardation by draining African wealth and by making it impossible to develop more  rapidly the resources of the continent."

Contemporary Africa  For a discussion of how structures of harm have continued, see  The influence of ideas and the power relationships that lead to those ideas on development in Africa Issa G. Shivji Pambazuka News October 22, 2005

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Reducing Harm

There has been a struggle for thousands of years by human beings in many different ways against the sort of subjugation described above.  To name just one very important example, the world's religions have worked to establish a set of principles for human relationships that were very much against oppression, and though the religions were persecuted for doing so, they did manage to establish at the very least a set of guidelines for human behavior.  In all countries of the world there has been a struggle against injustice, and attempts, which have met with increasing success, to establish the societal frameworks for a more just and equitable society. This is a long (and inspiring) story which we cannot recount here.  The current efforts in the world to reduce harm include reducing corruption, moving to more democratic governments with established rights and processes (by means such as reducing the influence of the military and  improving the fairness of elections--and having them! and  reducing police brutality), and, internationally, reducing the advantages which developed nations have assigned to themselves through their control of international institutions, such as United Nations, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization.

In recent years, there have been important efforts to have elections that express the will of the people and  to implement policies that reflect an electoral mandate. Nations are evolving from power structures that have been based on some combination of  military, economic and political control to ones that reflect the wishes of the (often very poor) people. This evolution has not been easy. One publication that attempts to track this evolution is Freedom House's annual survey. Survey finds world freedom reduced in 2007 with one-fifth of countries showing declines Freedom House January 18, 2008

Leonel Gómez, 68: Salvadoran activist led probe into killing of 6 Jesuit priests Patricia Sullivan  Washington Post December 15, 2009

Bolivian president Morales reelected with 61 percent of the vote; plans to deepen social revolution James Painter  BBC News December 7, 2009

Zimbabwe prime minister Tsvangirai says that his efforts to restore democratic freedoms and the rule of law to Zimbabwe have so far failed  Al Jazeera May 31, 2009 More Zimbabwe stories

The countries of Latin America are countries where a minority have, since the Colonial period, controlled the government and sources of income and wealth. Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador are three countries where dissatisfaction with government policies has led to voters installing more populist governments. (Others include Brazil, Argentina, and Peru.) These governments are now under severe strain as they have tried to implement policies favoring the majority.

South America's constitutional battles Monte Reel Washington Post January 18, 2008 (You will leave this site, be required to register once with the Post and thereafter sign in using your email address.)

The policies of the previous governments of these countries (and many others, including Brazil and Argentina) have been described as 'neo-liberal,' meaning ones that

  • keep the economic structure of the country intact, meaning a very high degree of income going to the rich, and a high degree of assets (such as land, factories, and stock) owned by the rich

  • emphasize private enterprise (as noted above, owned by the rich)

  • 'free' trade (which in practice has meant dismantling of developing country trade barriers while keeping key developed country trade barriers), and

  • restrictions on government spending relative to government income (typically imposed by the IMF and the World Bank, as these countries owed money to the Fund and the Bank, and thus were under obligation to them) to help provide country economic stability. 

The citizens of a country own the national resources of the country.  (This may be difficult for people in the United States to understand, given that the United States has typically given these rights away to individuals and corporations in the United States.)  Examples include land, mineral rights (the right to extract what lies under the land--a somewhat strange concept, as it divides up land rights, but nonetheless, one that exists in U.S. law), and the broadcast (radio, TV, and other communications) spectrum. One important issue is that these governments are attempting to improve the benefit that citizens receive from these rights.

Bolivian president Morales reelected with 61 percent of the vote; plans to deepen social revolution James Painter  BBC News December 7, 2009

Harmful economic systems 2008 (last year's version of this page)

Harmful economic systems 2007

Harmful economic systems 2006 

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