Category Archives: poverty

The fundamental error of Oxfam’s approach to poverty

Oxfam operates at an abysmally low moral level.

  • In Haïti, it appears to be given over to venery and the exploitation of frailty.
  • In England, its grandiloquent headquarters is bursting with overpaid, rent-seeking, ferociously avaricious staff.
  • Corruption at every level of the ‘charity’ mocks taxpayers, donors and volunteers.

But there is something else we need to bear in mind. Oxfam’s worldview is cock-eyed and harmful. Dalrymple writes:

Oxfam’s ideas of how poverty is to be overcome — by means of foreign aid — are deeply flawed. The organisation, supposedly focused on poverty, has contrived to overlook the greatest reduction in mass poverty in history, namely that which has occurred in India and China in the last 30 years, and to reflect upon how it was brought about. This reduction had nothing to do with foreign aid, or even concern for social justice.

The socialist wasteland

Marxism, Dalrymple explains, answers several needs.

  • It has its arcana, which persuade believers that they have penetrated to secrets veiled from others, who are possessed of false consciousness.
  • It appeals to the strongest of all political passions, hatred, and justifies it.
  • It provides a highly intellectualised rationalisation of a discreditable but almost universal and ineradicable emotion: envy.
  • It forever puts the blame elsewhere, making self-examination unnecessary and self-knowledge impossible.
  • It explains everything.
  • It persuades believers that they have a special destiny in the world. For disgruntled intellectuals, nothing could be more gratifying.

Yet the socialist reality is

  • lies
  • enforced ignorance
  • characters formed in an atmosphere of suspicion
  • compromise with evil
  • toadying
  • self-abasement

Dalrymple once met a Marxist who told him that the level of dialectical debate in Moscow was so much higher, and so much wider in scope, than in Western Europe or North America. Dalrymple’s reply was:

If only you could fix your mind on something important, like selling cosmetics or life insurance.

He notes that communist ideas, or prejudices,

live on in those countries where Really Existing Socialism, as the dialecticians used so elegantly to put it, has never been experienced.

In Britain,

the Marxist hatred of profit subsists happily with a Jane Austen-like coyness about where one’s money actually comes from. In Jane Austen, Trade is ungentlemanly; in Marx, it is wicked; in British literary circles, it is both. Given the nature of the output of British literary circles, this wouldn’t matter very much, except for the fact that the attitude has filtered down into the rest of the intelligentsia, and is nearly universal in the public service.

Unlettered whizzkids earning a fortune in the City

particularly excite ire (and envy); I have had many arguments in the doctors’ common room about the necessary and constructive part banking and trade play in any modern economy, irrespective of the existence of dishonest bankers and traders.

But the attitude persists,

the disdainful — and essentially snobbish — attitude that unites them with Castro and Guevara, Ho Chi Minh and Ulbricht, Lenin and Kim Il-sung. Any activity that is neither directly productive nor concerned with the welfare of ‘the people’ is parasitic.

The consequence of the philosophy

may be seen on the shelves of any communist supermarket or in any East European field piled with rotting potatoes.

A semi-literate Marxism is

the unchallengeable orthodoxy in British teacher-training colleges and colleges of further education. Here the politics of grievance are assiduously fostered, with ‘analyses’ of the exploitative nature of capitalist society, which causes the oppression of almost everyone except men in top hats. It is difficult to believe that something of this ideology is not communicated to children, and in my daily work I am often ‘accused’ by young patients of having a good job, as if personal activity had nothing to do with it and my privilege and their deprivation explained all.

Socialism continues to exert a strong influence in poor countries. Liberation theology, for example, is

Pravda with the word God thrown in.

There is a stifling orthodoxy among intellectuals about the origins of poverty. Poverty for them

is the dialectical opposite of wealth: we are poor because you are rich, and you are rich because we are poor. It is a destructive idea. Poverty is the result of exploitation and nothing else: the world is Marx’s Victorian England writ large. The global economy is a cake, and if Europe (the bourgeoisie) has a large slice, Africa (the proletariat) must have a small one. The immiseration of the workers in Marx is paralleled by the immiseration of continents, and has the same causes.

That poverty is the natural state of Man, and that

it is the ascent to wealth that needs explanation (Adam Smith asked the right question), never occurs to the embittered intellectuals.

Really Existing Socialism

Envy

Oxfam so loves the poor, writes Dalrymple,

that it is safe to predict that it will never abolish itself no matter how rich humanity becomes.

There is no market, he says,

in which there is no rigging, either formal or informal, but I suspect that Oxfam’s preferred solution to an inevitable degree of rigging is complete rigging by philosopher-kings such as themselves.

The bogus charity’s propaganda, Dalrymple points out,

is an incitement to envy, one of the seven deadly sins.

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‘Invidia’, detail, The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things, c. 1450-1515, attr. Jheronimus Bosch

The procrustean BMJ

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 22.38.52There is practically no liberal nostrum, writes Dalrymple, to which the British Medical Journal does not subscribe. Its pages, he writes,

are innocent of debate. When the BMJ speaks, it is ex cathedra.

A recent issue

was devoted to the subject of war. The BMJ’s attitude to war is like that of Coolidge’s to sin: it is against it. War is so bad for the health. The white man has spoken. 

Fortunately for the world, the BMJ

has discovered the causes of war. They are the same as the causes of all other evils: inequality and poverty. Eliminate these, and peace will reign.

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 23.08.19It seems to have escaped the BMJ’s notice, says Dalrymple,

that attempts during the 20th century to achieve radical equality were not entirely pacific or good for the health. Likewise, it has failed to notice that famine is much more likely to be a consequence of war than its cause.

The idea that wars are fought when ‘individuals are motivated to fight to seek redress‘ for their poverty

is laughable in its historical and psychological ignorance. Are Bin Laden and Saddam driven by poverty? Was Galtieri? Do Pakistan and India fight over Kashmir because of poverty?

The desire for someone else’s property

is not confined to the poor, nor need the property be of any value to be coveted. Ethiopia and Eritrea fought bloodily over scraps of land of use to neither nation.

The BMJ’s

procrustean theory of war is the liberal theory of crime writ large. Poverty makes men desperate, and desperation drives them to crime or (if they control an army) to war.

It is

up to us—the rich and contented portion of humanity—to prevent crime and war by paying more: for social welfare programmes in the case of crime, for foreign aid in the case of war.

It is, notes Dalrymple,

a tribute to the distorting power on educated minds of an abstract theory that anyone could believe such rubbish. Only someone with long years of formal training could deceive himself in this comforting fashion.

The fact that crime in Britain has risen along with income

should have been sufficient to persuade the BMJ that a more complex theory of human motivation was necessary.

Dalrymple points out:

The disregard of elementary reality is perhaps the distinguishing feature of much modern intellectual life.

Sydney sordor

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 08.04.28Dalrymple writes that the murder scenes in City of Shadows, an exhibition at Sydney’s Justice & Police Museum, are

sordid in the extreme: blood spattered on the sheets of an unmade bed in a low boarding house, that kind of thing. They speak of sordid desperation rather than of cunning, let alone of struggles with conscience. I am afraid that the murders in the trials of whose perpetrators I have given evidence have all been of this kind, as the overwhelming majority of murders are and always have been.

Dalrymple does not think

anyone looking at these pictures, however unrepresentative of their time, would feel much nostalgia for the years in which they were taken. The scale of the raw poverty was unlike anything today.

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Subsidies spell poverty

Ineducable

Ineducable

If Hugo Chávez had studied the history of Nauru, writes Dalrymple,

he might have learned something and not led his country to its present plight, though in fact he was probably ineducable, since reality was his greatest political opponent.

Raising standards of living by means of subsidy

ends in tears, not to mention poverty, especially if those subsidies are extensive.

How to join the 1%

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 12.33.35Theodore Dalrymple answers your questions

Should we wish to be of the 1%?

Wealth as such is not a very elevated aim in life.

What about you, Doctor?

I have never made it my principal aim or goal.

To have a sufficiency, though, is both necessary and gratifying, is it not?

A degree of prosperity is at least some evidence of worldly success — an imprimatur as it were, to which I have never been quite as indifferent as perhaps I ought to have been.

Do you feel wealthy?

Not enough to feel that a new car would not be an unwise extravagance if it were unnecessary.

What do you look for when buying a car?

My main desideratum is that it should start first time in the depths of winter. For many years I owned cars that could not be relied upon to do so.

How did you get into the 1%?

My wife and I lived well below our income for more than 20 years and invested the rest under the guidance of an adviser.

What criteria did you apply in selecting this adviser?

I had no real evidence of his superior financial wisdom, other than that I liked him.

Does such wisdom exist?

I am not convinced that it does.

How would you rate your own judgment in financial matters?

Let me admit that if I had had the misfortune to meet Mr Madoff before his scheme was exposed, I should have trusted him implicitly. He had such a trustworthy face.

What is your pattern of consumption and mode of life?

It does not differ conspicuously from those of many of my peers, except in so far as I have no television and buy many more books than most.

What do you fear?

To be poor — and to end up in the hands of the State, whose charity is simultaneously patronising and heartless, rule-ridden and capricious.

 

Darling of the development economists

Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 07.29.59Julius Nyerere, writes Dalrymple,

maintained his country quite unnecessarily in the direst poverty, to the hosannas of most development economists, especially Scandinavian.

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Triumph of the antinomians

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 12.05.15Dalrymple writes in the preface to Our Culture, What’s Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses that in much of the world, the miseries of poverty

are no longer those of raw physical deprivation but those induced by comparison with the vast numbers of prosperous people by whom the relatively poor are surrounded and whose comparative wealth the poor feel as a wound, a reproach, and an injustice.

Ronnie Kaufman's photo on a jacket by Jen Huppert Design

Photo by Ronnie Kaufman on a jacket by Jen Huppert Design for the Ivan R. Dee (Chicago) 2005 edition

In the 20th century,

the hope of progress has not proved altogether illusory,

but

neither has the fear of retrogression proved unjustified.

The First World War

destroyed facile optimism that progress towards heaven on earth was inevitable or even possible.

Then came communism and Nazism, which between them

destroyed scores of millions of lives in a fashion that only a few short decades before would have appeared inconceivable.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 12.47.50Many of the disasters of the 20th century

could be characterised as revolts against civilisation itself: the Cultural Revolution, or the Khmers Rouges.

Only recently, in Rwanda,

ordinary people were transformed into pitiless murderers by demagogic appeals over the radio. They achieved a rate of slaughter with their machetes never equalled even by the Nazis.

In the circumstances,

one might have supposed that a principal preoccupation of intellectuals would be the maintenance of the boundaries that separate civilisation from barbarism.

One would be wrong.

Some have embraced barbarism; others have remained unaware that boundaries do not maintain themselves and are in need of maintenance and sometimes vigorous defence.

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 12.54.10The prestige intellectuals confer upon antinomianism

soon communicates itself to nonintellectuals. What is good for the bohemian sooner or later becomes good for the unskilled worker, the unemployed, the welfare recipient — the very people most in need of boundaries to make their lives tolerable or allow them hope of improvement. The result is moral, spiritual, and emotional squalor, engendering fleeting pleasures and prolonged suffering.

Civilisation

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 12.55.17needs conservation as much as it needs change, and immoderate criticism, or criticism from the standpoint of utopian first principles, is capable of doing much — indeed devastating — harm. No man is so brilliant that he can work everything out for himself, so that the wisdom of the ages has nothing useful to tell him. To imagine otherwise is to indulge in the most egotistical of hubris.

The disastrous notions of the underclass about how to live

derive from the unrealistic, self-indulgent, and often fatuous ideas of social critics.

 

The fouling of Britain’s popular culture

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 08.00.31A large proportion of Britain’s population, writes Dalrymple,

has been left to the mercies of a popular culture whose main characteristic is the willing suspension of intelligence, and which does not merely fail to inculcate refinement, grace, elegance or the desire for improvement, but actively prevents them and causes them to be feared and despised. An inability and unwillingness to discriminate always leads, by default, to the overgrowth of the worst, from which the better can never recover.

England’s impoverishment is

as much of the spirit as economic: nowhere in the world (at least nowhere known to me, including very many poorer places) do you see such a concentration of people who have given up on themselves, or rather, who never had any self-respect to give up on.

Britons inhabit a purely materialist society

that is not even very good at materialism, for it does not promote even those mental and moral disciplines that promote material success.