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What Should We Think of the ‘ONE’ Campaign?

Ethicist Ben Mitchell, a perceptive Christian thinker on a whole range of issues, suggests that Christians should not support entertainer Bob Geldof’s ‘ONE‘ campaign intended to combat poverty. Writing for The Florida Baptist Witness, Mitchell addresses his column to Southern Baptists. Nevertheless, all seriously-minded Christians should find his analysis to be very helpful.
Appropriately, Mitchell first argues that Christians must indeed be concerned about poverty — and should be committed to alleviate poverty where possible. Yet, he rightly insists that poverty is a very complex moral issue, with a seemingly infinite number of economic, political, sociological, historical, and theological complexities. Professor Mitchell urges Christians who disagree over the best means of understanding and alleviating poverty not to demonize each other.
The ‘ONE‘ campaign is based on the fundamental premise that poverty is the fault of rich nations and then moves to encourage political pressure for a redistribution of wealth from rich countries to poorer countries, believing this to be the best way to solve the problem of poverty.
Not so fast, Mitchell urges. In a succession of short paragraphs, he sets out his case against the ‘ONE‘ campaign’s approach:
What the ONE campaigners fail to examine are the variety of problems leading to poverty in each poor country. For instance, in some Islamic nations the problem is religio-cultural. In other countries the problem is an oppressive or corrupt government (as in the case in many African countries, particularly Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and the Congo). In still others, the problem is a socialist-type economic system, such as was the case in the former Soviet Union and is still the case in North Korea.
Poverty is not inevitable and does not have to persist, as the fast-growing (but only recently very poor) “tiger” economies of South-East Asia and India attest. These countries freed their economies of unnecessary state control and are trading their way out of poverty. In doing so they are displaying some of the fastest rates of economic growth in the world.
Furthermore, ONE campaigners argue the Third World is poor because the West does not provide enough aid. But the evidence shows that a great deal of the aid which is provided is wasted in grandiose public sector schemes and does little to help the really poor, or it is simply siphoned off to politicians’ Swiss bank accounts or is used to help prop up corrupt governments which might otherwise be removed.
Moreover, they argue the Third World is poor because they are mired in debt provided by the West and this debt should be written off. In fact much debt has been systematically written off in the past, but irresponsible governments have often only borrowed again.
They also argue Third World countries are exploited by Western multinationals; whereas, in fact, Western multinationals are often crucial providers of both jobs and capital to the Third World.
Finally, they say the West systematically rigs trade rules to exclude the agricultural products of Third World countries. This last accusation does contain some truth, especially as far as the agricultural protectionist policies of the European Union are concerned. Most countries would benefit from a regime of generalized free trade, but, in fact, Third World countries themselves are often very unhappy to adopt free trade and demand various forms of protection against imports or subsidization of their exports.
While Southern Baptists should fervently support and encourage truly effective means to address the distress of the poor, failure to identify the true causes of Third World poverty and thus advocate useful real solutions–like the ONE Campaign–is not just misguided, it is actually harmful. The wider public knows this to be true.