Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Bottom Billion

The London Free Press
Saturday, January 19, 2008

What’s wrong with sub-Saharan Africa? Despite billions upon billions of dollars in foreign aid over the past four decades, most of the people who reside in this region are sinking into ever more abject and pitiable poverty.
Paul Collier has addressed this tragedy in an illuminating new book, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. As a professor of economics at Oxford University, Director of the Center for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University, and a former director of research at the World Bank, Collier is exceptionally well qualified to discuss the intransigent problems of the world’s poorest countries.
Their plight is all the more poignant in that for the first time in history, the great majority of people no longer live in dire poverty. While close to one billion live in rich countries like Canada and Hong Kong, an additional four billion populate less-developed countries like China, India and Chile that have made the transition to rapid and, for the most part, sustained economic growth.
Meanwhile, one billion are stuck at the bottom. Most of them live in Africa and Central Asia. These people “coexist with the 21st century,” writes Collier, “but their reality is the 14th century: civil war, plague, ignorance.”
Many well-meaning liberals think rich countries could quickly and easily eradicate world poverty, by agreeing to a major increase in transfers of their wealth to poor countries through higher foreign aid and more generous debt relief. But if that is true, how can one account for a deeply impoverished, oil-exporting country like Nigeria that has garnered more than $350 billion in oil revenue over the past 40 years – a sum vastly greater than any conceivable amount of foreign aid and debt relief – yet still languishes within the bottom billion?
In some pathetic cases, foreign aid can do little or no good. Consider, for example, Chad. In 2004, a survey was conducted to track money dispensed by the Chadian ministry of finance for rural health clinics. Collier reports: “Amazingly, less than one per cent of it reached the clinics -- 99 per cent failed to reach its destination.”
Within all-too-many countries in the bottom billion, the evils of corruption are compounded by the catastrophes of war. Collier points out the obvious: There can be no hope of alleviating poverty in any country or region that is ravaged by virtually perpetual armed conflict.
In this respect, Afghanistan is a sorry example. For the past two years, Canadian troops have distinguished themselves in the front lines of the battle to defeat the Taliban and clear the way for poverty-alleviating economic growth in this profoundly impoverished country.
But do the purported champions of the poor among the Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois in the Parliament of Canada solidly back this humanitarian effort? Alas no: Most are clamouring for the early withdrawal of Canadian forces from any combat role in Afghanistan.
Collier is exasperated by economically ignorant citizens in the rich world who think they can help the poor in the bottom billion by opposing freer trade. In reality, these would-be do-gooders are playing into the hands of villains in the bottom billion who profit from import barriers to enrich themselves at the expense of the needy.
Likewise, fair trade is no panacea. To the extent that this policy increases prices for primary products like tea, coffee and cocoa, it encourages people in the bottom billion, says Collier, to go on “producing the crops that have locked them into poverty.”
What, then, can be done for the bottom billion? Collier makes a compelling case for a concerted military and political campaign led by the rich countries to help the countries of the bottom billion to terminate warfare, establish law and order and curtail corruption.
Until all of these goals are achieved, no amount of foreign aid can eliminate the dire poverty that afflicts the bottom billion. That’s the hard, but inescapable truth that no amount of wishful thinking can circumvent.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Interim
January, 2008

On Jan. 28, 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada handed down the most calamitous judgment in Canadian history – R. v. Morgentaler, 1988 SCC. As a result of this ruling, Canada is the only democracy in the world with the ignominious distinction of having no law to protect the life of a baby in the womb at any time during a pregnancy.
There was no legal basis for the 1988 Morgentaler decision. It was an exercise in raw judicial power. The seven judges who took part in the case came up with no fewer than four separate opinions.
On one disastrous point, five of the judges agreed: led by chief justice Brian Dickson and his successor, Mr. Justice Antonio Lamer, they resolved to strike down the few remaining restrictions on abortion which Parliament had retained in Section 251 of the Criminal Code in 1969, on the pretence that the law violated the right to life, liberty and security of the person in Section 7 of the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In the opinion of Dickson and Lamer, the provisions in Section 251, which required the approval of a lawful abortion by a so-called “therapeutic abortion committee,” were so cumbersome as to violate the Charter right of a pregnant mother to security of the person. In a similar, separate opinion, justices Jean Beetz and Willard Estey contended that Section 251 could not pass muster with the Charter, because it outlawed all abortions in private clinics like those run by Henry Morgentaler.
In yet another separate, concurring opinion, Madam Justice Bertha Wilson went even further: she maintained that Parliament had no constitutional authority to restrict the overwhelming majority of abortions which occur during the first trimester of a pregnancy.
In support of this view, Wilson argued that a fetus is only a “potential life.” Yet, even in 1988, this was a manifestly absurd proposition inasmuch as it was already a well-established scientific fact that human life begins at conception. With reference to the cutoff point during a pregnancy, after which the state could intervene to protect the life of a baby, Wilson opined: “It seems to me that it might fall somewhere in the second trimester.”
In such various ways, the majority of the Court in Morgentaler, 1988, presumed to instruct Parliament on how it should restrict abortion. In a joint dissenting opinion, justices William McIntyre and Gerard La Forest took strong issue with such judicial arrogance. While conceding that the Charter had to some extent extended the function of the courts, they argued that it did not go so far as to “allocate to the courts the responsibility for designing, initiating or directing social or economic policy.”
In particular, McIntyre and La Forest contended that nothing in the Charter mandated unelected judges on the Supreme Court of Canada to define the parameters of an appropriate abortion law for Canadians. “The solution to this question in this country must be left to Parliament,” they insisted. “It is for Parliament to pronounce on, and to direct, social policy. This is not because Parliament can claim all wisdom and knowledge, but simply because Parliament is elected for that purpose in a free democracy and, in addition, has the facilities – the exposure to public opinion and information – as well as the political power to make effective its decisions.”
In taking this stance, McIntyre and La Forest exercised judicial restraint, upheld the separation of legislative and judicial powers and reaffirmed the principles of democratic government. In contrast, the majority of the court usurped the legislative powers of Parliament by striking down Canada’s abortion law.
Today, 20 years and more than two million abortions later, Canada still has no law restricting abortion. While Parliament bears much of the blame for this shameful deficiency in the law, it is clearly the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada in Morgentaler, 1988, which brought on this continuing national calamity.
Canadians can only wonder when our elected legislators in Parliament will finally summon up the resolve to enact a new law on abortion and exercise their indubitable constitutional authority to curb the lawless excesses of the judicial activists on the Supreme Court of Canada.