January 12, 2016

The NYT does a hit job on a book decrying neoliberal NGOs and philanthrocapitalism

I have just gotten done reading The Reproach of Hunger," a very insightful book about how future battles against international hunger will be different than in the past, and why.

It's also about how, if the battle is to be ethical, and is to truly help the developing world's economies in general, not just providing more food, how it SHOULD be different.

Here's my review from Goodreads. At the end, I'll pick up the thread of discussion.

The Reproach of Hunger: Food, Justice, and Money in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Reproach of Hunger: Food, Justice, and Money in the Twenty-First Century by David Rieff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

David Rieff turns a critical eye to the holy trinity of modern international development and aid, the neoliberal holy trinity of the World Bank, the IMF, and willingly co-opted NGOs. For an additional splash of critique, his gimlet eye includes turns to the world of philanthrocapitalism and what Rieff calls Bill Gates' second monopoly, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Rieff does not buy into every critique of the neoliberal development machine as offered by peasants groups', other local Global South advocates and their non-neoliberal Global North supporters, but he does give an open listening to all of them and agrees with a fair amount. He even engages somewhat with Hayekian-type naked capitalism supporters in the development game, without agreeing with them at all.

So, to the degree this is a polemic, it's a well-argued, thought-out polemic, one that Rieff notes has been several years in the making.

His critique of the neoliberal development machine has several main points.
1. While it ostensibly calls for "transparency" and "accountability" it does NOT call for "democracy."
2. It does not bring human rights into issues of hunger and poverty in any great way.
3. The hypercapitalism of neoliberalism believes that it's "enough" for a rising tide to lift the global poor's boats out of poverty, even if income inequality increases.
4. Referencing Yevegny Morozov (mentioned once here, though his famous word is not) it has a "solutionist" approach to developing world agricultural problems.
5. It has a scientistic approach to its own ideas, along with that believing that if it does make mistakes, they're all self-correcting. Related to that, it believes that it knows better than natives what's good for their own countries and environments.
6. A naive, secular Success Gospel optimism that believes neoliberalism can conquer all — often at the expense of ignoring the realities of what destruction climate change is likely to wreak, and the possible wars and civil wars that will accompany that.

Beyond this are two other points, one implicit in Rieff's book, and one that's really not, and that could have been brought out more in this otherwise excellent volume.

The one other implicit thing, going along with his these that modern neoliberalism is a religion of sorts, is that the holy trinity plus the likes of Gates are often preaching at the developing world. Often, it's a developmental version of the Success Gospel, but sometimes, it's a developmental version of old-fashioned Calvinism, per the last part of my Point No. 5.

The thing that he didn't bring out more, and that he could have, relates to main point No. 3. And that is that, in modern hypercapitalism, "money = power." Per "Brave New World," which Rieff references near the end of the book, with governments acquiescing more and more to businesses, as well as NGOs that used to be more truly liberal not only is the alleged wisdom of "market forces" accepted as infallible, the power to enforce its alleged wisdom is also accepted as generally good. This is why, per Point No. 3, the big businesses, and the plutocratic foundations, don't want NGOs to focus on income inequality, or on democracy. They don't want developing world natives to be more empowered.

Rieff, while not cynical about the possibility of change, is indeed pessimistic. This is part of where he departs from peasants' movements and their supporters in the North. He does note they've had some local successes in resistance but that, in general, they've lost ground to the neoliberal machine.

"I am convinced that the truly powerful revolution that is occurring today is not in (these) insurrectionary episodes ... but rather in what Jon Cray has called 'the emancipation of market forces from social and political control.' "

Sadly, I think he is right.

View all my reviews

Rieff has a fair amount of animus for the Holy Trinity of the international poverty industry, as noted in my Goodreads review. Throw in the new breed of "philanthrocapitalists," of which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation get the most notice (but whom aren't necessarily that different from Ford, Rockefeller, etc.), and you get the picture.

Well, I've seen the likes of the New York Times deliberately select certain reviewers, with certain angles, for books before. Sometimes, there's a book that's about a "big issue," and written by someone with lots of insight and experience, plus, in the case of Rieff, with a certain level of "connection," enough that the book can't be ignored.

But, because it goes too far against the grain of the mainstream media consensus, such a book then "needs" a negative review.

But, it's reached a new level of outright hit-job with its review on this.

Not finding Paul Collier on Twitter, I googled for his Oxford page to email him and struck paydirt.

Collier has written multiple books on international development, and they've been heavily puffed by well-known left-neoliberals like Nick Kristof and the moneybags of left-neoliberalism, George Soros, as well as former World Bank prez Robert Zoellick. Real liberals should not love Soros just because he, and a considerable amount of his money in the past, have gone into fighting Republicans. He threw Asian economies in the ditch during the 1998 monetary crisis. He surely has profited from the Great Recession. He's willing to throw his alleged environmentalist credentials out the door if he can make a buck on Big Coal. (Fellow daddy warbucks alleged environmentalist Tom Steyer owns coal holdings in Indonesia, by the way.) That said, per Counterpunch, Soros may not have renewed interest in coal; just an ongoing interest in manipulating commodities prices.

Counterpunch, in a piece called "The Soros Syndrome," took his measure five years ago.

And the NYT picked an Oxford prof who's a toady to the likes of Soros to show that the neoliberal international development emperor has no clothes. And, who in addition to a hit job of a review, presents a simplified dichotomy as what all is being argued about over how to do international poverty aid and related development.

Even if Collier's particular institutions aren't mentioned by Rieff, it's clear that Collier has his own neoliberal NGO skin in the game. I've emailed Collier to this effect; we'll see if he responds. As of a week out, he has not.

Professor Collier? Silence means assent, per the old maxim.

And, without irony or anything else on its part, the NYT starts the new year with a puff piece on Bill Gates' book reviews.

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