A couple of nights ago, rock concerts across the world worked together to try to convince these leaders to begin to retire debt in impoverished countries in Africa. Definitely a noble cause to trumpet; Bono of U2 has been at the forefront of this cause for years. The concertgoers and viewers on television were encouraged to visit the One website and sign a petition supporting the debt relief:
“WE BELIEVE that in the best American tradition of helping others help themselves, now is the time to join with other countries in a historic pact for compassion and justice to help the poorest people of the world overcome AIDS and extreme poverty. WE RECOGNIZE that a pact including such measures as fair trade, debt relief, fighting corruption and directing additional resources for basic needs – education, health, clean water, food, and care for orphans – would transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation in the poorest countries, at a cost equal to just one percent more of the US budget. WE COMMIT ourselves - one person, one voice, one vote at a time - to make a better, safer world for all.”
This is an excellent idea where we have some semblance of respect with the sitting government. They can better use their resources in the vein of improving the health of their own countries without having the burden of oppressive debt.
The problem comes in with cases where there is not such a pleasant government in place. One of the ways that the G8 uses their oppressive debt ratios (and the US in particular, at least for this argument) is to force not so pleasant governments to fall in line when it comes to what the parent country considers to be important issues (health, food, etc.). Consider it as the wealthy donor of a university threatening to withdraw his substantial support of the school. The majority of the time, the school will suddenly change its mind and fall in line with the big supporter. With the threat of having to make good on the debt, the government is more likely to go along with the demands of the debtor.
In another case, we do need to be careful that we do not oversimplify things. Consider yourself to be a poor African farmer, and you've worked your fields for a few months growing a harvest to take to market. The day that you arrive at the market, you set up shop, only to realize that the day before, a huge shipment of the same grain that you're selling was sent by some rich kids in Cabo San Lucas. The price dropped drastically because of this shipment, and you have nothing to show for your hard three months' work. This type of thing actually happens in Africa today, because of simple carelessness on the part of people who are honestly trying to help.
Perhaps you think that the leaders of these G8 nations are only out for themselves and would stomp on every impoverished country like a grape. Don't worry, you'd actually have a lot of company believing that. Personally, I see the G8 as leaders who want the world to prosper, because lets be honest, there's more money to be had if everyone is prospering rather than through just a few that prosper. I expect to see some debt retirement soon, but also, a stronger committment to changing the governments in Africa away from totalitarian style governments to more democratically elected governments. My "pie in the sky" thought is that we are standing at the cusp of a global change to democracy.
Edit to add...
Perhaps you'd be interested in someone else's thoughts in this vein? Sure! How about:
Foreign Aid Facts at the Shape of Days
Grey Lady of Two Minds on Africa at Captain's Quarters
Live Grate at Powerline
Edit again to add:
Ack! Sorry Mr. Harrell, I'll sit in the corner with the Dunce hat on for fifteen minutes now. Here's the link on the main page to the article you mentioned in the Comments section. (By the way, love the blog, or are you going with an online magazine format now?)
One what, exactly? at the Shape of Days