Blog of Mass Distraction

Monday, November 14, 2005

Vincent Massey would be proud

I listened to some of this year's Massey Lectures. Stephen Lewis was the lecturer and he gave 5 speeches across Canada ending in Toronto. I attended the last lecture and listened to a few on CBC Radio. They were great: informative, insightful, saddening and hopeful. He spoke of the many problems in the developing world, focusing on issues such as women, children, education and AIDS sufferers. His discussion centered around the Millenium Development Goals and suffering in Africa.

There were a couple of things he mentioned in a very positive light that I have some hesitance about. The first was a book by noted economist Jeffrey Sachs titled The End of Poverty. I've heard nothing but praise for the book, even from the eminent Mr. Lewis. My worry centers more around Dr.Sachs and his economic background. While economics is a fundamental part of development, the policies of mainstream economics have generally done more harm than good. This is something that's been said not only by people like Mr.Lewis, but it was stated in the recent development report commissioned by Tony Blair in the UK. The preeminent book The Globalization of Poverty by Michel Chossudovsky decribes this most clearly with many case studies and examples. Dr.Sachs has previously suggested economic shock therapy (trade liberalization and release of currency controls). But I try to give people a fair shake so I've picked up a copy of his book and I'll reserve judgement until I've read it.

The other thing Mr.Lewis mentioned of which I have my doubts is the Gates Foundation. Don't get me wrong it's done some great things, including being one of the few large organizations that helps provide ARVs instead of just concentrating on prevention. This is what Mr.Lewis was praising it for as well, not only stemming the tide, but saving the lives of people who would otherwise be dead. Surely saving lives is a worthy cause, but if there's the opportunity to save 20 rather than 10 shouldn't it be taken? The Gates Foundation provides ARVs through companies like GSK which specifically seek to promote the protection of patented drugs and intellectual property. Rather than using generics at a fraction of the cost the Gates Foundation supports IP laws because they suit the needs of Microsoft. Great for MS, not quite as great for people dying of AIDS. But hey, at least it's doing something; which is a whole lot better than nothing...

All that said, the lecture I attended was fantastic. Mr.Lewis is one of the most passionate and honest people I've seen or heard. He's dedicated his life to helping the poor, destitute and impoverished. The world could use more people like Stephen Lewis.


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