The Self-Appointed Altruists - Part IWritten by Sam Vaknin
Their arrival portends rising local prices and a culture shock. Many of them live in plush apartments, or five star hotels, drive SUV's, sport $3000 laptops and PDA's. They earn a two figure multiple of local average wage. They are busybodies, preachers, critics, do-gooders, and professional altruists.
Always self-appointed, they answer to no constituency. Though unelected and ignorant of local realities, they confront democratically chosen and those who voted them into office. A few of them are enmeshed in crime and corruption. They are non-governmental organizations, or NGO's.
Some NGO's - like Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Amnesty - genuinely contribute to enhancing welfare, to mitigation of hunger, furtherance of human and civil rights, or curbing of disease. Others - usually in guise of think tanks and lobby groups - are sometimes ideologically biased, or religiously-committed and, often, at service of special interests.
NGO's - such as International Crisis Group - have openly interfered on behalf of opposition in recent elections in Macedonia. Other NGO's have done so in Belarus and Ukraine, Zimbabwe and Israel, Nigeria and Thailand, Slovakia and Hungary - and even in Western, rich, countries including USA, Canada, Germany, and Belgium.
The encroachment on state sovereignty of international law - enshrined in numerous treaties and conventions - allows NGO's to get involved in hitherto strictly domestic affairs like corruption, civil rights, composition of media, penal and civil codes, environmental policies, or allocation of economic resources and of natural endowments, such as land and water. No field of government activity is now exempt from glare of NGO's. They serve as self-appointed witnesses, judges, jury and executioner rolled into one.
Regardless of their persuasion or modus operandi, all NGO's are top heavy with entrenched, well-remunerated, extravagantly-perked bureaucracies. Opacity is typical of NGO's. Amnesty's rules prevent its officials from publicly discussing inner workings of organization - proposals, debates, opinions - until they have become officially voted into its Mandate. Thus, dissenting views rarely get an open hearing.
Contrary to their teachings, financing of NGO's is invariably obscure and their sponsors unknown. The bulk of income of most non-governmental organizations, even largest ones, comes from - usually foreign - powers. Many NGO's serve as official contractors for governments.
NGO's serve as long arms of their sponsoring states - gathering intelligence, burnishing their image, and promoting their interests. There is a revolving door between staff of NGO's and government bureaucracies world over. The British Foreign Office finances a host of NGO's - including fiercely "independent" Global Witness - in troubled spots, such as Angola. Many host governments accuse NGO's of - unwittingly or knowingly - serving as hotbeds of espionage.
Very few NGO's derive some of their income from public contributions and donations. The more substantial NGO's spend one tenth of their budget on PR and solicitation of charity. In a desperate bid to attract international attention, so many of them lied about their projects in Rwanda crisis in 1994, recounts "The Economist", that Red Cross felt compelled to draw up a ten point mandatory NGO code of ethics. A code of conduct was adopted in 1995. But phenomenon recurred in Kosovo.
All NGO's claim to be not for profit - yet, many of them possess sizable equity portfolios and abuse their position to increase market share of firms they own. Conflicts of interest and unethical behavior abound.
Cafedirect is a British firm committed to "fair trade" coffee. Oxfam, an NGO, embarked on a campaign targeted at Cafedirect's competitors, accusing them of exploiting growers by paying them a tiny fraction of retail price of coffee they sell. Yet, Oxfam owns 25% of Cafedirect.
Large NGO's resemble multinational corporations in structure and operation. They are hierarchical, maintain large media, government lobbying, and PR departments, head-hunt, invest proceeds in professionally-managed portfolios, compete in government tenders, and own a variety of unrelated businesses. The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development owns license for second mobile phone operator in Afghanistan - among other businesses. In this respect, NGO's are more like cults than like civic organizations.
And Then There Were Too ManyWritten by Sam Vaknin
The latest census in Ukraine revealed an apocalyptic drop of 10% in its population - from 52.5 million a decade ago to a mere 47.5 million last year. Demographers predict a precipitous decline of one third in Russia's impoverished, inebriated, disillusioned, and ageing citizenry. Births in many countries in rich, industrialized, West are below replacement rate. These bastions of conspicuous affluence are shriveling.
Scholars and decision-makers - once terrified by Malthusian dystopia of a "population bomb" - are more sanguine now. Advances in agricultural technology eradicated hunger even in teeming places like India and China. And then there is old idea of progress: birth rates tend to decline with higher education levels and growing incomes. Family planning has had resounding successes in places as diverse as Thailand, China, and western Africa.
In near past, fecundity used to compensate for infant mortality. As latter declined - so did former. Children are means of production in many destitute countries. Hence inordinately large families of past - a form of insurance against economic outcomes of inevitable demise of some of one's off-spring.
Yet, despite these trends, world's populace is augmented by 80 million people annually. All of them are born to younger inhabitants of more penurious corners of Earth. There were only 1 billion people alive in 1804. The number doubled a century later.
But our last billion - sixth - required only 12 fertile years. The entire population of Germany is added every half a decade to both India and China. Clearly, Mankind's growth is out of control, as affirmed in 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development.
Dozens of millions of people regularly starve - many of them to death. In only one corner of Earth - southern Africa - food aid is sole subsistence of entire countries. More than 18 million people in Zambia, Malawi, and Angola survived on charitable donations in 1992. More than 10 million expect same this year, among them emaciated denizens of erstwhile food exporter, Zimbabwe.
According to Medecins Sans Frontiere, AIDS kills 3 million people a year, Tuberculosis another 2 million. Malaria decimates 2 people every minute. More than 14 million people fall prey to parasitic and infectious diseases every year - 90% of them in developing countries.
Millions emigrate every year in search of a better life. These massive shifts are facilitated by modern modes of transportation. But, despite these tectonic relocations - and despite famine, disease, and war, classic Malthusian regulatory mechanisms - depletion of natural resources - from arable land to water - is undeniable and gargantuan.
Our pressing environmental issues - global warming, water stress, salinization, desertification, deforestation, pollution, loss of biological diversity - and our ominous social ills - crime at forefront - are traceable to one, politically incorrect, truth:
There are too many of us. We are way too numerous. The population load is unsustainable. We, survivors, would be better off if others were to perish. Should population growth continue unabated - we are all doomed.
Doomed to what?
Numerous Cassandras and countless Jeremiads have been falsified by history. With proper governance, scientific research, education, affordable medicines, effective family planning, and economic growth - this planet can support even 10-12 billion people. We are not at risk of physical extinction and never have been.