Over drinks with a progressive colleague, I disagreed with his opinion that white people, Westerners, have a “moral obligation” to help the rest of the world as if to make up for past wrongs (e.g. slavery, colonialism, Nazism). Although I support tearing down international trade barriers and even dropping Third World debt to the West, and while I wish for Third World nations to achieve equal or exceeding levels of wealth, I reject the Western guilt complex that shames us into submission to the Faith of Political Correctness, the Cult of the Progressive Left.
I had expected a reasonable debate to defend my point of view, but I was unprepared for what followed. After debunking all of my colleague’s arguments, he angrily accused me of believing “racist myths” about black Africans. Wow. The race card. Regardless, I came to the conclusion that not I, but my progressive colleague carries deeply repressed colonial attitudes towards Third World peoples, and that his own worldview is drenched with suppressed racism disguised as ‘white moral obligation’.
First of all, has it occurred to progressives that maybe, just maybe, black Africans and other Third World peoples are more qualified to solve their own problems than any white man or woman ever will be? Or that Western solutions to African problems exist to serve Western interests? Or that white culture can never be an example to black culture, and European political ideologies can never benefit non-European peoples? Or that when the Bills Gates and Clinton speak of “financial inclusion”, they really mean to turn Africans into consumers like us?
If turning them into us doesn’t scare you… it scares them. Dambisa Moyo believes foreign aid is Dead Aid:
“Dambisa Moyo […] unflinchingly confronts one of the greatest myths of our time: that billions of dollars in aid sent from wealthy countries to developing African nations has helped to reduce poverty and increase growth. In fact, poverty levels continue to escalate and growth rates have steadily declined — and millions continue to suffer. […] African countries that have rejected the aid route prospered and others that have become aid-dependent [saw] poverty increase […]”
I’d like to tackle several progressive myths:
Myth #1: Most or All of Europe’s Wealth Derives from Colonial Theft
My progressive colleague angrily claimed that almost all Western wealth is the result of colonial theft or otherwise related to colonial times, thereby indirectly denying the Western middle classes’ ability to generate any wealth. I oppose this point of view and argue that middle-class organization is the real source of wealth. The European colonies provided raw materials only, but not finished goods. The European middle class added value by processing whatever raw materials into goods and services. This hard work is where at least 99% of wealth really comes from.
For example, how is Australia’s wealth explained? The aboriginals live on the northern coast of Australia, while the European colonists settled and built their cities along the southern coast. Hard work and middle-class organization built Australia’s wealth, not aboriginal mysticism. When Europeans settled in South Africa, there were no other inhabitants for at least hundreds of miles in any direction. The middle-class organization brought wealth to South Africa. However, what really enriched colonial Europeans was international trade. In the colonial era, Europeans first connected all of the world’s economies and indeed benefited from their unique brokerage position, but they had to work for it.
In effect, it was the winds and the ocean currents that brought Europe wealth. Before the discovery of America, Istanbul (then Constantinople) served as the central hub of European trade between East and West, through the Bosporus. For centuries, Turkey’s brokerage position made it the richest country in Europe, but the discovery of the Americas changed the tide. The Atlantic ocean currents brought ships from Portugal and Spain to the Americas. Those ships would sail north along the coastline to modern-day New York, from where they set sail back to Europe, finally arriving at the harbors of London, Antwerp and Amsterdam.
Thus, the discovery of America is what shifted Europe’s trading hub from Istanbul to London-Amsterdam, enriching Dutch and British traders. But while European and American elites made fortunes off colonialism, their lower and middle-class peoples certainly did not. Germany, now Europe’s economic engine, never had many colonies, while the British Empire had conquered large portions of the inhabitable world. There is no clear relation between past colonialism and present-day wealth.
Myth #2: …but White People Benefited from White Privilege!
Before the European Industrial Age and before colonialism, the majority of white people were feudal serfs, bondsmen or poor farmers working the lands of their masters, lords, and kings. During the Industrial Age, a large European lower class—including their children—was forced to work sixteen to twenty-hour shifts, seven days a week, in mass production factories, just to provide little wealth to a bourgeoisie middle class. It was no different for the early white settlers of the USA, Australia and elsewhere. They were survivors, not some privileged race. Millions of white convicts and criminals were put to work under slavish conditions only slightly better than what black slaves endured. Many white families died of starvation and poverty, even in Europe: until the mid-20th century, Norway—now a modern welfare state—was a Third World country with people starving each winter.
The broad, relatively well off, white middle class that we see today is only a very recent phenomenon that came into being after World War II, when Euro-American trade lifted both continents out of poverty. The concept of ‘white privilege’ is a historical fraud. Most white people descended from feudal serfs, lower class factory workers, and near-starving families. One real explanation for the Progressive Left’s belief in white privilege, though, is that most whites are so ashamed of their poor origins that they prefer the lie!
Myth #3: The West Has a ‘Moral Obligation’ to Support the Rest of the World
The belief in a Western ‘moral obligation’ to help the rest of the world, is unfounded. For several reasons:
Unwanted help is no help. The only meaningful help is when Third World peoples organize their needs and ask for support. Claiming control over Africa’s future and barging in to “bring them democracy” is obnoxious, unnecessary and frankly, racist.
Many Westerners unjustly believe that Western solutions are universally true for the whole world, such as that democracy is a superior system that works for everyone, always and everywhere. This is the biggest lie ever told. Eric X. Li explains this point very clearly in his TED Talk A tale of two political systems. There is simply no reason why Africa, Asia and other parts of the world ever need to become liberal democracies other than serving Western interests.
Development aid treats Africans as inherently incompetent people who—apparently—cannot be expected to solve their own problems. Development aid is the result of a racist mentality that believes only whites can solve African problems, even while millions of American and European whites live below UN poverty levels. Not aid, but independence is the solution to poverty.
The South-South Solution
What developing nations really need is called South-South cooperation, e.g. developing nations learning from each other how to tackle and solve their problems on their own. This promotes real education and real responsibility, forcing their middle classes to get organized. Third World nations will prosper just fine without any further ‘white interference’, thank you very much. What the Third World needs is for Europe and America to get off their back.