What Does America Owe to the "Third World"?
OCTOBER 01, 1974 by NEERA BADHWAR
"As a citizen of India, here as a graduate student of political science," explains Neera Badhwar, "I am particularly concerned with the issue of foreign aid — and interested in dissociating myself from its proponents."
It all started with the class-war which, if you remember, did not materialize even in Russia: the Revolution was the work of a tightly-organized intellectual elite resisted to the last by bourgeois, worker, aristocrat, soldier, peasant and sailor alike.
We are now told in solemn U.N. debate that there will be an international class war unless the U.S.A. works out a plan for the distribution of her citizens’ wealth. Presumably, the war will be waged against America by the "Third World’s" armed forces — armed with American arms, and supported logistically by American sweaters, shoes, and powdered milk.
The "beautiful" Dr. Mubashir Hasan (to quote from James Reston’s "Impeaching at Turtle Bay," The New York Times, April 24, 1974), the Finance Minister of Pakistan, explained that increasing and sharing her production with the poor nations is not America‘s only alternative. She has the option of reducing her consumption and sharing the "surplus."
What conclusion can we draw from this proposal?
Marx’s millennium was a fairytale world in which all were to be equally "free" from material need — a world to be reached through a distribution of capitalism’s achievements: after capitalism had "solved" the "problem" of production for all time, communism would take over and "solve" the "problem" of distribution. In its ability to produce lay capitalism’s historical "justification."
Modern collectivists in socialist "republics" have carried the Marxist dictum one step further.
Decades of evidence has forced them to abandon the naive claim that the production of wealth is set in motion in a certain historical period (capitalism), and that it becomes thereafter self-generating and automated — a process so simplified that it is a mere matter of filing cards and pushing buttons. They cannot escape the fact that production requires continuing thought and effort, continuing free enterprise; that capitalism cannot be superseded if poverty is to be superseded. But their political philosophies forbid capitalism in their own countries. So for Marxist history they substitute a neo-Marxist geography: for capitalism as a historical period they substitute America which, as still the freest and most productive country in the world, must now justify its existence by serving as the milk-cow for the neo-Communists of the "Third World" — who are familiar with distribution but not with creation. Thus they are not at all bashful about attempting to direct the distribution of America’s wealth.
The suggestions of those — both Americans and non-Americans —who would shackle this country with a global responsibility for overcoming poverty, range from the laughable (American aid for a worldwide campaign to restore breastfeeding) to the frighteningly dictatorial (forcing Americans to "change their rich diet and affluent life-style").
Is It Possible?
Is it even possible to believe that the poor nations can become rich merely by compelling America to reduce her consumption and share her "surplus"? Surely the billions of aid dollars poured into these countries with nary a rise in the standard of living constitutes definitive proof that they have to gear up their own production if they want to achieve prosperity. In the light of this fact one suspects that the motive of the international Robin Hoods is not so much a desire for "freedom" from material need for all, as a desire to reduce America to the level of the “Third World " countries, to pull it into the international brotherhood of poverty and suffering. Calls for a "redistribution" of America’s wealth can mean nothing else. The spirit of such pronouncements can best be expressed by quoting Tocqueville’s observation about pre-Revolutionary France: "… all were quite ready to sink their differences and to be integrated into a homogeneous whole, provided no one rose above the common level." This is not an expression of a desire for the well-being of one’s fellow man. It is an expression of hatred for affluence and achievement.
Two questions are left unanswered — or never asked — when this involuntary charity is proposed for American citizens: Why? And by what right?
Why has the "Third World’s" claim to America’s wealth been accepted as a primary, a not-to-be questioned absolute? And how has it happened that the same government which was instituted by its founders to protect the wealth and "the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate," is now presumed to have the right to appropriate its citizens’ property for any reason it chooses?
To answer the second question first: theft begins at home. The government has become inured to the practice of robbing some individuals for the sake of a "group" — in the name of the "good of society." Therefore the reckless suggestion that it now rob its citizens for overseas groups leaves no one breathless. It would be instructive to trace the history of this development.
Within the nation the class-war — the dethronement of individualism and the destruction of peace— started with the New Deal which gave one a new deal — special privileges — if one belonged to a class or group called "poor." The 1960s were the years of a group named "black." The early ’70s is the decade of a war of all against all.
As political scientists tell us, the "New Deal coalition" has broken up. Labor has taken issue with equal opportunity groups, the working-welfare poor with the only welfare poor. Women’s Lib has been berated by racial groups for gate crashing into their special domain: The Disadvantaged Minority. Alvin F. Poussaint ("A Threat to Blacks," The New York Times, May 6, 1974) urges both groups to work together in their struggle for power and "accelerated social change." Typically, he fails to explain the meaning of that phrase or of the word "power." For the meaning, when stated explicitly, is not pretty. "Accelerated social change" is change by coercion — by legislative action — rather than by persuasion. Power politics is the politics of group warfare, of the "factious spirit," to use Madison’s term. And the eternal casualty of this factious spirit is the individual.
The individual has been fragmented, divided, among groups, so that now he is deemed to have no individual rights or interests, but only "group interests." In other words, nearly every aspect of his life is now subject to the majority vote of those who happen to share his various interests. He finds himself surrounded by his self-appointed representatives,— labor unions, professional associations, sexist organizations, racial brotherhoods — to whom he never gave his consent, but with whom he must ally himself, often under legal compulsion.
The Marco De Funis case (wherein a white student with superior grades was initially refused admission by the University of Washington Law School as part of a policy to "make up" for earlier discrimination against blacks) highlighted the fact that reverse discrimination is discrimination still, although the Supreme Court refused to rule on it. It is debatable that the Court will recognize the root problem when such a case comes before it again.
Violation of Individual Rights
The root problem is that "group rights" are a violation of individual rights. Only the recognition and protection of individual rights can keep men anchored to the pursuit of their own interests. For individual rights are the radius which defines the circle of a man’s legitimate activities — and the point of origin of the radius is man’s reason. A group is merely a collection of entities, it is not an entity in itself, it has no mind or reason — and therefore can have no rights distinct from the rights of the individual. As The New York Times editorialized on August 4, 1963, "… the question must be not whether a group recognizable in color, features or culture has its rights as a group. No, the question is whether any American individual, regardless of color, features or culture, is deprived of his rights as an American. If the individual has all the rights and privileges due him under the laws and the Constitution, we need not worry about groups and masses—those do not, in fact, exist, except as figures of speech." In attempting to transcend the individual, "group rights" transgress the delimited area of each man’s rights and, by imposing on him actions alienated from his self-interest, they break the connection between the judgment of his mind and his actions. In the name of the group or society, a "higher good" takes precedence over the good of the individual —and necessarily sacrifices some for the sake of the others.
In a free society — i.e., a society based on individual rights — neither individuals nor government may initiate force. The actions of individuals are limited by the obligation to respect the rights of others, while the actions of government are limited to the obligation of protecting these rights. But when "group rights" and the "good of society" are accepted as valid concepts, this limitation is broken, government can claim with impunity a boundless power, and individuals become free to advocate the institutionalization of their whims in the form of law.
It is not surprising, then, that when this government proclaims an authority to tax its citizens for the benefit of humanity, for the good of all societies, anywhere, there are few protests. If the individual can be sacrificed for groups at home, he can be sacrificed for groups abroad.
Why the Duty?
This leads us to the first question: why America is assumed to have a duty towards the world, and why she accepts such a duty.
The ability of the "Third World" to make America feel responsible for the former is a result of the ethics that holds that the highest good consists in serving others —and the higher the cost to self, the more moral the action. It is true that in practice men do not always sacrifice themselves for others. But that is not the point. The point is that they accept the tenet that such sacrifice is the definition of virtue — and that, having accepted this, they must feel guilt for not consistently practicing it. In the face of another’s need, then, an affluent person or nation is especially vulnerable to guilt. For if it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven, the rich man — or nation — cannot but experience his wealth as a slur on his character, an ugly third hump that brands him for hell. So he apologizes for his productivity — even as he is being damned for not producing enough (i.e., "according to his ability") for the satisfaction of others ("according to their needs").
This guilt is the psychological basis of the support both for the political philosophy of the welfare state (of which the theory of group rights is an integral part) and for the thesis that America owes a debt to poorer nations. The assumption of an unearned guilt, the atonement for strength and ability, constitutes what philosopher Ayn Rand has called "the sanction of the victim" — an inevitable consequence of accepting the ethics of self sacrifice (Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged).
America has given this sanction to her spiritual enemies. She has accepted the onus of being her "brothers’ keeper."
Recently the Senate took the unprecedented step of giving the "keeper’s" guilt official stature by couching it in the form of a resolution. April 30, 1974, was declared a "National Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer" set aside to repent "for our national sins."
It would be startling to hear such self-abnegation even from a starving Asian country — perhaps because no starving Asian country has any virtues for which to beg forgiveness. For these days it is virtues that people seek to expiate. Analogous to the Senate action is the Indian manner of rejecting a beggar’s plea for alms: the rejection is accompanied by the words, "Forgive me." The beggar is presumed to have a natural right to your property, therefore your refusal to part with it must needs be apologized for.
It is clear that the "sins" of the resolution refer to the fact that America’s citizens are not living in abject poverty, that this nation is most uniquely the nation that has never been touched by the fear of famine — or the fear of the boot. What is overlooked or evaded is the connection between the two, between the absence of the boot and the absence of famine.
Freedom to Think
Psychologists have long held that the mind can function efficiently only when it is unthreatened, is free to think. And that only in such a situation will the individual be motivated to perform optimally. Nearly everyone accepts this thesis on the individual, interpersonal, level. But most people forget or deny the connection between freedom and thinking and, therefore, productivity —and, conversely, the connection between lack of freedom and lack of productivity — when the question concerns a political system. Yet in talking about a political system – a certain form of government interacting with a collection of individuals — one is talking, ultimately, only about individuals for whom the principles of psychology still must hold true. Whether it is naked terror that prevails, or arbitrary law that shackles the economy, the connection between lack of freedom and lack of productivity has dramatic manifestation in the international world. For instance, it is no coincidence that the totalitarian Soviet Union, with some of the best agricultural land in the world, has already had two famines in its brief history (including the first government-engineered famine in the long history of Russia), and has to import wheat and technology from America. Neither is it an accident that capitalist* Japan is one of the richest countries in the world, while the official poverty line in socialist India ($30 — a year) is exceeded by only a small part of the population.
A Matter of the Mind
It follows, then, that to repent for one’s material well-being, one’s productivity, is to repent for the unobstructed use of one’s mind, for the freedom that makes it possible for men to translate the action of their minds into physical action — to translate mental efficacy into material goods. Moreover, "repenting for our national sins" — i.e., wealth — makes it inexplicable why America should want other nations to accrue wealth, i.e., sins.
The question therefore arises: are the advocates of global foreign aid really interested in seeing mankind everywhere prosper? If so, why have they never suggested that freedom instead of free rice be exported?
For only when America suspends her charity will the leaders of the "Third World" learn that they cannot have their cookies and eat them too, that they cannot rely on free, capitalist* America to build up their muscles, while they continue to restrict their peoples’ freedom in the name of the "good of society." Or is the purpose of the do-gooders not universal prosperity at all, but merely the draining of this country to the death? The fundamental issue is this: are the advocates of "group rights" (the "good of society") interested in seeing their countrymen happy — or merely in destroying whatever freedom there remains, by destroying the very concept of individual rights? Is the goal of the collectivists the day when"… all [will be] quite ready to sink their differences and to be integrated into a homogeneous whole, provided no one [rises] above the common level"?
* There is no fully capitalist country in the world. The term is used here for America and Japan because their mixed economies are still predominantly free.