back to article Clueless do-gooders make Africa's conflict mineral mines even more dangerous

I have muttered around here more than a few times about the various idiocies of the Blood in the Mobile campaign. This was the idea that we could stop the appalling (and true) levels of violence in Eastern Congo's mining trade by making American companies fill out lots of documents. The idea was that if they all had to say …

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I propose . .

that the brilliant individual who's idea is so genius that he was showered with praise and recognition be offered a tour of Congo's mining areas to witness first hand what a great idea it was.

If he doesn't come back alive, it must mean that he became enamoured of the place and decided to stay, right ?

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Facepalm

As usual.

Whenever some nuImperialist gets their way, the Law of Unintended Consequences bites them on the arse.

[1] Imperialism: A formal army of enlightened types brings "civilisation" at gunpoint to some place full of primitive brown people.

nuImperialism: An informal army of enlightened types use political, economic (and when all else fails military) arm-twisting to force primitive brown people to run their countries the way the enlightened think they should.

The crucial difference between these approaches is that the first is somewhat unfashionable in polite society.

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Re: As usual.

I disagree. The crucial difference is that the nuImperialist has no interest in actually keeping said primitive brown people alive. They're simply engaged in the societal mutual masturbation exercise of "doing the 'right' thing", regardless of the actual consequences. Since they feel so gosh-darned *good* about themselves, they're happily able to ignore a democide or two of their own creation, or, even better, blame it on the people that have the gall to oppose them.

The old Imperialist may have had serfs, but dead serfs can't work mines.

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How utterly surprising !

It never ceases to amaze me how, in all these wonderfull plans thought up by all manner of well meaning folk trying to better the world, the 'human factor' is always ignored.. if money can be made there will always be someone somewhere prepared to do anything to get their hands on some of it, bugger the consequences.

It works a bit like this : legislation is issued by the governments of the world to be able to ensure that resources gathered around the world by major players are 'clean'. The method for this is inevitably a lot of paperwork and government stamps. No one is actually going to send out an armed force to a foreign country to verify if everyone is playing by the rules;

Subsequently, it becomes more difficult -at least administratively- for more or less ethically sound legitimate players to import said resources. They will therefore try and source their needs from alternative origins. This leads, especially in regions already considered to be 'offenders', to a sharp drop in legitimate demand.

At this point, all manner of of more err...mercantile oriented smaller, less visible and often decidly dodgy smaller 'intermediates' smell blood in the water, and set up elaborate sytems to 'clean up' traceability of the objectionable origins. Unfortunately, the locals will have to sell even cheaper (because they can not export legitimately) and the difference will be pocketed by the people providing the 'whitening' service.

There have been many such examples in the past, and there will be many more in the future. Issuing a law and associated form is not going to work. Never has, never will.

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You'd think they hadn't had 150 years of experience trying to control substance consumption by banning the trade in it. Oh, wait.

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Bandit theory

It is right to be wary of governments' excesses. But proponents of the "bandit" theory need to explain why all the richest countries have public sectors between a third and a half of GDP, and somehow remain rich, while poor countries have a smaller share of the economy taken up by public sector, as did now-rich nations back when they were themselves poor. Government adds something (I'd hesitate to suggest what) that makes being rich possible. Given a free choice, the countries most people would most like to live in also have big government. It is an odd type of bandit that takes your stuff but somehow leaves you better off.

It looks like there is a balance here; a private/public Laffer curve if you will: 0% government (ie anarchy) makes you poor. A 100% public-sector economy under state-socialism makes you poor. There will be big debates where its best to be in the middle.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bandit theory

What happens if you add the public sector corruption to the totals?

I suggest it's more about the quality of the government than how much you spend on it. Singapore seems to do well enough with a government that spends less than 20% of GDP

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Re: Bandit theory

Singapore is a city state, it's very rare that a city state isn't well governed cheaply.

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Re: Bandit theory

The richest countries became rich first, then the public sector became large. Countries are not rich because of a large public sector.

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Re: Bandit theory

> explain why all the richest countries have public sectors between a third and a half of GDP...

Bloated (bandit) govermentents are a symptom, not a cause, of that wealth.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bandit theory

We just have a better class of bandit is all :). Just because its a protection racket doesn't mean you don't also get protection from the other bandits.

It also depends how you separate government, regulators , judiciary and public sector. Resources into good quality 'rule of law' do seem to pay dividends although one presumes they are also subject to diminishing returns.

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Re: Singapore

yeah...

but you wouldn't want to live there!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bandit theory

"Bloated (bandit) govermentents are a symptom, not a cause, of that wealth."

So bad government is a luxury good?

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Re: Bandit theory

The governments of Singapore and Hong Kong both levy big taxes indirectly by being the main owners of freehold land and the principle landlords. This works in a land-constrained city state in a way that is not true more widely. Finding an example of a big (both physically and by population) country with European living standards and taxes less than 20% of GDP is pretty hard.

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Re: Bandit theory

The essential elements that caused these countries to become rich are rule of law and enforcement of contract. Without those investment is too risky to bother with, it's better just to farm the masses for small bits of wealth while they remain dirt poor in those circumstances.

Rule of law has to be enforced against the rulers as well as the masses. Hence the reforms of the Glorious Revolution, more so than Magna Carta, kicking off the beginnings of British dominance in the world in wealth and power. Other countries which still allowed their rulers and elites to welch on deals if they felt like it couldn't muster the investment Britain could.

Rule of law and enforcement of contract generally require a reasonably powerful state to enforce them. Wasteful shit will build around it once wealth starts to grow as noted but that doesn't mean all state-spending is such.

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Re: Bandit theory

@AC

"So bad government is a luxury good?"

Absolutely. Assuming we are happy with the wealth and prosperity we have we would surely look to protect our interests. However bad government can continue until enough people are affected by it to vote it out. The last 2 elections were telling as the main parties lost votes which fell to parties of action instead of parties of the status quo*.

*This was the expectation of the libs in the last gov. Different people have different views of how effective/active they were.

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Re: Bandit theory

> Government adds something (I'd hesitate to suggest what) that makes being rich possible

What've the Romans ever done for us?

-A.

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Re: Bandit theory

"Singapore seems to do well enough with a government that spends less than 20% of GDP"

Singaporean government statistics are about as reliable as Soviet tractor production figures. And even by the official figures only around half of Singapore's population are citizens. (It's actually far less than that.) All the per cap figures go with the number of citizens, not the total population, making them look just great - because there are several uncounted workers living in the direst poverty for every citizen living well. Similarly, the government-to-GDP ratio looks good because they're taxing everyone in the economy, but only providing government services to around a third of their population.

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Re: Bandit theory

And the UK is about to throw away enforcement of contract by telling doctors that if they don't sign up to new contacts they will be forcably signed up. Do the UK's international investors know what contempt this country's government has for contact law?

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Re: Bandit theory

I'll think you'll find the dominance started before 1688..

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Re: Bandit theory

"Bloated (bandit) govermentents are a symptom, not a cause, of that wealth."

Not that simple, though correct in essence, I think. Wealth is no more or less than energy flow. Accumulating (not working, not in use) wealth is an indication of an inefficiency. That leads to social inequalities that in the end result in events like the French and Russian revolutions (the American Revolution was unusual in being a proactive action). Redistributive entities (and they appear way before bureaucratic governments) operate - mostly badly - to get pooled wealth moving, working. The inefficiency of these entities is critical because it destroys wealth, which is in fact a key element in the process that no one, especially not the wealthy or the poor, really wants to think about. But, the Second Law can't be denied, suspended or revoked. Most economists seem to think they are independent of physics. But an economy is nothing but ecology with specifically human elements included.

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bep

Re: Bandit theory

Well, the central government gave the British the Royal Navy. I don't know what percentage of GDP it used, but I suspect it was substantial. This meant that when Boney, for example, wanted to make an uninvited visit to London to take away the GDP, he was prevented from doing so. At the same time, the UK could go and take other people's GDP in whatever manner suited them at the time. Now that the British feel safe from invasion, they no longer spend so big on defence. This is a big benefit of the European Union for Britain, but you rarely see it discussed.

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Re: Bandit theory

Singapore is a city state, it's very rare that a city state isn't well governed cheaply.

Indeed, the multi-million dollar salaries that Singapore's politicians award themselves are worth every cent...

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Re: Bandit theory

Precisely. The implication that there is a causal relationship between a bloated government and a well-to-do society is laughable. If anything, the causality flows the other way. Like Willie Sutton, old-time bank robber, they go there because that's where the money is. No more, no less.

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Re: Bandit theory

The richest countries became rich first, then the public sector became large. Countries are not rich because of a large public sector.

That may be, but it sounds simplistic to me. It could well be that healthcare and education allow many more people to work at a more valuable level, so I think the (ill-gotten and Imperial, technological or resource-based) riches of a country's past kickstart a sustainable way to stay rich.

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Re: Bandit theory

@ Robert Grant

"It could well be that healthcare and education allow many more people to work at a more valuable level"

These are not the exclusive provision of the public sector. Instead such services were nationalised.

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Re: Bandit theory

such services were nationalised.

Unless you're saying that the private sector was providing equal education and healthcare regardless of income, you've missed the point that educating and providing healthcare for everyone provides a more inventive, productive workforce, that is wealthy enough to spend money and drive the aforementioned kickstarted economy.

(Moral arguments about whether is better to let poor people suffer and die from illnesses they couldn't afford treatment for are left as a simple exercise for the reader.)

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Re: Bandit theory

[[ This is a big benefit of the European Union for Britain, but you rarely see it discussed ]]

The EU had nothing to do with this, much as they do indeed keep claiming they did in their propaganda leaflets. NATO was the one actually standing up and defending the peace. I have a good number of ex-military friends who get very aerated on this subject.

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Ah

The law of unintended consequences. But I am sure the do-gooders will feel better just for doing something.

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Re: Ah

Sometimes the dogooders feel better for a reason, or do you not think the huge drop in malaria was worth the effort?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ah

No - it was certainly not worth the effort as it could have been done cheaper and faster without the do gooders.

http://junkscience.com/1999/07/26/100-things-you-should-know-about-ddt/#ref5

They banned a product so it had to be replaced with ones with a *higher* relative toxicity to humans vs mosquitoes

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Re: Ah

Precisely - they do it for themselves not others.

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Re: Ah

@ Hollerith 1

"Sometimes the dogooders feel better for a reason"

Sometimes they do but it will be interesting to see if the do-gooders change their approach. Preferably to not adding more red tape in a shaming exercise which creates a moving target (the gangs do the same or worse to a different resource). On the plus side cutting this red tape should save a fair amount which can be better used in the recovering economy.

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Paris Hilton

Re: Ah

As an alternative are you suggesting that nobody should do anything to try and improve matters anywhere because they may not have foreseen every possible consequence of their actions?

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Re: Ah

And of course mosquitoes never develop immunities to things like DDT.

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Well I guess I've received an answer to a question I never knew I had asked. Who would be stupid enough to draft legislation against conflict minerals and limit it to a very specific list of mineral in a very specific geographical area?

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There are times I disagree with Worstall

But this article is spot on.

The self aggrandising types that frankly patronise everyone who isn't in the club have caused more bloodshed then we can imagine over decades, even centuries.

To deal with human nature we must accept and try to understand it. This is a slow, tangled and sometimes upsetting process.

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DHJ

What about the (mostly) successful Kimberley process?

And are we to believe that these militia's will continue fighting to the same degree when there are smaller financial returns, and, probably as a result, fewer weapons available?

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Re: DHJ

".....And are we to believe that these militia's will continue fighting to the same degree when there are smaller financial returns, and, probably as a result, fewer weapons available?" You really need to go read up on the history of Mozambique as a perfect example of how the militias will carry on with fighting long after there is virtually nothing left to fight over. Even when the returns are small they will continue the easier lifestyle of banditry over the much harder and "less manly" but peaceful pursuits of being farmers or fishermen. I would recommend "A Complicated War" by William Finnegan to give an insight into how banditry can become the norm.

In London I once met a Rhodesian who used to train Renamo "freedom fighters". As he put it they never had to force anyone to join Renamo, just told them an AK-47 meant they would be able to grab whatever food, drink, women and consumer junk they wanted without having to actually work hard for it. Sometimes the do-gooders just don't realise how hard life is in the Third World, especially Africa, and that banditry can often offer a much better return than the daily grind of hard farming, where you can work as many hours of the day as you can and your family still starves to death. Simply assuming that if you make being a bandit (or blood diamond/mineral dealer/slaver) slightly harder it will drive former bandits to turning over a new leaf is the height of obtuseness.

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DHJ

Re: DHJ

Speaking as a so-called 'do-gooder'...

a) Do-gooder doesn't automatically equal naive. In fact there are plenty of naive people on the sidelines, or on computer forums, whos contribution to the problem is far less helpful.

b) That an AK, a few bullets and a gang is addictive, and not something you'd just give up when the going gets harder, is not something i've ever questioned. Instead i'm asking what happens when your gang can't afford as many AKs or bullets.... Mozambique is now a relatively bandit-free country. Just because banditry is normal now doesn't mean it can't be beaten eventually.

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Re: DHJ

Except Mozambique got better, so your doom and gloom scenario is neither inevitable nor intractable as you imply.

You may have missed the good news that Mozambique has been declared landmine free? The place is now so stable that deminers get to do work and nobody comes along and lays more of them. BTW the former deminers are all being retrained/educated in other skills. The HALO trust which organised this is run from rural Argyll here in Scotland. Do-gooding that worked.

Note that the possibility of the now redundant deminers turning to banditry is lessened by training and educating them.

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FAIL

Re: Musclehead Re: DHJ

"Except Mozambique got better....." LOL, ignoring the fifteen years of truly horrific civil war, it "got better" because of Joaquim Chissano, who was a pretty unique individual. Oh, and a large UN peacekeeping and rebuilding force, after the UN had finally got over its politics. Unfortunately, people like Chissano (or Nelson Mandela) are pretty rare in Africa (just look at the bunch running the ANC post-Mandela), and the UN is even more riven by politics than in the '90s. And the conflict in the Middle East is getting far more attention than that in Africa.

"....so your doom and gloom scenario is neither inevitable not intractable as you imply...." I'd laugh again but it's getting a bit sad how people have been so blind to the facts of Central Africa. The on-off Congolese civil war has killed an estimated 5.4 million people, fueled by the often illegal mineral trade described in the article. Indeed, Obama's much-hyped "biggest heartbreak" at his inability to change US gunlaws seems a might hypocritical when people in the Congolese civil war having been dying at a rate of about 24,000 per month for many years. Where's his heartbreak for Africa? Oh, but scoring political points in an election cycle is a lot easier than trying to fix really complex problems in a faraway land.

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Megaphone

Prizes for ...

Less than nothing. Perhaps Tim you would like to calculate how much approximately has been handed out as rewards for this achievement. You might then speculate what the donors of these awards get for them? A nice sideways look at the economics of prize giving.

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Facepalm

Arithmetic

Whilst a price hike from $10M to $4B is Bad and Wrong, it's not a 400,000× factor. Well, not unless you're using (the archaic) British billions.

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Re: Arithmetic

Fair point: let's substitute with Pratchett's "many lots" shall we?

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makes me wonder whether it might've been a better idea to offer the bandits one price with things just as they are, but a higher price if they lay off the worst excesses against civilians. Repeat at intervals until the bandits have transmogrified into an elected government.

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You assume an educated and thinking banditry... There's a reason that gangs in general don't have education and thinking members. The leadership, yes. The members are exploted for the "good" of the leadership.

As for the "higher" price... corporates will object as that cuts into their bottom line. The gangs would, at some point, realize that they're being paid blackmail money and want more.

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Re: Esme

"makes me wonder whether it might've been a better idea to offer the bandits one price with things just as they are, but a higher price if they lay off the worst excesses against civilians. Repeat at intervals until the bandits have transmogrified into an elected government." Yes, that type of "bribery" is called international aid, but is a rather hit'n'miss affair that often just leads to massive corruption

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> Repeat at intervals until the bandits have transmogrified into an elected government.

No. Just no. No mater what Bono might say.

This is a perfect example of the half-baked Western do-goodery that has contributed to Africa's plight in the first place. While this results in a state that is accommodating to western business, it does nothing to address the underlying problems that led to banditry to begin with.

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Stop

Re: International aid @Matt

Hmmm - almost right.

Delete "often" add "almost always".

I'd go so far as to say that just pissing money into the aid fountain **never** works.

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