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Sunday, May 23, 2004

U.S. Wasting Goodwill and Power to do Good

In response to Bret's recent posting in which he questions whether the global favorable perception of the U.S. has eroded, I offer the following two polls from the Pew Research Center:

Here, also, is an article from my local Sunday paper (today's) which does a pretty good job of highlighting the problem that has now been created -- a newly radicalized Muslim generation that is crowding out the young, moderating voices that were emerging in the Muslim world before the Iraq War.

Of course, this is probably not enough data for Bret. I'm beginning to suspect that Bret does not believe anything unless it can be reduced to an equation.

As today is Sunday and I have a bunch of other fun things I'd like to get to today, I will be brief with my response to the rest of his question in the posting, the gist of which is, what is it the U.S. should be taking a leadership role in. In past postings, I often have made a case for the power of leadership to create positive change, but I seem not to have made my case with Bret, and I doubt that anything else I say will sway him. Nonetheless, here's my list of issues I think the U.S. could make a world of positive difference on. Note that some of these things do cost money, but their costs pale in comparison to the costs of the $200 billion-and-counting Iraq War.

- The Economist magazine has recently featured articles about the Copenhagen Consensus Project. You can read as many of these articles as you wish at this link. One of them, for example, is about providing clean water and sanitation to the hundreds of millions of people in the world who don't have it. You can quibble with the assumptions if you like, but the article states that an estimated $2 billion investment would yield a present value of $100 billion or more (depending on the discount rate you use). The U.S. certainly could take a lead role in the global reduction (if not elimination) of poverty, with clean water and sanitation being near the top of the list.

- Dialogue among the leaders of nations is another area in which Bush has been miserably deficient. There are approximately 200 nations in the world. Why isn't Bush himself engaging with groups of national leaders to aggressively address the problems in various regions? Through personal power and selective economic benefits, the leader of the U.S. could persuade nations to adopt practices that lead to better circumstances for their citizenry (and more benefits in terms of security and trade for U.S. citizens). One specific example would be to press for public accounting principles when it comes to distribution of government revenues, e.g., from multinational corporations for oil-field concessions. Corporate leaders have expressed support for such practices, but conversion of corrupt regimes is slow when they can pick companies who don't press hard on this issue. Another obvious area of presidential pressure could be on human rights. Africa, for example, has been and continues to be rife with persecution of select groups by governments or their proxies. With pressure applied through regional coalitions and with relatively small economic carrots, the lives of tens or hundreds of thousands of people would be saved, and the seeds of individual democratic empowerment would be gradually sown.

- Bush trade policies are a sham. Aggressive deconstruction of agricultural, energy, textile, and other subsidies and import tariffs should happen immediately. If necessary, to mitigate political fall-out, create liberal unemployment benefits and retraining mechanisms for anyone who is affected by the removal of subsidies. The obvious benefit to the rest of the world -- the ability for poor people in many countries to now make a living exporting to the U.S.

- One of the good things about the Israeli-Palestinian problem is that it is not very much about religion. Because it is not about religion and therefore not quite as irrational as it might otherwise be, I contend that much could be done to resolve the problems there with economic incentives. Take half of the $200 billion from the Iraq War, and put it in a fund to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue. (Hell, for that kind of money, it might be possible for landfill to expand the landmass of Israel into the Mediterranean equal in size to the entire West Bank.) The focus should be to create incentives for change, and to do so as much as possible so the benefits fall to the average citizen.

Why do I care so much about what goes on in the rest of the world? Because I believe my life and those of my family and friends could be vastly better. The global economic boom -- not to mention the security assurance -- that would result from a free-trading world without major conflicts (I suspect we'll always have minor conflicts and random acts of terrorism by lunatic groups) would be, I believe, like nothing we've yet seen. Leading the charge toward empowerment of the individual -- through human rights, systems of basic welfare, free trade, education -- is where I think the U.S. should be spending more and more of its globe-changing resources. Not more and more on military programs, weapons, and interventions which perpetuate a global system dominated by the actions of governments which, like any colossus, are subject to great forces of corruption.

The opportunities for global leadership are abundant -- I didn't even mention the environment! If you think that these issues are not likely to yield improvements by having the President of the United States seriously address them, then we probably don't have much to talk about.

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