There are many things in the world I hate. This table is one of them.

Duncan Green reproduces this table of “killer facts” in his blog today:

I hate this table. It reminds of those ridiculous fundraising adverts that say things like “every year the English spend more on Bargain Basement copies of James Blunt’s ‘Greatest Hits’ than it would cost to solve every problem in the world. Ever.”

Why do we want to perpetuate the idea that more money will solve everything? Do we really think a one-off spend of $19 billion will end all world hunger, for ever? Really? We don’t think there are problems that money won’t solve, like land rights, security of wage labour, unresponsive Governments or civil war (or maybe there are people who think we can and should just pay everyone to reorganise their land, recognise labour and union rights among poor informal miners and piece-workers, and to stop fighting?)

And even if this is the case, what the heck has any of this got to do with the consumption of ice cream in Europe? Does every Ben and Jerry’s I have kill a small child? If so, the Daily Mail should probably have a campaign against me. Come to think of it, why only in Europe? I live in Zanzibar, and if you’ve visited this gorgeous place you’ve probably had an ice cream at Amore Mio, an Italian place that makes it’s own ice cream on the premises. I’ve seen plenty of Africans eating ice cream here: some Zanzibari and others visiting from other countries. Does their consumption of ice cream kill fewer people than mine? But then I’m South Asian, and was born in Hong Kong, so maybe I get a free pass on the ice cream front too.

And where would we draw the line? I love the Guardian’s Word of Mouth blog, for food lovers. I’ll bet Chris Blattman does as well, since he seems like a foodie as well. Am I a bad person for liking to use olive oil in food? Just think: that extra few cents  it costs over sunflower oil could have funded 1/203rd of a bednet! A person can subsist on lentils and a few selected roots quite healthily, particularly in these days of vitamin supplements. What does the fact that I also like to eat fish make me? (In Zanzibar fish is plentiful, fresh and cheap by European standards, as well as being apparently sustainable – I’ve yet to see a bluefin tuna in the market). It’s not strictly necessary spend.

Ok, the stats put in perspective that it’s easy to give more money for development, but it’s guilt tripping which operates on the exact same premise as those MSF ads. It’s hypocritical and patronising to say that it’s only a bad thing if we caricature the non-Western poor. I think most of us don’t spend our days on luxury cruises, gorging on ice-cream and feeding our dogs caviar while bathing in Chanel No. 5 (though I believe Mobutu did actually do that!), just like most Africans don’t spend their days being raped and eaten by lions and most Pakistanis don’t play cricket with live grenades.

Rant over.

6 thoughts on “There are many things in the world I hate. This table is one of them.

  1. Adam Martin

    December 4, 2009 at 1:57pm

    Great post.

    But don’t you know that ice cream is in fact made from the very vaccines that could save small children? Because really, it’s all just the same basic matter that is consumed and goes into all capital goods.

    Or maybe we shouldn’t trust such claims when predicated on a model of capital homogeneity that is simpler than Warcraft II.

  2. Kevin Donovan

    December 4, 2009 at 4:18pm

    There are many things in this world I love. This post is one of them.

  3. Adam Martin

    December 4, 2009 at 6:16pm

    Great post.

    But don’t you realize that the ice cream you eat is made from the very vaccines that could save children? Or, more generally, that the same physical substance comprises the whole array of capital and consumer goods and thus that relative quantities can be easily tracked in dollar expenditures?

    Or maybe we shouldn’t take these sorts of comparisons seriously at all when they implicitly treat resource heterogeneity more simplistically than does Warcraft II.

  4. Adam Martin

    December 4, 2009 at 9:23pm

    Sorry for the double post-it hadn’t shown up when I check back a few hours later, so I tried to reconstruct it from memory. Shows how good my memory is.

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