I used to watch television debates and get frustrated with both sides, I never agreed with either but my unlearned voice had little to say against the experts in their sharp suits and well articulated words. Somehow the solution or possible sane response is omitted and dismissed as irrelevant, almost as if it doesn’t exist. It lacks common sense, when we look for genuine solutions to real problems we look in every corner and from every angle, not just a very narrow framework that dismisses “facts” that may point us in the right direction.
I had a similar experience while studying politics and economics with the open university. Far from being “open” to different ideas, the head of the course team wrote an essay titled; “Framing the international” informing us that capitalism is now the only game in town. Not only was this persuasive piece of writing telling us that revolution is simply no longer on the cards but was also informing the entire student body of OU students interested in international development that the work of NGO’s and transnational institutions like the UN were the best the poor could hope for. Even the not so radical Keynesian economics which helped bring the US out of the great depression and into the boom years, was simply outdated and unheard of in course materials relating to economics. The best they could offer for a third year module was the economic model known as “comparative advantage”. This model dates back to the period of colonisation where countries under colonial rule had to specialize in the product that they were best at producing so that they would get more out of trade. With independence, these policies were scraped in many countries in favour of building schools,hospitals and the kind of things that do make a difference to those living in poverty. With the oil crisis of the 70s came the restructuring of the 80s where countries were forced to change their macroeconomic policies and along with all the neo-liberal reforms that dominated what has been called “the lost decade” came the return of comparative advantage. The truth is that it has created dependency on trade as by specializing they lost all diversity and could not live on coffee alone. Furthermore they didn’t really benefit from trade as primary commodities were worth less than manufactured goods and have been constantly decreasing in value, which means that farmers have to produce more for less and consequently those who trade in manufactured goods, get more for less.
For many students this was really frustrating as they had enrolled on a course in international development hoping to work in development for an NGO or even the UN. People that studied not for financial gain but in the hope that they would be able to help those less fortunate than themselves. The hope that they could make a difference, that they could be part of the solution in ending poverty. Unfortunately by the end of the course that had all changed. People had discovered that in some ways these organisations are part of the problem rather than the solution. I think it was more the combination of independent research, awareness of current affairs along with some of the views in the course material that helped people to come to such a conclusion.
People are just sick of humanitarian intervention being used as an excuse for war. Iraq is now commonly acknowledged as being a war for oil despite it originally being sold as a humanitarian intervention. When NATO decided to invade Libya, another oil rich country, for sceptics it was Iraq all over again.