To oppose the finest rations for the socialist leaders is just neoliberal sophistry!

A previous article in this series points out the irony of the over-privileged lives of expatriate humanitarian workers. I would argue that privilege is unavoidable. Even with this particular charity, where expatriate salaries were relatively low and we lived in mud huts with grass roofs, our conditions were unbelievably privileged compared with the local population. Despite this, many of us, myself included, teetered on the brink of burnout. Some cut their contracts short, while I was only saved by some well-timed R&R on a beach in Cameroon.

It makes no sense to endure unnecessary hardship if it can lead to ill health and exhaustion. The communities we are working with might be impressed by our drive and commitment but I imagine they would prefer that we have the mental and physical strength to provide them with essential services of the best possible quality.

Same argument Brezhnev used to ensure that his meant came from a named species.

Since I am running the country, for your benefit you understand, I should have the best.

52 thoughts on “To oppose the finest rations for the socialist leaders is just neoliberal sophistry!”

  1. Yes it’s strange we don’t see that argument more.

    Progressives typically argue that it is relative income inequality within a given locality (e.g. regional, national) which “really matters” as a measure of poverty, so it seems logical to argue that the presence of high living standards of NGO workers in developing countries increases poverty. Just as the presence of City bankers makes the rest of the UK “poor”.

  2. So Much For Subtlety

    There was a discussion once about 19the century missionary work in Asia I read. The Catholic Church openly wanted its missionaries to live well, but not obviously better, than the locals. They wanted their missionaries to have gravitas. The Protestants paid them a wage comparable to what they would earn back home – lower but not much lower. Which meant in whatever Asian sh!thole it was, they lived like Kings.

    The locals commented on this. Presumably the celibacy of the Catholics made them seem more serious.

    It makes no sense to endure unnecessary hardship if it can lead to ill health and exhaustion.

    So let’s play the obvious game – what here applies to an NGO doing charity work but does not apply to Citibank? Does it make sense for the chair of Citibank to endure unnecessary hardship? Obviously not.

    The communities we are working with might be impressed by our drive and commitment but I imagine they would prefer that we have the mental and physical strength to provide them with essential services of the best possible quality.

    Really? What is the evidence *any* charity in the Third World is providing *any* essential services? But whatever. Citibank? Applies to them, obviously.

    It is not a luxury to have a cook or a cleaner.

    …. for the chairman of Citibank.

    Neither is it a luxury to have security guards or drive powerful 4×4 vehicles.

    ….for the chairman of Citibank

    Cooks and cleaners allow us to work the long hours that are expected of us while still having clean clothes and a healthy diet.…..

    …. as they do for the chairman of Citibank.

    Often we work in insecure environments, where the rule of law means little and the roads can turn into complete quagmires during rainy season

    Sure. Citibank has a branch in Liverpool. Perhaps even one south of the river.

    It is not about eliminating privilege.

    Well yes. Obviously. It is about justifying it.

    It is the recognition of our privilege that motivates us to go to places like South Sudan or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

    If it is a privilege, you don’t need the cook.

    It is our privilege that makes us put our hands in our pockets to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

    Actually that would be my pocket thanks to Hilary Benn.

    For me, it is much more about connecting to the people that we are trying to help.

    Which is much easier when I don’t have to meet any and only see them as I zip past in my air conditioned car.

    Unnecessary austerity can and does lead to health problems and high staff turnover.….

    …. at Citibank.

    What a c*nt.

  3. you what?

    it’s not about having the best, it’s about the fact that if you are ever going to persuade, say, a Brit, to go and work delivering famine relief, they are going to want a standard of living that looks privileged by local standards.

    That is not the same at all as saying that aid workers should stay in five start hotels and travel first class. Even if you travel economy and stay in basic accommodation, your doing a lot better than the locals.

    why the hell do people think that if you work in the do-gooder industries you are supposed to work for a pittance? I reckon most do-gooders accept lower wages than they could get elsewhere (I am currently getting paid less in *nominal terms* than I was a decade ago, when I worked in the commercial sector, which is fine, my choice and all, but don’t go telling me people are working in jobs like mine because they are cushy + well paid)

    Why isn’t the baseline assumption that salaries in all industries, do-gooding and elsewhere, simply reflect what you need to pay to attract and retain staff with required characteristics? Why do I see some people who are relaxed about bankers earning £ having hissy fits about public sector, NGO wages?

  4. So Much For Subtlety

    Luis Enrique – “Why isn’t the baseline assumption that salaries in all industries, do-gooding and elsewhere, simply reflect what you need to pay to attract and retain staff with required characteristics? Why do I see some people who are relaxed about bankers earning £ having hissy fits about public sector, NGO wages?”

    Because bankers earn money. Trustafarians have long holidays in the sun pretending to help people. How can we make sure that people who work for banks are doing a good job? Look at the balance sheet. How do we know if Tristan and Jacinta are doing anything except sex tourism? We can’t. There is no measure for effectiveness.

    We can measure something closely related – if they are living in poverty they are probably serious. If they are serious they are probably trying to help. In the same way that when a Catholic missionary gives up sex for life, we can be sure that he takes what he is doing seriously.

    If someone wants a First World industrial wage, they can provide a First World service in a First World economy. If they want to cruise for Third World strange and engage in a little poverty porn tourism, they can do it on their own dime.

  5. fellow across the desk from me spends 2 out of 3 months working in Juba trying to help hold the basics of public financial administration together. It’s not much fun. Whilst he’s there, he gets put up in hotel that’s luxury by local standards and shitty by western standards. He’s not a trustafarian having a holiday in the sun, could not be further from it.

  6. Zorro: “fellow across the desk from me spends 2 out of 3 months working in Juba trying to help hold the basics of public financial administration together. It’s not much fun. Whilst he’s there, he gets put up in hotel that’s luxury by local standards and shitty by western standards. He’s not a trustafarian having a holiday in the sun, could not be further from it.”

    Tell your pal to drop his patronising antics and tell his overseas buddies to sort themselves out. That way they actually might.

    Once back over here he can get a job in some other high-success industry like persuading alcoholics (real ones not the x-unit fantasy ones) to quit drinking.

    Cos–In both cases–if the patronised can’t find what they are looking for inside themselves it isn’t going to happen.

  7. Of course cooks and cleaners aren’t a luxury. That’s what brown people are for, whether in Islington or Timbuktu.

  8. @ Luis Enrique and SMFS
    There are two separate parts to the problem – one is making sure that your ex-pat has the equipment he/she needs to do his/her job, the other is the appearance and its effects on locals. The 4×4 is necessary, but shiny is not – an old landrover would do. For foreigners a cook is needed until they learn to cook local food, but not one each.

  9. right so if the government of South Sudan were say to hire PWC to provide consulting + services to the MoF, that’d be fine and dandy but if donors supply it, patronising and bad.

  10. john77

    well I think there’s also an argument that nobody is going to thank you if you turn up on a posting and fire the cook and the cleaner.

  11. Zorro: The people of the South Sudan likely have fuck-all interest in hiring a “PWC to provide consulting + services to the MoF, “. MoF presumably is “Ministry of Food?

    The likely reason for a lack of food or anything else in the South Sudan is the existence of shite “Ministries” supposed to ensure the state-run supply of same.

  12. “It is not a luxury to have a cook or a cleaner.…”

    Lol.

    I mean, who doesn’t have their own cook? Sure, it gets a bit cramped in the kitchen of my flat, but God knows how I’d get along if I didn’t have the cook. A completely essential 21st century essential, completely.

  13. “It is not a luxury to have a cook or a cleaner.…”

    If someone had written that as a parody the Guardian would have been furious.

  14. no MoF is ministry of finance, and just like other entities that hire consultants, MoFs around the world who want to help themselves improve are very much in market for consulting services, just like our own dear public sector. A very low capacity MoF with very low levels of skill and experience in workforce needs help design and implement and run budgeting, cash engagement etc. You think countries like South Sudan were left to fend for themselves – if they were, they’d need to buy many of the services currently being supplied by donors.

    the likely reason of food or anything else in South Sudan is civil war, but shite ministries also part of problem. Low state capacity – go read: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9624.html

  15. What Luis says – if they need Western staff (for example to ensure that the money doesn’t just end up lining officials’ pockets), then they need the right pay & conditions to attract those Western staff. Obviously any half-sensible charity would employ as many locals as possible (much more bang for your buck); but you do still need oversight to guard against corruption.

  16. The Third World is poor because of subsistence farming. Either they shift away from an agrarian economy or they stay poor. The NGOs want them to stay agrarian. The NGOs are no use. Pull them out, and leave these countries to a straight choice between poverty or development. The same one our subsistence farming ancestors had. And they didn’t get any foreign aid, or NGOs to “help” them.

  17. they’d need to buy many of the services currently being supplied by donors.

    There’s at least one very good reason for having the MoF source and pay for their own consultants: St Milton of Friedman’s “4 ways to spend money”.

    If the MoF is allocating their own scarce resources, they’re a) more likely to take a keen interest in getting value for money; and b) more likely to want to train up their own workers as soon as possible.

  18. Bizarre reasoning Zorro.

    They require none of these “services”–either paid for or donated. They are trying to assemble the vile parasite of the state before it even has a living body to feed off.

    Create conditions where ordinary people can make some money. Shut the fucking Ministry of Finance and let any in there who actually have any knowledge of money become entrepreneurs instead of parasites.

  19. @ Luis Enrique
    Fair point – but that’s only if there is a cook and/or cleaner there when one arrives. On the occasions when I’ve lived in a flat on overseas projects I’ve been both cook and cleaner.

  20. “The same one our subsistence farming ancestors had. And they didn’t get any foreign aid, or NGOs to “help” them.”

    that’s right, and it took them fucking centuries to get from subsistence farming to here. nothing wrong with trying to speed things up.

    btw you may be right some NGOs want to promote small holder farming, but in general the “aid industry” is often criticised for trying to push industrial farming and subsidising large agribusiness
    .

  21. john77

    yep. also I guess depends on the country, but in some African countries given prices of local labour you’d be mad not to hire a cook and a cleaner, and the decision to do so should be seen as no more controversial than deciding to buy a nice cold beer once in a while

  22. Zorro: “that’s right, and it took them fucking centuries to get from subsistence farming to here. nothing wrong with trying to speed things up. ”

    The existence of the modern world and modern technology provides them with billions of opportunities that didn’t exist for our ancestors.

    What the South Sudan needs is Arkwright* and Josiah Wedgewood and Blind Jack of Knaresborough not committee meetings of bureaucratic shite and foreign consultants.

    *Not Ronnie Barker–altho’ the thrift displayed by his character would stand them in good stead.

  23. Luis-

    Our ancestors had to invent the technologies of modernity, hence the fucking centuries. It already exists for n00bs, they just have to adopt it. Which means getting off the fucking land so that 1% of the population grows the food and all the other fucking stuff that makes people wealthy is made by the other fucking 99%.

    Which isn’t being helped by fucking NGOs with their fucking micro-capital and foot pumps for the darkies nonsense.

  24. What Luis says – if they need Western staff (for example to ensure that the money doesn’t just end up lining officials’ pockets), then they need the right pay & conditions to attract those Western staff.

    Yes, but those staff will be going out of their own self-interest (as I do/did). No need to wrap it up as selfless sacrifice, and find yourself having to justify the 4WD.

  25. The NGOs want them to stay agrarian. The NGOs are no use.

    I’m vaguely connected to one project in an African country whose government is being advised by fucking Norwegian do-gooders on how to not get “ripped off” by foreign oil companies. So they’ve done what really doesn’t need doing – raising the sense of self-importance among African politicians – who have now imposed conditions which make it unfavourable to invest.

  26. well I think there’s also an argument that nobody is going to thank you if you turn up on a posting and fire the cook and the cleaner.

    That’s true, I had a cleaner in Nigeria because keeping on the incumbent who appeared to come with the flat (read: French guy didn’t have the balls to sack her) seemed like the right thing to do. It was a good choice, but I’d initially been prepared to do my own cleaning.

  27. Tim

    Well a person can combine concern for others with concern for self.

    I think in a standard economic model if your workers have some pro social motivation you exploit that and pay them less

  28. The problem with Africa is corruption. That, and ethnic hatreds.

    Until this has been sorted out, nothing will improve, ever. The untold billions pumped in for as long as I can remember (upwards of 40 years) have mostly helped to enrich a few bastards, whilst providing them with the means to keep the population down.

    As for NGOs keeping them in their shit, we had a letter through our son’s catholic school from a nun working in some African shithole. She seemed to find completely normal that women and children were doing everything whilst men were drinking tea under a tree. It’s culture, innit.

    Made me incandescent with rage.

  29. Tim N,

    > Yes, but those staff will be going out of their own self-interest (as I do/did). No need to wrap it up as selfless sacrifice, and find yourself having to justify the 4WD.

    Indeed. In fact, those people who are motivated by the opportunity to do good (and the opportunity to tell everyone about it) should need less monetary reward than standard homo economicus.

  30. right Ian B, but even with benefit of being able to adopt modern tech, how do you actually get from initial position of subsistence farming to high labour productivity in agriculture and structural change? Micro credit wasn’t such a dumb idea, if you want small penniless farmers to borrow to invest (although property rights may be more important) there is an awful lot of research on technology adoption and market access in agriculture. and much of what the actually existing aid industry does is informed by that (as opposed to the daft NGOs you prefer to call to mind)

    there are some rigorously evaluated programmes aimed at poorest of poor, if you are interested:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2015/07/06/ending-poverty-but-at-what-cost/

  31. @ Andrew M
    In my limited experience of overseas work I have in fact observed that many colleagues were working for less monetary reward than they could have got at home. However they were not telling everyone that they were making sacrifices.

  32. Luis-

    Ultimately it’s down to the hard choice Europeans had; stay on your farm, live in poverty and starve to death in the next crop failure, or sell the farm and join the cash economy. This is a difficult thing. Leaving your farm for employment means the risk of unemployment, but as the cash economy grows there is at least money for welfare benefits.

    It’s just not going to work trying to sustain the subsistence farming economy; Europe could not have become modern if we had, nor the rest of the First World. Ultimately the “worlds” division is between those who subsistence farm, and those who don’t.

  33. “She seemed to find completely normal that women and children were doing everything whilst men were drinking tea under a tree. It’s culture, innit.”

    No amount of aid is going to solve that problem.

  34. SMFS

    This did make me laugh out loud to the bemusement of my work colleagues

    ‘Often we work in insecure environments, where the rule of law means little and the roads can turn into complete quagmires during rainy season

    Sure. Citibank has a branch in Liverpool. Perhaps even one south of the river.’

  35. Well, to answer one of Luis’s points – no, nothing involving PWC, no matter who pays them, is likely to be “fine and dandy”, but that’s PWC (and the rest of the Stepford Consultant companies) for you.

    When I’ve worked abroad – on short term assignments, in various shitholes (but not on actual military ops*) – we had a driver, basically because none of us were qualified, it was hideously unsafe, and even if the traffic laws hadn’t been written to explicitly favour the locals, the traffic police were endemically corrupt. And we had a nice shiny 4×4. The locals generally drove Mercs.

    Once the driver was a “driver / cook”. He cooked for us twice – he wasn’t bad at all but we were much more budget friendly.

    Once we had a maid. She took a look at the five uglies who had turned up and retreated to the concrete shed in the garden, barricading the door behind her. Although unfair to us, probably a statistically sensible choice of action. I think I saw her once more in the fortnight – she was actually cleaning the kitchen at about 3am when I wandered down to get some water from the fridge.

    Me: “Good morning, don’t mind me, I’ll be out of your way in a moment.”

    Her: frightened and probably embarrassed squeak (I was in shorts and a tee shirt but am, as noted above, prodigiously ugly.)

  36. Oh, the * bit.

    Once, a couple of us were on a trip to Iraq and they had shipped us out before they could work out who was going to issue rifles to us. So we were assigned an armed guard. By somebody with a sense of humour.

    She was SMFS view of women in the military – a 4 foot nothing (aka even shorter than me) private , startlingly inept, and never stopped going on about her forthcoming wedding. To prevent my south-of-the-river* Glaswegian colleague battering her to death to prevent the continual earache, I “borrowed” a couple of pistols and we returned her to her normal duties (which probably consisted of never stopping going on about etc, etc.)

    * Where, according to local myth, there be dragons. In actuality, it’s like south of the Thames in London. Except instead of Lambeth Palace, you have the Gorbals.

  37. Bloke in North Dorset

    “they’d need to buy many of the services currently being supplied by donors.”

    If they have to go out in the market to buy services at least they’ll get people who deliver what they want rather than a bunch of self satisfied SJWs telling them the way to do it.

  38. “a bunch of self satisfied SJWs telling them the way to do it.”

    look, you just don’t know what you are talking about. The people who you end up, and the advice you are given / services you are supplied with, if you hire a private sector consultant are very similar to those you get via donors, PWC hires ex-World Bank consultants and vice versa.

    This is not the outfit I work for, but if DFID is providing technical assistance to a MoF in a poor country, you can expect to have a delivered by an outfit like this:

    http://www.adamsmithinternational.com/

    these are not “self satisfied SJWs”

  39. Well a person can combine concern for others with concern for self.

    Right. But we know which side the scales are tipped on when somebody is writing articles in the paper about how he needs a maid, a cook, and a 4WD. He just wants us to believe differently.

  40. When people with proper skills are hired to work in the third world, and do it as a job, there’s probably not much opposition to paying and looking after them properly. Whatever it takes to hire the skills you need.

    But a bunch of useless Tristans on a Gap Yah, poncing about and bragging about their social justice project, hell, they can live like the locals or piss off back to Berkshire.

    And no, I can’t be bothered to read a Guardian article to see which category I’d put the writer into.

  41. Luis Enrique said:
    “If DFID is providing technical assistance to a MoF in a poor country, you can expect to have it delivered by an outfit like this: http://www.adamsmithinternational.com/ – these are not “self satisfied SJWs””

    True, the ASI people are the right sort. But the only time I did work for them, they didn’t pay my invoice. A fun bunch to work with, but not sure I’d willingly pay for the privilege.

  42. The ASI are not exactly representative anyway, being (at least notionally) right wing, free-market and even neoliberal sophists. Most of the NGOs are firmly on the Green Progressive Left- Oxfam etc.

  43. @ Luis Enrique
    You have moved the conversation from Guardianistas working for “charity” NGOs to serious consultants working on economic development. Two very different animals. I agree with most of what you say on this thread, but it doesn’t apply to the target of TIm’s mockery.
    Also I should not choose to include DFID in the same category as World Bank or PWC. I had considerable respect for the “Know-How Fund”

  44. So Much For Subtlety

    Luis Enrique – “Whilst he’s there, he gets put up in hotel that’s luxury by local standards and shitty by western standards. He’s not a trustafarian having a holiday in the sun, could not be further from it.”

    The Aid sector has such a range of practises it is hard to make rules that apply to all of them. If he is providing a service, the South Sudanese government can pay what they like – as with Citibank. But I suspect that in fact they are not paying. I am. He may be providing a good service. He may not. I don’t know. I can’t know. Because the people spending my money on people like him don’t care. I suspect South Sudan has bigger problems and he is wasting his time.

    However virtually none of that applies to someone writing in the Guardian. They are likely to be at the other end of the spectrum – advising women on domestic violence or the like. Well, how do we know if they are effective or they are just living it large on someone else’s money? We need to see if they are willing to suffer. It is the only way to tell.

  45. So Much For Subtlety

    monoi – “The problem with Africa is corruption. That, and ethnic hatreds.”

    And low IQs. Africa records the lowest IQs on the planet. Now if that is genetic, they are f**ked. There is nothing they can do. But let’s assume it is not. Perhaps it is the disease burden or the poor diet. Then what they need is an aristocracy. They will get proper medical care and eat well. Over several generations they will produce all the scientists and technicians they need.

    What they have got is socialism. Which levels everyone down.

    So they are f**ked. After all, when was the last time you heard an African leader who did not sound, well, retarded?

    “As for NGOs keeping them in their shit, we had a letter through our son’s catholic school from a nun working in some African shithole. She seemed to find completely normal that women and children were doing everything whilst men were drinking tea under a tree. It’s culture, innit.”

    And then they come here and we give them welfare so they can drink tea under a tree. What happens when people from the wrong side of the Hajnal line move to the right side? The West is a success because boys work their ar$es off so they can get married and have a good life. African societies have evolved for a long time with the women working, theoretically married to older men, but actually sleeping on the side with the younger ones. The welfare state re-creates that for the underclass. And it seems the White population is following. These days women work. Young men less and less.

  46. “but I imagine they would prefer that we have the mental and physical strength to provide them with essential services of the best possible quality.”

    The arrogance! Who do you think you are?

    A couple of years ago the daughter of a prominent local Catholic family ( Daddy has given us his Desert Island Discs etc) decided to take a gap year so she could work in a scholarship “in a poor part of Zambia”.
    What exactly, I asked, do you think you, an untrained little girl straight out of school, have to offer Zambia children that Zambia adults don’t?

    They don’t like me very much

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