What motivates Oxfam?

At which point we have to ask why Oxfam is perpetrating this drivel upon the public sphere. And I’m afraid that the only answer I can come up with is a very cynical one. Drawn from the insights of that arch-cynic (although he was also right) C. Northcote Parkinson. No bureaucracy is ever ready to go into that long dark night, the aim and purpose of a bureaucracy is simply for the bureaucracy to perpetuate. And anti-poverty campaigners in my native UK back in the 1950s and 60s realised that they had a problem. Absolute poverty was essentially beaten in Britain in the 1930s. Thus they couldn’t really campaign against something that didn’t exist any more. So, some moved to campaigning about the absolute poverty that persisted in other parts of the world (and Oxfam, among others, did some very good work here) and others set about redefining poverty to mean relative poverty. Or as we can also call it, inequality. For while we did manage to prove Jesus wrong, the poor would not always be with us, inequality most certainly would be.

And the current prediction is that we’ll pretty much wipe out global absolute poverty by 2030. One of the few global targets that does in fact look achievable too. At which point, what is a bureaucracy campaigning against poverty, one perhaps called Oxfam, to do? Who will provide that indoor relief for the dimmer scions of the establishment that is a campaigning NGO when there is no poverty to campaign against?

Quite, change the problem from poverty to inequality and the grandchildren of Jocelyn and Jocasta will still have someone to fund their gap yah.

24 thoughts on “What motivates Oxfam?”

  1. What’s especially frustrating about this report is that I cannot find in it a clear definition of “wealth”. Does it count all the millions of acres of land owned by farmers? Does it count homes? Does it count education? Does it count non-monetized assets? I suspect not, but I can’t be sure, because they don’t say. (By contrast, World Bank data on income *does* count all sorts of consumption, monetized and not. Regardless, I’ve seen endless accusations that the numbers of recent years, showing huge falls in absolute poverty, are driven by subsistence farmers and household workers being “forced into the money economy”, despite this being absolutely not how these numbers are collected.)

    Otherwise the report has a bunch of excellent howlers.

    “Research by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has found that, between 1990 and 2010, the bottom 40 percent of people in many developing countries saw their incomes grow more slowly than the average rate of growth nationally.”

    Wow! 40 percent of people in many countries had income growth *below the average*! How awful! Why can’t everybody be above average? Why can’t distribution curves be flat? I bet they don’t have this kind of problem in Lake Wobegon.

    “Oxfam estimates that at least 50 percent of the fortunes of the world’s billionaires could have been gained at least in part by non-meritocratic means. In India, 46 percent of billionaires have made their fortunes from sectors that depend upon market power, influence or preferential access to licensing. In Mexico, four multi-millionaires have seen their combined wealth increase from the equivalent of 2 percent of the country’s GDP in 2002 to 9 percent in 2014. A significant portion of the fortunes of all four of these individuals is derived from sectors that have been privatized, concessioned and/or regulated by the public sector. German Larrea and Alberto Baillères, for example, are owners of mining companies that have exploited a boom in the price of commodities.”

    So meritocracy is good, and preferential access and influence is bad. Maybe we’re getting through to them…oh wait. Apparently it’s caused by *both* privatization, and regulation by the public sector? So we need publically owned sectors that are…not regulated by the public sector? And also we need commodities that don’t change their price?

    “But by the 1990s, the Washington Consensus model had clearly been shown to be deeply flawed, doing more harm than good in many of the developing countries pursuing these strategies. For example, in Egypt free market fundamentalism and structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) have been strongly associated with negative impacts on the ability of women to benefit from growth, due to their concentration in a limited number of economic sectors, their limited mobility and their responsibilities for unpaid care work.”

    Okay, sure Doi Moi and the Deng Reforms and the Rao/Singh Liberalization and other stuff were big successes with annual growth rates over 7%, but you guyyyys, women in Egypt aren’t benefitting because they’re underskilled, immobile and tied to care work. Why? Who knows! Total mystery! If only there were some ideology or ethic we could blame for this….wait! I know! It’s that neoliberalism wot done this to the wimmins!

  2. No, in the 1960s Oxfam didn’t worry didn’t worry one iota about poverty in Britain and didn’t have a bureaucracy that needed people to worry about poverty, let alone “poverty”. I have personal reasons to proundly dislike Jeffrey Archer but I can forgive him a lot for his transformation of Oxfam from a small local do-gooding charity into a major force to reduce suffering in the Third World.

    What has happened since (including his criminal conviction) does not change historical reality

    Poverty in the Uk was NOT eliminated in the 1930s. To a tremendous extent it *was* eliminated in the 1950s (hence the SuperMac quote after meeting OAPs whose income was *higher* than when he had neen working “some of us have never had it so good” [please read the “some of us” Mac was honest].

    Finally, *no-one* has *ever* proved Jesus wrong. We still have peple who are poor – mostly refugees but also many who have wrongly been denied benefits by DWP and its overseas equivalents.

  3. Who will provide that indoor relief for the dimmer scions of the establishment..[…]… change the problem from poverty to inequality and the grandchildren of Jocelyn and Jocasta will still have someone to fund their gap yah.

    Wrong target.

  4. john77 – yes, lots of people wrongly denied benefits. Even people who do not qualify for a benefit have been denied it.
    Do not think I have ever come across anyone who was denied a benefit due to them that kept being denied it, though in a couple of instances the timescale was 5 plus years.
    Its very hard to keep denying a benefit that is due.

  5. @ Martin
    Yes, it is very hard to keep denying a benefit that is due but after a year (not 5) someone who has no other source of income will have stopped trying to claim it because he will have dropped dead.

  6. Jesus has not been proved wrong. A poor person is someone who cannot support themselves. Giving them alms doesn’t change that.

    When you don’t need to redistribute, then you have eliminated poverty.

  7. I’ve boycotted Oxfam ever since they hopped on the “fair trade” gravy train. If they were serious about poverty reduction, they’d promote free trade, rather than this interventionist, feel good, price supporting, crypto-green label scam from which “label gatekeepers” like themselves benefit.

  8. Climate change is the single biggest threat in the global fight against hunger.

    I boycott any supposedly anti-poverty charity that makes claims like the above. Restricting global economic growth in order to fight ‘climate change’ is the single biggest threat in the global fight against hunger. The likes of Oxfam and World Vision are campaigning for greater poverty through their climate change advocacy. But being anti-Western, anti-capitalist trumps being anti-poverty.

  9. Hueshi,

    Excellent analysis. Just one quibble: Oxfam do have a point about developing-world billionaires. Mexico’s top billionaire (and current owner of the New York Times) is Carlos Slim. One of his best deals was buying Telmex, the Mexican telephone company, from the government in the early 1990s. In the absence of any meaningful competition, Slim kept prices high. It has been a goldmine for him. As recently as 2006 Telmex still controlled 90% of landlines in the country.

    That’s definitely a failure of regulation (compare with the U.S. breakup of monopoly AT&T in 1984, or compare with anything the UK’s Ofcom does); and arguably a botched privatisation too.

  10. @RDJ

    I think you’ve committed Worstall’s Fallacy there, in that they aren’t strictly poor if you’ve alleviated it.

    “Dependency” is a better word for what you’ve defined.

    We can alleviate poverty through handouts, that’s the easy bit – hence the state taking the easy route of theft rather than helping to create the economic circumstances that would make such theft largely unnecessary.

  11. OXFAM is also very much on the Climate Change/man-made Global Warming bandwagon , receiving considerable funding from the EU. As there is no European Demos, the EU creates a simulacrum of ” civil society” through NGOs. The deal is ” You campaign for our policy objectives and we’ll give you lots of other people’s money”. Most similar organisations are part of this arrangement.

    A few years back, I arranged a showing of ” The GreatbGlobal Warming Swindle” and ” Not Evil Just Wrong” through the good offices of a local,Councillor. There were demonstrations, including criminal damage, going on at a local power station and we became aware that salaried OXFAM staff were helping to organise the protest ( doubtlessly the entirely legal parts).
    I don’t suppose that many of the good-hearted people giving donations for famine relief realised that their generosity was funding this sort of activity – assisted by the EU, of course.

  12. My mother used to donate to Amnesty International until they started promoting abortion as a human right. She switched her donations to some other organisation dealing with prisoners of conscience, and when she died my Dad kept up the donations. However, he then discovered the charity in question was paying for an Afghan woman who had fled a forced marriage to live in London, and he thought this was somewhat different from helping prisoners of conscience and stopped the donations.

  13. @ Cynic January 17, 2017 at 9:05 am

    “We can alleviate poverty through handouts, that’s the easy bit – hence the state taking the easy route of theft rather than helping to create the economic circumstances that would make such theft largely unnecessary.”

    It’s not the ‘easy bit’, it’s the lucrative bit. Stealing money from the public to alleviate poverty allows the robbers to cream off a few percent for themselves. It beats working for a living.

    Ending poverty by permitting the poor to keep themselves out of poverty would kill that goose.

    Poverty traps are essential for the caring state.


  14. Martin,

    > bit like BT in Britain for many years? Or the train companies? Or royal mail?

    BT has a market share of about 31%; TelMex has 80%, rising to 90% in the capital. Ofcom have been on BT’s back from the get-go, and there has been plenty of competition.

    Train companies are a weird, special case; but the government is constantly breathing down their necks too.

    Royal Mail is hardly a goldmine. Mail volumes are down because everyone gets their bank statements by email; competition is fierce, especially for parcel delivery. Even Christmas cards are disappearing in favour of emails. The government did well to get rid of that millstone round their neck; they certainly weren’t selling the family silver.

  15. Cynic
    I am aware of and not falling for Worstall’s falacy. There was no forcible redistribution in Jesus’ day, what he meant by “poor” was “unable to support themselves”. Are the people unable to support themselves still with us? Yes? Then Jesus was quite correct in that there will always be people who can’t survive without the assistance of others. Making that assistance compulsory is alleviating, not eliminating, poverty.

  16. SE
    Good point, but I would question whether taxing Judeans and giving it to Roman proles is strictly “redistributive” as we currently understand it.

  17. @ SE
    What Roue said – the distribution of panem et circenses to the Roman mob was not alleviating, let alone eliminating poverty as the Romans were – like the Yanks on benefit – among the richer half of the population.

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