Currently a hot debate is taking place in the Netherlands about budget cuts on official development cooperation that the liberal government is proposing (see information on the website of ¥OURWORLD and Partos). The right-wing chief-condoner of the current cabinet dominates the debate and even threatens to withdraw his support for the current cabinet if they do not live up to his demands. Amongst other, heavy cuts on development cooperation, which he names as a left-wing hobby.
As a counter-tactic the NGO branch organization Partos started a campaign trying to convince top-negotiators not to cut on development cooperation arguing that it needs to be seen as an investment that would serve our national image building. How ugly have we embraced the market thinking, even in our international solidarity obligations.
framing solidarity into self-interest
It really amazes me how this framing into self-interest has taken place over the last couple of years. Aided by some provocative figures in the liberal wing and too careful opposition from the socialists side. This has brought the popular vote to the liberal side. The political divides seem difficult to bridge. Even traditional political borders between capitalists and socialists or conservative and progressive schools of thought seem to disappear and appear almost in every political party.
Very few analyze the broad societal current that is underneath this repositioning. The ones best sensing this current will take the lead. The best outcomes will be reached when this current itself becomes the subject of debate rather than being single-sided tapped for political gain. How to tap into this current?
connect Europe to the world
I would suggest the following direction of the debate. Reconnect the debate about development cooperation to the broad social challenges at the European front. What happens in Europe between nations, is a reflection of what happens in individual societies at every scale. If we have invested in Greece only by virtue of statistics and projected financial profit figures, then we should just take our loss and accept we have been misguided. However, those that have invested in Greece on the basis of a relational paradigm, a shared history and an appreciation of the Greek contribution to our European civilization, will not be willing to take this loss. They will endeavor to analyze where it went wrong. Where we lost sight of the relational aspects that normally underpins investment.
Then we realize the need to reinvent our markets in such a way that trust is not based on public perception (manipulated or not) but based on public opinion shaped by long-term relationships, deeply shared values and well-articulated common purposes. That will reconnect societies on the medium to longer term to each other and effectively address major inequalities between them.
One area where this could start to take shape is bringing the social sectors (education and health) in Europe back to citizen’s control. I heard a right-wing economist recently state that health has already been conquered by private forces and is no longer under public control. The same may happen to education if measures are not taken. What measures?
re-occupy social development
Downscaling the systems governing those services to a bitable size. Bringing education and health service delivery back to citizen control. Through our taxes we have contracted out these services to the government to more efficiently provide for us. When the government does not longer respect its side of the agreement, and is trading the interest of citizens to private parties (whether stock-exchange registered banks or insurance companies), it is breach of contract. That means its time to renew it and set new standards taking into account the lessons leant. The same is true for development cooperation. It is not the government that is in control of development cooperation, the voters are.
I would welcome new elections in the Netherlands when citizens would be willing to share their perspective on how they wish to earn a living and pay for critical service delivery. However, we then should not bother about who's the political leader. But we should bother about what political ideology we are convinced of. No single individual can ever represent such an ideology, no matter how charismatic you are. It should be a broadly shared set of values that people wish to adhere to, leaving minor differences to the personal politics. However, when followers allow ideology to be personalized, history shows what consequences it has.
Finally I would like to point to a terrible misconception about the traditional charitas perspective, as far as its biblical underpinning is concerned. However, it might be time to revisit our Jewish-Christian tradition and see how some pearls have been trampled by the same tradition. The perspective that aiding somebody in need is your civil obligation or even an act of altruism is supposedly best illustrated by the story of the good Samaritan. Who-ever lost sight of it, read the summary at the Wiki page about it (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Good_Samaritan). Many people today and even in history have misinterpreted this as a lesson where Jesus taught his followers to be good to their neighbors. But that is not even half the story. The story interestingly points to the hypocrisy of the religious clergy of the time. In the story, those who should have considered it their 'duty' to help (given their religious functions in society), quickly passed by on the other side when they found a crime victim on their path. The person who finally helped out was someone who could have been considered an enemy, as he was (probably a trader) of another ethnic group that was considered inferior to the pure Israelite.
Charitas or Justice?
Being on business travel on the most busy and dangerous trade route of that time taking you through territory with different people groups controlling different parts of the road, he ignored his political point of view at the time he met a clear victim of crime. He brought him to the nearest bed and breakfast, paid for a few days recovery and asked the owner to present him the bill on his way back in case the person would have needed a bit more time for recovery.
Had he reason to trust his enemy? Yes, he had! He had placed a moral obligation on the person he had helped to get out of the establishment as soon as he recovered, bearing in mind that a longer stay would burden his helpful enemy. He also trusted the owner of the establishment not to throw him out as soon as the grant was finished. He must have known the person or at least witnessed the care he had taken for the victim. This cannot be considered an act of charity. It was a political act and it must have moved the owner of the establishment also to act diligently.
Did the caretaker earn anything from it? I don't think so. He probably lost some time, lost some money and did not even stay longer to find out if the person he had helped could access a specific market for his products. In case he would have done that, I don't think his humanitarian aid had been equally valued by its recipient.
So, let's get on with it, forgetting about our interest, let us do justice, no matter the consequences.
My name is Reinier van Hoffen.
Click here for a summary.
Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.