Driven to drink in Doha

I’m turning to Booze. For inspiration, you know. Not the drink (probably), but the tiny village in Yorkshire, that, because it’s situated ‘up a hill’, can no longer receive deliveries from Royal Mail.

The media doesn’t just play the blame game in such situations. It makes up rules arbitrarily, and, like a kid playing cops and robbers who suddenly invents a force-field around himself or a gun that shoots round corners, it is not always fair.

In this case, news reports chose to make Royal Mail the bad guys, for unreasonably refusing a public service to elderly village residents because their road is a bit bumpy. But they could just as easily have chosen to take pity on the poor postie who has had his back ruined by having to drive the bone-shaking road for years, causing pain that could either have driven him to booze or, as he decided, make him choose not to drive to Booze.

A story that chooses a bad guy (however subtly, and this was by no means a tabloid frenzy) is just more interesting. Imagine the headline in the Mail: ‘Both Sides Pretty Reasonable!’ or ‘No-one To Blame In Complex Situation!’ It’s understandable that journalists pick a side to give a story narrative flow, but is it always desirable?

Take the Doha development talks last week. They stalled because India and China did not want to go very far in opening up their markets to foreign interests. Since Doha’s aim is for more market liberalisation, the narrative most media commentators followed was that China and India were, if not the bad guys, then at least the unfortunate dead rats in the otherwise pristine tapwater: a problem, even if not an intentional problem.

The fact that liberalisation is only beneficial to developed countries was ignored. This is hardly surprising. When a news channel asks for an expert opinion on the economy, they pretty much always ask an investment analyst or economist. Someone immersed in a philosophy that believes almost fundamentally that liberalisation is always a good thing. Of course they’re going to tow the party line. The party taught them everything they know.

So when journalists who are not economists report on Doha, they take the same line — China and India are being difficult– and ignore the precedents of Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, all fine examples of economies that benefited amazingly from protectionism. The same protectionism that India and China were being accused of in last week’s news.

The fact is, as any person who has bothered to read a Christian Aid report on trade in the last ten years will know, free trade (the aim of Doha) only benefits countries whose industries are strong. Countries in much of the developing world, who have intentionally been kept at the level of supplying only raw materials to the richer nations (who process it and then sell it back to poorer nations by means of liberalised trade), will only succeed in handing over their national treasures to rich countries if they do not protect themselves. So the narrative of India and China being the bad guys is disingenuous, however understandable that disingenuity is.

But let’s be honest: India and China are hardly Somalia and Mozambique. While it is tempting to divide the world into ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ (‘evil oppressors’ and ‘innocent victims’), as one Sunday columnist pointed out last week, the reality is somewhat more complex.

Christians have a duty to understand something of these complexities if they are to stand for justice. But if we are going to go in for simplistic dichotomies, let’s be sure to fall on the side of the poor, not the capitalist elite.


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