Thursday, March 17, 2005

Let the spinnin' wheel spin

The two stories were related somehow, the nomination of Paul D. Wolfowitz for presidency of the World Bank and news that after 20 years of investigation the Canadian investigation into the bombing of an Air India flight had come up dry. The question was how. Wolfowitz's nomination only makes sense if the primary cause of world underdevelopment is perceived as political failure rather than the mere lack of investment. Its narrative relationship to the Canadian acquittal of the Air India bombing suspects is one of contrast: the failure of the Crown prosecution to prove its case being cast in opposite terms; a lack of technique rather than political failure.

The really shocking thing about the Canadian decision was illustrating how two decades, $100 million in expenses and the best good will in the world could get no further than establishing there was a bomb aboard the plane the night it blew up. If the one air incident took that, what if, God forbid, some really serious terrorist action happened in Canada that required a rapid resolution? David Beatty's famous expression of disappointment at the underperformance of his squadron at Jutland captures the frustration perfectly. "There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today."

The same thought has probably occurred to anyhow who has watched the World Bank and other international development agencies flail their arms against the tide of poverty. After spending hundreds of billions of dollars in the best ways academia could conceive, five decades of development aid hasn't even established whether the effort was useful. 'Never in the face of human effort has so little been been accomplished by so much'.

But if insanity is expecting different results from the same actions then the asylum is larger than it seems. The development bureaucrats are outraged that Wolfowitz might try to do things differently. Columbia's Jeffrey Sachs reacted to Wolfowitz's appointment saying "we need someone with professional experience in helping people to escape from poverty. Mr Wolfowitz does not have that track record". Neither, he might have added, did anyone else. But that is nothing to the point.

The most damning charge against him was that he actually made something happen. "Wolfowitz's nomination aroused particular concerns in Europe because of his key role as an architect of the war in Iraq". Hence the danger is that he might do it again. Far more reassuring in these latter days if he had spent twenty years doing nothing at all. It has been long since Europe remembered what once it knew so well.

Thro' the shadow of the globe we sweep into the younger day;
Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.
-- Locksley Hall