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The Newest Global Religion

The world economy with its multiple crises is a frightening place. To confront our fears, we have a new global religion. It developed slowly over the last couple decades, based on the sacred writings of the world’s leading shamans. The shamans have been releasing a new scripture of prophecy and comfort every year after secluding themselves in a remote location for several days of prayer and reflection.

There used to be only seven of these shamans, and they were known for short as the G7. As of their latest retreat to the Burgh of Pitt last weekend, the number of shamans has grown to G20.

This year’s scripture, called The Communiqué, was the longest in G-ism history at 15 pages. It offered prayers of healing for many different ailments, from the pestilent OTC Derivative Contracts to the noxious Gas Emissions. It condemned the unholy Excessive Compensation in the Financial Sector as well as the evil Non-Cooperative Jurisdictions.

One of the greatest attractions of the G-ist religion is its concern for the poorest among us. G20 reserved their most fervent prayers of comfort and restoration for those who newly suffer, such as those who now hunger when they did not before. There are 90 million more who go hungry than at last year’s G-shaman meeting, after the Great Backsliding of 2008, whereupon “the financial crisis followed close on the heels of a global spike in food prices…{when} even before the crisis, too many still suffered from hunger …{and} recognizing the crisis has exacerbated this situation.” G20 offer to feed the hungry with GPAFS, CAADP, UNCFA, IDA, ADB, NGOs, FAO, IFAD, and WFP, using the holy mysteries of “coordinate efforts,” and “country-led mechanisms,” and “complement and reinforce other existing multilateral and bilateral efforts” (page 11, verse 39 of The Communiqué).

G20ism has proven to be tolerant and inclusive of other religions. According to a story in the Florida Catholic:

Most people in high levels of government “really do want to do the right thing for the poor. They really do have a moral compass,” said Stephen Colecchi, director of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Office of International Justice and Peace, at a press conference in Pittsburgh Sept. 23. Part of the power of prayer and bringing together religious leaders at such an event is “the belief that we can influence people,” he said. Some 30 leaders of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faiths attended the press conference before processing in full clerical garb to the Omni William Penn Hotel to meet with representatives of the U.S. delegation to the G–20 summit.

Alas, there are still many who do not believe, even mocking the true faith of the G20. The nonbelievers claim that reason and evidence is the best path to alleviate suffering, rather than belief in the mystical powers of the G-shamans.

The evidence on increased hunger numbers is a wee bit shaky when the last reliable numbers on undernourishment are from 2003 to 2005. Nor is hunger either necessarily the result of the crisis or a black and white categorization. Most malnutrition is chronic, not crisis-driven, and includes many different categories of nutritional deficiency, such as vitamin A deficiency, as well as not having enough to eat.

Then to make things worse, even the crisis narrative on hunger is faulty: the food price spike crisis and the global recession are not additive but partially offsetting. Global food prices in real terms fell because of the global recession to pre-spike levels (although lower income because of the crisis of course makes buying food more difficult).

Faith-based analysis leads to faith-based actions. Only the most fanatical G20-ist religionists could believe that more Coordinations, Frameworks, Partnerships and Programmes will feed the hungry.

To show the contrast between G20-ism and reason & evidence, here are two questions that address hunger:

(1) If you are an aid agency that covers hunger, exactly what is your excuse for not meeting the unmet needs for nutritional and vitamin supplements? These supplements are cheap, they have been demonstrated to work, and they fit well into other aid programs like conditional cash transfers.

(2) If you are the US government, how can you take a solemn vow to feed the hungry when there ARE food emergencies and yet you still insist the food come from American farmers and shippers? This leads to months of delays while people are dying from hunger. Sometimes the food arrives after the emergency is over, and then makes sustainable future food supplies worse by driving food prices down and driving local farmers out of business.

G-ism has already survived for many years even though the G-shamans did not keep previous promises. That is the tragedy of faith without reason.

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7 Comments

  1. While your two questions (and the underlying argument that most problems due to nutrition are chronic, not crisis-driven) are valid and very important, I think this doesn’t address why the G20 communiques have no impact.

    Do you really think that coordinating how vast amounts of money are spent to reduce duplication and improve the way resources are allocated across the range of needs of poor countries won’t be useful? That’s ridiculous. Of course it would. If it’s done correctly, this would allow the vitamin supplements etc. to be bought by some donors, while food crises are dealt with by others.

    The question we should be asking is ‘why, despite the rhetoric, does this never get translated into action?’.

    Posted September 29, 2009 at 2:12 am | Permalink
  2. Jim wrote:

    Two reasonable questions at the end, shame we had to wade through all that ‘satire’ to get there.

    And the satire’s a bit off target anyway because G-ism as you describe it seems to be a religion without many, maybe any, fanatical adherents. In fact the only people who talk like they really believe in it (and then only intermittently) seem to be the ‘shamans’ themselves, i.e. the G7 or G20 leaders. This points to the function of the G as an institution, which is to facilitate and encourage public commitments to joint action. These commitments are, as everyone including you keeps pointing out, a very imperfect means of ensuring actual implementation, but they are arguably better than nothing. It’s an interesting question as to whether the process of ‘make commitment, get part of the way but fall short of full implementation’ is actually a vote-winner for G leaders or a rod for their own backs.

    Regarding food aid, don’t you think you should be aiming some of your criticisms at the US farm lobby which demands that aid consist of US produce, rather than railing against ‘the government’ in general, given that the executive has tried on several occasions to change this practice? I continue to be puzzled at the methodological nationalism on display here.

    Posted September 29, 2009 at 2:54 am | Permalink
  3. George wrote:

    Quite. And of beyond-crucial importance.

    Simon Johnston, ex-Chief Economist of the IMF (07-08) also wrote about this on his (excellent) blog, in a post entitled “Was the G20 Summit Actually Dangerous?”:

    http://baselinescenario.com/2009/09/26/was-the-g20-summit-actually-dangerous/

    Posted September 29, 2009 at 6:02 am | Permalink
  4. QT wrote:

    I can understand that the politics of the G20 is quite disheartening and frustrating. The biting sarcasm of this piece seems to blunt the thrust of the argument. One hears the anger and bitterness which tend to overshadow the conclusions.

    The quality of argument is seldom improved by anger.

    Posted September 29, 2009 at 11:13 pm | Permalink
  5. David Shea wrote:

    The insistence on using a particular counties resources / supply chains just shows that Poverty and Hunger are just items on a bureaucrats checklist. A feel-good, political checklist that’s the appendix to the 15 page feel-good proclamation. :-D

    Posted September 30, 2009 at 12:21 am | Permalink
  6. zulusafari wrote:

    I appreciate your occasional attempts at creativity, unlike some of the other commenters.

    I also feel opposite from some of the commenters in that I feel your satire is SPOT ON whereas your questions at the end don’t help solve the problem. Adding vitamins doesn’t get a community off of hand-outs (the ultimate goal) and the US using US food doesn’t solve your problem either. Even if purchased locally, the logistics in that alone would be crazy, and the quantity needed would likely soak up the local supply entirely, leaving NOTHING for purchase, or what little is available would be INSANELY expensive and totally unaffordable to those who used to purchase it. The opposite effect you described.

    There must be a happy middle ground for that last one.

    Posted September 30, 2009 at 9:02 am | Permalink
  7. johnk wrote:

    I like the religion analogy. It’s a powerful thing when a small group claims to have authority on a subject and power to do something about it. It does at least two things: First, it can lead everyone else to believing that the issue is being taken care of by these experts, and second, it can lead others to believe that they are experts and know what they are doing simply because they have claimed to be.

    I commend the G20 for speaking out on the issues they have, but I agree with you wholeheartedly that the faith-based actions need to be backed up by reason and evidence.

    Posted October 2, 2009 at 10:05 am | Permalink