At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, some 60,000 delegates from around the globe met together to solve the problems of poor nations.
While they were pondering what to do about world hunger, they made sure that they themselves would not go hungry. The chef of the five-star Michelangelo Hotel, where the VIPs stayed, told Neil Syson of the British tabloid The Sun how he had stocked 1,000 pounds of lobster, 5,000 oysters, more than two tons of steak, 450 pounds of salmon, and half a ton of bacon and sausages. Not to mention thousands of bottles of vintage wine and champagne flown in from the best vineyards, and buckets of pate de foie gras and Beluga caviar. "Money is no object," said the chef, as indeed it was not, since taxpayers from participating nations would pick up the tab.
The virtuecrats at the World Summit displayed not just their elitist taste for luxury, status, and the finer things in life. They also displayed what, ironically, often accompanies Western consumer excess, the fashionable politics of environmentalism, multiculturalism, and leftist economics. In another irony, these Western ideologies help keep the world poor.
Consider some of the bright ideas to come out of the World Summit. French President Jacque Chirac proposed the establishment of a global tax. Never mind that high taxes in his own country are stifling the economy, let's add to local, state, and national taxes, a world tax.
A South American diplomat offered a more supply-side solution. Environmentalism being a major theme of the Summit-the emphasis being not just on "development" but "sustainable development," which is code for restricting economic progress-he picked up on the environmentalists' apotheosis of the rain forest. We supply the world's oxygen, he said. Therefore, the world should compensate us for it.
To see oxygen as a commodity, like oil or wheat, is at least ingenious. But who would receive the money from such a scheme? Not individuals, of course, but governments, just as governments would receive the money from taxes. In the United States, if a farmer strikes oil in his back 40, he receives a lease from an oil company and royalties on every barrel pumped. In poor countries, such as Nigeria, the government takes the oil money, which is pretty much the case in the aristocracies of the Middle East. This means in practice that the ruling dictator or monarch gets it all. (The Sultan of Brunei brought his own chef and tasters to the World Summit.)
Thus, while Africa is a treasure house of natural resources-oil, gold, diamonds-most of the people live in crushing poverty and imminent starvation. Statist solutions, which just give more money and power to dictators, will do nothing for the hungry children of the shantytowns.
Even as the Summiteers discussed how rich nations should share their resources with the poor, the brutal dictator of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, was arresting white farmers and seizing their land. Mr. Mugabe's "land reform" program takes away the property of white people to give it to blacks-in effect, replacing the old racism of apartheid with another kind of racist system (even though most of the land is going to a handful of his cronies). But since no crops can be harvested from these farms, according to UN figures, 6 million Zimbabweans are near starvation.
Then there is Zambia, where 2.5 million Zambians face starvation, many currently surviving only by eating leaves and twigs. The United States readies hundreds of thousands of tons of grain to avert the crisis. But the president of Zambia, Levy Mwanawasa, will not let it into the country because the corn has been genetically modified. Echoing the party line of Western environmentalists, he thinks it might be dangerous. Even though this is the same corn Americans eat every day, it is not environmentally correct.
"We would rather starve than get something toxic," said Mr. Mwanawasa, who seized power in a rigged election last year. His people disagree. The Los Angeles Times described the scene at a food distribution center, where some 200 people were sent home after the government embargo was announced. "Please give us the food," said an elderly blind man. "We don't care if it is poisonous because we are dying anyway."
Socialism, statism, and environmental extremism are Western ideologies. What they give poor nations is dictatorship, poverty, and starvation. Those nations are indeed suffering from the legacy of colonialism. But the new liberal colonialism, for all of its humane-sounding rhetoric, may be even more destructive.
What the developing nations of the world need is political and economic freedom. Helping them requires not just feel-good posturing, but building up the moral, legal, and spiritual infrastructure for liberty.