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Stuff the poor, they’re happy

Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial by John Fund about Roşia Montană (Rosia Montana, for the character-set impaired), a small town in Romania, where Western “environmentalists” such as George Soros and Vanessa Redgrave are trying to stoke up opposition to a proposed gold mine.

This is a place with 70% unemployment, where the filthy remnants of Soviet-era mining remain a scar on the landscape and where 80% of the population voted for a mayor who supports the project because it will create 700 new jobs. The mine will also clean up a lot of the damage done in the past, according to its backers.

The editorial contrasts two documentary films. Opposed is Gold Futures, by Hungary’s Tibor Kocsis, partly funded by Soros. In favour is Mine Your Own Business by Irish journalists and filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney. No surprises which side I back. A Google search suggests that Gold Futures hasn’t exactly aired (on America’s PBS) to rave reviews either. Writes Fund:

Mine Your Own Business also contains interviews with leading environmentalists opposing other mining projects who display smug indifference to bettering the lives of poor people. In Madagascar, Mr McAleer finds Mark Fenn, country director for the WWF, who argues that the poor are just as happy as the rich because they smile more and that if Madagascar locals (who now earn $100 a month) get more money “they’ll buy cases of beer, invite their friends, they’ll throw a party … three, four days the money’s gone.” He then shows off his new $35 000 catamaran.

This patronising view strongly reminds me of the arguments apartheid leaders used to make about the “natives” in South Africa: they wanted “separate development”. They wouldn’t be comfortable with our fancy White luxuries and affectations. (“White” capitalised for the sake of historical authenticity.)

I was all set to eviscerate Fenn, who appears to be an outright racist. To write a scathing rebuttal to people such as Soros and Redgrave, who sit in their mansions patronising the poor, telling them that industrial development may have been great for the rich folks in the West, but today’s poor can’t have it. They can have a rich and fulfilling life through organic farming and ecotourism instead.

Then I came across a piece by a Ghanaian teacher, De Roy Kwesi Andrew, who had just visited Britain for the first time in his life. In an article entitled “You hate being affluent? Then swap with us”, he makes the point far more eloquently than I can:

I was surprised by the views of some quite cynical audience members during a discussion of affluence at the Battle of Ideas, a festival of debate in central London at the end of last year. This was the first time I heard the suggestion that flying abroad should be rationed, or worse still, banned. The denunciation of material comfort is so widespread in the West that even schoolchildren seem to think affluence is an evil. Many people I met in Britain told me that there is less happiness and laughter in British society due to economic development. Some said that Africans are happier than Brits even though they are poorer. I thought that freedom from toil was the centrepiece of economic development, handing anybody the ability to unleash their potential and gain unlimited opportunities: most people in Britain have that freedom; we in Ghana do not.

If Westerners are not happy with such great things, perhaps they should swap with us Africans. We would love to have what these people seem to hate. You see, we believe in the material progress of mankind; the vast majority of Ghanaians I spoke to while making Damned by Debt Relief said they want more from life: more goods, more products, more choice. We hate being constantly subdued by nature; we are tired of dying early; we are tired of sleeping in mud huts; we are tired of walking long distances for water, food and fuel; we are tired of doing our washing by hand; we are tired of farming with hoes and cutlasses and waiting for nature to be merciful unto us. You think this way of life is “natural” and happiness-inducing? Then you should try it out.

You tell those sanctimonious twits, Mr Andrew. You tell ’em good.