Trade frontiers & the birth rate - three universal preconceptions
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Guilmette, Jean H. 1989. Trade frontiers & the birth rate - three universal preconceptions. Spore 20. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/45029
Jean H. Guilmette, who has just taken over as Director of the Club du Sahel, is a man who has made development the vocation. He is a French-speaking Canadian and a sociologist specialising in the administration of development programmes He was...
Jean H. Guilmette, who has just taken over as Director of the Club du Sahel, is a man who has made development the vocation. He is a French-speaking Canadian and a sociologist specialising in the administration of development programmes He was policy and planning director of ACDI, but his main work has been in the field, in Asia and Africa. As he was taking up the reins at the Club du Sahel, he spoke to SPORE about his policies and the principles which will govern his period of office there. His predecessor, Anne de LaUre, certainly made her mark on the Club, and here Mr Guilmette gives us a glimpse of how he sees things, and knocks down a few preconceptions at the same time. Trade has been judged and sentenced after too perfunctory a trial. The Sahel is a free trade area, very much de facto instead of by design. Research carried out by the Club du Sahel jointly with IRAM, has shown that an enormous amount of unofficial trading must be added on to the official figures. We are used to seeing old colonial borders as very artificial, as a handicap, and even perhaps as an excuse for poor economic performance. But is this really so? As far as the economy goes, the inflexible national boundaries have been by-passed by the native population, who are themselves generally of the same race, and who though divided by a frontier- have preserved the old family networks. Any mistakes in economic policy have been offset by this huge cross-border trade. If the frontiers had followed ethnic territorial divisions, the borders would have become war zones instead of flourishing trading areas. Why be afraid of profit? Understanding this had led me to ponder the reasons why we have to underestimate the importance of the role of trade in development: can it have been the craze for economic nationalism or our deep distrust of profit? Trade has been a taboo subject for far too long in the eyes of those who administer aid. But market forces prevent state opposition to change becoming a permanent factor. Trade helps overturn the established order, acts as check and balance to the powers-that be, and contributes to the transfer of technology and knowledge - a point which should not be overlooked. The answers to these problems are not to be found in trade embargoes, the search for price stabilisation. or the imposition of production quotas, which all tend to lessen an acceptance of competition rather than stimulate it- but in the on-going training of peasants and, in research and development of more effective agricultural practices and products. A calf or a child? I've also been reflecting on the generally accepted analysis of the population problem, an analysis which seems to me to be false A French economist thought about the following paradox: why does the birth of a calf increase the GDP, but that of a child reduce it? Is a human being really worth less than a calf? This paradox makes even less sense to me as today's wealth seems to be less and less materially based and more and more oriented towards human values. It is Man who endows things with their value, their use, and transforms the most ordinary things into riches. After all, a computer is only a bit of silicon, just sand arranged by the human mind. Who could have forseen that sand - one of the most common commodities on earth - could be invested with such power in the hands of mankind? In most of the southern countries young people come onto the labour market in their millions every day. The cry goes up all the time to adopt policies which would reduce the birthrate, but those other voices which offer concrete and humane proposals to give the youth of the Third World a chance to work and tap into the available wealth are seldom heard. Ultimately the financial aid channelled into development is much too small, especially taking into account the flow of trade and capital which is never to the advantage of the poorest countries. A dialogue of the deaf It has to be admitted that the representatives of the affluent countries usually turn a deaf ear to the pleas of their counterparts who constantly request an increase in aid. On the other hand, our friends in the Third World have done little to bring home to their own populations the likely consequences of unchecked demographic growth; and few of them have faced up to the predictable crises which are the result of this head-in-the-sand attitude. CILSS and the Club du Sahel have just completed a predictive study identifying the crises which can be expected. All credit must go to the Sahelians for having been the first to risk such a study But the real test is what they will make of it. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily those of CTA.