Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Book Notes: The Locust Effect by Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros

Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros' "The Locust Effect" is a profound, disturbing and important book about the battle to improve the lives of the poor in the developing world. It is also quite different from any of the purely political books on the subject (which focus on the effects of world trade systems) and is different again from the literature of most of the development agencies I have read from folks like TEARFund and Water Aid (which focus on direct, practical economic development schemes). The Locust Effect is not a book which demeans or downplays the importance of political, economic or development work; but seeks to add something of profound significance to the global effort to improve the lives of the poorest: namely the essential need for justice.

Haugen and Boutros explain:
Somehow the world missed the fact that most of the global poor lack the most basic ingredient of forward progress: personal security....... most of the global poor live outside the protection of rudimentary law enforcement and are utterly vulnerable to the locusts of violence that can come on any given day and sweep all other good efforts to improve their lives away. (p276). 
The book contains not merely a weight of statistics demonstrating the global crisis of injustice against the poor; but heartbreaking stories of individuals and families whose lives have been devastated by their vulnerability in the face of the absence of access to justice. The child-rape victims in South America whose attackers are above the law, the African widows whose land (and only income) is stolen from them in land-grabs, the Indian brick-kiln workers beaten and imprisoned as slaves, the Indian girls who won't attend the school built by an International development project, because they are not safe from rapists either travelling to//from the school or within its corridors; are only some of the stories from the book which show what life without the functioning justice system we take for granted, looks like.

The reality that The Locust Effect asks us to confront is that development aid and provision without justice is critically flawed. Haugen and Boutros write:
In their study called Where is the Wealth of Nations, the World Bank sets out to determine how different kinds of capital contribute to a nation's economic development. The sharp-pencilled regression analysts at the Bank started with the familiar sources of a nation's capital: 1) e.g. natural resources, (oil, gas, minerals, forests, croplands etc) and 2) built capital (e.g. machinery, equipment, infrastructure, urban land, etc). But the economists found that these two sources of tangible capital accounted for only 20 to 40 percent of a nation's wealth. It turns out that the vast majority of the wealth comes from intangible capital of institutions, (e.g. education, governance, property rights, justice systems, etc) that makes human labour and the natural and built capital increasingly productive. (p155)
Or as David Brooks wrote in the New York Times:
You can cram all the nongovernmental organisations you want into a country, but if there is no rule of law, and if the ruling class is predatory then your achievements won't add up to much.... In short, there's only so much good you can do unless you are willing to confront corruption, venality and disorder, head-on. (p157)
While I have been reading this book, the UK has been embroiled in an enormous scandal as the extent to which child sexual abuse has been rife, and carried out by public figures in the world of entertainment and politics. The headlines have focused on the abusers; but the alarming thing is the fact that virtually all the victims of abusers like Saville, Cyril Smith, Peter Righton and the rest, were vulnerable children and adults from care homes, hospitals and the like who would not be believed or would make 'bad witnesses'. This scandal is escalating amidst claims that the elites have conspired to cover up the abuse coming from among their ranks; Don Hale of the Bury Messenger alleges that Special Branch came and removed all the evidence he planned to publish about it in the 1980s, while Leon Brittan still has to account for the "mislaid" dossier of information passed to him by Geoffrey Dickens MP. We stand shocked, appalled and rightly demand a transparent enquiry and action, both the prosecution of abusers and care for victims. What Haugen and Boutros show is that what has so outraged us in the UK, where a tiny minority are below the protection of the law, and another tiny minority is above its reach: is the normal experience of billions of the worlds poorest people.

In most of the countries under discussion the justice systems are simply broken, or absent. Many of the systems are barely reconstructed colonial hang-overs from the Early 20thC and were designed, not to provide justice for the poor; but to manage a turbulent population resisting occupation. For others, policing and the justice system are simply absent and the poor have no access to any impartial dispute resolution, protection from crime or compensation for it. As disturbingly as Don Hale's accusations about Special Branch, for vast swathes of the worlds poorest people the police themselves are the problem. Untrained, unequipped and barely paid police forces act as corrupt militia's of the elite, the rich and powerful - consistently siding against the poor. Almost three-thousand years ago, The Jewish prophet Isaiah charged: They deprive the poor of justice and deny the rights of the needy among my people. They prey on widows and take advantage of orphans. (Isa10:2). He would shudder at how little has changed in 2015.

While much of the book is taken up with demonstrating the veracity of the central thesis of the essential requirement of criminal justice for the poor; The Locust Effect also assesses what the spending priorities of Western governments have been in their various development programmes. They conclude:
There has been no meaningful, large-scale attention or resources focused on protecting the common poor in the developing world from violence with basic law enforcement.(p215)
In fact, they estimate that of the trillions of dollars invested in international development over the last half a century, less than one percent has been used to fix broken justice systems.

After the painful, and difficult stories it contains, The Locust Effect concludes in optimistic terms. The authors assert that improving justice for the poor isn't something that has been tried and abandoned because of its difficulty - rather that it remains work which has simply never been really tried on a scale that fairly reflects the size of the problem.

Some localised case studies, many of which are the work of The International Justice Mission (IJM) founded by Haugen, are highlighted. Using their system of Collaborative Casework to identify the points in the system which deny the poor, the IJM team were able (with others) to rebuild the justice and policing system in Cebu, The Phillipines reducing corruption, freeing slaves and training the judiciary. The results were spectacular. Likewise the introduction, of mobile courts in rural DRC has led to the first effective prosecutions of gang-rapists causing a subsequent enormous improvement in the lives of previously vulnerable women who now live under the covering of the rule of law for the first time. The Locust Effect contains several such inspiring case-studies. They prove that huge progress for the most vulnerable in our world is possible if we can invest in justice. They point out that some cities which have reasonably well-functioning justice systems today such as New York - were utterly corrupt and dysfunctional a Century ago.

Haugen and Boutros conclude;
"the critical question of our era is before us. At this historic inflection point in the struggle again severe poverty, are we prepared to do something different? Are we prepared to honestly acknowledge that the abandonment of criminal justice systems in the developing world has been a disaster? And are we prepared to leverage what we know know to finally begin securing for the poor that safe passage out of the violence that history tells us is both indispensable and possible."(p275)
Critics on the left will perhaps be suspicious of an American book which seeks to shift the 'blame' for severe poverty in the world away from the likes of the G8, trade and tariff agreements, and debt - and onto problems within developing countries themselves. Likewise Economic determinists will insist that only wealth distribution will empower the poor and provide justice - and will be suspicious of any suggestion that cause and effect might also run in the other direction. However, even if one shares any of those starting assumptions, Haugen and Boutros demonstrate in The Locust Effect that alongside whatever vision of social and economic justice we pursue, providing the poor of the earth with safety and security is a basic human-right that must go hand-in-hand in a positive dynamic relationship with traditional development and political work.

Buy The Locust Effect is online here
Read more about The Locust Effect here:
Read more about the International Justice Mission (and their notable work freeing slaves) here:

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