Last week, a group of Fortune 500 CEOs, scholars, labor and church leaders and philanthropists gathered in Rome and the Vatican. Inspired by Pope Francis’s calls for human empowerment, those assembled released an anti-poverty report: “The 21st Century Challenge: Forging a New Social Compact.”
The report is worth our close scrutiny. In 2016, anti-poverty efforts are a key concern of both conservative and liberal thinkers. The world has never been wealthier or more technologically advanced.
Yet even in America, the wealthiest of nations, too many are perpetually homeless, or imprisoned by socialism, or trapped in low-wage employment.
The report’s first topic is financial inclusion in developing economies. The delegates make important recommendations. These include using financial payment tracking systems — such as cell-phone apps — to reduce corruption, and funding local capitalism to discourage capital flights to wealthier nations.
Yet these suggestions are weakened by the report’s naiveté about auctioning its ideas. After all, until governments in developing nations are held to account for corrupt practices, the populations they serve will continue to suffer. The report should have called for a crackdown on investment that is not verifiable, as well as for international sanctions against corrupt leaders.
The second issue is energy innovation and environmental protection. It’s the weakest section. Two of the three proposals involve supporting the Paris climate change agreement and a push to “advance carbon pricing.” It’s misguided. Whatever the Paris agreement’s merits — or lack thereof — raising energy production costs increases the point-of-consumption costs for consumers. As Opportunity Lives has shown, it makes poor people even poorer.
Until governments in developing nations are held to account for corrupt practices, the populations they serve will continue to suffer
This is an important area for conservatives to push back against liberals. From South Dakota to South Africa, positive energy policies offer extraordinary potential for sustainable, well-paying jobs alongside lower energy costs. Environmental protection is important. But the priority should be the oceans.
Next up: jobs, innovation and technology. This element of the report is somewhat basic. While it calls for tax changes to incentivize long-term investments, and rightly call for action on skills training, they neglect some hard truths. For one, the reality that corporate tax reform is the best way to boost hiring, investment and efficient capital flows.
Although the report revisits employment in a latter section titled “jobs for all,” that chapter is just as weak as the one about environmental protection. Admitting a global crisis in youth unemployment but employing leftist ideology, the report doubles down on minimum wage laws. Those laws look good on paper, but they smash the least skilled and youngest workers — people who need opportunities the most.
These disappointments aside, the report’s global health section is impressive.
Proposing to train 750,000 community health workers in the poorest nations, the panel recognizes the need for sustainable, low-cost solutions. And unlike too many health reports, this one doesn’t get carried away. Its final point focuses on improving basic sanitation. While we take sanitation for granted, many public health issues in developing nations flow from a failure to mitigate sanitation-related diseases. As Opportunity Lives has argued, this is an area where U.S. (and western) investment makes big bang for the buck.
The group also recognizes the need to improve access to food, and pursue sustainable, clean water supplies. But the proposals for doing so are disappointing. The report claims, “Business will also help farmers adapt practices to climate change and be more resilient through forest mitigation systems, new irrigation technology, etc.” The “etc.” here suggests a seriousness deficit.
Instead, on food and water, the working group should have embraced the strategy of U.S. AID (the U.S. government’s development arm). U.S. AID uses metrics to target investment. And it prioritizes infrastructure development and market liberalization. Poor infrastructure wastes lives and money. Fixing this is vital.
Fortunately, the report ends well. Highlighting the global education-skills gap, it calls for immediate remedial action. The primary push is expanding lifelong learning and female access to education. Both ideas would render benefits beyond economic mobility. Increased educational opportunities for women would, for example, challenge Islamist extremism.
Ultimately, the delegates deserve credit. Meeting the Pope and visiting Rome were obvious incentivizing factors for their efforts, but those participating didn’t need to assess these challenges. That said, this report also explains why conservatives must scrutinize anti-poverty platforms.
For too long, the Left has dominated this crucial moral, economic and social discourse. And for far too many, their ideas have been very disappointing. Offering our own ideas, we should endeavor to make things better.
Tom Rogan writes for National Review Online and Opportunity Lives. He is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. He tweets @TomRtweets. His homepage is http://www.tomroganthinks.com.