Monday, January 24, 2005

The economics of compassion and death

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A tsunami relief concert was held in Cardiff this weekend. Stars like Eric Clapton, Elton John and Rod Stewart entertained 60,000 people and raised £1.25m for tsunami relief
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Umm, wow.
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As an exercise in curiosity, I fiddled with my pocket calculator and worked out roughly how long it took the UK to spend £1.25m on 'defence' …
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Sixteen minutes
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About the length of an Eric Clapton guitar solo.
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And how long does it take for the US to spend £1.25m on 'defence'?
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88 seconds
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The whole concert exercise is reminiscent of those little old ladies who sell jam or hang around railway stations collecting money in buckets for hospitals. You read about them occasionally in local newspapers 'Grannies raise £617.21 for local children's ward. Doctors say 'ooh, thanks'.
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Don’t those old dears have any conception of how much it costs to run a hospital? The sums they raise would barely keep a medium size hospital in toilet roll for a week.

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Ditto for raising money to alleviate world suffering. The sums required are huge. What sounds like a lot of money to us is small change on a national scale. So what are that tsunami relief concert and jam sales all about?

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Well, partly about self-righteous publicity for the performers, partly as a Band-Aid for our collective conscience, partly a distraction from the structural issues associated with world suffering and, yes, partly about misdirected compassion.

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Our national governments just love events like this concert and Band Aid before it. People give a little money, sleep comfortably in their beds and never get round to questioning where all the big bucks are really being spent.

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Remember, the UK spends £1.25m on guns, tanks and death every 16 minutes. If we reduced 'defence' spending by the equivalent of one day that would be equal to ninety tsunami relief concerts, about £112m. If we stopped paying for death for two days, the sum saved would exceed all the contributions to tsunami relief made by the British public. Plus no-one would need ever listen to a live Rod Stewart performance ever again.

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And, no, we don't need to spend the money we do on defence. Where is it written that Britain has to be the second most interventionist nation in the World after the US? How much more favourably would the World look upon us and our business interests if we were chucking around £40bn a year on constructive aid programs? And, no, customer loyalty cards, money off vouchers and credit notes for purchases from UK arms businesses do not count as constructive aid.
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And, sorry, I do question the motives of the performers.

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I stopped attending pop concerts, charitable or non charitable, years ago. I was lucky enough to reach musical maturity in the early 1980's when most UK acts visiting London would play the Hammersmith Palais (c.2,500 people). If they were really big, and I'm talking Queen here, they would play the Hammersmith Odeon (c.4,500 people). Tickets were reasonably priced and the dedicated could be pretty confident of getting within spitting distance of their idols. Concerts were seen as publicity vehicles for record sales. That changed in the 1980s and they became money-makers in their own right. I remember attending one concert in the mid 1980s, paying through the nose, thinking I should have brought binoculars and watching the performance on an enormous video screen as the band was so far away. That's when I stopped going to mainstream concerts.

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Anyway, some time after I stopped attending concerts, a friend of mine, a long-standing Genesis fan, was grumbling about a Phil Collins concert, he had attended. I think it was at Wembley, though I could be wrong. The non-inflation adjusted grumble went something along the lines of …
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'I paid twenty quid for a ticket, fifteen quid for a T shirt, four quid for a hamburger, eight quid for a programme, then at the end of the concert he sang a song about homeless teenagers and told us to put money in the collection buckets that were being passed round'
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Kind of gets you right there doesn’t it.
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Is it me or isn't there something just a teensy weensy bit obscene about pampered, multi-millionaire coke-heads prancing around on stage, demonstrating to us how virtuous they are and people just lapping it up. Elton John's a superb example. Have you seen how much he spends on shoes?
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Bono, Elton, Phil, Eric and Rod; if you're listening guys here's an invitation. You swop my lifestyle with yours and let's see who gives a bigger percentage of their income to charity.

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3 comments:

Peter said...

Spot on. Absolutely spot on. That's how I feel about the adulation of Princess Di too (some more lit blue touchpaper for your site).

Stef said...

Mmmmm, would that be the same Princess Diana who died leaving an estate worth £20m+ and left pretty much biff all to any of the charities she was so 'passionate' about? Preferring instead to leave the vast bulk of her hard-earned fortune to her two kids, including the one who's going to become King of England. Like he's going to really the need the money.

Would it be that one?

I'll get onto her another time.

Kate said...

Great picture :D