Monday, August 29, 2011

The Spurious Claims (Second of Several)

Defenders of Dodd-Frank make several arguments on its behalf: that it has done a great deal of good and has the potential to do much more good; that it cuts the Gordian knot tying mineral profits to conflict (and therefore rape); that, contrary to my assertion, it does in fact enjoy the broad support of local communities and Congolese civil society organizations; and that  miners have not been substantively harmed by the virtual elimination of the trade in minerals. I want to consider each of these arguments in turn, but before I do I want to deal with a few of the less serious objections to my op-ed.

Several critics impute eccentric positions to me and then suggest that my support for these positions proves I needn’t be taken seriously. Peter Rosenblum insists that the law could not have devastated the Congo because the Congo was already devastated. My encounter with the multiple tragedies of the Congo must have caused me to lose all sense of perspective, he says—a mistake that long-time Congo watchers like him wouldn't make.[2] Enough claims that I blame them and Congress for the Congo’s sorry state. I certainly agree with the premise: claiming that all of the Congo’s problems stem from Dodd-Frank would be ridiculous--even self-discrediting. In my own op-ed I wrote that the Congo was “devastated by 32 years of misrule under the kleptocracy of Mobutu Sese Seko … and that [it] is now just beginning to emerge from over a decade of brutal war and internal strife.” I don’t know how I could have been clearer. In any case, my op-ed focused on the artisanal miners: I stand by my claim that the law’s impact on them has been devastating.

Stearns at several points asserts that my op-ed “implies” this or that, and then takes issue with what he claims I have implied. For example, he accuses me of implying that no Congolese (among its sixty million!) agrees with the passage of Dodd-Frank. My claim was a more modest one: that respected Congolese civil society organizations—the ones who possess unparalleled depth of knowledge about local mining conditions—feel that the debate has been monopolized by two groups: Western advocates on the one side and multinationals on the other, in a way that leaves them feeling marginalized. I stand by my reporting that these groups feel marginalized and I agree that they are justified in feeling that way.

At another point Stearns says that I imply that doing nothing would have been preferable to pushing for greater transparency. I’m not sure what passage of mine makes him think that, since I quite explicitly wrote that “the people of eastern Congo agree that it would be beneficial to bring greater clarity and transparency to the mineral trade.”  Granted, I am reporting on Congolese sentiment, but in a manner that clearly implies my endorsement of it.

At least three of the critics (GW, Enough, and an anonymous blogger) claim that my criticisms of Dodd-Frank inadvertently echo industry rhetoric, but provide no specific examples of the overlap between my criticisms and theirs. But suppose industry representatives had predicted that the law would bring about a de facto embargo. Should I then be forbidden from reporting that fact, if I found it to be true, simply because industry representatives had predicted it would?

[2] I know Peter. I respect Peter. He seems to have responded more to the editor-chosen title of my op-ed than to anything I wrote. I hope he'll provide a more thoughtful critique in the future.

(This is the second of several responses I'll be giving over the next several days regarding my op-ed on Dodd-Frank.)

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