Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Brookings Now just another Ideology Mill

Brookings sponsored a six-hour event today entitled "Transparency, Conflict Minerals, and Natural Resources: What You Don't Know about Dodd Frank."

I went so that you wouldn't have to.[1]

Held in a richly appointed lounge at the National Press Club, the event featured speakers representing the full range of opinion, from those who think Dodd Frank is a great piece of legislation to those who think it's the greatest ever. There was even a Congolese among them, if that sort of thing concerns you. (I know, right? Like asking a pig to judge a bacon tasting contest.)

The master of ceremonies for the love-fest was Daniel Kaufman, a micro-economist formerly of the World Bank. Among the speakers were three from Global Witness, a congressman, a senator, and an array of electronic companies and consultants, every single one of them on record as supporting the legislation.

Here's what I "learned" at the event: Dodd Frank didn't cause an embargo; miners won't be hurt by their loss of income because they can always go back to farming; the mining industry is characterized by slavery and child labor; and that if the flow of minerals from eastern Congo has diminished recently, that is because some of the mines have recently hit their water table limit, and can no longer be successfully exploited by artisanal miners.

All of which would be true, if only, as the philosophers tell us, they weren't so demonstrably false.

Oh, and even though industry will be spending somewhere between millions and billions on complying with the legislation, no one's interested in spending $50,000 to $70,000 to dispatch a team of serious social scientists to investigate what may be happening to Congolese on the ground. Because facts, along with victims, are one of the first victims in public relations campaigns.

I sometimes imagine that the advocates feel twinges of cognitive dissonance when they speak at these sorts of events. Of course Dodd Frank  precipitated an embargo. Of course depriving 400,000 people of their livelihood in one of the poorest countries of the world is causing them all kinds of pain. Of course the flow of minerals has decreased. No one is fooled by the denials, not even, I think, the speakers themselves.  I got that impression more forcefully today, but I've sensed it earlier. It's something about the frequency with which they refer to their critics, like a tongue rubbing repeatedly against an aching tooth, without once mentioning any of us by name.

Here they were, unencumbered by intellectual opposition, in a room burnished with an accustomed privilege, feted by one of DC's premiere think tanks, lauded by senators and congressmen, and embraced by a host of industry reps. Yet they couldn't stop talking about us: If I had a dime for every time one of the speakers today started a sentence with "Critics say," or "Critics complain," I'd have had enough to pay for a cheaper item on Starbucks menu.

It can't be fun, I don't think, to be institutionally locked into advocating for a position that responsible observers keep insisting is having a terrible impact on the people it is meant to help. It can't be fun to be forced into saying things you suspect, deep down, aren't true. Or in imputing an inner life and some cognitive capacity, am I giving them too much credit?

[1] Well, half of it. What do I look like, some kind of masochist?

1 comment:

  1. Our company, Groupe Weyi, a Congolese-owned and based company, has been attempting to help artisanal miners export their minerals. We cannot find a smelter anyone in the world who wants to buy artisanal minerals from central Africa. They all say Dodd-Frank has essentially made these minerals radioactive - no one will go near them.

    For many months now we have been repeatedly asking Enough Project, Global Witness, American politicians in favor of Dodd-Frank, the OECD, iTSCi, EICC, and Solutions for Hope to help us identify just a single legitimate buyer of coltan from central Africa.

    Enough Project told us to sell to the China, one of the worst human rights violators on earth. Global Witness pointed specifically to the UN Experts data showing a significant increase in smuggling by the militia as proof the embargo doesn't exist.

    The activist groups are defending their political position, not the Congolese, and Dodd-Frank has made it possible for the militia to significantly increase their smuggling while the Chinese buy spurious coltan at 30% of it's previous value.

    The world is upside down.