Much jubilation in the Shadow household to see sat on the BBC Breakfast sofa the lovely Neil Finn, ex- of Crowded House and singer of one of my all time favourite hits-that-should-have-been-but-never-was, Split Enz' 'I got you'. He's on with the bald one from much documented British beat combo Radiohead to publicise the new charity record he's made with a bunch of muso pals he had flown out to New Zealand (in a *thoroughly carbon neutral fashion, I've no doubt) where the assembled luminaries blitzed though the recording of the album in a matter of a couple of weeks. It sounded, from the clip they played, as amiably dull as you'd expect.
Sadly, my interest plummeted on the first mention of the dread beneficiary of the proceeds from this no doubt laudable venture; Oxfam. Since the early days of Band Aid, a small group of doubters including the likes of David Byrne, John Lydon and Morrissey, have raised questions about the manner in which charitable aid for the third world, but predominantly Africa, has been sought and administered. Lydon and Byrne wondered aloud if it was sensible to pour large amounts of aid into an area where they would doubtless become hostage to the unique pressures of a violent civil war - and presumably muttered 'told you so' when much of the grain deposited to feed the starving ended up lining the stomachs of the rival armies. Morrissey, famously, asked if it was reasonable, sensible or fair to expect the problems of African famine effectively to be solved by the unemployed youth of Wigan whilst the (then) Princess of Wales sashayed around in £4,000 dresses. It seems that, sadly, those voices of dissent have increasingly found themselves on the losing side.
I've written copiously elsewhere about the disgusting hypocrisy that allows verdant crops of food for export to be grown within sobbing distance of the starving recipients of Comic Relief aid (there's a sobering article by the Independent's Deborah Orr which I'm sure will pop up if you google the author's name and comic+relief+famine etc...) But it would seem that, emboldened by the ease with which they've been able to transform their ethos and (as the charities themselves would describe it) *brand* (eeeeyu!), charities such as Oxfam have metamorphosed so radically from the altruistic projects I remember from youth into increasingly perplexing behemoths of what might be described as the 'perfect' model of capitalism. So I suppose it should come as no surprise that now, rather than contenting themselves with badgering the unemployed to bankroll their projects, they are beginning to take pleasure in swelling the ranks of the jobless.
This farcical state of affairs is so extraordinary, it's even made the pages of the Grauniad. In what must be an awful ethical wrangle for the typical reader of the paper's weekend Review section, the Grauniad reports on "the closure of a Salisbury bookshop that was blamed on losing customers to Oxfam". Independent, anti-globalisation traders vs. tear-stained, fly faced African children; tough call. Indignant that anyone should object to the highly paid directors of the charity using their unique market position to undercut their 'rivals' on the high street, Charlotte Higgins blogs that she can't "summon up sympathy for the secondhand booksellers complaining of unfair competiton. It is not clear to me", she writes, "why we should be invited to imagine that selling books in order to help development projects in Africa is less worthy than selling them for individual profit." Perhaps I can help Charlotte. The problem is that books sold in Oxfam shops *are* sold for individual profit. Very large numbers of individuals profit from them, and sadly those who profit most are not the starving Africans who are nominally the raison d'etre of these concerns.
So, the vicious circle continues. Western Capitalism plunders the resources of Africa, its banks cripple the African economy to ensure that it remains a victim ripe for such exploitation. It's an indefensible situation, isn't it? So how else could we justify and support it than by claiming to be using every effort to reverse that state of affairs. So out they go, the experts, the bureaucrats, the well-diggers, the teachers and nurses and doctors. And how to maintain such a small army of hired help, desperately combatting the blind forces of economics, famine and disease? The government certainly won't be footing the bill; nor the private sector. And so we end up with that peculiarly modern abhorrence; the manager. Hundreds of them; transforming cruddy little thrift stores into 'modern retail experiences'; a well-meaning army of Mary Queens of Charity Shop who won't rest until they rule the High Street. And there you have it: the obvious solution to the deleterious effects of rampant, unbridled capitalism? More of the same. Limited overheads, they don't even have to pay for their wares or the staff who good-naturedly person their tills. It is, as I said before, not just any old capitalism. This is *perfect* capitalism and, as such, is perfectly objectionable.