Thursday, November 10, 2005

Celebrity Endorsement - The New Evangelism

Today’s post, “Celebrity Endorsement – The New Evangelism,inaugurates the Ambassador’s guest blogger programme. Active social entrepreneurs are invited to submit short opinion pieces on topics of current interest to social entrepreneurs for publication in the Ambassador. I hope these guest entries will reveal both the rich diversity of opinion held by social entrepreneurs and stimulate robust discussion.

The byline for today’s guest entry belongs to Alexander “Sandy” Frew. Sandy is a successful social entrepreneur based in the United Kingdom. He owns and operates Sans Faim, a humanitarian enterprise that supplies food through Nourish the Children to the Malawi Project and other organisations dedicated to feeding malnourished children in Africa, Asia and Latin America. More on Sandy and Sans Faim can be found at: Sandy Frew .

Celebrity Endorsement – The New Evangelism

by Sandy Frew

This year, perhaps more than any other, has seen a rash of celebrity endorsements for good causes. First it was Sir Bob Geldorf along with a raft of “personalities” in Live 8, then Bono making his speech at the Labour Party Conference.

I shall not enter the debate concerning the motives of these celebrities but will examine what I feel are the unintended consequences of their actions.

Sir Bob’s original intention of “raising awareness of the plight of Africa” has brought about the evolution of Make Poverty History and the birth of the inappropriately named Trade Justice Movement, which is in reality a metamorphosis of the anti-capitalist movement.

On 2nd November 2005 over 8,000 trade justice campaigners from across the UK gathered in Westminster to warn Tony Blair that generations of people will continue to live in poverty if his promise to allow poor countries to protect their markets is broken.

The ubiquitous celebrity endorsement came from Pop group Razorlight , along with Adjoa Andoh, actress and star of television's Casualty.

Richard English, Oxfam's campaigning manager said: "This lobby is a key moment for MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY and the campaign for Trade Justice. International trade rules must be weighted in favour of poor people and developing countries must not be forced to open their markets. We ask the government to stand by its promises and use its influence to allow developing countries to choose the policies needed to protect the livelihoods of poor people and the environment."There is a fatal flaw at the heart of the Trade Justice movement’s pitch: it demands rich countries remove trade and non-trade barriers to goods and services from the developing world but insists that the developing world keep its protectionist barriers in place. Free trade for the rich, tariffs for the poor – it would be hard to imagine a better way of keeping poor countries poor.

Christian Aid which states that "we strive for a new world transformed by an end to poverty and we campaign to change the rules that keep people poor" has placed itself at the forefront of the Trade Justice lobby.This charity now devotes 12% of its £71m budget not to helping the poor but to political campaigns which propagandise against free trade in the most emotive terms. One advert says "Aids, droughts, tsunamis – can we add ‘free’ trade to that list?"

This propaganda is propped up by basic economic fallacy and selective statistics.

For example Ruchi Tripathi, Head of Food Rights for ActionAid UK, said: "We have seen the impact of inappropriate liberalisation on communities in developing countries. Indian silk weavers and sari makers' livelihoods being destroyed by cheaper imports from abroad and in some cases lives being lost. We are heading for a development disaster unless rich countries allow poor countries to protect their industries and people." Yet India for 40 years after independence languished in protectionist policies, during which time poverty and illiteracy remained endemic. Since abandoning protectionism in 1991 40m Indians have been lifted out of poverty.There is overwhelming evidence that governments that protect their industries hurt their economies and their people.
The followers of the new religion of celebrity endorsement would do well to heed the words of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations:
The man of system... seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board; he does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress
upon it.


In a previous article The Raw Materials of Social Entrepreneurship the question was posed “How many people must be made to suffer needlessly in order to satisfy the whims and wooly thinking of the arrogant, the self-righteous and the sanctimonious?”

I believe this situation will continue unabated until blind faith in the new evangelism of celebrity endorsement is replaced with rigorous debate.
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