G-8 countries need to wake up

The Ford Motor Co. has produced an updated version of the 1968 Mustang GT driven by Steve McQueen in the movie “Bullitt.” It’s so popular that dealers have temporarily stopped taking new orders for the car until deliveries catch up.

Some of the car’s success is undoubtedly due to the enduring popularity of the movie, which included solid performances from both McQueen and the Mustang – as well as one of the best car chases ever put on film.

But as popular as the movie remains, there is little doubt that McQueen’s best acting performance was in an earlier movie, “The Sand Pebbles,” where he played an enigmatic anti-hero, a sailor on an obsolete U.S. Navy gunboat caught up in the political upheaval of 1920s China.

In a key scene, a treacherous move has left McQueen’s young Chinese engine room helper in the hands of the revolutionary mob on shore, and he is being tortured to death in full view of the crew of the American ship. McQueen’s character implores the ship’s captain, “Do something.”

The captain: “Get below or I’ll have you shot for a mutineer!”

McQueen: “Well, shoot something.”

A similar thought was expressed last week by Live 8 impresario Bob Geldof, who was quoted as saying, “Something must be done; anything must be done, whether it works or not.” In other words, “Well, do something” (which is maybe what he would have said if he had enjoyed the advantage of an award-winning Hollywood scriptwriter).

For the uninitiated, Live 8 is not a movie but a global, multisite rock concert woven together by television broadcasts and Internet-based streaming videos. Its purpose was to bring Africa’s poverty to the attention of both the public and the bigwigs of the G-8 nations. An estimated 30 million people around the world tuned in one way or another and got to see not only hot recording stars but also some folks from an earlier era.

In some respects, the “Sand Pebbles” and the Africa situations aren’t all that dissimilar. In the movie scene, the ship’s captain was transfixed in horror, frozen into inaction by his orders not to create an incident that would upset the tense diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and China. In the Africa situation, we are equally transfixed by horror, driven to inaction by our inability to see, or even imagine, an effective way to help.

Without doubt, both the movie’s “shoot something” and the real-life “do something” ideas are born of frustration and the instinctive knowledge that we cannot simply stand by and watch this horror and expect to be unchanged by our inaction.

Unlike the vacuous celebrities, the major forces behind Live 8 – Geldof and rock star Bono – have actual, on-scene knowledge of the African horror, and apparently cannot ignore it and get on with their lives. It is probably not an accident that both have had good words to say about President Bush, who has boosted U.S. aid to Africa by 50 percent and, unlike most political leaders, is actually doing something.

What has frozen the G-8 leaders into inaction isn’t the usual selfish greed, although that human failing is always a factor. More pointedly, it is the visible failure of previous efforts that we had been so hopeful about. In 1974, for example, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger announced a global aid program ensuring that by 1980 no child in the world would go to bed hungry.

G-8 thinking these days focuses on the belief that economic aid only works in countries that have security and good fiscal, monetary and trade policies – an idea supported, somewhat, by economic research. But while this makes good common sense, these countries are increasingly difficult to find in Africa, and as the situation worsens there, this criterion provides not a blueprint for aid but for paralysis by analysis.

If we can get past the smarmy celebrity sentimentality, as well as the foul-smelling protestors, it is true that we cannot stand by and do nothing as Africa slips into the abyss – at least not without affecting ourselves.

In some cases, the real impact of aid has to be measured by its effect on the donors, along with its impact on the recipients. Given the mistakes of the past, we need to do something different; but above all, we need to do something.

James McCusker is a Bothell economist, educator and consultant. He also writes “Business 101,” which appears monthly in The Snohomish County Business Journal.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Members of Gravitics' team and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen stand in front of a mockup of a space module interior on Thursday, August 17, 2023 at Gravitics' Marysville facility. Left to right: Mark Tiner, government affairs representative; Jiral Shah, business development; U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen; Mike DeRosa, marketing; Scott Macklin, lead engineer. (Gravitics.)
Marysville startup prepares for space — the financial frontier

Gravitics is building space station module prototypes to one day house space travelers and researchers.

Orca Mobility designer Mike Lowell, left, and CEO Bill Messing at their office on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Could a Granite Falls startup’s three-wheeler revolutionize delivery?

Orca Mobility’s battery-powered, three-wheel truck is built on a motorcycle frame. Now, they aim to make it self-driving.

Catherine Robinweiler leads the class during a lab session at Edmonds College on April 29, 2021. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Grant aids apprenticeship program in Mukilteo and elsewhere

A $5.6 million U.S. Department of Labor grant will boost apprenticeships for special education teachers and nurses.

Peoples Bank is placing piggy banks with $30 around Washington starting Aug. 1.
(Peoples Bank)
Peoples Bank grant program seeks proposals from nonprofits

Peoples Bank offers up to $35,000 in Impact Grants aimed at helping communities. Applications due Sept. 15.

Workers build the first all-electric commuter plane, the Eviation Alice, at Eviation's plant on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021 in Arlington, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Arlington’s Eviation selects Seattle firm to configure production plane

TLG Aerospace chosen to configure Eviation Aircraft’s all-electric commuter plane for mass production.

Jim Simpson leans on Blue Ray III, one of his designs, in his shop on Friday, August 25, 2023, in Clinton, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Whidbey Island master mechanic building dream car from “Speed Racer”

Jim Simpson, 68, of Clinton, is using his knowledge of sports cars to assemble his own Mach Five.

An Amazon worker transfers and organizes items at the new PAE2 Amazon Fulfillment Center on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amazon cuts ribbon on colossal $355M fulfillment center in Arlington

At 2.8 million square feet, the facility is the largest of its kind in Washington. It can hold 40 million “units” of inventory.

A computer rendering of the North Creek Commerce Center industrial park in development at 18712 Bothell-Everett Highway. (Kidder Mathews)
Developer breaks ground on new Bothell industrial park

The North Creek Commerce Center on Bothell Everett Highway will provide warehouse and office space in three buildings.

Dan Bates / The Herald
Funko president, Brian Mariotti is excited about the growth that has led his company to need a 62,000 square foot facility in Lynnwood.
Photo Taken: 102312
Former Funko CEO resigns from the Everett company

Brian Mariotti resigned Sept. 1, six weeks after announcing he was taking a six-month sabbatical from the company.

Cash is used for a purchase at Molly Moon's Ice Cream in Edmonds, Washington on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Paper or plastic? Snohomish County may require businesses to take cash

County Council member Nate Nehring proposed an ordinance to ban cashless sales under $200. He hopes cities will follow suit.

A crowd begins to form before a large reception for the opening of Fisherman Jack’s at the Port of Everett on Wednesday, August 30, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Seafood with a view: Fisherman Jack’s opens at Port of Everett

“The port is booming!” The new restaurant is the first to open on “restaurant row” at the port’s Waterfront Place.

Tanner Mock begins unwrapping new furniture that has been delivered on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
In Everett, new look, new name for mainstay Behar’s Furniture

Conlin’s Furniture, based in South Dakota, bought the huge store and celebrates with a grand opening this week.