Economists and sometimes foreign policy wonks talk about ‘opportunity costs’, meaning the things one can’t do because of the decision to do something else. Crudely speaking, it refers to the fact that one can’t buy a product with cash already spent on other things. Nor can a state send its national guardsmen to put out a forest fire if they’re fighting a war halfway around the world. One can only buy a pencil or a gumdrop with the same nickel.
As World AIDS Day approaches (Dec. 1), the stark opportunity costs of a decade of war and the prioritization of banker profits can be observed with depressing clarity as the highly successful effort to slow down the epidemic is being systematically drained of support. The Global Fund to Combat AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis just announced that its Round 11 of grant funding to the hardest-hit countries must be canceled as donor governments fail to honor their replenishment pledges. The big European development agencies, funded largely by their respective states, cannot commit the promised money as everyone is scrambling to backstop the shaky euro.
As Fund official Stephen Lewis remarked in a ringing denunciation of the donor governments’ collective failure, political leaders have made sure that Wells Fargo could make $4.1 billion this quarter, Bank of America $6.2 billion and JPMorganChase $4.6 billion despite having blown up the world economy. And why stop at banks? Oil companies like BP, Exxon and Shell, hustling us to doom with fossil fuels made $5.1 billion, $10.3 billion and $7 billion respectively. But the measly $1.2 billion needed by the Global Fund cannot be found anywhere, and these same corporate behemoths haven’t contributed a penny either while simultaneously joining the political assault on all governments so as to starve them of cash.
Among those governments reneging on their pledges of support to the Global Fund is good old Obama’s, which can find $1.9 billion per day to fund military activities, but not the promised $1.33 billion per year he promised to fight the three scourge diseases. It’s a rather excellent summary of how the economic system has become our master, indifferent to the fates of peoples, replacing the savage pharaohs and insular monarchies of prior eras.
Lewis acidly quotes all the pious phrases mouthed by Blair, Obama, Bush and many others when making these fine promises to much praise and fanfare (and headlines). But when it comes time to pony up, they’re nowhere to be seen. Keep that in mind when the flood of cynical b.s. comes raining down from on high tomorrow.