It’s been less than a decade since the death of the British-born political scientist C. Northcote Parkinson, best known for Parkinson’s Law, a law of economics that governments in particular seem determined to repeatedly prove correct.
Parkinson’s Law: the Pursuit of Progress was published in 1957 at a time when the British Empire was shrinking in size, while the Colonial Office that presided over it increased its staff from 372 in 1935 to 1,661 in 1954. Observing this interesting development, Parkinson came to his repeatedly proven law of economics: “work expands to fill the time available for its completion, and subordinates multiply at a fixed rate, regardless of the amount of work produced” (Cambridge Biographical Encyclopedia, 1998, p. 722). Some would say it’s as certain as the law of gravity. Governments especially are prone to constantly be expanding with little if any positive results actually being achieved.
This is exactly what God warned the ancient Israelites about when they wanted a king “like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5 1 Samuel 8:5And said to him, Behold, you are old, and your sons walk not in your ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.
American King James Version×). God then warned the people of Israel what having such a governmental system would inevitably lead to. Read verses 11 to 18—it’s Parkinson’s Law written three thousand years before Parkinson, showing again just how relevant the Bible can be to us today. God’s warning to the people was that their government would keep on growing and would cost them more and more as time went on. “And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day” (verse 18).
Democracy has only made things worse. As the franchise has widened, so the demands on government have increased. As the people demand more, so taxes must rise to cover the increased services—and the bureaucracy that oversees the projects.
All governments have proved the veracity of God’s warning and, in modern times, of Parkinson’s Law.
Calls for millions more dollars at AIDS conference
During a recent trip I took to Africa (late June and early July), three African news items caused me to reflect again on God’s Word and on the late Mr. Parkinson.
The first item that dominated the news during my stay was the 14th Annual International AIDS conference held in Barcelona, Spain. As Africa is the continent suffering most from AIDS, this was big news in the region.
Again, fears were expressed about the spread of the HIV virus. Concerns were shared about the need for more educational programs to make people more aware of a virus that is set to kill a greater percentage of people than the medieval Black Death.
Almost 40 percent of the peoples of southern Africa will die of AIDS in the next decade—an unbelievable statistic that is impossible to comprehend.
And again, there were calls for more money—from the West, of course. “Western nations must send more money to halt the spread of AIDS” was the demand. Some of this money would be used to train more people to spread the message to the remotest villages and towns, the message of how HIV is spread and of how they can “save themselves” through the use of condoms!
Allow me for a moment to fast-forward to my return home. On Sunday July 14 the BBC World Service’s Newshour included an interview with a doctor from the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in London, England. She was not talking about AIDS, but what she had to say directly addresses the issue of AIDS and the calls for more funding.
The lady was talking about diarrhea, indirectly the biggest killer of children in Africa. Diarrhea itself does not kill, but the gastrointestinal and respiratory problems that diarrhea often leads to can kill. Millions die every year from this problem.
One simple step could be taken which would reduce the numbers of deaths considerably—the washing of hands with soap after going to the toilet. As most people in Africa do not do this, the process of food preparation inevitably means that people are consuming contaminated food and drinks.
I don’t remember the exact words her interviewer then used, but he asked a question about the need for funds to educate people in this area. Her response was astounding. “Oh, we’ve tried education, but it doesn’t work.” She went on to explain that the last hope lies with the manufacturers of soap—perhaps they could come up with soap commercial jingles that would make people change the hygiene habits of thousands of years.
Since education about fundamental hygiene hasn’t worked, should we expect that it will work when it comes to HIV/AIDS? If people won’t change their hygiene practices, are they likely to change their sexual practices if millions more dollars are spent on education? No, they are not.
Governments certainly have a responsibility in this area. But that responsibility can be fulfilled quite easily and cheaply. Billboards (for those who can read) along with radio and television ads (most people in Africa have access to the former, few the latter) should carry a simple message that everybody can understand: “Abstinence before marriage, fidelity within.” Just five words will do it. As most African governments control the media, the cost would be minimal.
God uses five words to convey the same message, once again emphasizing just how relevant the Bible is in this day and age. God’s words are timeless and would end the HIV/AIDS crisis in less than 20 years—if people simply took His command at face value and put it into practice in their lives. “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14 Exodus 20:14You shall not commit adultery.
American King James Version×).
Sadly, pressure will be brought to bear on Western nations to come up with extra cash, which will then be sent to African governments whose leaders will pocket most of it, proving yet again that “foreign aid is money taken from poor people in rich countries and given to rich people in poor countries.”
And not just with AIDS.
More government, more money not the solution
Yet another plan is in the works for an increased governmental role that will mean more taxes for Westerners and more gain for African leaders—ironically with the stated purpose of ending all such corruption.
Calls for canceling Africa’s debts to Western nations (and banks) have continued for some time, along with calls for increased aid and investment. The dilemma for Western governments is how to help without repeating the mistakes of the last four decades. Africa has been the world’s biggest recipient of financial aid but remains the poorest continent. One reason for this is corruption. Money sent rarely finds its way to the intended beneficiaries, instead being diverted to Swiss and other offshore bank accounts, as top people in each country take the money for themselves.
Pondering on this problem, the G8 Summit leaders invited four African presidents to their annual meeting, this time held in Alberta, Canada. The visiting presidents suggested a peer review board be set up to ensure that donated funds would make it to their intended destination. Naturally they volunteered African presidents to sit on this peer review committee. Critics see this as the equivalent of Western nations putting the Mafia in charge of the police force! But Western leaders made no such provocative comment and will no doubt continue to hand over taxpayers’ money in the hope of keeping Africa quiet. And again, increased donations will enable bureaucracy to grow.
Former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda was also interviewed on BBC radio’s Newshour program on Thursday, July 25. Asked about the famine in southern Africa, he put the blame firmly on politicians who were only concerned about themselves. Even now, he said, when millions are faced with the threat of starvation, their primary concern is to make something for themselves before approving foreign food aid.
Also interviewed on the BBC’s African radio service was an American economist from the Clinton administration who saw democracy as the only way to ensure that aid got where it was supposed to go. However, this won’t work either. The reason the military takes over in African countries is because politicians are so corrupt.
A third opportunity for bureaucratic expansion and the inevitable corruption that will accompany it is the new African Union (AU), the organization that has replaced the 39-year-old Organization of African Unity (OAU). Meeting in Durban, South Africa, African presidents agreed to form the AU, theoretically modeled on the European Union (EU).
The aim is closer African union. One stated purpose is for African nations to police other nations whenever the need arises. Delegates committed themselves to the democratic process. As Libya’s Colonel Gadhafi was behind the proposed new organization, it is difficult to take it seriously. It will simply provide for another expanding bureaucracy whose positions can be filled with relatives of those already in charge. Little or nothing will be achieved.
Evidence that this will be the case can be seen in West Africa. Almost 30 years ago when the European Economic Community (now EU) expanded to embrace the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark, the 16 nations of West Africa formed ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, with the same goals as the EEC. Three decades later, the Europeans are a great deal closer to full union, but no progress at all has been made in West Africa where governments are reluctant to give up any of their sovereignty.
One example of this is in the area of border controls. Whereas Western Europe has virtually abolished all passport and customs controls, a journey from ECOWAS member Nigeria to fellow member nation Ghana via two other ECOWAS countries, Benin and Togo, is a nightmare for all travelers. The same distance could easily be driven in five hours in the United States but takes at least a day in Africa.
At the same time I was there, a friend visited Ghana from Nigeria. The cost of his transport (one way) was the equivalent of $50. An additional $56 was needed for the customary “paperwork” (most of it bogus but still demanded by officials before he could continue his journey). Too many vested interests make closer union between nations unlikely. Opportunities to demand bribes increase with each border crossing, customs post and police barrier—nothing will be done to remove any of them.
It’s all very sad. These deficiencies mean that the sufferings of the African peoples will continue for some time to come. Making things worse is the lack of a free press in most African countries. All the developments reported above will be portrayed as positive developments which will raise the hopes of the people, when the reality is that little or nothing will be accomplished—at great expense!
But there will be an end to all this. God’s promise of a future Kingdom whose King will be Jesus Christ promises a time of “judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever” (Isaiah 9:7 Isaiah 9:7Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, on the throne of David, and on his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from now on even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
American King James Version×). No longer will there be corruption and self-seeking, expanding bureaucracies and governmental incompetence. It will also be a time when “out of Zion the law shall go forth” (Micah 4:2 Micah 4:2And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
American King James Version×), clearly showing the way to end the scourge of AIDS and other diseases that plague the peoples of this world.