Making Red Cents
Dave Marsh responds:
The only argument against it that I can see is that you'd be encouraging Bono and those who think like him. I've never made arguments against the Red products. No need to. (A nano is not sufficient for my needs, so that's taken care of.)
A secondary argument would be: What is that $10?
Let's assume, which is not a correct assumption, almost an impossible one, that all $10 goes to some sort of African program designed to treat, prevent or (least likely) research new treatments for AIDS. There's no GFund overhead, the expenses of the Red board are covered some other way, the ads come out of the Apple not the Red/GF budgets.
You've made your purchase, a couple hundred dollars I think. Where is that $10 in the Apple scheme? Is it over and above profit? Does Apple make $10 less on a Red I-Pod Nano, than on any other model?
Not exactly. Even if they do make $10 less direct profit, they write that $10 off as a business and/or charitable expense; so $5 (or probably more) of it comes out of every U.S. (etc) taxpayer's pocket, one of the reasons that Bono et al dig the project so much, they're playing with other people's money in more ways than one. The consumer, of course, gets no such deduction. (Well, I would, because it's a business tool for me. Honest. But I recognize this as an exceptional case and so should you, or else I'll put on my dark glasses and recite AIDS statistics to make you feel guilty until you stop.)
But even if I'm wrong about that, which I'm not, that $10 symbolizes how much excess profit Apple finds in I-Pod Nanos, of all colors. Where does that profit come from? To know that in detail we'd have to know the wages of Apple workers, the wages of the people who make the parts, the wages of people who mine or otherwise develop and extract the raw materials from which the parts are made. They are making a non-tax-deductible donation too. I guess. Some of them are almost certainly African, given what raw materials are used in computers; some have AIDS, no doubt about that.
It doesn't sound to me like the Apple shareholders and corporate officers are making a contribution. I don't think the share value or the profit picture is adversely affected. Maybe it's conscience money.
On the other side of it, the $10 makes a statement. One of those statements is "I care." A worthy statement and when logically worked out as a conscious choice, laudable because heartfelt. I reserve my applause however because of the other statements made by buying Red, I-Pod or otherwise (since every corporation in the Red scheme has the same situation).
One of those is "Red is a worthy, functional program that leverages our purchasing dollars in a useful way." Perhaps.
Another is "Red has the right idea." Here I disagree very strongly with the premise--I think it's a very bad idea for reasons already cited ad nauseaum -- because it seems to me that there are very many better ways to provide AIDS relief. I think that the claim that Red is a means to create an Africa in which the overall standard of living is raised for everyone, which Bono consistently implies (and all other Red rhetoric sort of glides on by with a finger to its lips to encourage the hush), is too silly to be taken seriously by anybody with a speck of knowledge of how either international investment or international philanthropy works.
But you are voting "Yes" on that implicit question, too.
Which is more important, getting a lot of money to people with AIDS in Africa via vehicles like the Global Fund or opening people's eyes to what really causes there to be an epidemic of untreated AIDS anywhere in the world but particularly Africa? We can disagree about this. It can be a productive disagreement. But only if we have the dialogue.
Red says several things about this.
A) You don't need to have the dialogue, this is all being decided at a higher level. (One of the reasons what I wrote angers responders so much may be that I insist throughout that there is no higher level than the polis at large).
B) Demanding the dialogue expresses a callous indifference to the everyday plight of PWA in Africa. (Bono says this explicitly to the Times columnist.)
C) Such dialogue will not be effective; it's a fool's play, even damaging because the ONLY way we can achieve any relief for PWA in Africa is through this process. (Which is really a piece of circular logic leading us back to A)).
D) People will always be poor and diseases that are treated in rich places will not be treated in poor ones unless by the largesse of the rich. (This assumption underpins the logic of A leading to C.)
E) If we ask too many questions of our betters, the program will fail and then NOTHING will be done, because only our betters--those already rich and powerful--can do things. (This is the threat, the iron fist in Bono's velveteen glove.)
I think those are some very good reasons not to buy Red. But admittedly, if all you're looking to do is shift some of your excess cash to somebody who is "doing something about" whatever social problem has your attention at the moment, it'll get the job done. If you think that contributing excess cash (yours, mine, Bono's, Phil Knight's, Steve Job's, Bill Gates') is the right way to alleviate social ills, I'm dead wrong.
And yet, we have been doing things this way for 50 or 150 years and how much have things improved as a result? I do not think that the philanthropy of Jay Gould and the Rockefellers and Andrew Carnegie or even Alfred Nobel lead to the development of antibiotics.
OTOH, I've helped raise about $6 million to try to solve a medical problem within an institution created and still largely controlled by Rockefeller and DuPont/GM financial interests. I didn't and don't see anywhere else to go on that one. And I looked for the alternatives.
In Africa, and on broader social questions in general, I think there are other approaches. I think $10 to the World Social Forum organizations would bring more benefit. To Africans. Poor ones. (Not incidentally to the real bogey man hiding behind Red rhetoric: The poor everywhere else.)
But that's me. This is how I think. It's OK to react to it any way you need to, including despising it for its double standard, if that's what you think the previous two paragraphs reflect.