At the end of last year, the BBC’s Panorama programme revealed that anti-poverty charity Comic Relief had invested millions of dollars in tobacco and alcohol companies, and $1 billion in the arms manufacturer British Aerospace.
This is an understandable mistake to make. Comic Relief’s management team probably just decided to launch a ‘War on Poverty’, but didn’t think through the details. So instead of fighting hunger with food, Comic Relief could now be eradicating world hunger by killing hungry people. It’s a modern strategy for an age-old problem.
Besides which, who can blame them for investing in an arms company? We’ve all done it. Especially at Christmas – a time of peace and goodwill, but also a time for getting drunk and making morally inconsistent investments in the stock market.
The news was taken as a shocking betrayal by the charity’s supporters. But it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone with an understanding of 21st-century capitalism, where investing and morality rarely share a bed.
For example, it has been claimed that if Comic Relief only made ethical investments, good causes would have lost out on the $33-million profit the investments brought in. This is given as an argument in favour of investing in companies that make weapons and cigarettes, whereas I think it’s an argument that proves, once and for all, that capitalism is utterly ridiculous! What sort of system forces us to invest in bombs that kill children, because, if we don’t, we won’t have enough money to feed and educate other children? It’s like a church raising money to repair their leaking roof by having a sponsored ‘Let’s Burn Down The Old Lady’s House’ day.
When you complain, they reply: ‘Look, we’ve been promised $5,000 by people sponsoring us. If you don’t let us burn down that old lady’s house, you –YOU! – are stopping us from being paid money this community vitally needs. Now chuck us the petrol, or get lost.’
This is similar to the argument made by rightwingers who say we shouldn’t clamp down on tax avoiders, because if you tax them they’ll just go overseas and pay even less.
Okay, first, all their money’s already overseas. That’s kind of the problem. And second, how will they go overseas? If we clamp down on energy companies that are dodging tax, how will they leave the country? Are they going to take all the power stations with them? For a start, they wouldn’t get them through customs:
‘Anything to declare?’
‘No. Oh, apart from Britain’s entire gas and electricity infrastructure.’
Luckily, I have an idea that will allow us to end poverty without investing in weapons: overthrow capitalism! Take all the money from the billionaires, give it to the people of the world, and eradicate poverty and hunger overnight. Simple as that.
All it takes is for someone to be brave enough to take that first step, and start kidnapping the rich. And I don’t even mind being the one that does it. But I’m going to need some motivation. I’ll do it, as long as enough people sponsor me for $5 each.
And unlike Comic Relief, I’m very open in saying that I’ll spend every single penny on booze, cigarettes and weapons of mass destruction.
Chris Coltrane is a stand-up comedian and anti-austerity activist. See his website and follow him on Twitter: chris_ coltrane.