Philadelphia - At a Wharton Business School conference on business in Africa, World Trade Organization representative Hanniford Schmidt announced the creation of a WTO initiative for "full private stewardry of labor" for the parts of Africa that have been hardest hit by the 500 years of Africa's free trade with the West.
The initiative will require Western companies doing business in some parts of Africa to own their workers outright. Schmidt recounted how private stewardship has been successfully applied to transport, power, water, traditional knowledge, and even the human genome. The WTO's "full private stewardry" program will extend these successes to (re)privatize humans themselves.
"Full, untrammelled stewardry is the best available solution to African poverty, and the inevitable result of free-market theory," Schmidt told more than 150 attendees. Schmidt acknowledged that the stewardry program was similar in many ways to slavery, but explained that just as "compassionate conservatism" has polished the rough edges on labor relations in industrialized countries, full stewardry, or "compassionate slavery," could be a similar boon to developing ones.
The audience included Prof. Charles Soludo (Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria), Dr. Laurie Ann Agama (Director for African Affairs at the Office of the US Trade Representative), and other notables. Agama prefaced her remarks by thanking Scmidt for his macroscopic perspective, saying that the USTR view adds details to the WTO's general approach. Nigerian Central Bank Governor Soludo also acknowledged the WTO proposal, though he did not seem to appreciate it as much as did Agama.
A system in which corporations own workers is the only free-market solution to African poverty, Schmidt said. "Today, in African factories, the only concern a company has for the worker is for his or her productive hours, and within his or her productive years," he said. "As soon as AIDS or pregnancy hits—out the door. Get sick, get fired. If you extend the employer's obligation to a 24/7, lifelong concern, you have an entirely different situation: get sick, get care. With each life valuable from start to finish, the AIDS scourge will be quickly contained via accords with drug manufacturers as a profitable investment in human stewardees. And educating a child for later might make more sense than working it to the bone right now."
To prove that human stewardry can work, Schmidt cited a proposal by a free-market think tank to save whales by selling them. "Those who don't like whaling can purchase rights to specific whales or groups of whales in order to stop those particular whales from getting whaled as much," he explained. Similarly, the market in Third-World humans will "empower" caring First Worlders to help them, Schmidt said.
One conference attendee asked what incentive employers had to remain as stewards once their employees are too old to work or reproduce. Schmidt responded that a large new biotech market would answer that worry. He then reminded the audience that this was the only possible solution under free-market theory.
There were no other questions from the audience that took issue with Schmidt's proposal.
During his talk, Schmidt outlined the three phases of Africa's 500-year history of free trade with the West: slavery, colonialism, and post-colonial markets. Each time, he noted, the trade has brought tremendous wealth to the West but catastrophe to Africa, with poverty steadily deepening and ever more millions of dead. "So far there's a pattern: Good for business, bad for people. Good for business, bad for people. Good for business, bad for people. That's why we're so happy to announce this fourth phase for business between Africa and the West: good for business—GOOD for people."
The conference took place on Saturday, November 11. The panel on which Schmidt spoke was entitled "Trade in Africa: Enhancing Relationships to Improve Net Worth." Some of the other panels in the conference were entitled "Re-Branding Africa" and "Growing Africa's Appetite." Throughout the comments by Schmidt and his three co-panelists, which lasted 75 minutes, Schmidt's stewardee, Thomas Bongani-Nkemdilim, remained standing at respectful attention off to the side.
"This is what free trade's all about," said Schmidt. "It's about the freedom to buy and sell anything—even people."