Saturday, May 23, 2009

Boss Hog by Jeff Tietz

Smithfield Foods, the largest and most profitable pork processor in the world, killed 27 million hogs last year. That's a number worth considering. A slaughter-weight hog is fifty percent heavier than a person. The logistical challenge of processing that many pigs each year is roughly equivalent to butchering and boxing the entire human populations of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Detroit, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Columbus, Austin, Memphis, Baltimore, Fort Worth, Charlotte, El Paso, Milwaukee, Seattle, Boston, Denver, Louisville, Washington, D.C., Nashville, Las Vegas, Portland, Oklahoma City and Tucson.
Smithfield Foods actually faces a more difficult task than transmogrifying the populations of America's thirty-two largest cities into edible packages of meat. Hogs produce three times more excrement than human beings do. The 500,000 pigs at a single Smithfield subsidiary in Utah generate more fecal matter each year than the 1.5 million inhabitants of Manhattan. The best estimates put Smithfield's total waste discharge at 26 million tons a year. That would fill four Yankee Stadiums. Even when divided among the many small pig production units that surround the company's slaughterhouses, that is not a containable amount.
Smithfield estimates that its total sales will reach $11.4 billion this year. So prodigious is its fecal waste, however, that if the company treated its effluvia as big-city governments do -- even if it came marginally close to that standard -- it would lose money. So many of its contractors allow great volumes of waste to run out of their slope-floored barns and sit blithely in the open, untreated, where the elements break it down and gravity pulls it into groundwater and river systems. Although the company proclaims a culture of environmental responsibility, ostentatious pollution is a linchpin of Smithfield's business model.
A lot of pig shit is one thing; a lot of highly toxic pig shit is another. The excrement of Smithfield hogs is hardly even pig shit: On a continuum of pollutants, it is probably closer to radioactive waste than to organic manure. The reason it is so toxic is Smithfield's efficiency. The company produces 6 billion pounds of packaged pork each year. That's a remarkable achievement, a prolificacy unimagined only two decades ago, and the only way to do it is to raise pigs in astonishing, unprecedented concentrations.
Smithfield's pigs live by the hundreds or thousands in warehouse-like barns, in rows of wall-to-wall pens. Sows are artificially inseminated and fed and delivered of their piglets in cages so small they cannot turn around. Forty fully grown 250-pound male hogs often occupy a pen the size of a tiny apartment. They trample each other to death. There is no sunlight, straw, fresh air or earth. The floors are slatted to allow excrement to fall into a catchment pit under the pens, but many things besides excrement can wind up in the pits: afterbirths, piglets accidentally crushed by their mothers, old batteries, broken bottles of insecticide, antibiotic syringes, stillborn pigs -- anything small enough to fit through the foot-wide pipes that drain the pits. The pipes remain closed until enough sewage accumulates in the pits to create good expulsion pressure; then the pipes are opened and everything bursts out into a large holding pond.
The temperature inside hog houses is often hotter than ninety degrees. The air, saturated almost to the point of precipitation with gases from shit and chemicals, can be lethal to the pigs. Enormous exhaust fans run twenty-four hours a day. The ventilation systems function like the ventilators of terminal patients: If they break down for any length of time, pigs start dying.
From Smithfield's point of view, the problem with this lifestyle is immunological. Taken together, the immobility, poisonous air and terror of confinement badly damage the pigs' immune systems. They become susceptible to infection, and in such dense quarters microbes or parasites or fungi, once established in one pig, will rush spritelike through the whole population. Accordingly, factory pigs are infused with a huge range of antibiotics and vaccines, and are doused with insecticides. Without these compounds -- oxytetracycline, draxxin, ceftiofur, tiamulin -- diseases would likely kill them. Thus factory-farm pigs remain in a state of dying until they're slaughtered. When a pig nearly ready to be slaughtered grows ill, workers sometimes shoot it up with as many drugs as necessary to get it to the slaughterhouse under its own power. As long as the pig remains ambulatory, it can be legally killed and sold as meat.
The drugs Smithfield administers to its pigs, of course, exit its hog houses in pig shit. Industrial pig waste also contains a host of other toxic substances: ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, cyanide, phosphorous, nitrates and heavy metals. In addition, the waste nurses more than 100 microbial pathogens that can cause illness in humans, including salmonella, cryptosporidium, streptocolli and girardia. Each gram of hog shit can contain as much as 100 million fecal coliform bacteria.
Smithfield's holding ponds -- the company calls them lagoons -- cover as much as 120,000 square feet. The area around a single slaughterhouse can contain hundreds of lagoons, some of which run thirty feet deep. The liquid in them is not brown. The interactions between the bacteria and blood and afterbirths and stillborn piglets and urine and excrement and chemicals and drugs turn the lagoons pink.
Even light rains can cause lagoons to overflow; major floods have transformed entire counties into pig-shit bayous. To alleviate swelling lagoons, workers sometimes pump the shit out of them and spray the waste on surrounding fields, which results in what the industry daintily refers to as "overapplication." This can turn hundreds of acres -- thousands of football fields -- into shallow mud puddles of pig shit. Tree branches drip with pig shit.
Some pig-farm lagoons have polyethylene liners, which can be punctured by rocks in the ground, allowing shit to seep beneath the liners and spread and ferment. Gases from the fermentation can inflate the liner like a hot-air balloon and rise in an expanding, accelerating bubble, forcing thousands of tons of feces out of the lagoon in all directions.

The lagoons themselves are so viscous and venomous that if someone falls in it is foolish to try to save him. A few years ago, a truck driver in Oklahoma was transferring pig shit to a lagoon when he and his truck went over the side. It took almost three weeks to recover his body. In 1992, when a worker making repairs to a lagoon in Minnesota began to choke to death on the fumes, another worker dived in after him, and they died the same death. In another instance, a worker who was repairing a lagoon in Michigan was overcome by the fumes and fell in. His fifteen-year-old nephew dived in to save him but was overcome, the worker's cousin went in to save the teenager but was overcome, the worker's older brother dived in to save them but was overcome, and then the worker's father dived in. They all died in pig shit.
The chairman of Smithfield Foods, Joseph Luter III, is a funny, jowly, canny, barbarous guy who lives in a multimillion-dollar condo on Park Avenue in Manhattan and conveys himself about the planet in a corporate jet and a private yacht. At sixty-seven, he is unrepentant in the face of criticism. He describes himself as a "tough man in a tough business" and his factories as wholly legitimate products of the American free market. He can be sardonic; he likes to mock his critics and rivals.
"The animal-rights people," he once said, "want to impose a vegetarian's society on the U.S. Most vegetarians I know are neurotic." When the Environmental Protection Agency cited Smithfield for thousands of violations of the Clean Water Act, Luter responded by comparing what he claimed were the number of violations the company could theoretically have been charged with (2.5 million, by his calculation) to the number of documented violations up to that point (seventy-four). "A very, very small percent," he said.
Luter grew up butchering hogs in his father's slaughterhouse, in the town of Smithfield, Virginia. When he took over the family business forty years ago, it was a local, marginally profitable meatpacking operation. Under Luter, Smithfield was soon making enough money to begin purchasing neighboring meatpackers. From the beginning, Luter thought monopolistically. He bought out his local competition until he completely dominated the regional pork-processing market.
But Luter was dissatisfied. The company was still buying most of its hogs from local farmers; Luter wanted to create a system, known as "total vertical integration," in which Smithfield controls every stage of production, from the moment a hog is born until the day it passes through the slaughterhouse. So he imposed a new kind of contract on farmers: The company would own the living hogs; the contractors would raise the pigs and be responsible for managing the hog shit and disposing of dead hogs. The system made it impossible for small hog farmers to survive -- those who could not handle thousands and thousands of pigs were driven out of business. "It was a simple matter of economic power," says Eric Tabor, chief of staff for Iowa's attorney general.
Smithfield's expansion was unique in the history of the industry: Between 1990 and 2005, it grew by more than 1,000 percent. In 1997 it was the nation's seventh-largest pork producer; by 1999 it was the largest. Smithfield now kills one of every four pigs sold commercially in the United States. As Smithfield expanded, it consolidated its operations, clustering millions of fattening hogs around its slaughterhouses. Under Luter, the company was turning into a great pollution machine: Smithfield was suddenly producing unheard-of amounts of pig shit laced with drugs and chemicals. According to the EPA, Smithfield's largest farm-slaughterhouse operation -- in Tar Heel, North Carolina -- dumps more toxic waste into the nation's water each year than all but three other industrial facilities in America.
Luter likes to tell this story: An old man and his grandson are walking in a cemetery. They see a tombstone that reads here lies charles w. johnson, a man who had no enemies.
"Gee, Granddad," the boy says, "this man must have been a great man. He had no enemies."
"Son," the grandfather replies, "if a man didn't have any enemies, he didn't do a damn thing with his life."
If Luter were to set this story in Ivy Hill Cemetery in his hometown of Smithfield, it would be an object lesson in how to make enemies. Back when he was growing up, the branches of the cemetery's trees were bent with the weight of scores of buzzards. The waste stream from the Luters' meatpacking plant, with its thickening agents of pig innards and dead fish, flowed nearby. Luter learned the family trade well. Last year, before he retired as CEO of Smithfield, he took home $10,802,134. He currently holds $19,296,000 in unexercised stock options.
One day this fall, a retired Marine Corps colonel and environmental activist named Rick Dove, the former riverkeeper of North Carolina's Neuse River, arranged to have me flown over Smithfield's operation in North Carolina. Dove, a focused guy of sixty-seven years, is unable to talk about corporate hog farming without becoming angry. After he got out of the Marine Corps in 1987, he became a commercial fisherman, which he had wanted to do since he was a kid. He was successful, and his son went into business with him. Then industrial hog farming arrived and killed the fish, and both Dove and his son got seriously ill.
Dove and other activists provide the only effective oversight of corporate hog farming in the area. The industry has long made generous campaign contributions to politicians responsible for regulating hog farms. In 1995, while Smithfield was trying to persuade the state of Virginia to reduce a large fine for the company's pollution, Joseph Luter gave $100,000 to then-governor George Allen's political-action committee. In 1998, corporate hog farms in North Carolina spent $1 million to help defeat state legislators who wanted to clean up open-pit lagoons. The state has consistently failed to employ enough inspectors to ensure that hog farms are complying with environmental standards.
To document violations, Dove and other activists regularly hire private planes to inspect corporate hog operations from the air. The airport Dove uses, in New Bern, North Carolina, is tiny; the plane he uses, a 1975 Cessna single-prop, looks tiny even in the tiny airport. Its cabin has four cracked yellow linoleum seats. It looks like the interior of a 1975 VW bug, but with more dials. The pilot, Joe Corby, is older than I expected him to be.
"I have a GPS, so I can kinda guide you," Dove says to Corby while we taxi to the runway.
"Oh, you do!" Corby says, apparently unaccustomed to such a luxury. "Well, OK."
We take off. "Bunch of turkey buzzards," Dove says, looking out the window. "They're big."
"Don't wanna hit them," Corby says. "They would be . . . very destructive."

We climb to 2,000 feet and head toward the densest concentration of hogs in the world. The landscape at first is unsuspiciously pastoral -- fields planted in corn or soybeans or cotton, tree lines staking creeks, a few unincorporated villages of prefab houses. But then we arrive at the global locus of hog farming, and the countryside turns into an immense subdivision for pigs. Hog farms that contract with Smithfield differ slightly in dimension but otherwise look identical: parallel rows of six, eight or twelve one-story hog houses, some nearly the size of a football field, containing as many as 10,000 hogs, and backing onto a single large lagoon. From the air I see that the lagoons come in two shades of pink: dark or Pepto Bismol -- vile, freaky colors in the middle of green farmland.
From the plane, Smithfield's farms replicate one another as far as I can see in every direction. Visibility is about four miles. I count the lagoons. There are 103. That works out to at least 50,000 hogs per square mile. You could fly for an hour, Dove says, and all you would see is corporate hog operations, with little towns of modular homes and a few family farms pinioned amid them.
Studies have shown that lagoons emit hundreds of different volatile gases into the atmosphere, including ammonia, methane, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. A single lagoon releases many millions of bacteria into the air per day, some resistant to human antibiotics. Hog farms in North Carolina also emit some 300 tons of nitrogen into the air every day as ammonia gas, much of which falls back to earth and deprives lakes and streams of oxygen, stimulating algal blooms and killing fish.
Looking down from the plane, we watch as several of Smithfield's farmers spray their hog shit straight up into the air as a fine mist: It looks like a public fountain. Lofted and atomized, the shit is blown clear of the company's property. People who breathe the shit-infused air suffer from bronchitis, asthma, heart palpitations, headaches, diarrhea, nosebleeds and brain damage. In 1995, a woman downwind from a corporate hog farm in Olivia, Minnesota, called a poison-control center and described her symptoms. "Ma'am," the poison-control officer told her, "the only symptoms of hydrogen-sulfide poisoning you're not experiencing are seizures, convulsions and death. Leave the area immediately." When you fly over eastern North Carolina, you realize that virtually everyone in this part of the state lives close to a lagoon.
Each of the company's lagoons is surrounded by several fields. Pollution control at Smithfield consists of spraying the pig shit from the lagoons onto the fields to fertilize them. The idea is borrowed from the past: The small hog farmers that Smithfield drove out of business used animal waste to fertilize their crops, which they then fed to the pigs. Smithfield says that this, in essence, is what it does -- its crops absorb every ounce of its pig shit, making the lagoon-sprayfield system a zero-discharge, nonpolluting waste-disposal operation. "If you manage your fields correctly, there should be no runoff, no pollution," says Dennis Treacy, Smithfield's vice president of environmental affairs. "If you're getting runoff, you're doing something wrong."
In fact, Smithfield doesn't grow nearly enough crops to absorb all of its hog weight. The company raises so many pigs in so little space that it actually has to import the majority of their food, which contains large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus. Those chemicals -- discharged in pig shit and sprayed on fields -- run off into the surrounding ecosystem, causing what Dan Whittle, a former senior policy associate with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, calls a "mass imbalance." At one point, three hog-raising counties in North Carolina were producing more nitrogen, and eighteen were producing more phosphorus, than all the crops in the state could absorb.
As we fly over the hog farms, I notice that springs and streams and swamplands and lakes are everywhere. Eastern North Carolina is a coastal plain, grooved and tilted towards the sea -- and Smithfield's sprayfields almost always incline toward creeks or creek-fed swamps. Half-perforated pipes called irrigation tiles, commonly used in modern farming, run beneath many of the fields; when they become unplugged, the tiles effectively operate as drainpipes, dumping pig waste into surrounding tributaries. Many studies have documented the harm caused by hog-waste runoff; one showed the pig shit raising the level of nitrogen and phosphorus in a receiving river as much as sixfold. In eastern North Carolina, nine rivers and creeks in the Cape Fear and Neuse River basins have been classified by the state as either "negatively impacted" or environmentally "impaired."
Although Smithfield may not have enough crops to absorb its pig shit, its contract farmers do plant plenty of hay. In 1992, when the number of hogs in North Carolina began to skyrocket, so much hay was planted to deal with the fresh volumes of pig shit that the market for hay collapsed. But the hay from hog farms can be so nitrate-heavy that it sickens livestock. For a while, former governor Jim Hunt -- a recipient of hog-industry campaign money -- was feeding hog-farm hay to his cows. Locals say it made the cows sick and irritable, and the animals kicked Hunt several times, seemingly in revenge. It's a popular tale in eastern North Carolina.
To appreciate what this agglomeration of hog production does to the people who live near it, you have to appreciate the smell of industrial-strength pig shit. The ascending stench can nauseate pilots at 3,000 feet. On the day we fly over Smithfield's operation there is little wind to stir up the lagoons or carry the stink, and the region's current drought means that lagoon operators aren't spraying very frequently. It is the best of times. We can smell the farms from the air, but while the smell is foul it is intermittent and not particularly strong.
To get a really good whiff, I drive down a narrow country road of white sand and walk up to a Smithfield lagoon. At the end of the road stands a tractor and some spraying equipment. The fetid white carcass of a hog lies in a dumpster known as a "dead box." Flies cover the hog's snout. Its hooves look like high heels. Millions of factory-farm hogs -- one study puts it at ten percent -- die before they make it to the killing floor. Some are taken to rendering plants, where they are propelled through meat grinders and then fed cannibalistically back to other living hogs. Others are dumped into big open pits called "dead holes," or left in the dumpsters for so long that they swell and explode. The borders of hog farms are littered with dead pigs in all stages of decomposition, including thousands of bleached pig bones. Locals like to say that the bears and buzzards of eastern North Carolina are unusually lazy and fat.
No one seems to be around. It is quiet except for the gigantic exhaust fans affixed to the six hog houses. There is an unwholesome tang in the air, but there is no wind and it isn't hot, so I can't smell the lagoon itself. I walk the few hundred yards over to it. It is covered with a thick film; its edge is a narrow beach of big black flies. Here, its odor is leaking out. I take a deep breath.
Concentrated manure is my first thought, but I am fighting an impulse to vomit even as I am thinking it. I've probably smelled stronger odors in my life, but nothing so insidiously and instantaneously nauseating. It takes my mind a second or two to get through the odor's first coat. The smell at its core has a frightening, uniquely enriched putridity, both deep-sweet and high-sour. I back away from it and walk back to the car but I remain sick -- it's a shivery, retchy kind of nausea -- for a good five minutes. That's apparently characteristic of industrial pig shit: It keeps making you sick for a good while after you've stopped smelling it. It's an unduly invasive, adhesive smell. Your whole body reacts to it. It's as if something has physically entered your stomach. A little later I am driving and I catch a crosswind stench -- it must have been from a stirred-up lagoon -- and from the moment it hit me a timer in my body started ticking: You can only function for so long in that smell. The memory of it makes you gag.

Unsurprisingly, prolonged exposure to hog-factory stench makes the smell extremely hard to get off. Hog factory workers stink up every store they walk into. I run into a few local guys who had made the mistake of accepting jobs in hog houses, and they tell me that you just have to wait the smell out: You'll eventually grow new hair and skin. If you work in a Smithfield hog house for a year and then quit, you might stink for the next three months.
If the temperature and wind aren't right and the lagoon operators are spraying, people in hog country can't hang laundry or sit on their porches or mow their lawns. Epidemiological studies show that those who live near hog lagoons suffer from abnormally high levels of depression, tension, anger, fatigue and confusion. "We are used to farm odors," says one local farmer. "These are not farm odors." Sometimes the stink literally knocks people down: They walk out of the house to get something in the yard and become so nauseous they collapse. When they retain consciousness, they crawl back into the house.
That has happened several times to Julian and Charlotte Savage, an elderly couple whose farmland now abuts a Smithfield sprayfield -- one of several meant to absorb the shit of 50,000 hogs. The Savages live in a small, modular kit house. Sitting in the kitchen, Charlotte tells me that she once saw Julian collapse in the yard and ran out and threw a coat over his head and dragged him back inside. Before Smithfield arrived, Julian's family farmed the land for the better part of a century. He raised tobacco, corn, wheat, turkeys and chickens. Now he has respiratory problems and rarely attempts to go outside.
Behind the house, a creek bordering the sprayfield flows into a swamp; the Savages have seen hog waste running right into the creek. Once, during a flood, the Savages found pig shit six inches deep pooled around their house. They had to drain it by digging trenches, which took three weeks. Charlotte has noticed that nitrogen fallout keeps the trees around the house a deep synthetic green. There's a big buzzard population.
The Savages say they can keep the pig-shit smell out of their house by shutting the doors and windows, but to me the walls reek faintly. They have a windbreak -- an eighty-foot-wide strip of forest -- between their house and the fields. They know people who don't, though, and when the smell is bad, those people, like everyone, shut their windows and slam their front doors shut quickly behind them, but their coffee and spaghetti and carrots still smell and taste like pig shit.
The Savages have had what seemed to be hog shit in their bath water. Their well water, which was clean before Smithfield arrived, is now suspect. "I try not to drink it," Charlotte says. "We mostly just drink drinks, soda and things." While we talk, Julian spends most of the time on the living room couch; his lungs are particularly bad today. Then he comes into the kitchen. Among other things, he says: I can't breathe it, it'll put you on the ground; you can't walk, you fall down; you breathe you gon' die; you go out and smell it one time and your ass is gone; it's not funny to be around it. It's not funny, honey. He could have said all this somewhat tragicomically, with a thin smile, but instead he cries the whole time.
Smithfield is not just a virtuosic polluter; it is also a theatrical one. Its lagoons are historically prone to failure. In North Carolina alone they have spilled, in a span of four years, 2 million gallons of shit into the Cape Fear River, 1.5 million gallons into its Persimmon Branch, one million gallons into the Trent River and 200,000 gallons into Turkey Creek. In Virginia, Smithfield was fined $12.6 million in 1997 for 6,900 violations of the Clean Water Act -- the third-largest civil penalty ever levied under the act by the EPA. It amounted to .035 percent of Smithfield's annual sales.
A river that receives a lot of waste from an industrial hog farm begins to die quickly. Toxins and microbes can kill plants and animals outright; the waste itself consumes available oxygen and suffocates fish and aquatic animals; and the nutrients in the pig shit produce algal blooms that also deoxygenate the water. The Pagan River runs by Smithfield's original plant and headquarters in Virginia, which served as Joseph Luter's staging ground for his assault on the pork-raising and processing industries. For several decades, before a spate of regulations, the Pagan had no living marsh grass, a tiny and toxic population of fish and shellfish and a half foot of noxious black mud coating its bed. The hulls of boats winched up out of the river bore inch-thick coats of greasy muck. In North Carolina, much of the pig waste from Smithfield's operations makes its way into the Neuse River; in a five-day span in 2003 alone, more than 4 million fish died. Pig-waste runoff has damaged the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound, which is almost as big as the Chesapeake Bay and which provides half the nursery grounds used by fish in the eastern Atlantic.
The biggest spill in the history of corporate hog farming happened in 1995. The dike of a 120,000-square-foot lagoon owned by a Smithfield competitor ruptured, releasing 25.8 million gallons of effluvium into the headwaters of the New River in North Carolina. It was the biggest environmental spill in United States history, more than twice as big as the Exxon Valdez oil spill six years earlier. The sludge was so toxic it burned your skin if you touched it, and so dense it took almost two months to make its way sixteen miles downstream to the ocean. From the headwaters to the sea, every creature living in the river was killed. Fish died by the millions.
It's hard to conceive of a fish kill that size. The kill began with turbulence in one small part of the water: fish writhing and dying. Then it spread in patches along the entire length and breadth of the river. In two hours, dead and dying fish were mounded wherever the river's contours slowed the current, and the riverbanks were mostly dead fish. Within a day dead fish completely covered the riverbanks, and between the floating and beached and piled fish the water scintillated out of sight up and down the river with billions of buoyant dead eyes and scales and white bellies -- more fish than the river seemed capable of holding. The smell of rotting fish covered much of the county; the air above the river was chaotic with scavenging birds. There were far more dead fish than the birds could ever eat.
Spills aren't the worst thing that can happen to toxic pig waste lying exposed in fields and lagoons. Hurricanes are worse. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd washed 120,000,000 gallons of unsheltered hog waste into the Tar, Neuse, Roanoke, Pamlico, New and Cape Fear rivers. Many of the pig-shit lagoons of eastern North Carolina were several feet underwater. Satellite photographs show a dark brown tide closing over the region's waterways, converging on the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound and feeding itself out to sea in a long, well-defined channel. Very little freshwater marine life remained behind. Tens of thousands of drowned pigs were strewn across the land. Beaches located miles from Smithfield lagoons were slathered in feces. A picture taken at the time shows a shark eating a dead pig three miles off the North Carolina coast.
From a waste-disposal perspective, Hurricane Floyd was the best thing that had ever happened to corporate hog farming in North Carolina. Smithfield currently has tens of thousands of gallons of open-air waste awaiting more Floyds.
In addition to such impressive disasters, corporate hog farming contributes to another form of environmental havoc: Pfiesteria piscicida, a microbe that, in its toxic form, has killed a billion fish and injured dozens of people. Nutrient-rich waste like pig shit creates the ideal environment for Pfiesteria to bloom: The microbe eats fish attracted to algae nourished by the waste. Pfiesteria is invisible and odorless -- you know it by the trail of dead. The microbe degrades a fish's skin, laying bare tissue and blood cells; it then eats its way into the fish's body. After the 1995 spill, millions of fish developed large bleeding sores on their sides and quickly died. Fishermen found that at least one of Pfiesteria's toxins could take flight: Breathing the air above the bloom caused severe respiratory difficulty, headaches, blurry vision and logical impairment. Some fishermen forgot how to get home; laboratory workers exposed to Pfiesteria lost the ability to solve simple math problems and dial phones; they forgot their own names. It could take weeks or months for the brain and lungs to recover.

Smithfield is no longer able to disfigure watersheds quite so obviously as in the past; it can no longer expand and flatten small pig farms quite so easily. Several state legislatures have passed laws prohibiting or limiting the ownership of small farms by pork processors. In some places, new slaughterhouses are required to meet expensive waste-disposal requirements; many are forbidden from using the waste-lagoon system. North Carolina, where pigs now outnumber people, has passed a moratorium on new hog operations and ordered Smithfield to fund research into alternative waste-disposal technologies. South Carolina, having taken a good look at its neighbor's coastal plain, has pronounced the company unwelcome in the state. The federal government and several states have challenged some of Smithfield's recent acquisition deals and, in a few instances, have forced the company to agree to modify its waste-lagoon systems.
These initiatives, of course, come comically late. Industrial hog operations control at least seventy-five percent of the market. Smithfield's market dominance is hardly at risk: Twenty-six percent of the pork processed in this country is Smithfield pork. The company's expansion does not seem to be slowing down: Over the past two years, Smithfield's annual sales grew by $1.5 billion. In September, the company announced that it is merging with Premium Standard Farms, the nation's second-largest hog farmer and sixth-largest pork processor. If the deal goes through, Smithfield will own more pigs than the next eight largest pork producers in the nation combined. The company's market leverage and political clout will allow it to produce ever greater quantities of hog waste.
Smithfield points to the improvements it has made to its waste-disposal systems in recent years. In 2003, Smithfield announced that it was investing $20 million in a program to turn its pig shit in Utah into alternative fuel. It now produces approximately 2,500 gallons a day of biomethanol and has begun building a facility in Texas to produce clean-burning biodiesel fuel.
"We're paying a lot of attention to energy right now," says Treacy, the Smithfield vice president. "We've come such a long way in the last five years." The company, he adds, has undergone a "complete cultural shift on environmental matters."
But cultural shifts, no matter how genuine, cannot counter the unalterable physical reality of Smithfield Foods itself. "All of a sudden we have this 800-pound gorilla in the pork industry," Successful Farming magazine warned -- six years ago. There simply is no regulatory solution to the millions of tons of searingly fetid, toxic effluvium that industrial hog farms discharge and aerosolize on a daily basis. Smithfield alone has sixteen operations in twelve states. Fixing the problem completely would bankrupt the company. According to Dr. Michael Mallin, a marine scientist at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington who has researched the effects of corporate farming on water quality, the volumes of concentrated pig waste produced by industrial hog farms are plainly not containable in small areas. The land, he says, "just can't absorb everything that comes out of the barns." From the moment that Smithfield attained its current size, its waste-disposal problem became conventionally insoluble.
Joe Luter, like his pig shit, has an innate aversion to being contained in any way. Ever since American regulators and lawmakers started forcing Smithfield to spend more money on waste treatment and attempting to limit the company's expansion, Luter has been looking to do business elsewhere. In recent years, his gaze has fallen on the lucrative and unregulated markets of Poland.
In 1999, Luter bought a state-owned company called Animex, one of Poland's biggest hog processors. Then he began doing business through a Polish subsidiary called Prima Farms, acquiring huge moribund Communist-era hog farms and converting them into concentrated feeding operations. Pork prices in Poland were low, so Smithfield's sweeping expansion didn't make strict economic sense, except that it had the virtue of pushing small hog farmers toward bankruptcy. By 2003, Animex was operating six subsidiary companies and seven processing plants, selling nine brands of meat and taking in $338 million annually.
The usual violations occurred. Near one of Smithfield's largest plants, in Byszkowo, an enormous pool of frozen pig shit, pumped into a lagoon in winter, melted and ran into two nearby lakes. The lake water turned brown; residents in local villages got skin rashes and eye infections; the stench made it impossible to eat. A recent report to the Helsinki Commission found that Smithfield's pollution throughout Poland was damaging the country's ecosystems. Overapplication was endemic. Farmers without permits were piping liquid pig shit directly into watersheds that fed into the Baltic Sea.
When Joseph Luter entered Poland, he announced that he planned to turn the country into the "Iowa of Europe." Iowa has always been America's biggest hog producer and remains the nation's chief icon of hog farming. Having subdued Poland, Luter announced this summer that all of Eastern Europe -- "particularly Romania" -- should become the "Iowa of Europe." Seventy-five percent of Romania's hogs currently come from household farms. Over the next five years, Smithfield plans to spend $800 million in Romania to change that.

The Making of 'Appetite for Destruction' by Brian Hiatt

Axl rose was lying nude inside a Manhattan recording studio's darkened vocal booth, working out some unorthodox last-minute overdubs. Tape was rolling, and he knew something wasn't right. Beneath him was a cute nineteen-year-old stripper named Adriana Smith, who happened to be his drummer's girlfriend. "Come on, Adriana, make it real," Rose barked, pausing mid-coitus. "Stop faking!"
On that warm weekend evening in the spring of 1987, engineer Vic Deyglio had set up a top-of-the-line vocal microphone to capture the sounds of Rose and Smith having sex — and at one point, he had to dash into the booth to adjust the mike as they went at it. "It was like a Ron Jeremy set in there," Deyglio recalls. Smith wanted to get back at Guns n' Roses drummer Steven Adler for cheating on her — and had always liked the singer better anyway. "Iwould do anything Axl asked me to do," says Smith, now a forty-year-old mom. "He's fuckin' magical." Though she was drunk and giggly that day, Smith eventually gave Rose what he wanted: Her orgasmic moans — which ended up high in the mix on Appetite for Destruction's final track, "Rocket Queen" — are for real. But when Adler found out what had been captured on his band's album, the drummer "fucking freaked out," Smith says. She was haunted by her recording session for years: "I ended up drinking and using drugs over this for a really long time, because I had this extreme shame and guilt and stuff."
And so it went: one more depraved day in the world of Guns n' Roses. Before they had even finished their first album, the lives of the five band members had become a dark cartoon of indiscriminate sex, property damage, booze and hard drugs.
"It was just hard-core good times," says Slash. "Going out there and doing whatever we wanted. "But unlike their poufy-haired peers on the Sunset Strip scene, G n' R managed to transmute their wild times into lasting music: ferocious, sexy hard rock that found common ground between Aerosmith and the Sex Pistols, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the New York Dolls.Released on July 21st, 1987, Appetite for Destruction went on to sell well over 15 million copies in this country alone, becoming one of the best-selling debuts ever. The album looked both forward and backward: The punky rawness of its sound and the pained artistry of its lyrics made it a bridge between commercial Eighties hard rock and the alternative music of the next decade. But Appetite was also among the last classic rock records to be mastered with vinyl in mind, to be edited with a razor blade applied to two-inch tape, to be mixed by five people frantically pushing faders at a non-automated mixing board. "We used classic instruments and classic amps," says the album's producer and engineer, Mike Clink. "Our approach was reminiscent of stuff that was done in the Sixties and early Seventies."Adds assistant mixing engineer Deyglio, who earned a credit as "Victor 'the fuckin'engineer'" on the album: "It could almost be seen as the last of one of those types of records, from Layla to Abbey Road on down. It could be seen as the last great rock record made totally by hand."

Guns saw themselves as reviving rock's vanished rebel spirit. "Rock & roll in general has sucked a big dick since the Pistols," guitarist Izzy Stradlin told Rolling Stone in 1988; in the same article, Rose said that he had watched the Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter "about a hundred times." "Me, Axl and Slash, we knew what we wanted since we were eleven, twelve years old," says Steven Adler. "And we went balls out for it, and there was nothing or no one that was going to stand in our way. I wanted to be fuckin' Roger Taylor from Queen. We wanted to be like Aerosmith, Kiss, Zeppelin — bands like that."

In 1986, clouds of Aqua Net hair spray hung heavy over the Sunset Strip, as the likes of Mötley Crüe, Ratt and Poison saw multiplatinum success, combining an exaggerated version of Seventies glam-rock style with pop hooks and a Zeppelin-like penchant for misbehavior.

By the end of that year, Guns n' Roses had yet to play a stadium show or shoot a video, but they were already capable of creating a major spectacle: Broke, strung out on drugs and angered by their slow progress toward a debut album, they took it all out on a rented house on the former estate of Cecil B. DeMille. An apoplectic landlord summoned the band's A&R rep, Tom Zutaut, and then-manager Arnold Stiefelto the ravaged property one day. "I almost fainted," says Stiefel, whose name was on the lease. "It was Beneath the Planet of the Apes. It was Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. It was so beyond imagining. I couldn't stop laughing." The band had torn the toilets from the floor and thrown them out the window. The scene inside was worse, recalls Zutaut: "People were defecating in the sinks. The holes in the floor where the toilets got ripped off were filled with urine. There were half-eaten Whoppers with mold on the wrappers. They would just get in these drug rages and just go berserk." Zutaut had made his name signing the famously decadent Mötley Crüe — but this was worse than anything he'd seen before. The damage totaled $22,000; Stiefel and his partner Randy Phillips submitted it to Geffen Records and then dropped Guns as clients.

Inside the house, one room was left untouched amid the madness. "There was this padlocked door," Zutaut recalls. "You go inside, and there was Axl in this immaculate, perfect room, surrounded by all this squalor. That was the dichotomy of Guns n' Roses." Rose was less interested in drugs and alcohol than his bandmates — but he had his own problems. He was diagnosed as a manic-depressive, and his associates sometimes wondered whether he actually had multiple personality disorder. "He has this very likable little-boy personality, and then he has the demon-dog-from-hell personality," says Vicky Hamilton, an early manager. "The color of his eyes actually changes when he goes into this different person."

It wasn't easy to find managers or producers willing to deal with this group — or vice versa. One rejected producer, Kiss guitarist Paul Stanley, saw firsthand just how difficult the band could be. He showed up one day at an apartment the label had rented for the band on Sunset Boulevard and found Stradlin and Slash nodded out on a couch. When they woke up, they played him some demos, including one of "Nightrain." Stanley liked it but suggested the chorus needed an extra hook. That was it: Rose never spoke to Stanley again, refusing to even look at him. Then Stanley started hearing that Slash was spreading rumors that he was gay — and that he "dressed weird," to boot. "I always thought that was funny," says Stanley. "Because their lead singer was up onstage in a woman's red vinyl jumpsuit with a motorcycle hat and makeup."

At the core of Guns n' Roses were two pairs of troublemaking childhood friends. Adler and Slash (born Saul Hudson) skipped junior high together in L.A., while Stradlin and Rose ran wild in the nowheresville of Lafayette, Indiana. Duff McKagan was a smart blond kid from Seattle with punk-rock cred — he had managed to meet Joe Strummer as a young teen and was the original drummer in the Fastbacks while still in high school. McKagan left Seattle to get away from a heavy heroin scene, only to move in across the street from Stradlin — who was both using the drug and selling it.
The musicians spent a long while circling one another on the Hollywood circuit. Slash and Adler played with McKagan in a band called Road Crew and had stints in Rose's group, Hollywood Rose. G n' R took their name from a brief merger of Hollywood Rose and L.A. Guns, a band led by guitarist Tracii Guns, who had shared a house with Rose and Stradlin. The band pushed Tracii out after a couple of months to make room for Slash — but kept his name. "Hey, man, it's just a band name," Stradlin told him.
The classic Guns n' Roses lineup came together for its first rehearsal in a Silverlake studio in May 1985. "The moment that we fuckin' slammed into our first chord, there was something, and we all knew it," says McKagan. "We were only twenty years old, but we considered ourselves real veterans. It felt like, 'This is the band, this is it. This is what we've all been searching for.'" Before rehearsal, McKagan and Stradlin had helped shape the band's sound by hiding all of Adler's extra drums, transforming his setup from cheesy pop-metal excess to punk-rock simplicity.
Rose and Stradlin already had completed some future Guns n' Roses songs at that point, including the minor Appetite tracks "Anything Goes" and "Think About You," along with "Back Off Bitch" and "Don't Cry," which the band didn't release until 1991. (Rose also had a version of"November Rain" very early — he played it for one potential producer, Manny Charlton, telling him, "That one's for the second album.") But the rest of the Appetite songs came together over the next few months. The group's first songwriting collaboration was "Welcome to the Jungle" — Slash played the main riff for Rose while they hung out in Slash's mom's basement. "I picked up my guitar, standing in front of the couch on one knee, and said, 'Check this out,' and it stuck with him," Slash says. Later, McKagan wrote the song's trippy breakdown, and Slash remembers Stradlin putting together the bridge. "Axl was very open," McKagan says. "He wasn't like, 'I'm the singer, I must write all the stuff.' It was serving the music; it wasn't serving the ego. We didn't have egos yet." "Nightrain" combined a joke chorus named after a cheap brand of wine the band favored and a rough riff Stradlin had introduced. "Izzy had this thing where he'd play, like, half the notes," McKagan says. "It was cool, it was his style. Slash and I would have to figure out what he meant to play."
Before signing their record deal, most of G n' R lived, rehearsed and wrote songs in a cramped, vermin-ridden rehearsal space with no toilet, on the corner of Sunset and Gardner Street. "I can't remember one night that we actually slept quietly there, like, 'Good night, Axl.' 'Good night, Slash,'" says Slash. "It was more like that's where our shit was and that's where you could pass out." At the time, the band got by with a little help from its exotic-dancer friends. "Strippers were our main source of income," Slash adds. "They'd pay for booze, sometimes you could eat, shit like that. Really a great bohemian, gypsy lifestyle. I have great memories of those renegade strippers that took their chances with us." In that space, McKagan and Adler would hold daily practices of their own — they'd spend hours playing along together to funk tunes by Prince and Cameo ("Word Up!"was a favorite), locking in tight and growing comfortable with swinging rhythms that were unusual for hard rock. McKagan says the groove of "Rocket Queen" owes a particular debt to Cameo.
The band signed to Geffen in March 1986, and after months of inaction finally found a manager it could stand in the tough, brainy Englishman Alan Niven, who also worked with Great White. And in quick succession, it found a producer, too: Mike Clink, a recording engineer who combined superb technical skills with an unusual amount of patience. Plus, the group had written one last song: "Sweet Child o' Mine." At the Cecil B. DeMille house, Slash was fooling around with the song's signature riff as a "goofy personal exercise," and Stradlin started playing chords along with it. Unbeknown to either of the guitarists, Rose was listening from his room upstairs and writing lyrics. Says Slash, "If Axl hadn't been there writing those lyrics, chances are that song would have never existed."

The band rehearsed with Clink for weeks, then entered Rumbo Recorders — owned by the Captain, of Captain and Tenille fame, in January 1987. It spent two weeks laying down basic tracks, with Clink splicing together the best takes with his razor blade. Clink worked eighteen-hour days for the next month, with Slash overdubbing in the afternoon and evening, and Rose cutting vocals til the sun came up. Until he finally ended up with a Les Paul copy plugged into a Marshall, Slash struggled to find a guitar sound — he got so frustrated with a rented Gibson SG that he smashed it through a van window. He spent hours with Clink, paring down and structuring his solos until they were as catchy as the vocal melodies. Rose — mostly a high screamer onstage until that point — unveiled an uncanny vocal range, adding a low harmony part to the opening of "Paradise City" and an unearthly, police-siren-like wail at the beginning of "Welcome to the Jungle." "We had to channel all these voices and figure out what worked," says Clink. "With the intro to 'Welcome to the Jungle,' he didn't just open his mouth and that happened; we tried multiple, multiple takes to make sure it was the right growl." The total budget for the album was about $370,000 — an extravagant sum for a debut at the time.
Five months after its release, by December 1987, Appetite for Destruction had sold about 200,000 copies, with minimal radio airplay. Geffen execs told Zutaut and Niven that the album had done well for a baby band's debut, and it was time to pull Guns off the road and have them record a follow-up. Zutaut pleaded with company founder David Geffen to use his clout to push MTV to add the "Welcome to the Jungle" video. The network ended up playing it one time, at 4 a.m. on a Sunday. The result was an A&R man's wet dream: MTV's switchboard flooded with requests for the clip — and, seemingly, every angry kid in America drove to the mall and picked up a copy. When the "Sweet Child o' Mine" video came out about six months later, female fans came in by the millions. "I remember looking at my monitor and thinking, 'This sucks, this is really ordinary,'" director Nigel Dick says of that shoot. "And there were some girls from the label who were peeking over my shoulder, and one said, 'This is so fucking cool.' I quickly readjusted my opinion, because obviously, they thought he was really hot, and the rest, as they say, is history."
In its final verse, the raunchy "Rocket Queen" suddenly turns sweet: "No one needs the sorrow/No one needs the pain/I hate to see you/Walking out in the rain," Rose wails, his voice vaulting up an octave, and Slash kicks in with a weeping solo that feels like a benediction. The idea, Rose has said, was to give the album a happy ending after all of its darkness.
Though they reigned for the next four years as the biggest band in the world, the story of the original Guns n' Roses had a messier conclusion. Adler was the first to go, fired in 1990 by his bandmates, who accused him of heroin use that was out of control even by their standards.
The Cult's Matt Sorum replaced him. Adler never got over what he saw as betrayal and suffered a drug-induced stroke in 1995. "The thing that hurt me the most was that Slash didn't stick up for me,"says Adler, who now plays in a band called Adler's Appetite. "We were blood brothers. "But last year, Slash flew in from Europe to Adler's Las Vegas home to stage an intervention, trying to get him off cocaine. "That was friendship," says Adler. "That was love."
Stradlin quit in the middle of the tour for the band's second album, Use Your Illusion I and II — in part because he had gotten clean and couldn't be around his bandmates anymore. And in the mid-Nineties, as Axl Rose started pursuing industrial-rock experiments in the studio, the old band began to fall apart. Rose — who owns the rights to the band name — assembled a new G n' R, spending more than a decade recording Chinese Democracy, an album that has yet to be released. "It's because of Appetite that it's so hard for him to let go of Chinese Democracy," says Zutaut, who briefly worked with Rose on the album-in-progress. "He made it clear that he was trying to put out a record that would change the world as much as Appetite, and be better than Appetite."
Slash is more comfortable with the legacy of Appetite for Destruction. "When I was a kid, there were these be-with-you-forever albums that represented something in your life," he says. "Whether it was the background music of your childhood or your puberty or whatever — Dark Side of the Moon or Sticky Fingers or Aerosmith's Rocks or Led Zeppelin IV. And we made one of those records, which is all I could ever have asked for. It gives me goose bumps. That's something no one ever can take away from me."

Defender of the Faith by Mark Edmundson

Late in life — he was in his 80s, in fact — Sigmund Freud got religion. No, Freud didn’t begin showing up at temple every Saturday, wrapping himself in a prayer shawl and reading from the Torah. To the end of his life, he maintained his stance as an uncompromising atheist, the stance he is best known for down to the present. In “The Future of an Illusion,” he described belief in God as a collective neurosis: he called it “longing for a father.” But in his last completed book, “Moses and Monotheism,” something new emerges. There Freud, without abandoning his atheism, begins to see the Jewish faith that he was born into as a source of cultural progress in the past and of personal inspiration in the present. Close to his own death, Freud starts to recognize the poetry and promise in religion.
A good deal of the antireligious polemic that has recently been abroad in our culture proceeds in the spirit of Freud’s earlier work. In his defense of atheism, “God Is Not Great,” Christopher Hitchens cites Freud as an ally who, he believes, exposed the weak-minded childishness of religion. Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins come out of the same Enlightenment spirit of hostile skepticism to faith that infuses “The Future of an Illusion.” All three contemporary writers want to get rid of religion immediately and with no remainder.
But there’s more to Freud’s take on religion than that. In his last book, written when he was old and ill, suffering badly from cancer of the jaw, Freud offers another perspective on faith. He argues that Judaism helped free humanity from bondage to the immediate empirical world, opening up fresh possibilities for human thought and action. He also suggests that faith in God facilitated a turn toward the life within, helping to make a rich life of introspection possible.
“Moses and Monotheism” was not an easy book for Freud to write or to publish. He began it in the 1930s while he was living in Vienna, and he was well aware that when and if he brought the book out he could expect trouble from the Austrian Catholic Church. The book, after all, insisted on some strange and disturbing things. Most startling, it argued that Moses himself was not a Jew. How did Freud know? First of all, he claimed that Moses is not a Jewish name but an Egyptian one; second, Freud’s study of dreams and fairy tales convinced him that the Bible had inverted things. In the Exodus story, Moses’ mother, fearing Pharaoh’s order to kill all Jewish boys, leaves the infant Moses in a basket on the river’s edge, where he is discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter. But Freud maintained that the Jews were the ones who had found him by the river. (In fairy tales and dreams, the child always begins with rich parents and is adopted by poor ones, yet his noble nature wins out — or so Freud insisted.) Freud also said that monotheism was not a Jewish but an Egyptian invention, descending from the cult of the Egyptian sun god Aton.
In March 1938, the Nazis invaded Austria and put Freud and his family in mortal danger. Freud managed to escape from Vienna with the help of the wealthy Princess Marie Bonaparte, whom he adored, and of the government of the United States of America, which he relentlessly disliked. President Roosevelt even took a measure of interest in Freud’s case, but that did not change Freud’s mind about the rogue republic at all. America is enormous, he liked to say, but it is an enormous mistake.
Before leaving Vienna, Freud gave the Nazis a parting gift. They had made it clear to him that his emigration was contingent on signing a statement saying that he had not been molested in any way and that he had been able to continue with his scientific work. Freud signed, but then added a coda of his own devising: “I can most highly recommend the Gestapo to everyone.”
n London, where Freud arrived in June 1938, he encountered another sort of resistance to finishing and publishing the Moses book. The first person who came to see him at his house on Elsworthy Road was his neighbor, a Jewish scholar named Abraham Yahuda. Yahuda had gotten wind of the contents of the volume and had come to beseech Freud not to publish. Didn’t the Jews have enough trouble in the world without one of their number saying that Moses was not Jewish and that — in contrast to the peaceful death depicted in the Bible — Moses had been murdered by the Jews themselves, who resented the harsh laws he had tried to impose on them? Did Freud actually intend to claim that over time guilt for the murder had enhanced Moses’ status and his legacy of monotheism, creating in the Jews what Freud liked to call a “reaction formation”? Yahuda was far from being the last of such petitioners. During his early days in London, Freud received no end of entreaties to let the project go.
What did Freud do? He published of course — and not just in German but, as quickly and conspicuously as possible, in English. The reviews were terrible. The private response was often bitter. And Freud was delighted. He reveled in the strong sales figures, shrugged off the nasty reviews and sang his own praises. “Quite a worthy exit,” he called the Moses book.
And it was, but not chiefly because of the strange speculations about Moses’ identity that worried Yahuda and scandalized the book’s first readers. There is a more subtle and original dimension to the book, and perhaps it was that dimension that made Freud so determined to complete and publish it, despite all the resistance. For in “Moses and Monotheism” Freud has something truly fresh to say about religion.
About two-thirds of the way into the volume, he makes a point that is simple and rather profound — the sort of point that Freud at his best excels in making. Judaism’s distinction as a faith, he says, comes from its commitment to belief in an invisible God, and from this commitment, many consequential things follow. Freud argues that taking God into the mind enriches the individual immeasurably. The ability to believe in an internal, invisible God vastly improves people’s capacity for abstraction. “The prohibition against making an image of God — the compulsion to worship a God whom one cannot see,” he says, meant that in Judaism “a sensory perception was given second place to what may be called an abstract idea — a triumph of intellectuality over sensuality.”
If people can worship what is not there, they can also reflect on what is not there, or on what is presented to them in symbolic and not immediate terms. So the mental labor of monotheism prepared the Jews — as it would eventually prepare others in the West — to achieve distinction in law, in mathematics, in science and in literary art. It gave them an advantage in all activities that involved making an abstract model of experience, in words or numbers or lines, and working with the abstraction to achieve control over nature or to bring humane order to life. Freud calls this internalizing process an “advance in intellectuality,” and he credits it directly to religion.
reud speculates that one of the strongest human desires is to encounter God — or the gods — directly. We want to see our deities and to know them. Part of the appeal of Greek religion lay in the fact that it offered adherents direct, and often gorgeous, renderings of the immortals — and also, perhaps, the possibility of meeting them on earth. With its panoply of saints, Christianity restored visual intensity to religion; it took a step back from Judaism in the direction of the pagan faiths. And that, Freud says, is one of the reasons it prospered.
Judaism, on the other hand, never let go of the great renunciation. The renunciation, according to Freud, gave the Jews remarkable strength of intellect, which he admired, but it also made them rather proud, for they felt that they, among all peoples, were the ones who could sustain such belief.
Freud’s argument suggests that belief in an unseen God may prepare the ground not only for science and literature and law but also for intense introspection. Someone who can contemplate an invisible God, Freud implies, is in a strong position to take seriously the invisible, but perhaps determining, dynamics of inner life. He is in a better position to know himself. To live well, the modern individual must learn to understand himself in all his singularity. He must be able to pause and consider his own character, his desires, his inhibitions and values, his inner contradictions. And Judaism, with its commitment to one unseen God, opens the way for doing so. It gives us the gift of inwardness.
Freud was aware that there were many modes of introspection abroad in the world, but he of course thought psychoanalysis was by far the best. He said that the poets were there before him as discoverers of the inner life but that they had never been able to make their knowledge about it systematic and accessible. So throughout the Moses book, Freud subtly identifies himself with the prophet and implies that psychoanalysis may be the most consequential heir of the Jewish “advance in intellectuality.” Freud believed that he had suffered for his commitment to psychoanalysis (which did not and does not lack detractors) and clearly looked to Moses as an example of a great figure who had braved resistance to his beliefs, both by Pharaoh in Egypt and by his own people. Moses hung on to his convictions — much as Freud aspired to do.
Though Freud hoped that mankind would pass beyond religion, he surely took inspiration from the story of Moses, a figure with whom he had been fascinated for many years. (He published his first essay on the prophet in 1914.) Freud wanted to lead people, and he wanted to make conceptual innovations that had staying power and strength: for this there could be no higher exemplar than the prophet.
“Moses and Monotheism” indicates that Freud, irreligious as he was, could still find inspiration in a religious figure. Something similar was true about Freud’s predecessor, Nietzsche. Nietzsche is famous for detesting Christianity, and by and large he did. But he did not detest Jesus Christ — whose spontaneity, toughness and freedom of spirit he aspired to emulate. “There has been only one Christian,” he once said, one person who truly lived up to the standards of the Gospel, “and he died on the cross.”
Schopenhauer, to whom both Nietzsche and Freud were deeply indebted, was himself an unbeliever, as well as being an unrelenting pessimist. To Schopenhauer, life was pain, grief, sorrow and little else. Yet he, too, was able to take inspiration from Christianity, affirming as he did that a faith that had a man being tortured on a cross as its central emblem couldn’t be entirely misleading in its overall take on life.
Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Freud were all at times able to recognize religion as being what Harold Bloom has wisely called it: not the opium of the people but the poetry of the people. They read Scripture as though it were poetry, and they learned from it accordingly. They saw that even if someone does not believe in a transcendent God, religion can still be a source of inspiration and of practical wisdom about how to live in the world. To be sure, it often takes hard intellectual work to find that wisdom. (As the proverb has it, “He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with him.”) Yet Freud’s late-life turn shows us that there is too much of enduring value in religion — even for nonbelievers — ever to think of abandoning it cold.

The Great Wealth Transfer by Paul Krugman

It's the biggest untold economic story of our time: more of the nation's bounty held in fewer and fewer hands. And Bush's tax cuts are only making the problem worse.Why doesn't Bush get credit for the strong economy?" That question has been asked over and over again in recent months by political pundits. After all, they point out, the gross domestic product is up; unemployment, at least according to official figures, is low by historical standards; and stocks have recovered much of the ground they lost in the early years of the decade, with the Dow surpassing 12,000 for the first time. Yet the public remains deeply unhappy with the state of the economy. In a recent poll, only a minority of Americans rated the economy as "excellent" or "good," while most consider it no better than "fair" or "poor."Are people just ungrateful? Is the administration failing to get its message out? Are the news media, as conservatives darkly suggest, deliberately failing to report the good news?None of the above. The reason most Americans think the economy is fair to poor is simple: For most Americans, it really is fair to poor. Wages have failed to keep up with rising prices. Even in 2005, a year in which the economy grew quite fast, the income of most non-elderly families lagged behind inflation. The number of Americans in poverty has risen even in the face of an official economic recovery, as has the number of Americans without health insurance. Most Americans are little, if any, better off than they were last year and definitely worse off than they were in 2000.But how is this possible? The economic pie is getting bigger -- how can it be true that most Americans are getting smaller slices? The answer, of course, is that a few people are getting much, much bigger slices. Although wages have stagnated since Bush took office, corporate profits have doubled. The gap between the nation's CEOs and average workers is now ten times greater than it was a generation ago. And while Bush's tax cuts shaved only a few hundred dollars off the tax bills of most Americans, they saved the richest one percent more than $44,000 on average. In fact, once all of Bush's tax cuts take effect, it is estimated that those with incomes of more than $200,000 a year -- the richest five percent of the population -- will pocket almost half of the money. Those who make less than $75,000 a year -- eighty percent of America -- will receive barely a quarter of the cuts. In the Bush era, economic inequality is on the rise.Rising inequality isn't new. The gap between rich and poor started growing before Ronald Reagan took office, and it continued to widen through the Clinton years. But what is happening under Bush is something entirely unprecedented: For the first time in our history, so much growth is being siphoned off to a small, wealthy minority that most Americans are failing to gain ground even during a time of economic growth -- and they know it.A merica has never been an egalitarian society, but during the New Deal and the Second World War, government policies and organized labor combined to create a broad and solid middle class. The economic historians Claudia Goldin and Robert Margo call what happened between 1933 and 1945 the Great Compression: The rich got dramatically poorer while workers got considerably richer. Americans found themselves sharing broadly similar lifestyles in a way not seen since before the Civil War.But in the 1970s, inequality began increasing again -- slowly at first, then more and more rapidly. You can see how much things have changed by comparing the state of affairs at America's largest employer, then and now. In 1969, General Motors was the country's largest corporation aside from AT&T, which enjoyed a government-guaranteed monopoly on phone service. GM paid its chief executive, James M. Roche, a salary of $795,000 -- the equivalent of $4.2 million today, adjusting for inflation. At the time, that was considered very high. But nobody denied that ordinary GM workers were paid pretty well. The average paycheck for production workers in the auto industry was almost $8,000 -- more than $45,000 today. GM workers, who also received excellent health and retirement benefits, were considered solidly in the middle class.Today, Wal-Mart is America's largest corporation, with 1.3 million employees. H. Lee Scott, its chairman, is paid almost $23 million -- more than five times Roche's inflation-adjusted salary. Yet Scott's compensation excites relatively little comment, since it's not exceptional for the CEO of a large corporation these days. The wages paid to Wal-Mart's workers, on the other hand, do attract attention, because they are low even by current standards. On average, Wal-Mart's non-supervisory employees are paid $18,000 a year, far less than half what GM workers were paid thirty-five years ago, adjusted for inflation. And Wal-Mart is notorious both for how few of its workers receive health benefits and for the stinginess of those scarce benefits.The broader picture is equally dismal. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the hourly wage of the average American non-supervisory worker is actually lower, adjusted for inflation, than it was in 1970. Meanwhile, CEO pay has soared -- from less than thirty times the average wage to almost 300 times the typical worker's pay.The widening gulf between workers and executives is part of a stunning increase in inequality throughout the U.S. economy during the past thirty years. To get a sense of just how dramatic that shift has been, imagine a line of 1,000 people who represent the entire population of America. They are standing in ascending order of income, with the poorest person on the left and the richest person on the right. And their height is proportional to their income -- the richer they are, the taller they are.Start with 1973. If you assume that a height of six feet represents the average income in that year, the person on the far left side of the line -- representing those Americans living in extreme poverty -- is only sixteen inches tall. By the time you get to the guy at the extreme right, he towers over the line at more than 113 feet.Now take 2005. The average height has grown from six feet to eight feet, reflecting the modest growth in average incomes over the past generation. And the poorest people on the left side of the line have grown at about the same rate as those near the middle -- the gap between the middle class and the poor, in other words, hasn't changed. But people to the right must have been taking some kind of extreme steroids: The guy at the end of the line is now 560 feet tall, almost five times taller than his 1973 counterpart.What's useful about this image is that it explodes several comforting myths we like to tell ourselves about what is happening to our society.MYTH #1: INEQUALITY IS MAINLY A PROBLEM OF POVERTY. According to this view, most Americans are sharing in the economy's growth, with only a small minority at the bottom left behind. That places the onus for change on middle-class Americans who -- so the story goes -- will have to sacrifice some of their prosperity if they want to see poverty alleviated.But as our line illustrates, that's just plain wrong. It's not only the poor who have fallen behind -- the normal-size people in the middle of the line haven't grown much, either. The real divergence in fortunes is between the great majority of Americans and a very small, extremely wealthy minority at the far right of the line.MYTH #2: INEQUALITY IS MAINLY A PROBLEM OF EDUCATION.This view -- which I think of as the eighty-twenty fallacy -- is expressed by none other than Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve. Last year, Greenspan testified that wage gains were going primarily to skilled professionals with college educations -- "essentially," he said, "the top twenty percent." The other eighty percent -- those with less education -- are stuck in routine jobs being replaced by computers or lost to imports. Inequality, Greenspan concluded, is ultimately "an education problem."It's a good story with a comforting conclusion: Education is the answer. But it's all wrong. A closer look at our line of Americans reveals why. The richest twenty percent are those standing between 800 and 1,000. But even those standing between 800 and 950 -- Americans who earn between $80,000 and $120,000 a year -- have done only slightly better than everyone to their left. Almost all of the gains over the past thirty years have gone to the fifty people at the very end of the line. Being highly educated won't make you into a winner in today's U.S. economy. At best, it makes you somewhat less of a loser.MYTH #3: INEQUALITY DOESN'T REALLY MATTER.In this view, America is the land of opportunity, where a poor young man or woman can vault into the upper class. In fact, while modest moves up and down the economic ladder are common, true Horatio Alger stories are very rare. America actually has less social mobility than other advanced countries: These days, Horatio Alger has moved to Canada or Finland. It's easier for a poor child to make it into the upper-middle class in just about every other advanced country -- including famously class-conscious Britain -- than it is in the United States.Not only can few Americans hope to join the ranks of the rich, no matter how well educated or hardworking they may be -- their opportunities to do so are actually shrinking. As best we can tell, pretax incomes are now as unequally distributed as they were in the 1920s -- wiping out virtually all of the gains made by the middle class during the Great Compression.There's a famous scene in the 1987 movie Wall Street in which Gordon Gekko, the corporate predator played by Michael Douglas, tells a meeting of stunned shareholders that greed is good, that the unbridled pursuit of individual wealth serves the interests of the company and the nation. In the movie, Gekko gets his comeuppance; in real life, the Gordon Gekkos took over both corporate America and, eventually, our political system.Oliver Stone didn't conjure Gekko's "greed" line out of thin air. It was based on a real speech given by corporate raider Ivan Boesky -- and it reflected what many corporate executives, conservative intellectuals and right-wing politicians were saying at the time.It's no coincidence that ringing endorsements of greed began to be heard at the same time that the actual incomes of America's rich began to soar. In part, the new pro-greed ideology was a way of rationalizing what was already happening. But it was also, to an important extent, a cause of the phenomenon. In the past thirty years, right-wing foundations have devoted enormous resources to promoting this agenda, building a far-reaching network of think tanks, media outlets and conservative scholars to legitimize higher levels of inequality. "On average, corporate America pays its most important leaders like bureaucrats," the Harvard Business Review lamented in 1990, calling for higher pay for top executives. "Is it any wonder then that so many CEOs act like bureaucrats?"Although corporate executives have always had the power to pay themselves lavishly, their self-enrichment was limited by what Lucian Bebchuk, Jesse Fried and David Walker -- the leading experts on exploding executive paychecks -- call the "outrage constraint." What they mean is that a conspicuously self-dealing CEO would be forced to moderate his greed by unions, the press and politicians: The social climate itself condemned executive salaries that seem immodest.Lately, however, we have experienced a death of outrage. Thanks to the right's well-funded and organized effort, corporate executives now feel no shame in lining their pockets with huge bonuses and gigantic stock options. Such self-dealing is justified, they say: Greed is what made America great, and greedy executives are exactly what corporate America needs.At the same time, there has been a concerted attack on the institutions that have helped moderate inequality -- in particular, unions. During the Great Compression, the rate of unionization nearly tripled; by 1945, more than one in three American workers belonged to a union. A lot of what made General Motors the relatively egalitarian institution it was in the 1960s had to do with its powerful union, which was able to demand high wages for its members. Those wages, in turn, set a standard that elevated the income of workers who didn't belong to unions. But today, in the era of Wal-Mart, fewer than one in eleven workers in the private sector is organized -- effectively preventing hundreds of thousands of working Americans from joining the middle class.Why isn't Wal-Mart unionized? The answer is simple and brutal: Business interests went on the offensive against unions. And we're not talking about gentle persuasion; we're talking about hardball tactics. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, at least one in every twenty workers who voted for a union was illegally fired; some estimates put the number as high as one in eight. And once Ronald Reagan took office, the anti-union campaign was aided and abetted by political support at the highest levels.Unions weren't the only institution that fostered income equality during the generation that followed the Great Compression. The creation of a national minimum wage also set a benchmark for the entire economy, boosting the bargaining position of workers. But under Reagan, Congress failed to raise the minimum wage, allowing its value to be eroded by inflation. Between 1981 and 1989, the minimum wage remained the same in dollar terms -- but inflation shrank its purchasing power by twenty-five percent, reducing it to the lowest level since the 1950s.After Reagan left office, there was a partial reversal of his anti-labor policies. The minimum wage was increased under the elder Bush and again under Clinton, restoring about half the ground it lost under Reagan. But then came Bush the Second -- and the balance of power shifted against workers and the middle class to a degree not seen since the Gilded Age.During the 2000 election campaign, George W. Bush joked that his base consisted of the "haves and the have mores." But it wasn't much of a joke. Not only has the Bush administration favored the interests of the wealthiest few Americans over those of the middle class, it has consistently shown a preference for people who get their income from dividends and capital gains, rather than those who work for a living.Under Bush, the economy has been growing at a reasonable pace for the past three years. But most Americans have failed to benefit from that growth. All indicators of the economic status of ordinary Americans -- poverty rates, family incomes, the number of people without health insurance -- show that most of us were worse off in 2005 than we were in 2000, and there's little reason to think that 2006 was much better.So where did all the economic growth go? It went to a relative handful of people at the top. The earnings of the typical full-time worker, adjusted for inflation, have actually fallen since Bush took office. Pay for CEOs, meanwhile, has soared -- from 185 times that of average workers in 2003 to 279 times in 2005. And after-tax corporate profits have also skyrocketed, more than doubling since Bush took office. Those profits will eventually be reflected in dividends and capital gains, which accrue mainly to the very well-off: More than three-quarters of all stocks are owned by the richest ten percent of the population.Bush wasn't directly responsible for the stagnation of wages and the surge in profits and executive compensation: The White House doesn't set wage rates or give CEOs stock options. But the government can tilt the balance of power between workers and bosses in many ways -- and at every juncture, this government has favored the bosses. There are four ways, in particular, that the Bush administration has helped make the poor poorer and the rich richer.First, like Reagan, Bush has stood firmly against any increase in the minimum wage, even as inflation erodes the value of a dollar. The minimum wage was last raised in 1997; since then, inflation has cut the purchasing power of a minimum-wage worker's paycheck by twenty percent.Second, again like Reagan, Bush has used the government's power to make it harder for workers to organize. The National Labor Relations Board, founded to protect the ability of workers to organize, has become for all practical purposes an agent of employers trying to prevent unionization. A spectacular example of this anti-union bias came just a few months ago. Under U.S. labor law, legal protections for union organizing do not extend to supervisors. But the Republican majority on the NLRB ruled that otherwise ordinary line workers who occasionally tell others what to do -- such as charge nurses, who primarily care for patients but also give instructions to other nurses on the same shift -- will now be considered supervisors. In a single administrative stroke, the Bush administration stripped as many as 8 million workers of their right to unionize.Third, the administration effectively blocked what might have been a post-Enron backlash against self-dealing corporate insiders. Corporate scandals dominated the news in the first half of 2002 -- but then the subject was changed to the urgent need to invade Iraq, and the drive for reform was squelched. With Americans focused on the war, CEOs are once again rewarding themselves at impressive -- and unprecedented -- levels.Finally, there's the government's most direct method of affecting incomes: taxes. In this arena, Bush has made sure that the rich pay lower taxes than they have in decades. According to the latest estimates, once the Bush tax cuts have taken full effect, more than a third of the cash will go to people making more than $500,000 a year -- a mere 0.8 percent of the population.It's easy to get confused about the Bush tax cuts. For one thing, they are designed to confuse.The core of the Bush policy involves cutting taxes on high incomes, especially on the income wealthy Americans receive from capital gains and dividends. You might say that the Bush administration favors people who live off their wealth over people who have a job. But there are some middle-class "sweeteners" thrown in, so the administration can point to a few ordinary American families who have received significant tax cuts.Furthermore, the administration has engaged in a systematic campaign of disinformation about whose taxes have been cut. Indeed, one of Bush's first actions after taking office was to tell the Treasury Department to stop producing estimates of how tax cuts are distributed by income class -- that is, information on who gained how much. Instead, official reports on taxes under Bush are textbook examples of how to mislead with statistics, presenting a welter of confusing numbers that convey the false impression that the tax cuts favor middle-class families, not the wealthy.In reality, only a few middle-class families received a significant tax cut under Bush. But every wealthy American -- especially those who live off of stock earnings or their inheritance -- got a big tax cut. To picture who gained the most, imagine the son of a very wealthy man, who expects to inherit $50 million in stock and live off the dividends. Before the Bush tax cuts, our lucky heir-to-be would have paid about $27 million in estate taxes and contributed 39.6 percent of his dividend income in taxes. Once Bush's cuts go into effect, he could inherit the whole estate tax-free and pay a tax rate of only fifteen percent on his stock earnings. Truly, this is a very good time to be one of the have mores.It's worth noting that Bush doesn't simply favor the upper class: It's the upper-upper class he cares about. That became clear last fall, when the House and Senate passed rival tax-cutting bills. (What were they doing cutting taxes yet again in the face of a huge budget deficit and an expensive war? Never mind.) The Senate bill was devoted to providing relief to middle-class wage earners: According to the Tax Policy Center, two-thirds of the Senate tax cut would have gone to people with incomes of between $100,000 and $500,000 a year. Those making more than $1 million a year would have received only eight percent of the cut.The House bill, by contrast, focused on extending tax cuts on capital gains and dividends. More than forty percent of the House cuts would have flowed to the $1 million-plus group; only thirty percent to the 100K to 500K taxpayers.The White House favored the House bill -- and the final, reconciled measure wound up awarding a quarter of the benefits to America's millionaires. That, in a nutshell, is the politics of income inequality under Bush.Oh, one last thing: What about the claim that the Bush tax cuts did wonders for economic growth? In fact, job creation has been much slower under Bush than under Clinton, and overall growth since 2003 is largely the result of the huge housing boom, which has more to do with low interest rates than with taxes. But the biggest irony of all is that the real boom -- the one in the 1990s -- followed tax changes that were the reverse of Bush's policies. Clinton raised taxes on the rich, and the economy prospered.A generation ago the distribution of income in the United States didn't look all that different from that of other advanced countries. We had more poverty, largely because of the unresolved legacy of slavery. But the gap between the economic elite and the middle class was no larger in America than it was in Europe.Today, we're completely out of line with other advanced countries. The share of income received by the top 0.1 percent of Americans is twice the share received by the corresponding group in Britain, and three times the share in France. These days, to find societies as unequal as the United States you have to look beyond the advanced world, to Latin America. And if that comparison doesn't frighten you, it should.The social and economic failure of Latin America is one of history's great tragedies. Our southern neighbors started out with natural and human resources at least as favorable for economic development as those in the United States. Yet over the course of the past two centuries, they fell steadily behind. Economic historians such as Kenneth Sokoloff of UCLA think they know why: Latin America got caught in an inequality trap. For historical reasons -- the kind of crops they grew, the elitist policies of colonial Spain -- Latin American societies started out with much more inequality than the societies of North America. But this inequality persisted, Sokoloff writes, because elites were able to "institutionalize an unequal distribution of political power" and to "use that greater influence to establish rules, laws and other government policies that advantaged members of the elite relative to non-members." Rather than making land available to small farmers, as the United States did with the Homestead Act, Latin American governments tended to give large blocks of public lands to people with the right connections.They also shortchanged basic education -- condemning millions to illiteracy. The result, Sokoloff notes, was "persistence over time of the high degree of inequality." This sharp inequality, in turn, doomed the economies of Latin America: Many talented people never got a chance to rise to their full potential, simply because they were born into the wrong class.In addition, the statistical evidence shows, unequal societies tend to be corrupt societies. When there are huge disparities in wealth, the rich have both the motive and the means to corrupt the system on their behalf. In The New Industrial State, published in 1967, John Kenneth Galbraith dismissed any concern that corporate executives might exploit their position for personal gain, insisting that group decision-making would enforce "a high standard of personal honesty." But in recent years, the sheer amount of money paid to executives who are perceived as successful has overridden the restraints that Galbraith believed would control executive greed. Today, a top executive who pumps up his company's stock price by faking high profits can walk away with vast wealth even if the company later collapses, and the small chance he faces of going to jail isn't an effective deterrent. What's more, the group decision-making that Galbraith thought would prevent personal corruption doesn't work if everyone in the group can be bought off with a piece of the spoils -- which is more or less what happened at Enron. It is also what happens in Congress, when corporations share the spoils with our elected representatives in the form of generous campaign contributions and lucrative lobbying jobs.As the past six years demonstrate, such political corruption only worsens as economic inequality rises. Indeed, the gap between rich and poor doesn't just mean that few Americans share in the benefits of economic growth -- it also undermines the sense of shared experience that binds us together as a nation. "Trust is based upon the belief that we are all in this together, part of a 'moral community,' " writes Eric Uslaner, a political scientist at the University of Maryland who has studied the effects of inequality on trust. "It is tough to convince people in a highly stratified society that the rich and the poor share common values, much less a common fate."In the end, the effects of our growing economic inequality go far beyond dollars and cents. This, ultimately, is the most pressing question we face as a society today: Will the United States go down the path that Latin America followed -- one that leads to ever-growing disparity in political power as well as in income? The United States doesn't have Third World levels of economic inequality -- yet. But it is not hard to foresee, in the current state of our political and economic scene, the outline of a transformation into a permanently unequal society -- one that locks in and perpetuates the drastic economic polarization that is already dangerously far advanced.

Why Foreign Aid Is Hurting Africa by Dambisa Moyo

A month ago I visited Kibera, the largest slum in Africa. This suburb of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, is home to more than one million people, who eke out a living in an area of about one square mile -- roughly 75% the size of New York's Central Park. It is a sea of aluminum and cardboard shacks that forgotten families call home. The idea of a slum conjures up an image of children playing amidst piles of garbage, with no running water and the rank, rife stench of sewage. Kibera does not disappoint.
What is incredibly disappointing is the fact that just a few yards from Kibera stands the headquarters of the United Nations' agency for human settlements which, with an annual budget of millions of dollars, is mandated to "promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all." Kibera festers in Kenya, a country that has one of the highest ratios of development workers per capita. This is also the country where in 2004, British envoy Sir Edward Clay apologized for underestimating the scale of government corruption and failing to speak out earlier.

Giving alms to Africa remains one of the biggest ideas of our time -- millions march for it, governments are judged by it, celebrities proselytize the need for it. Calls for more aid to Africa are growing louder, with advocates pushing for doubling the roughly $50 billion of international assistance that already goes to Africa each year.
Yet evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that aid to Africa has made the poor poorer, and the growth slower. The insidious aid culture has left African countries more debt-laden, more inflation-prone, more vulnerable to the vagaries of the currency markets and more unattractive to higher-quality investment. It's increased the risk of civil conflict and unrest (the fact that over 60% of sub-Saharan Africa's population is under the age of 24 with few economic prospects is a cause for worry). Aid is an unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian disaster.
Few will deny that there is a clear moral imperative for humanitarian and charity-based aid to step in when necessary, such as during the 2004 tsunami in Asia. Nevertheless, it's worth reminding ourselves what emergency and charity-based aid can and cannot do. Aid-supported scholarships have certainly helped send African girls to school (never mind that they won't be able to find a job in their own countries once they have graduated). This kind of aid can provide band-aid solutions to alleviate immediate suffering, but by its very nature cannot be the platform for long-term sustainable growth.
Whatever its strengths and weaknesses, such charity-based aid is relatively small beer when compared to the sea of money that floods Africa each year in government-to-government aid or aid from large development institutions such as the World Bank.
Over the past 60 years at least $1 trillion of development-related aid has been transferred from rich countries to Africa. Yet real per-capita income today is lower than it was in the 1970s, and more than 50% of the population -- over 350 million people -- live on less than a dollar a day, a figure that has nearly doubled in two decades.
Even after the very aggressive debt-relief campaigns in the 1990s, African countries still pay close to $20 billion in debt repayments per annum, a stark reminder that aid is not free. In order to keep the system going, debt is repaid at the expense of African education and health care. Well-meaning calls to cancel debt mean little when the cancellation is met with the fresh infusion of aid, and the vicious cycle starts up once again.

In 2005, just weeks ahead of a G8 conference that had Africa at the top of its agenda, the International Monetary Fund published a report entitled "Aid Will Not Lift Growth in Africa." The report cautioned that governments, donors and campaigners should be more modest in their claims that increased aid will solve Africa's problems. Despite such comments, no serious efforts have been made to wean Africa off this debilitating drug.
The most obvious criticism of aid is its links to rampant corruption. Aid flows destined to help the average African end up supporting bloated bureaucracies in the form of the poor-country governments and donor-funded non-governmental organizations. In a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in May 2004, Jeffrey Winters, a professor at Northwestern University, argued that the World Bank had participated in the corruption of roughly $100 billion of its loan funds intended for development.
As recently as 2002, the African Union, an organization of African nations, estimated that corruption was costing the continent $150 billion a year, as international donors were apparently turning a blind eye to the simple fact that aid money was inadvertently fueling graft. With few or no strings attached, it has been all too easy for the funds to be used for anything, save the developmental purpose for which they were intended.
In Zaire -- known today as the Democratic Republic of Congo -- Irwin Blumenthal (whom the IMF had appointed to a post in the country's central bank) warned in 1978 that the system was so corrupt that there was "no (repeat, no) prospect for Zaire's creditors to get their money back." Still, the IMF soon gave the country the largest loan it had ever given an African nation. According to corruption watchdog agency Transparency International, Mobutu Sese Seko, Zaire's president from 1965 to 1997, is reputed to have stolen at least $5 billion from the country.
It's scarcely better today. A month ago, Malawi's former President Bakili Muluzi was charged with embezzling aid money worth $12 million. Zambia's former President Frederick Chiluba (a development darling during his 1991 to 2001 tenure) remains embroiled in a court case that has revealed millions of dollars frittered away from health, education and infrastructure toward his personal cash dispenser. Yet the aid keeps on coming.
A nascent economy needs a transparent and accountable government and an efficient civil service to help meet social needs. Its people need jobs and a belief in their country's future. A surfeit of aid has been shown to be unable to help achieve these goals.

A constant stream of "free" money is a perfect way to keep an inefficient or simply bad government in power. As aid flows in, there is nothing more for the government to do -- it doesn't need to raise taxes, and as long as it pays the army, it doesn't have to take account of its disgruntled citizens. No matter that its citizens are disenfranchised (as with no taxation there can be no representation). All the government really needs to do is to court and cater to its foreign donors to stay in power.
Stuck in an aid world of no incentives, there is no reason for governments to seek other, better, more transparent ways of raising development finance (such as accessing the bond market, despite how hard that might be). The aid system encourages poor-country governments to pick up the phone and ask the donor agencies for next capital infusion. It is no wonder that across Africa, over 70% of the public purse comes from foreign aid.
In Ethiopia, where aid constitutes more than 90% of the government budget, a mere 2% of the country's population has access to mobile phones. (The African country average is around 30%.) Might it not be preferable for the government to earn money by selling its mobile phone license, thereby generating much-needed development income and also providing its citizens with telephone service that could, in turn, spur economic activity?
Look what has happened in Ghana, a country where after decades of military rule brought about by a coup, a pro-market government has yielded encouraging developments. Farmers and fishermen now use mobile phones to communicate with their agents and customers across the country to find out where prices are most competitive. This translates into numerous opportunities for self-sustainability and income generation -- which, with encouragement, could be easily replicated across the continent.
To advance a country's economic prospects, governments need efficient civil service. But civil service is naturally prone to bureaucracy, and there is always the incipient danger of self-serving cronyism and the desire to bind citizens in endless, time-consuming red tape. What aid does is to make that danger a grim reality. This helps to explain why doing business across much of Africa is a nightmare. In Cameroon, it takes a potential investor around 426 days to perform 15 procedures to gain a business license. What entrepreneur wants to spend 119 days filling out forms to start a business in Angola? He's much more likely to consider the U.S. (40 days and 19 procedures) or South Korea (17 days and 10 procedures).
Even what may appear as a benign intervention on the surface can have damning consequences. Say there is a mosquito-net maker in small-town Africa. Say he employs 10 people who together manufacture 500 nets a week. Typically, these 10 employees support upward of 15 relatives each. A Western government-inspired program generously supplies the affected region with 100,000 free mosquito nets. This promptly puts the mosquito net manufacturer out of business, and now his 10 employees can no longer support their 150 dependents. In a couple of years, most of the donated nets will be torn and useless, but now there is no mosquito net maker to go to. They'll have to get more aid. And African governments once again get to abdicate their responsibilities.
In a similar vein has been the approach to food aid, which historically has done little to support African farmers. Under the auspices of the U.S. Food for Peace program, each year millions of dollars are used to buy American-grown food that has to then be shipped across oceans. One wonders how a system of flooding foreign markets with American food, which puts local farmers out of business, actually helps better Africa. A better strategy would be to use aid money to buy food from farmers within the country, and then distribute that food to the local citizens in need.
Then there is the issue of "Dutch disease," a term that describes how large inflows of money can kill off a country's export sector, by driving up home prices and thus making their goods too expensive for export. Aid has the same effect. Large dollar-denominated aid windfalls that envelop fragile developing economies cause the domestic currency to strengthen against foreign currencies. This is catastrophic for jobs in the poor country where people's livelihoods depend on being relatively competitive in the global market.

To fight aid-induced inflation, countries have to issue bonds to soak up the subsequent glut of money swamping the economy. In 2005, for example, Uganda was forced to issue such bonds to mop up excess liquidity to the tune of $700 million. The interest payments alone on this were a staggering $110 million, to be paid annually.

The stigma associated with countries relying on aid should also not be underestimated or ignored. It is the rare investor that wants to risk money in a country that is unable to stand on its own feet and manage its own affairs in a sustainable way.

Africa remains the most unstable continent in the world, beset by civil strife and war. Since 1996, 11 countries have been embroiled in civil wars. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in the 1990s, Africa had more wars than the rest of the world combined. Although my country, Zambia, has not had the unfortunate experience of an outright civil war, growing up I experienced first-hand the discomfort of living under curfew (where everyone had to be in their homes between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., which meant racing from work and school) and faced the fear of the uncertain outcomes of an attempted coup in 1991 -- sadly, experiences not uncommon to many Africans.

Civil clashes are often motivated by the knowledge that by seizing the seat of power, the victor gains virtually unfettered access to the package of aid that comes with it. In the last few months alone, there have been at least three political upheavals across the continent, in Mauritania, Guinea and Guinea Bissau (each of which remains reliant on foreign aid). Madagascar's government was just overthrown in a coup this past week. The ongoing political volatility across the continent serves as a reminder that aid-financed efforts to force-feed democracy to economies facing ever-growing poverty and difficult economic prospects remain, at best, precariously vulnerable. Long-term political success can only be achieved once a solid economic trajectory has been established.

The 1970s were an exciting time to be African. Many of our nations had just achieved independence, and with that came a deep sense of dignity, self-respect and hope for the future. Read an excerpt from "Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa"

Proponents of aid are quick to argue that the $13 billion ($100 billion in today's terms) aid of the post-World War II Marshall Plan helped pull back a broken Europe from the brink of an economic abyss, and that aid could work, and would work, if Africa had a good policy environment.

The aid advocates skirt over the point that the Marshall Plan interventions were short, sharp and finite, unlike the open-ended commitments which imbue governments with a sense of entitlement rather than encouraging innovation. And aid supporters spend little time addressing the mystery of why a country in good working order would seek aid rather than other, better forms of financing. No country has ever achieved economic success by depending on aid to the degree that many African countries do.

The good news is we know what works; what delivers growth and reduces poverty. We know that economies that rely on open-ended commitments of aid almost universally fail, and those that do not depend on aid succeed. The latter is true for economically successful countries such as China and India, and even closer to home, in South Africa and Botswana. Their strategy of development finance emphasizes the important role of entrepreneurship and markets over a staid aid-system of development that preaches hand-outs.