The depressing truth about Live Aid

However much it raises, it is unlikely to come near one day's spending on the war in Iraq

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The cynical view that most people act only in their own interests is disproved many times a day, for example when a neighbour knocks on your door to say you've left your headlights on. As presumably they're not thinking "Well I don't want his battery to go flat 'cos I'm going to nick that in a couple of hours."

The cynical view that most people act only in their own interests is disproved many times a day, for example when a neighbour knocks on your door to say you've left your headlights on. As presumably they're not thinking "Well I don't want his battery to go flat 'cos I'm going to nick that in a couple of hours."

Or there's all the work carried out by people to raise money for charity. My first experience of this was as a scout during bob-a-job week, when you'd walk the streets offering to spend all day grafting for a shilling that would be taken straight back off you, a charming tradition recently adopted throughout half of Asia by Nike and Gap.

And there's the altruistic sentiment that means this year's best selling record will be the re-release of the Live Aid single. But you don't have to be a cynic to wonder about some of the people involved. When Bono says "Just two thousand pounds is all that's needed to feed this village," you can't help think "Well give it to them then. You've probably got that down the back of your settee next to some lost sunglasses."

And whatever dignity the starving of Africa have left is surely robbed from them once their survival is deemed to depend on Dido. So charity is always double-edged. Surveys suggest the poor give far more than the rich, which means we've created a novel system of taxation, whereby the destitute rely on funding from the poor. That's why Robin Hood's method was much fairer. If he'd relied on charity his song would have had to end "Takes from the poor, gives some of it back to the poor (after administrative expenses)."

One of the most pernicious ways in which governments use people's generous instincts is by transferring the responsibility for the most desperate people onto charities. Comic Relief and Live Aid plead for money to save a village, but if the money is there in society to do that, surely it ought to be collected centrally as tax. Then charities could be for frivolous things. You could have "Help a London wide boy night" on BBC1, with a lad in a sheepskin going "Do you know what I've always fancied? A series 3 BMW convertible with an oak panel finish. Just a score a month from a handful of you and wallop, it's on the road." Then he'd just have to see how many thought this cause worthwhile.

The unfairness of world poverty seems especially poignant now, as however much Live Aid raises, it's unlikely to come near one day's expenditure for the war in Iraq. Maybe the organisers agree with this, but would probably say there's no time to wait for a political solution.

But something else Bob Geldof said recently suggested a certain outlook. Apparently he never took part in Rock Against Racism, the organisation that set up gigs and carnivals across Britain in the 1970s, because it couldn't change anything. This only makes sense if you see change as something that happens only at the top of society. Whereas the aim of Rock Against Racism was to deter large numbers from being influenced by the racist groups that were growing at an alarming rate. Similarly, one of the most important victories of the anti-globalisation movement has been to force drugs companies to lower the price of Aids medication, making it available to countless people who were once denied it.

Who can gauge the impact of singer Manu Chao or rapper Talib Kweli, in inspiring activists to participate in campaigns like that? Similarly, it would be ridiculous to suggest that the movement for civil rights in America wasn't influenced by Marvin Gaye or Sam Cooke. When James Brown sang "Say it out loud, I'm black and I'm proud," it was probably listened to by no politicians at all unless they were connected to the CIA, but had an enormous impact on making people feel they had the capacity to overturn the world order.

A favourite song among black troops in Vietnam was Jimi Hendrix's version of Dylan's "All Along the Watch Tower", which begins "There's got to be some way out of here." And the refusal of black soldiers to fight was one of the turning points that led to America's withdrawal. No one can say exactly how much influence the song had, but to say it had none would make no sense at all.

The Live Aid song, on the other hand, is unlikely to influence anyone very much about anything. Unless they've lost track of the months, hear it and go "Bloody hell I thought it was August, if it wasn't for Dido I wouldn't know it was Christmas."

So it may be the most important song to come out this week is not the relaunched Live Aid, but Eminem's rage against the war, possibly the greatest anti-war song for 30 years. It's unlikely to win over any politicians, but will inspire those depressed by Bush's re-election.

One day perhaps, we'll live in a world in which the starving are fed, and if world leaders want to finance a war they have to hope for a Christmas number one. They can all meet up in a studio, Bush and Rumsfeld will sing lead vocals, Blair will be allowed to play the triangle, and Condoleezza Rice will clutch a headphone to her ear and croon "Bomb the world - let them know they're terrorists."

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