Thursday, June 09, 2005

Poor people and rich people with dumb ideas

The sad state of much of Africa is once again in the forefront. Tony Blair, entertainers, editorialists and many others are posturing for the opportunity to be seen as on the side of the angels. "The boys and girls with guitars will finally get to turn the world on its axis", the NY Times quotes Sir Bob Geldof this morning.

In the same paper, David Brooks reports on his surprisingly positive findings ("Braced for despair and finding hope.") on a recent visit to South Africa.

Missing from the hoopla are the wise words of George Ayitttey ("Betrayal: Why Socialism Failed in Africa"; excerpted below but do go to the link and read the whole speech):

"Free at last! This euphoric cry rang across Africa in the 1960s as one country after another gained independence from Western colonial rule. New national flags were unfurled to the strains of new national anthems. Leaders who fought gallantly and won independence were hailed as heroes. The dream of self-rule, political freedom and economic progress was finally to become a reality. Africa was now free to develop in its own image: but into what? The challenge was daunting.

"The dream never came true. The astonishing natural wealth of the continent (gold, diamonds, palladium, titanium -- name the mineral and you will find it in Africa!) was never used to lift the people out of poverty. By any standard, the vast majority of African people are worse off today that they were 40 years ago. The only thing that changed was the skin color of the oppressor: from white to black.

"Africans feel betrayed, yet it's nothing we can talk about in America because it is not politically correct.

"What went wrong? First democracy and pluralism were denounced as both 'Western invention' and 'imperialist dogma'. In all but four countries, a one-party state rule was imposed, concentrating power in the hands of one individual. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that any political system with such concentration of power will degenerate into tyranny. The Soviet Union gave us a perfect example of it.

"Second, new African leaders rejected capitalism. They harbored a deep distrust and distaste for capitalism, falsely perceiving it as an extension of colonialism and imperialism. To them, freedom from colonial rule meant freedom from capitalism, free enterprise and foreign investment, which was viewed as 'foreign exploitation.' To them, Soviet-style socialism with the state determining the economic destiny of the people seemed the most adequate and fair way to protect their hard-won sovereignty and to move African toward economic prosperity ..."

Needless to say, government-to-government aid in this context did more harm than good.

On the plus side, Forbes includes "Trickle-up Economics ... How low-cost designs are helping the poorest farmers on Earth grow their way out of poverty ..." Not dams, but practical low-cost devices such as better bicycle racks and clever water transport devices and many others that large numbers of poor people can use to great advantage right now.

Entrepreneurialism and ingenuity do better than socialism. Explain that to the boys and girls with the guitars?