Everyone loves Bono. He’s a good man. And U2 rocks. He has also been one of the strongest proponents of foreign aid. This is why the following has come as a bit of a shock:
Foreign aid has been blasted by the likes of economists William Easterly and Dambisa Moyo. But Bono? While not blasting it per se (not all aid is created equal, mind you), he recognized that it is economic development that is the key to reducing poverty. As The Economist recently reported,
The world’s achievement in the field of poverty reduction is, by almost any measure, impressive. Although many of the original [Millennium Development Goals]—such as cutting maternal mortality by three-quarters and child mortality by two-thirds—will not be met, the aim of halving global poverty between 1990 and 2015 was achieved five years early…The MDGs may have helped marginally, by creating a yardstick for measuring progress, and by focusing minds on the evil of poverty. Most of the credit, however, must go to capitalism and free trade, for they enable economies to grow—and it was growth, principally, that has eased destitution…[T]he biggest poverty-reduction measure of all is liberalising markets to let poor people get richer. That means freeing trade between countries (Africa is still cruelly punished by tariffs) and within them (China’s real great leap forward occurred because it allowed private business to grow). Both India and Africa are crowded with monopolies and restrictive practices.
Many Westerners have reacted to recession by seeking to constrain markets and roll globalisation back in their own countries, and they want to export these ideas to the developing world, too. It does not need such advice. It is doing quite nicely, largely thanks to the same economic principles that helped the developed world grow rich and could pull the poorest of the poor out of destitution.
Bono appears to have grasped this concept (he is a self-proclaimed “evidence-based activist”). And he rocked it at Georgetown University (if for nothing more than his Bill Clinton impression). He spoke of how “it’s not just aid. It’s trade, it’s investment, it’s social enterprise. It’s working with the local citizenry to help them unlock their own domestic resources so they can do it for themselves. Think anyone in Africa likes aid? C’mon.” He said that the hero will be “the nerd” and, more specifically, “Afro-nerds.” These individuals have been using technology and social media to expose government corruption and increase transparency.
Where did this come from? While it may have come from multiple sources, I’m willing to bet economist George Ayittey’s (above with Bono) impassioned TED speech and post-speech discussions with Bono had an influence. See why below.