Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Still haven't found . . .

"Nightline" just did a feature on Bono, who is apparently going to be at the G-8 meeting again, and his humanitarian work, especially in Africa. The words in the U-2 song, "I still haven't found what I'm looking' for," seem especially appropriate.

I have no doubt Bono is sincere, and he seems several cuts above the usual celebrity/humanitarian in intelligence and insight. But aside from a reference he made to "structural problems," he seems not to have figured out what would really help Africa because he hasn't identified the most crucial problem as bad governance and terrible public policies. He does seem to have in inkling that mere foreign aid won't get the job done, but he's still plumping for it.

The late English economist P.T. Bauer outlined the problem many years ago. Most countries are governed badly, but the poorest countries are generally so not because of lack of resources or resourceful people, but because of poorer than average governance. This usually involves a small band of officials at the top, nothing like an independent judiciary, no effective protection for private property, corruption that won't permit a vibrant market economy to emerge. Sending foreign aid to such countries (especially the kind of big-project aid, like dams and such the World Bank used to love, though it may be getting less-worse) tends to reinforce the power of the existing governments, accentuating and subsidizing their worst qualities, the qualities that keep "their" people mired in poverty. In addition, while it might seem churlish to point this out, often enough extensive food aid to poor countries, while it might alleviate immediate emergencies, actually discourages local production of food, making it less profitable, and may delay the development of self-reliance.

If somebody could get Bono to read P.T. Bauer he might figure out ways to channel his celebrity and energy into more positive work.

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