money can also interfere with local entrepreneurship, says
Moyo. An example of this is when 100,000 mosquito nets
arrive to help fight malaria, but have the unintended
consequence of putting a local mosquito net maker out of
business, impoverishing 160 people (employees and their
dependents). Overall, Moyo finds it "quite worrying that we
can look at aid―after sixty years and one trillion dollars
that haven't worked in Africa―and we still don't question
the system. It seems the natural thing that when something
has as bad a record as aid does, we should question it and
want to overhaul the system."
In response to a question
about whether cutting off government aid might not actually
make things even worse, Moyo answers that lack of aid "has
not made things worse for South Africa, for Botswana, has
not made things worse for China, for India, South Korea,
Thailand and the list goes on. It will not make things worse
for Africa." Indeed, across the globe, the poor countries
that have advanced the most in recent decades―contributing
mightily to the goal of halving extreme poverty―are
precisely the ones that have not received official
Instead of continuing on
a path that has proved ineffective, Moyo supports such
strategies as microfinance and foreign direct investment (FDI).
She also defends China's role in investing on the continent.
"The Chinese have created jobs; they've built roads. The
West has failed to do that in sixty years in Africa." Of
course, the Chinese can also be accused of supporting the
despotic regime in Sudan, but the West has supported far
more despots on the continent over the years. China is not
perfect, Moyo admits. "But are Africans getting jobs and
improving their lives because of the Chinese presence?
Overall, the answer is yes."
One Man's "Right" Is another
Why does government-to-government
aid continue despite its terrible track record? Moyo sees self-interest as the
culprit: the self-interest of corrupt dictatorial regimes, of course, but also
the self-interest of the aid community itself, which employs some half a million
mostly Western aid workers. She says that "it is not in the interest of those in
the aid industry [to develop Africa] because then there'd be no more industry
and five hundred thousand people would lose their jobs."
Personally, I find this
unconvincing. I think it is far more likely that most people involved in the aid
industry honestly believe aid could work if only more money could be siphoned
from rich countries. These people are well-intentioned but misinformed, and they
do not understand economics.
But there is yet another
factor that prevents the aid community from collapsing under the weight of its
failures. The UN report states that the MDGs "are not only development
objectives; they encompass universally accepted human values and rights such as
freedom from hunger, the right to basic education, the right to health and a
responsibility to future generations." Now, few will quarrel with the notion
that health, basic education, and freedom from hunger, are values; but it
is quite another thing to call them rights.
Traditional human rights
are negative in nature. They simply constrain people from infringing on each
other's freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of movement, and so on.
They exist until and unless they are destroyed. They take nothing from those who
respect them. In contrast, health, basic education, and freedom from hunger are
positive goods which must be produced by someone. They do not exist until and
unless someone produces them. To say that those who cannot afford to provide
these values for themselves nonetheless have a right to have them is to
say that someone else has a duty to provide them. This notion of unchosen
obligations is the very antithesis of true freedom, a perversion of the ideal of
The fact that
confiscating wealth from some to give it to others is not only wrong but also
ineffective is hardly surprising. Even with the best of intentions, politicians
and bureaucrats lack the incentives and the localized information to address
problems and spend other people's money wisely. Private individuals, on the
other hand, generally have the proper incentives and the local information
necessary to prosper. When allowed to reap the rewards of their own efforts,
they are the ones best positioned to solve their own problems. What they most
need is the freedom to do so. The least we in the developed world could do is
not throw sticks in their spokes by supporting their oppressors and driving
their entrepreneurs out of business.