The Detroit News published a new column today by Acton president and co-founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico:

Faith and Policy: Free markets, not aid, will help poor nations best

Rev. Robert Sirico

At the recent G8 and G20 meetings in Toronto, a hue and cry was raised by nongovernmental organizations and other activists about the failure of industrialized countries to make good on promises to raise aid to the developing world.

Instead, the activists should have called for a summit of African and Asian leaders and others who are calling for expanded trade, not more dependency in the form of foreign aid.

It has not been aid, after all, that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in China and India but the move to market-oriented reforms, freer competition and the unleashing of the creative, entrepreneurial spark in the human person. In a recent book, one of India’s former finance ministers put it this way: “We got more done for the poor by pursuing the competition agenda for a few years than we got done by pursuing a poverty agenda for decades.”

The poverty agenda ignores, for the most part, market mechanisms in favors of huge grants to government leaders, who often pocket large chunks of the aid. The market makes room for the free interactions of people pursuing their own limited economic goals, in an almost infinite number of daily interactions. The market economy, despite the superficial appearance of chaos, ends up creating a larger social or common good for the largest number of people.

When we speak of the idea of the common good, we need to also be mindful of the political and juridical institutions that are most likely to bring it about. The answer is not to be found in the “commonality of goods” but in the very institutions that the socialists worked so hard to discredit. Let me list them: private property in the means of production, stable money to serve as a means of exchange, the freedom of enterprise that allows people to start businesses, the free association of workers, the enforcement of contracts, and a vibrant trade within and among nations (with benefits that would ultimately flow to Michigan) to permit the fullest possible flowering of the division of labor.

In an interview with Der Spiegel published this month, when Rwandan President Paul Kagame was asked a question about Africans complaining of exploitation, he responded that it was the wrong question: “Why don’t we talk about how we can get on our feet on our own? We do not always want to be the victims and to serve as a battleground for foreign interests.”

The market economy moves Africa and other developing nations away from dependency and offers the hope of real growth, a growth that provides vastly improved conditions for all.

Our gifts are to be put to work for the common good, and as such our talents and our wealth need to be put into action — not reduced to a line item in some aid bureaucrat’s master plan.


  • Roger McKinney

    Excellent point! When I ask aid professionals why they don’t trumpet China’s success more I always get silence. If aid professionals honestly cared about the poor, they would climb up on their roof tops and shout to everyone “China has shown us the way!” But they expend enormous effort to ignore China instead, which is proof that they could not care less about poor people.