Acton Institute Powerblog

Bono Affirms That Capitalism Alleviates Poverty More Than Aid

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In the world of celebrity-do-gooders, Bono has earned the reputation of being more than a mouthpiece. Over two decades, the musician has created the ONE campaign, worked with Amnesty International, collaborated on the Band Aid concerts, and became increasingly involved in poverty-stricken Africa. He worked for years to promote debt forgiveness for African nations, while working for increased foreign aid.

And now? Bono says capitalism is the answer. Rudy Carrasco writes at Prism Magazine:

…Marian Tupy, who writes at the Cato Institute blog, ‘For years, Bono has been something of a pain, banging on about the need for billions of dollars in Western foreign aid…’

The world has taken notice that Bono has adjusted his economic tune. In a November 2012 speech at Georgetown University, Bono said, ‘Aid is just a stopgap. Commerce [and] entrepreneurial capitalism take more people out of poverty than aid.’ One month earlier Bono had shared at a tech conference in Ireland that he was humbled to realize the importance of capitalism and entrepreneurship in philanthropy.

These recent declarations, however, have been brewing for a few years. A 2010 New York Times op-ed by Bono notes how ‘lefty campaigners’ and business elites are learning to collaborate: “The energy of these opposing groups is coming together [because both] see poor governance as the biggest obstacle they face.”

Bono’s affirmation—that business takes more people out of poverty than aid—should be a rallying cry for a new generation.

George Ayittey, an African entrepreneur, met Bono in 2007 and gave the rock star a copy of his book, Africa Unchained: The Blueprint For Development. Some of it must have taken hold, as Bono has come to acknowledge that foreign aid is merely a “stopgap” for poverty, not a realistic solution.

Carrasco (who works for Partners Worldwide) has much first-hand experience of how capitalism, entrepreneurship and enterprise works to help ease poverty in a way foreign aid never has.

Two examples of this multiple bottom line are Dignity Coconut in the Philippines and Broetje Orchards in the state of Washington. Dignity Coconut operates a coconut processing plant in Cagmanaba Barangay that produces virgin coconut oil and coconut shell powder for global markets. Their quadruple bottom line emphasizes shared profit, community transformation, spiritual formation, and environmental stewardship. At Broetje Orchards, one of the largest privately owned apple farms in America, more than a thousand employees benefit from a quadruple bottom line of people, planet, profit, and purpose. A number of the employees participate as de facto program officers in the company’s philanthropic decision making.

‘Job creators and innovators are just the key, and aid is just a bridge,’ says Bono. I agree. From my years leading an inner-city ministry in California I know the difference between relief and development. Relief is a man taking home bread from the food pantry so his family eats that night. Development is that man earning a paycheck at a sustainable job—a job sustained by sales of products and services that people want, not by a grant that runs out after a period of time.

The Rev. Robert Sirico has said that business isn’t always glamorous, but it is the way out of poverty: “Business is the normative way in which people rise out of poverty, not state-to-state aid, not the largess of politicians and bureaucrats.” We’re glad to see that Bono is catching on.


Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.


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  • Paul Hughes
  • This is really a philosophical debate over privatization vs. publication of resources. The solution for ending poverty is not business (every man for himself), but the solution is generosity. Only in generosity do we become connected to our community and world, seeing the suffering of others as our own and rising with a spirit of generosity to share what we have with any person in need.

    • This is not a philosophical debate about private or public resources. It is a practical question about what is the best way to raise people out of poverty while giving them dignity.

      Also, what exactly are you going to be generous with if you don’t own or work in a business? First World government aid to corrupt, Third World governments is all about public resources, but how has that turned out?

  • Scott Radke

    “Rainwater”…get a job you dope…..i’m tired of paying for the likes of you…from his page”I am on a mission to walk around the world. I walk through cities, towns, and countryside to meet people”….what a mooch

  • greenpeaceRochdale1844

    I like the fact that the 4 point bottom line is slipped, or planted right in the center of this article. The problem of “capitalism” when it is US-style corporate executives who breakdown small businesses, communities, social support systems for their “profit-maximization,” that in fact is increasing poverty in the world. Social capitalism, as practiced independently in places like Denmark, Germany, Emiglia Romana Itlay, and Mondragon Spain, along with the employee-ownership, co-operative business model like credit unions and food-coops, that is a distinction that will explain the conflicting results and diverging purposes otherwise.

  • Steve Vinzinski

    I agree that Capitalism will chase away poverty instead of aid.I can remember working on the farm in my teens and picking okra and forging ahead.We never even thought of aid in fact I really doubt there was such a thing back in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.Even thing progressed very well until about 1990 and then this little town of Millville,Cumberland County,New Jersey,became a rust belt.I would say 15,000 jobs disappeared over night.This county is last in everything in this State.Sometimes pragmatism strikes like a bolt of lightning.One must accept a person can become deadly sick with multiple disabilities.I am talking about multiple cancers,Heart attacks and strokes with tia’s and by-pass surgery,pace makers,heart caths and angioplasties.Bi-Polar and major depression and on and on.I still say our free enterprise system is second to none.You have have to be willing in and under Capitalism to take debris from a source thru your helmet,if not you do not deserve this freedom.Also willingly to spend three years in and out of hospitals.