Last night on CNBC’s The Kudlow Report, PovertyCure director and Acton Research Fellow Michael Matheson Miller joined host Lawrence Kudlow and Rusty Reno, Editor of First Things magazine, to discuss the position of the Roman Catholic Church on global capitalism in light of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium.’ The video is embedded below.
The Irish singer and co-founder of ONE, a campaigning group that fights poverty and disease in Africa, said it had been “a humbling thing for me” to realize the importance of capitalism and entrepreneurialism in philanthropy, particularly as someone who “got into this as a righteous anger activist with all the cliches.”
“Job creators and innovators are just the key, and aid is just a bridge,” he told an audience of 200 leading technology entrepreneurs and investors at the F.ounders tech conference in Dublin. “We see it as startup money, investment in new countries. A humbling thing was to learn the role of commerce.”
The remarks have led to relative hype in “pro-market” circles, but I’d remind folks that these are brief statements made to a small group of innovators and entrepreneurs. ONE has plenty of wrinkles in its past, and Bono’s primary legacy in this arena consists of promoting the types of ineffective, top-down social engineering that groups like PovertyCure seek to expose. When Bono continues to claim that foreign aid, as he understands it, is still a “bridge”—even if just a bridge—it’s reasonable to assume that his orientation toward “bridge-building” has been left largely unchanged by his newfound appreciation for markets.
But although I’m not overly confident that Bono’s sudden self-awareness is enough to radically shift his aid efforts away from fostering dependency, this small admission helps illuminate one of our key obstacles to doing good in the world: overzealousness paired with overconfidence.
If you want to work in international development, says Charles Kenny, go work for a big, bad multinational company:
Kids today — they just want to save the world.
But there is more than one way to make the planet a better place. Here’s another option: Get an MBA and go work for a big, bad multinational company. Consider this: Over the past decade, foreign direct investment in Africa topped foreign aid — and in 2011 alone, by $7 billion. And unlike food handouts or free latrines, this kind of investment built factories, financed banks, and opened mines and oil fields, creating tens of thousands of jobs and transferring invaluable knowledge to the countries that need it most. That’s good news, because it is increasingly clear that new technologies are what’s driving improved quality of life in Africa, and new ways of doing business are vital to sustaining economic growth on the continent.
Yet there’s still a widespread feeling that multinationals are the rapacious, profit-obsessed spawn of globalization and free markets, running amok across the developing world. Some surely are. But think about how hard U.S. states compete to attract a Toyota factory. Or how happy Britain was when the Indian firm Tata bailed out its ailing steel industry. If multinationals can make that kind of difference in job creation and productivity in the rich world, consider the even greater role they play in poorer countries.
Acton’s Director of Media Michael Matheson Miller was in-studio this morning on The Tony Gates Show on WJRW Radio to talk about global poverty, PovertyCure, and his recently completed trip to London to speak about those issues at an Acton conference. To listen to the interview, use the audio player below:
Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson discusses a new book on economic history that looks at the poverty problem from the perspective of “nature vs. nurture.”
Comes now Gregory Clark, an economist who interestingly takes the side of culture. In an important new book, ” A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World,” Clark suggests that much of the world’s remaining poverty is semi-permanent. Modern technology and management are widely available, but many societies can’t take advantage because their values and social organization are antagonistic. Prescribing economically sensible policies (open markets, secure property rights, sound money) can’t overcome this bedrock resistance.
“There is no simple economic medicine that will guarantee growth, and even complicated economic surgery offers no clear prospect of relief for societies afflicted with poverty,” he writes. Various forms of foreign assistance “may disappear into the pockets of Western consultants and the corrupt rulers of these societies.” Because some societies encourage growth and some don’t, the gap between the richest nations and the poorest is actually greater today (50 to 1) than in 1800 (4 to 1), Clark estimates.
Samuelson notes that “Clark’s theory is controversial and, at best, needs to be qualified.” In his column, The Global Poverty Trap, Samuelson summarizes Clark’s view: “Capitalism in its many variants has been shown, he notes, to be a prodigious generator of wealth. But it will not spring forth magically from a few big industrial projects or cookie-cutter policies imposed by outside experts. It’s culture that nourishes productive policies and behavior.”
Why do so many clergy and religious activists reflexively attack the free market? Kishore Jayabalan takes a look at recent anti-business campaigns. “The very concepts of business and profit motive are often reason enough for religious leaders to condemn an activity as immoral and unethical, and criticisms of multinational corporations are just the same condemnations on a larger scale,” he writes.
However, large multinational corporations are one of the most able and efficient means of improving the economies of developing nations. Multinational corporations fight government corruption, establish banking and legal services, help to ensure basic eduation and are proven to raise the standard of living in the nations that they “invade.”
Ecumenical News International (ENI) relates the launch last month of a new initiative in Africa, designed to “to mobilise a strong African voice in development.” The effort is called African Monitor and is led by the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, Njongonkulu Ndungane.
Anyone who spends much time at all looking at the economic development situation in Africa quickly realizes the lack of independent, nongovernmental, native voices. As African Monitor states, “This African civil society voice can thus be seen as the too often missing ‘fourth piece of the jigsaw’ alongside existing stakeholders of donor governments and institutions; their African counterparts; and donor-based NGOs and civil society.”
African Monitor’s mission is to begin to fill this need: “African Monitor is an independent body, acting as a catalyst within Africa’s civil society, to bring a strong African voice to the development debate, and to raise key questions from an African perspective.” The initiative represents a truly unique and much needed enterprise, since before the creation of African Monitor “there was no existing pan-African network that can provide such a catalyst across the sub-Saharan region, and taking a perspective across aid, trade, development and financial flows.”
In his address before the opening of the group, titled, “Let African Voices speak out for effective action on Africa’s development,” Archbishop Ndungane emphasized the need for accountability and true follow-through on the part of donors and developed nations: “We saw that Africa’s grassroots voices, currently marginalised and fragmented, could be harnessed to pursue these ends, and that faith communities, the most extensive civil society bodies on the continent, could provide the backbone of networks to bring these voices into the public arena.”
The Acton Institute has long supported the claim that African civil society needs to take a leading role in the development of the African continent. See, for example, the conversation with Rev. Bernard Njoroge, bishop of the diocese of Nairobi in the Episcopal Church of Africa, and Chanshi Chanda, chairman of the Institute of Freedom for the Study of Human Dignity in Kitwe, Zambia, about the issues of debt cancellation the moral nature of business (video clips, .wmv format, available for Rev. Njoroge and Mr. Chanda).
John Stossel has made an excellent and noteworthy journalistic career by going where the evidence takes him. He possesses an intellectual honesty and curiosity that is refreshing, especially when compared to the banal talking head syndrome which dominates most main stream media.
As co-anchor of ABC’s 20/20, Stossel has negotiated a deal which allows him to do special reports on whatever interesting and controversial topics he chooses. His latest was a special aimed at debunking popularly accepted myths, tied to the release of his new book, Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity.
Here’s Stossel’s #1 myth: More foreign aid will end global poverty. (You can view video of the segment here.) Stossel points to Bono and Jeffrey Sachs as examples of people who perpetuate this myth, with their advocacy of the ONE campaign and emphasis on increased foreign aid.
Stossel relies in part on June Arunga and James Shikwati of the Inter Region Economic Network to explode this myth: “Arunga grew up in Kenya, and she wonders why Americans waste money on foreign aid to Africa … when many politicians just steal it.”
“What’s holding down Africans is actually the bad governments, the bad policies that make it difficult for Africans to make use of their own property,” Shikwati said. “What the aid money is doing to Africa is to subsidize the bad policies that are making Africans poor.”
The Acton Institute has worked on exposing the false assumptions of this myth a long time, and with the help of Arunga and Shikwati as well. Arunga wrote a letter from a WTO meeting in Cancun in 2003, first published by the Acton Institute (PDF) and subsequently carried in the Philadelphia Inquirer (October 6, 2003). James Shikwati authored an Acton Commentary that same year, “The WTO and the Voice of the Poor.”
For more information about Acton’s work in these areas, check out our special Aid to Africa section, which brings together a number of important and related resources, including conversations on debt relief and the moral nature of business with the Rt. Rev. Bernard Njoroge, bishop of the diocese of Nairobi in the Episcopal Church of Africa, and Chanshi Chanda, chairman of the Institute of Freedom for the Study of Human Dignity in Kitwe, Zambia.
You can also visit Acton’s award-winning IMPACT ad campaign, aimed at raising awareness about the complexity of global poverty and the Solutions video, which addresses failures of governments first, governments only proposals.
And for more of John Stossel, check out the 2 CD set of his address at the Lord Acton Lecture Series on October 20, 1997, in which he deals with the pervasiveness of government and the nature of self-interest in the free economy.
An snippet from Ecumenical News International:
Presbyterians invest $1 million in church ‘bank’ that helps poor
New York (ENI). The Presbyterian Church (USA) has invested US$1 million in Oikocredit, an organization established by the World Council of Churches that assists people in poor countries start small businesses. The investment is the largest in Oikocredit over more than a decade, the church announced earlier this week, making the 2.4-million-member US denomination the second-largest investor in the institution set up in 1975. The largest is the Church of Sweden.
I’ve looked a bit at the Oikocredit organization, and in generally this does not fit my normal expectations for an initiative by the left-leaning WCC. To be sure, Oikocredit does employ the rather vague criteria of “socially responsible investing” when deciding which groups to fund.
But in general, the microlending approach is much more economically viable and informed than many ecumenical attitudes towards global poverty. Started over thirty years ago, Oikocredit has a track record, and “was created for groups that need credit to develop their productive enterprises, but have difficulties receiving credit through conventional financial institutions, because they simply lack collateral.” For a personal story of how microloans can be a part of the solution (along with property rights, the rule of law, and so on), see this commentary by Rev. Jerry Zandstra.
Despite its shortcomings, Oikocredit on the whole is probably a good thing. And again, when compared to what you typically see from ecumenical groups, it’s positively refreshing.