Bono: “Capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid”

Our Research Fellow George Ayittey met the Irish rock star Bono in July 2007 during a TED conference. Professor Ayittey was speaking and in knowing that Bono would be in the audience, he explains that “I made a special effort to rip into the foreign aid establishment. . . . Later, Bono said he liked my speech but did not agree with me that foreign aid is not effective in ending poverty. So I gave him a copy of my book, Africa Unchained: The Blueprint for Development.”

Just recently drawing upon his Christian faith (and possibly the economics influence of Professor Ayittey?), in a speech at Georgetown University, Bono altered his economic and political views and declared that only capitalism can end poverty.

“Aid is just a stopgap,” he said. “Commerce [and] entrepreneurial capitalism take more people out of poverty than aid. We need Africa to become an economic powerhouse.”

“If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.” - Chinese Proverb

Capitalism works better however when there is sufficient social, political and physical infrastructure for growth. I recently spent a couple of weeks in a less developed country and their education system is not well suited for economic growth. If you are a top student, you can go to college and do quite well. My driver, however, was not even allowed to finish high school. It is hard to envision a path for growth for someone like him and he is doing better than the majority of the population. I definitely agree that there are problems with aid, but just to leave these countries on their own and say figure it out yourself doesn’t appear too promising either.

What type of capitalism is being talked about? In a purely Laissez-faire form of capitalism, I would sharply disagree. Just look at all the capitalistic societies across the globe that have extreme poverty. The goal is instilling humanitarian values within capitalistic societies, which, today, are sorely missing.

I would say this article is attributing a change of thought to Bono which likely does not exists. I am not much of a fan of U2, but I do respect Bono for his long time work for the poor in Africa and other third world countries. And he is not just a dumb-celebrity that does not understand the problem, he has long understood the problems in great detail. I do not think his claim that aid is a stop-gap help is anything new, and I do not see anything contradictory from his earlier statement.

I suspect we should also pay special attention to his wording “entrepreneurial capitalism”. All forms of capitalism are not the same, and capitalism and free-market economy are not always equal.

Teaching a man to fish assumes that the man has a fishing pole he can fish with.


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