Speak Loudly and Carry a Very Small Stick

by Russ Roberts on August 29, 2006

in Politics

I love the headline of this AP story on Yahoo news:

Obama urges Kenyans to oppose corruption

There’s nothing so exciting as an American politician in a foreign nation urging the corrupt leaders of that nation to be nicer to their oppressed citizens:

Sen. Barack Obama urged Kenyans to take control of their country’s
destiny by opposing corruption and ethnic divisions in government
during a policy speech Monday at the main university in his father’s

warned that Kenya and other African nations will never thrive if their
citizens cannot count on the government to deliver services fairly,
regardless of their tribal background or ability to pay bribes, Obama
told about 600 people at the state-run University of Nairobi.

Maybe, just maybe, Obama thought this might have a bigger impact on his constituents in Illinois than on the people of Kenya. Did he really Kenyans who heard his speech would nod and say, hmmm, maybe we really should be against corruption and hating those from tribes other than our own. What a novel idea! What were we thinking?

I suspect the incentives and constraints are the source of the problem. But moralizing makes some people feel virtuous.

The reporter was able to uncover this gem of audience reaction:

Law student John Kamau, who was in the audience, said he hopes
Obama’s message will get more attention because it comes from a wildly
popular figure and someone with no stake in Kenya’s political
rivalries. But the message itself was nothing new.

"It’s like a song that has been sung before," Kamau said.

Ah yes, an oldie but a goodie. It will be played again and delight the ear many times yet to come from many more politicians who talk as if talk were more than talk. If that song had a title, it would be Blowin in the Wind. And it’s definitely a khamsin.


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