It’s an Economic, Not a Scientific, Problem

by Don Boudreaux on October 16, 2009

in Complexity & Emergence, Man of System, Myths and Fallacies, Property Rights, Regulation, Technology

Here’s a letter that I sent this morning to the Washington Post:

Michael Gerson rightly applauds Bill Gates’s work to bring a “green revolution” to Africa, but he misleadingly writes as if millions upon millions of Africans remain mired in poverty because of some failure of science (“Gates’s Fields of Dreams,” Oct. 16).

Poverty persists in Africa not because existing science and technology are inadequate, or because Africa operates according to different natural laws than does the rest of the planet.  Science and technology are as available and adaptable to Africa as they are to America, Austria, and Australia.  And this science and technology have proven quite adept in these and many other places outside of Africa at helping to raise multitudes out of poverty.

Africa’s root problem is not a scientific one, and so it cannot be solved by science.  Africa’s root problem – including its inadequate infrastructure – lies in its social institutions.  Unusually corrupt governments, insufficiently secure property rights, and suffocating restraints on trade and industry make the application of advanced technologies in Africa unprofitable.

Solve these institutional problems, and African poverty will disappear even with no further advances in science and technology.

Donald J. Boudreaux


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