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Take Easy Shots if They're All You've Got

William Butterfield has a point: my and Arnold Kling’s posts on the futility of foreign "aid" to African governments are "easy shots." The real challenge is to discover and describe ways to enable ordinary Africans to achieve lasting prosperity. Saying ‘let them have capitalism!’ and ‘government policies are likely to fail now just as they have in the past’ is indeed easy. But as long as many prominent folks pontificating atop tall soapboxes don’t yet see these easy truths, repeating them is likely worthwhile – and made even more worthwhile if there’s little evidence that a large portion of the soapbox-pontificators’ audience is also unaware of these easy truths.

I’m less confident than Bill about the efficacy of western donors paying directly for desirable policy changes (such as reductions in the time and red-tape necessary to open businesses in Africa). And I am certainly not one who believes that trade rather than aid is the key to more prosperity. While it’s desirable for a number of reasons for western governments to stop protecting their domestic producers from potential African competitors, until Africans begin on their own to develop a civil society – a society in which advanced commerce and wealth accumulation by non-elites is tolerated, a society more honest than corrupt, a society governed more by the rule of law than by the fists of tyrants, a society in which science and rational thought enjoy at least as much respect as mysticism – Africans will remain mired in oppressive poverty.

Stopping the flow of foreign aid is likely a necessary, if not a sufficient, step toward encouraging the organic growth of civil society in Africa.

Yes, yes – it’s true that all of the above is easy to say. Beyond our cutting off our subsidies to the tyrants and bureaucrats who inevitably obstruct ordinary-people’s efforts to create civil society from the ground up, I do not believe that there exists a recipe for western action that will help ordinary Africans.

I’m reminded here of one of H.L. Mencken’s aphorisms. I offer it to the Bonos, the Blairs, the Bushes, the Sachses, and all others who fancy that this time rich-governments’ $$$, £££, ¥¥¥, and direction will help ordinary Africans : "The fact that I have no remedy for all the sorrows of the world is no reason for my accepting yours. It simply supports the strong probability that yours is a fake."  (On page 63 of H.L. Mencken, Minority Report.)