Carter on Africa

by Don Boudreaux on November 8, 2005

in Foreign Aid

David Brancaccio, host of the PBS program NOW, interviewed Jimmy Carter after the former president returned from a trip to Africa.  Here’s the transcript of the 30-minute-long show.

Carter — traveling under the auspices of the Carter Center — rightly points out that many problems suffered today by Africans can be solved by relatively simple and inexpensive techniques, such as straining drinking water through a sieve in order to protect against guinea worm.

But Brancaccio is unduly impressed:

BRANCACCIO: Now you must reflect on this a lot. If the Carter Center and individuals can make so much of a difference, imagine what you could do if you were to harness the power of government to–


BRANCACCIO: –fund even more. But what holds us back?

PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: One thing that holds us back is a misknowledge that erroneous belief that the people can’t respond themselves. Because they are somehow incompetent, or too corrupt.

But our experience has been, in 35 nations in Africa, that the people there are just as intelligent, just as ambitious, just as hardworking, and their family values are just as good as mine. They are poor, and they don’t have the facilities, and they’re not literate. They don’t understand the complexities of these diseases. Sometimes the complexities are very simple. But you give them a chance, and they respond overwhelmingly.

And this is what we have found to be a fact. So we deliver our services directly to the villages or directly to the families, or sometimes put medicine directly into the people’s mouths. There’s almost zero chance for corruption or diverting the funds or services. The people do it themselves. And it’s remarkably effective.

BRANCACCIO: But this is what I wanted to ask. If you and your Center and the people on the ground, who embrace these opportunities to make such great inroads into these tropical diseases, into these diseases of poor countries, imagine what could be done when governments also do that. Is there a way that taxpayer money can be used more effectively to deal with the problems of the developing world when it comes to health?

PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Absolutely. The problem is that American people, among the richest in the world– have very little contact or awareness of or relationship with the poorest people in the world. I mention Mali, or Ethiopia.

Carter and Brancaccio then join in an orgy of mutual head-shaking-in-disbelief-and-regret that Americans are so misinformed that we withhold affordable sums of money to cure poverty in under-developed countries.

Are these gentlemen unaware that hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on so-called foreign aid since the end of WWII?  Are they unaware that these expenditures, as documented by economists Peter Bauer and, more recently, William Easterly, have at best proven to be utterly ineffective?

The third-world’s problems are not caused by western stinginess; they’re caused by foolish policies in the third world — and can be solved only by changing these policies in a direction more favorable to commerce and capitalism.


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