Here is a quiz. What do the following blockbuster books have in common?
"The Trouble with Africa--why foreign aid isn't working" by Robert Calderisi
"The White Man's Burden---Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good" by William Easterly
"The Bottom Billion---Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It" by Paul Collier
"Dead Aid---Why Aid Is Not Working And How There Is A Better Way For Africa" by Dambisa Moyo
The answer can be found merely by looking at their respective indices. Only in Collier's book is the word "population" or "populations" mentioned, and then only four times. And more incredibly, Collier treats it only in a positive light, by stating that a larger population is one of those factors which is a precondition for a poor country effecting a "turnaround". Nowhere in any of these books does the word "overpopulation" appear. There you have it. To Garrett Hardin's sarcastic statement that no one ever died from overpopulation, one is tempted to add the corollary that no desperately poor and famished country ever needed birth control to climb out of its misery.
Calderisi offers "Ten Ways to Change Africa". Guess what? Family planning ain't one of them. Instead we have these remedies:
1. Introduce Mechanisms For Tracing and Recovering Public Mechanisms.
2. Require all heads of state, ministers and senior officials to open their bank accounts to public scrutiny.
3. Cut aid to individual countries in half.
4. Focus direct aid on four to five countries that are serious about reducing poverty.
5. Require all countries to hold internationally-supervised elections.
6. Promote other aspects of democracy, including a free press and an independent judiciary.
7. Supervise the running of Africa's schools and HIV/Aids Programs.
8. Establish citizen review groups to oversee government policy and aid agreements.
9. Put more emphasis on infrastructure and regional links.
10. Merge the World Bank, IMF and United Nations Development Programme.
All good suggestions worthy of consideration no doubt. But hasn't the thought that too many people chasing too few resources may have something to with war, famine, wildlife poaching, deforestation, soil exhaustion and erosion, disease, and a myriad of other ills that plague these failed African states---- even crossed his mind? Hello?
Then along comes William Easterly with his six suggestions for those who want to "aid the poor".
1. Have aid agents individually accountable for individual, feasible areas for action that help poor people lift themselves up.
2. Let those agents search for what works, based on past experience.
3. Experiment, based on results of the search.
4. Evaluate, based on feedback from the intended beneficiaries and scientific testing.
5. Reward success and penalize failure. Get more money to interventions that are working, and take money away from interventions that are not working. Each aid agent should explore and specialize further in the direction of what they prove good at doing.
6. Make sure incentives in (5) are strong enough to do more of what works, then repeat step (4). If action fails, make sure incentives in (5) are strong enough to send the agent back to step (1). If the agent keeps failing, get a new one.
Once again, some pragmatic, hard-boiled advice from someone frustrated at the fact the aid most often get to those who need it. But once again, nothing about addressing poverty by preventing births rather than simply trying to keep people alive. And Paul Collier has his solutions. He notes that "since around half of all civil wars are post-conflict relapses', a charter for post-conflict governance would be in order, as well as a charter for the wealth obtained from natural resource extraction, including a transparency initiative. And since the army "catches the scent" of large infows of aid money, external military guarantees against coups could not only reinforce incentives for good governance but also leverage effective scrutiny from an empowered citizenry. Collier is a not an unabashed free marketeer. He argues that the bottom billion cannot break into new export markets without temporary and strong protection against "the Asian giants". But he insists that for the majority of the developing world, capitalism is working, and that the goal should be to help the basket cases build market economies by attracting private investment. He argues that the left needs to learn to love growth, because while "growth is not a cure-all, lack of growth is a kill-all". Like other critics, he maintains that aid is spread too thin. The development problem is about the bottom billion who are stuck in poverty who are not here to be guinea-pigs for failed socialist experiments.
What is surreal about Collier's gospel of comparative advantage, developing export markets and growth promotion is his failure to acknowledge the impact of economic activity on biodiversity services and climate change. If economic growth is to be the goal of African reform, then aggressive "de-growth" in developed countries must be pursued as a global offset. If capitalism is working, it certainly isn't working for the environment, which after all is our life support system. Someone needs to remind these critics that human extinction is bad for the bottom line. Dambisa Moyo is also a growth booster and a champion of trade. Kicking the aid -dependency cycle is necessary for good governance, which for her, "trumps all". Corrupt and incompetent governments effectively raise the cost of doing business or investing. And despite donor conditionalities, aid is easily stolen or redirected. All sound points But add Moyo to the list of analysts for whom overpopulation is an utterly inconspicuous agent of scarcity.
In some ways the predicament of failing states mired in poverty can be likened to a cancer patient surrounded by a team of oncologists who inform him to rest, take vitamins and avoid sugar, but make no mention of his chain-smoking. Population myopia is a strange affliction. It is as if the growth virus is equipped with a cloaking device that makes it unseen by the timid and the politically correct. No wonder the media and state broadcasters in particular, are loath to confront it, and instead offer us mock debates between what in reality, are false polarities trapped in their own cycle of denial.
July 1, 2010