Posts Tagged ONE Campaign

Bono Abandons Babel?

U2 singerThere’s been a bit of buzz over Bono’s recent remarks about the positive role of markets in reducing global poverty and spurring economic development (HT):

The Irish singer and co-founder of ONE, a campaigning group that fights poverty and disease in Africa, said it had been “a humbling thing for me” to realize the importance of capitalism and entrepreneurialism in philanthropy, particularly as someone who “got into this as a righteous anger activist with all the cliches.”

“Job creators and innovators are just the key, and aid is just a bridge,” he told an audience of 200 leading technology entrepreneurs and investors at the F.ounders tech conference in Dublin. “We see it as startup money, investment in new countries. A humbling thing was to learn the role of commerce.”

I’m a bit skeptical about the broader significance of these remarks on Bono’s activism, but I do think they’re illuminating. Over at the Acton Institute, I argue that Bono’s new humbled attitude is precisely what we need in our attempts to improve economic development:

Although I’m not overly confident that Bono’s sudden self-awareness is enough to radically shift his aid efforts away from fostering dependency, this small admission helps illuminate one of our key obstacles to doing good in the world: overzealousness paired with overconfidence.

Bono describes his realization as a “humbling thing,” and “humbling” is precisely what the foreign aid experts and economic planners could use. As Friedrich Hayek famously wrote, “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” As the story of the Tower of Babel well confirms, man has a natural disposition to think he knows more than he knows and can construct beyond what he can construct—all to make a name for himself. The juice of righteous anger is a powerful enabler, and once it’s pumping through our veins it takes even less time for our human tendencies to escalate. After all, we’re only out to deliver humanity to heaven’s doorstep.

Such overconfidence in our own designs can be particularly destructive in the realm of economics, a science that’s in a constant battle over whether it should seek to explain human action, control it, or bypass it altogether. Such planners find a perfect match in eager activists such as Bono. “We can build your tower to heaven,” they’ll say, “and you can make a name for yourself. If only the right policy buttons are pushed and the right economic equilibrium is arranged, the world can be set to rights.”

Of all people, Christians should be aware of the deeper spiritual questions we should be asking, cautious not to be wise in our own eyes:

The economic engineer’s intrusion goes well beyond barging into more natural and effective social institutions. For in doing so, he treats dignified man and the unpredictable, invaluable relationships in which he engages as the mere mingling of predictable pieces in a larger static game. Such an intrusion should cause great alarm for those of us seeking restoration among the suffering. For how can we hope to improve conditions for the human person if we skip past what it means to be a human person? For the Christian in particular, God instructs each of us to do what the Lord wills. Are we really to Read the rest of this entry »

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Foreign Aid: Charity, Justice, and Bono’s Anti-West Prejudice

Bono at the World Economic Forum

Bono says that Africa remains poor because the West is greedy and prejudiced.

Every time I hear Bono talk about Africa’s problems, his passion makes me want to be on board with his mission. The problem is, whenever I hear about his actual solutions, I realize that the guy cares more about having compassion than achieving success.

Bono loves to talk about justice and equality, but the conversation is always entirely based around materialism. For Bono, Africa’s plight is primarily about a lack of resources, and thus it is simple enough to be solved by 40 cents here and an iPod there.

Bono & Co.’s efforts in Africa have been ineffective and counterproductive, as plenty of critics have pointed out (e.g. here, here, and here), but what I’d like to focus on at the moment is the false premise behind those efforts, which holds that success in Africa is dependant on the financial benevolence of Western governments.

The Cato Institute’s Marian Tupy recently wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal focusing on this video’s assertion that financial aid to Africa is “not about charity. It’s about justice.” The video is pretty light on specifics, but Bono has since adopted the language on several occasions, offering a bit more illumination on why he thinks our donations are a matter of justice rather than charity.

My first reaction would usually be, “Of course the solution to poverty is justice,” but Bono and the ONE campaign consistently misconstrue the word “justice” by applying it to Read the rest of this entry »

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