Monday, December 2, 2013

Great Travel Writer Paul Theroux Turns Out to Be a Lousy Economist

Writing About How Aid to Africa is Destroying Africa

There are a number of really good authors who when they step outside of their field to write about politics and economics turn out to be not so good, well actually pretty bad, well to be accurate, pretty awful.  David Mamet, a wonderful playwright and movie director developed far right wing political views and supports far right wing economic policy.  And it turns out that Paul Theroux, writing in Barron’s, does not let his lack of information and expertise prevent him from rendering an opinion that the governmental and non-governmental aid to Africa is not only a failure, but counter productive.

Most of his article is an aggrandizement of Paul Theroux, recounting his own personal experiences in the African continent.  And utilizing only his own view he reaches this conclusion.

I can testify that Africa is much worse off than when I first went there 50 years ago to teach English: poorer, sicker, less educated, and more badly governed. It seems that much of the aid has made things worse.

Of course it would be nice to have the data, analysis and expert opinions to back up such a claim, but if one is a world famous author one apparently can dispense with such things and one’s own observations pass for total judgment. 

But the real problem here is that Mr. Theroux champions a far right wing hypothesis, that aid for low income individuals and countries just makes things worse, it make them ‘dependent’ and creates 'dependency'.

Now it is true that the governance in many African nations is terrible.  They are corrupt and ineffective, and the lack of strong institutions, both governmental and non-governmental in that area is the major cause for the lack of progress.  But there is one more thing that is absolutely true.

Throwing money at a problem will not guarantee success in solving the problem. But not dedicating resources to a problem guarantees that the problem will not be solved and that it will get worse.  And so conservative thinking, as illustrated by what Mr. Theroux passes off as reasoned analysis, is guaranteed to make low income people and nations worse off.  And their argument that helping is detrimental is just self serving justification for not acting, just as that same argument has been self serving justification for opposition to welfare and anti-poverty programs in developed nations.  The argument is pure greed, cloaked in the hypocrisy of a philosophy that says low income do not need the same programs that have aided the wealthy.

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