Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Dyer on an African "Marshall Plan"

People talk about the need for a 'Marshall Plan' for Africa, but the original Marshall Plan, designed to help European countries recover after the devastation of the Second World War, provided around $75 billion (at today's prices) in American food and supplies over a period of three years to help Europe rebuild. It did rebuild, and has long been just as prosperous as the US. Whereas fifteen times as much money per capita, over fifteen times as long, has left most of Africa poor, chaotic, and miserable.

The basic difference is politics. Europe had a skilled labour force in 1945, but more importantly it had governments that were determined to maintain the education and health services that produced that labour force. Africa's elites simply stole the money in many cases -- both the aid money, and their own taxpayers' money -- and condemned their people to ignorance, violence, poverty and disease. Simply increasing the aid will not change this equation.

There are well-run African countries where targeted development aid can help, like South Africa and Botswana; there are spectacularly corrupt ones like Nigeria and Angola that nobody in their right minds would send development aid to; and there are basket-cases like the Congo where there is no longer any modern economy and only disaster relief has any immediate relevance.

The politics is the problem, and only Africans can fix that. But the best incentive for reform that the rest of the world can offer African countries is fair access to its markets if and when they get their own acts together. Fair trade, not 'free' aid, is the key.
Dyer is no capitalist pawn, so he's especially credible when he says the key intervention for African is to open our markets. On this one point even Bush might cooperate, though "Fair" is a tricksy word.

Africa is also a good lesson on the limits of a libertarian state.

No comments: