Bill Gates was asked in a recent Q&A session at the University of New South Wales, about the book Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working And How There Is A Better Way For Africa. Since the book firmly targets “philanthropists” like Bill Gates, it would have been completely understandable for him to say, “I haven’t been convinced yet that aid is doing more harm than good in the long run.” But for some reason Gates decided to launch an attack on the book and its author, Dambisa Moyo. I was thrilled that he did so, because it was the first hint I have seen that Moyo’s work is so damaging to his reputation that he genuinely feels frustrated and angry about what she argues in that book.
Gates basically classified the Harvard and Oxford trained economist as evil, saying that whether or not one agrees with her comes down to one’s “value system.” Aid, he said, is completely responsible for cutting in half deaths among African children over the last twenty years. Books like Moyo’s which critique aid are “prone to evil.”
Of course, for Gates’ condemnation to work, one has to attribute to him perfect motives and perfect honesty, both of which are debatable allegations. There was a time when India, Africa, Southeast Asia, and other parts of the world were all thought to be hopelessly mired in poverty, disease, and early mortality. But the world has changed for the better and Africa has obviously been held to the bottom of that change. For example, consider infant mortality according to the map provided by Wikipedia. Even if Africa’s infant mortality rates have improved, and even if those improvements can be reasonably attributed to aid in some way, doesn’t the continual discrepancy mean something? Why should one continent be so consistently worse off than the others?
How does Gates know with such certainty that, if there had been no aid, that nothing would have improved the quality of life for Africans? Dambisa Moyo is a Harvard- and Oxford-educated economists. Yet Gates simply declares that she doesn’t understand aid. Other than having a vested interest in justifying spending his own and other people’s money, what makes Gates more of an expert than Moyo? I don’t see how software success makes him an expert on how to help Africa, any more than it made him an expert on global warming or mass vaccination.
I don’t always agree with Dambisa Moyo, but her obviously heartfelt advocacy for Africa to be allowed to prosper and thrive rather than remain forever in the basement of the planet, stuck on life support and regarded as a perpetual basket case, is based on real arguments and real knowledge of economics.
As Moyo said in her short but devastating reply,
“To cast aside the arguments I raised in Dead Aid at a time when we have witnessed the transformative economic success of countries like China, Brazil and India, belittles my experiences, and those of hundreds of millions of Africans, and others around the world who suffer the consequences of the aid system every day.”
You cast aside arguments when you already know you are right and want to belittle other people. I think history is going to expose Gates as arrogant and erroneous. Many countries no one thought would improve have undergone economic revolutions. Africa countries will show us such progress, and it won’t be due to the international aid system.