A Smear Is Not an Argument


Given that former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates has been so frequent a target of smears himself, one would hope he’d be loathe to engage in same.

But at a recent forum, the software maestro was less than his moral best when asked about the book Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa, by Zambian writer Dambisa Moyo. Gates, now a full-time philanthropist, charged that Moyo “didn’t know much about aid” (a topic she’s been investigating for years) and that “books like that are promoting evil.”

Moyo’s book considers the long-term effects of non-emergency aid. She argues that it can encourage corruption and discourage the development of free enterprise. For example, when Western aid organizations distribute large quantities of mosquito nets, they can put a native seller of mosquito nets out of business.

Moyo is not arguing against all aid regardless of circumstances (as Gates seems to assume), but rather against ongoing or “structural” aid that fosters long-term dependency, lines the pockets of dictators, and makes it easier to defer basic reforms. Her diagnosis may be arguable. But Gates didn’t argue. He just smeared the woman and her book.

Evil? For considering costs? Cause and effect? The long run?

Businessmen are lucky, so to speak: They exist in a system that tells them when they are doing well, no matter what critics say. Gates thrived at Microsoft, despite choruses of critics. Now he has entered a field dominated more by good intentions than accepted standards of output. Hence the ugly nature of this dispute, and perhaps why he eschewed what Moyo identifies as “logical counter-argument.”

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

4 Comments so far ↓

  1. Jun
    Brian Richard Allen

    Ms Moyo argues “aid” may encourage corruption and discourage the development of free enterprise. For example, when Western aid organizations distribute large quantities of mosquito nets, they can put local mosquito net salesmen out of business ….

    It may well be way way worse than that, too.

    Consider farm subsidies, for example.

    Roughly 20% of all US crops have no buyers but are “purchased” by the USDA and piled all over the nation in million-ton mountains. (Coincidentally [???] around 20% of farm workers are criminal aliens)

    When no-one buys the USDA’s produce mountains the grain (eg) is handed to USAID for distribution via one or another of that gang’s foreign aid programs. USAID’s enthusiastically-world-travelling do-gooders cast about for an interesting place in which to spend a year or two and set up shop there.

    One such place a few years ago was the then net food-exporting Horn of Africa country: Somalia.

    USAID’s flooding of the Somalia market (forgetting for the minute about such insane projects enraging such of our our grain-exporting allies as Canada and Australia) quickly bankrupted and wiped out both the local agri-business industry and the banks — and before long the government of Somalia followed the farmers and the bankers “down the gurgler.”

    By then, of course, the rapidly-emerged “war-lord” industry had commandeered the USAID depots and was turning a very handsome profit – Thank you very much, American Taxpayers – sell American weat and corn and such in Cairo and Khartoum and the enthusiastically-world-travelling USAID do-gooders cast about for an interesting place in which to spend a year or two and split for there!

    Along came CBS and NBC and ABC and George Herbert Walker Bush and not long afterwards the US Marines Uniformed Do-Gooder Invasion Force and Black-Hawk Down and all of that.

    I’ve seen it happen time and time and time again these past couple-or-so score years — and with these very eyes. In 20 countries on seven continents. And them facts surely trump any insult Ms Billy Gates might offer up to put down Ms Moyo!

  2. Jun
    Brian Richard Allen

    …. selling American wheat and corn ….

  3. Jun

    It seems there’s no winning with some people. Aid “can encourage corruption and discourage the development of free enterprise.” That is a reflection on the people we are trying to help. (It’s their leadership and many of the people that are corrupt.) If, on the other hand, we let them take care of their own problems then we are “selfish”. Imagine if Americans cut off all non-emergency aid (public and private) to all African countries and let the chips fall where they may. The outcry would be deafening. The same people who say we are doing too much would scream that we aren’t doing enough.
    The end result will be something many of these complainers didn’t count on: indifference.

  4. Jun

    Talent compartmentalizes and skill requires continual focussed practice, but people are willing to give all kinds of assumed generalization of talent and skill to people who have demonstrated one small area of expretise. Mr. Gates is an enormously successful businessman. He is likley to be as skilled and adept at making decisions about African aid as the Somali cashier at the 7-11. Maybe less so.
    But he intends well.
    Road to hell.

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