The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Monday, March 12, 2007

Name That Tune

In the previous post, I promised a more concrete proposal for improving Africa's fate. To understand this, we consider mounting an active counter-corruption campaign, analogous to the counter-insurgency campaigns now underway in various parts of the world. Let us accept the "oil spot" analogy, i.e., the premise that we should proceed by creating limited areas of good conditions, and then attempt to cause those areas to gradually spread.

There are at least two other options: the present status quo, or a policy of detachment (also known as "Let Africa Sink"). The preponderance of evidence indicates that these are the only other options. Remember that the object is to help Africans, not their nations.

Who will undertake such a counter-corruption operation? No national interests are at stake, except possibly for resource acquisition. This is why China has begun offering friendship to some African governments; but this is also the exception that proves the rule, showing that resource acquisition is more efficiently accomplished through corrupt governments than despite them. Altruism might be a motive, but in the whole course of history altruism has not accomplished anything of this scale; and, as we will shortly see, the process will involve violence or at least the credible threat of violence, which are hard to reconcile with pure altruism. Thus we must posit a counter-corruption campaign propelled by the prospect of profit.

Who will oppose this operation? The obvious answer is: those who profit from the corruption. Since that includes the structures of the presently constituted governments of Africa, up to their highest levels, the "oil spots" cannot be under their control; and they will resist this loss of control (and loss of the spoils a region might otherwise generate). Even neighboring governments will be adversely affected by the example of a more prosperous region, which would increase their own subjects' dissatisfaction. Thus the campaign must of necessity face governmental enemies, which will have the means and the will to forcibly disrupt any progress it shows.

The administration of oil spots thus requires defenses against armed aggression. In addition, it requires a very particular kind of freedom for the residents: their freedoms must be aligned with the incentives that will make them productive members of a productive society. They must be free to own, to work, to learn, and to innovate; and they must not be free to extort bribes, to give patronage, or to evade debts. Their work will be hard and poorly paid, for they are unskilled and remote from the rich world; thus their incentives to dishonesty, reinforced by a lifetime in a dysfunctional society, will be great. The punishments available must therefore be correspondingly great, or the whole counter-corruption strategy will fail. Expulsion from the administered region might be sufficient, but this is not guaranteed.

Thus we will need externally imposed authorities with the powers of government, answerable to no African nation, holding great power over the lives of the native residents, attempting to profit from their labor. Readers will by now have recognized this scheme well enough to call it by its true name: colonialism.