British Prime Minister Tony Blair is pressuring the rich nations of the world to give more foreign aid to Africa -- to the tune of $25 billion a year by 2010. The U.S. already gave $3.2 billion last year. In the wake of this pressure, we might ask ourselves whether it's foreign aid that Africa needs most for economic development.
A standard myth is there's a "vicious cycle of poverty" that makes economic development virtually impossible for the world's poor nations. This myth holds that poor countries are poor because income is so low that savings cannot be generated to provide the kind of capital accumulation necessary for economic growth. Thus, it is alleged, the only way out of perpetual poverty is foreign aid.
Let's examine the "vicious cycle of poverty" myth and whether foreign aid is a necessary ingredient for economic development. The U.S., Britain, France, Canada and most other countries were once poor. Andrew Bernstein of the Ayn Rand Institute wrote in an article titled "Capitalism Is the Cure for Africa's Problems" that pre-industrial Europe was vastly poorer than contemporary Africa.
A relatively well-off country, like France, experienced several famines between the 15th and 18th centuries as well as plagues and diseases that sometimes killed hundreds of thousands. In France, life expectancy was 20 years, in Ireland it was 19 years, and in early 18th-century London, more than 74 percent of the children died before reaching age 5.
Beginning in the late 18th century, there was a dramatic economic turnabout in Europe. How in the world did these once poor and backward countries break the "vicious cycle of poverty" and become wealthy, without what today's development experts say is absolutely necessary for economic growth -- foreign aid handouts, World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans, and billions of dollars of debt forgiveness?
The answer is simple: Capitalism started taking root in Europe. Capitalism is an economic system where there's peaceable, voluntary exchange. Government protects private property rights held in goods and services. There's rule of law and minimal government regulation and control of the economy.