Bono is a rock star but he is also an anti-poverty activist. For years, he was a major proponent of foreign aid, debt cancellation, working to alleviate the dire plight of those suffering HIV/AIDS, malaria and abject poverty. And he is a wealthy rock star but unlike other Rock Stars, he truly understands the economic system that allows him wealth and to pursue his charity endeavors is good.
Here is what he stated to students at Georgetown, “Aid is just a stopgap; Commerce [and] entrepreneurial capitalism take more people out of poverty than aid. We need Africa to become an economic powerhouse.” Read this closely and you will see that Bono understands that for Africa to fulfill its potential, it must be led by entrepreneurs or as he joked, “The Nerd.” In his talk, there were several themes.
Foreign aid is needed to help Africa to move forward but it is only stop gap. Bono views his crusade to uplift Africa into an economic powerhouse not an issue that is either right or left but right or wrong. Africa is a poor continent but it also a continent that is rich in resources and there is a history of local rule and local control. Economist and scholar George Ayittey has written on this and observed that before colonial rule, Africa was made of various confederations and those Empires that lasted the longest were those Empires which allowed home rule and governed with a light hand. As Ayittey noted, if an Empire got too repressive, a tribe could simply move since there was plenty of space within the continent to escape. Bono stated in his speech that the population is young and there is much potential for economic boom.
Bono viewed the Arab Spring as a turning point in this century and while he acknowledges that history is still being written and while there is much to fear; he compared the uprising to pyramids in which the base of the pyramids rebelled against the top. Modern technology help to release the forces of rebellion as texting and iPhones were used to spread the word. These little items are powerful weapons against fighting government corruption and increasing transparency. He admitted that one criticism against foreign aid was that it often ended up in the hands of kleptomaniac government leaders as opposed to the people who needed it. For him, the ability of people to communicate beyond the reach of government allows people to keep a closer eye on government. Bono does have a healthy skepticism for government for he understands corruption can undermine any hope for economic revival.
Bono views the elimination of poverty as not just an economic goal but a moral cause. He told the audience, “That’s what I’m hoping happens here at Georgetown with you. Because when you truly accept that those children in some far off place in the global village have the same value as you in God’s eyes or even in just your eyes, then your life is forever changed, you see something that you can’t un-see.” And he seems to have an understanding that the United States is not just a country but an ideal of liberty and freedom. Bono made an important point, that our ideals have seeped into the world and this matters for it gives hope to places where there is no hope and they are ideals that uplift.
The big story over the past decades has been the liberalization of the economy in both China and India, in which millions upon millions have escaped poverty. India and China have a way to go when it comes to completing their economic story and in the case of China, allow their people the dignity of political freedom.
Bono does not see the United States mired in recession and mediocrity but a nation with life still left and maybe he viewed the history since the era of Reagan and has seen how free market reforms have swept through the world in the 80’s and the 90’s; allowing millions to escape poverty. We live in a world in which much of our political class has lost faith in our ideals but a rock star reminded us of our heritage and that heritage includes economic freedom. Read these words carefully and comprehend, “Aid is just a stopgap; Commerce [and] entrepreneurial capitalism take more people out of poverty than aid.” Truth is powerful and that sentence hits on the heart of how people cease to be poor but move up the economic ladder.