Worthwhile German Initiative

Astounding German charity’s innovation: fighting poverty in an African village by giving its residents money.

The multiple problems of poor African countries are so overwhelming that it’s hard to know where to start.

Or maybe not. Interesting things happened when a coalition of German aid groups tried, as a last resort, giving people in a Namibian village enough money to live on.

Three points:

–the complaints of the area’s white plantation owners are exactly what they would be in one of our “town halls”: the lazy so-and-so’s with a different skin color will just waste the money (but they don’t) or have kids (imagine-how outrageous!); welfare makes crime go up (but it doesn’t); and saying that the wealthy should pay slightly more so that the poor won’t die is “reverse racism.”

–Amartya Sen and others have been saying for decades that famines are caused by lack of income, not lack of food, and that the best remedy for starvation is to send not food but money, in return for work or not. (Food aid, at best, prevents starvation at the cost of sentencing more developing-country farmers to unemployment.) That we don’t do this reflects what people demand in Iowa, not Namibia–and it seems not, to its credit, Thuringia.

–at the end of the article, we find out that extending the basic income program throughout Namibia would cost three percent of the GDP of Namibia. Yes, that’s something that we rich countries could easily pay for. But isn’t it exciting to know that the program might be robust in the face of the fact that we won’t?

Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.