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

Andrew Sabl, a political theorist, is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics and Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England, both from Princeton University Press. His research interests include political ethics, liberal and democratic theory, toleration, the work of David Hume, and the realist school of contemporary political thought. He is currently finishing a book for Harvard University Press titled The Uses of Hypocrisy: An Essay on Toleration. He divides his time between Toronto and Brooklyn.