We’re in the Stone Age of African Development Economics

Great interview with economist Morten Jerven about what’s screwy about how world powers and major institutions measure, invest in and define policy responses for African countries.

You wouldn’t know it from the “starvation — war — disease” news cycle but people in African countries are enjoying the same progress as the rest of us: more goods, more services, more access to education and health care, more opportunities for a better quality of life, etc.

We’re might even be getting better at measuring this.

Unsurprising to anyone who knows the East African origin of human tool-making for use and trade (i.e. the first capital assets and exchanges), African countries are actually really good at creating wealth: making and trading goods and services.

The rest of the world is really good at interfering in ways that disrupt/distort that creation or destroy that wealth. Bad decisions piled on top of one another. Enslavement. Crushing local industries. Colonial rule. Anticompetitive trade policies. Crippling national debt. Proxy wars. Supporting bad governments.

Never mind the policies that both help and hurt at the same time. If you send that bad government billions of dollars in aid, you might see schools, infrastructure, and economic growth. You will definitely see more political and economic power centralized in an exclusive group that enforces its will through violence.

That might give you Singapore in one situation. Somalia in another. Even economically successful African countries like Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia and Kenya seem perpetually at that Singapore/Somalia fork in the road.

We in the rest of the world *need* African countries to create wealth. Physical wealth — more stuff — as well as human wealth — ideas, art, science, technology.

Without that happening, the world isn’t only poorer but more vulnerable. The major threats to Africa’s populations are the same that affect us all: an unstoppable disease, a natural disaster of genocidal proportions, global nuclear war.

So just as humanity emerged from the Stone Age when tools and the knowledge of how to make them flowed from the African continent to the rest of the world., our 21st century civilization can only advance through free trade with African innovators and entrepreneurs.

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