Conditions in Africa are improving – despite the NGOs?

Incomes are rising, and the inequality between rich and poor is shrinking, in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a new study.

Sayyid Azim / AP / File
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, is welcomed by Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula and American ambassador to Kenya, Michael Rannerger, right, at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, Kenya, in August 2009, as she arrives at an African trade forum. Which is helping sub-Saharan Africa more, trade or aid?

Semper aliquid novi Africa affert.

If I've managed to get my Pliny quote right that is telling us that there is always something new out of Africa. Something which does indeed seem to be the case:

Sen welfare is a combination of incomes and the distributions of those incomes: falling inequality is "good" and rising incomes are good, the opposites bad. As we can see, Sen welfare has been increasing in Africa since 1995 or so. Increasing strongly in fact. The paper this was taken from shows us that it's increasing both because inequality is falling and because incomes are rising: both parts of what we desire to happen are happening. Growth is happening and it's raising the incomes of the poor, not just sticking in the hands of the WaBenzi.

We can identify what's going on here too: the early to mid 90s were when the strictures of the Washington Consensus reached Africa. There's nothing all that special about said Consensus either: it's really a little more markets please, a little less bureaucracy. Floating exchange rates, reasonable but real interest rates, a little less planning and a little more leaving resources to fructify in the pockets of the populace.#

And we can see the result of that Washington Consensus too. The one thing most had given up on ever actually happening: wide scale, dispersed, pro-poor and long running growth in Africa.

However, there is a sadness here as well: we've got this empirical proof that freer markets do indeed work. But we've a large number of the development charities telling us the opposite. We keep seeing reports from War on Want, Action Aid, Christian Aid, telling us that this reintegration of the African economies into the global one must cease, be reversed. We must have infant industry protection, import barriers, planning of the economy. You know, like we did in the 1980s with the efects you can see on the same graph.

It distresses me to be this cynical but I have to conclude that there are those who would rather impose their worldview than take note of how the world actually works. The Washington Consensus, this a little more markets, a little less telling everyone what to do, works. But, because, you know, it comes from Washington, some aid groups (the last refuge of all too many teenage Trots) will oppose it. Either that or they're simply unaware of what is happening on their supposed patch which doesn't sound like a very good reason to listen to them either.

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