25 June 2006

A Modest Proposal for Bill and Melinda Gates

After hearing the news that Warren Buffett is turning over a large chunk of his fortune to add to the large chunk of your own fortune (remember, this proposal is directed to an audience of two, everyone else, you can read along if you must) the two of you will be using to benefit the globe, I'd like to suggest a very effective and way to reduce the amount of misery in Central Africa, an area that two of you have said is of serious concern to the two of you.

Looking at the CIA guide to the various countries in the region, it comes to my attention that the combined fortunes at your disposal soon are likely to dwarf the GDP of many of those Central African countries.

With that in mind, why not BUY a few of those countries.

I modestly suggest start with just three mid-sized countries, namely Chad (pop 9.9M, GDP 14.8B), ,Central African Republic (pop 4.3M, GDP 4.8B) and Niger (pop 12.5M, GDP 11.8B). They are contiguous, which is a plus, their combined population is around 25Million which is significant but not unmanageable, and given that the GDP for those three nations combined is slightly more than $30Billion, should be within your price range, with billions to spare for other projects.

Why buy the countries?

Firstly, the biggest challenge to Africa isn't AIDS, or debt, or clean water, the biggest challenge to Africa are the too frequent kleptocracies that infest and prey upon the people of those nations. Hire an army or two, expel or kill the current kleptocrats, make clear that a culture of graft and dishonesty won't be tolerated at any level, and institute policies that encourage wealth creation, fair trade within and without of each community, and emphasize the rights of women and the protection of children.

Secondly, make English the official language of each country and pay handsomely anyone willing to go to the smallest village to ensure that the folks within learn both their local language, and clear, idiomatic English. India, Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea among other countries have given themselves a big competitive advantage by embracing English as a common second language amongst their various peoples (in the cases where those places are multi-ethnic). There's no reason that call centers couldn't crop up in Central Africa the way they have in Bangalore.

Thirdly, make the development of people a priority over the development of natural resources. There are resources to be had in each of those countries, but nations rich in natural resources often find themselves impoverished in human resources (Saudi Arabia, and Russia come to mind) while nations starved of natural resources are forced to develop their human capital (Japan, Great Britain, Singapore, to name a few, USA is exceptionally rich in both, and unique in that regard in almost all of human history). So ignore those natural resources until the human resources are developed to the point where they will be a nice bonus rather than a crutch, or use them only for domestic consumption to offer cheap power, cheap clean water, and improved general infrastructure.

Fourthly, redraw the internal borders of these nations to better reflect the existing ethnic groups. Tribal identities and loyalties need not undercut national loyalties, but one of the continuing legacies of colonialism is that tribal rivalries were used to manage people more easily, and rather than coming to their senses and redrawing the maps, when the Africans took over again, they often continued to exploit the artificial divisions dreamed up by European cartographers. It would facilitate all the reforms and eventually create more unity, rather than less, if the internal political divisions better reflect the social and geographic divisions within the lands that soon will be in your possession.

Fifthly, turn over as much of the operation and control over to local groups as quickly as possible, and let them make the majority of decisions, but keep an eye out for graft and favoritism, and punish any instance of bad-doing immediately and severely.

Finally, all the philanthropic endeavors you muster won't do squat if these places continue to suffer under corrupt governments nationally and locally. Rather than spending billions ameliorating the symptons, you are going to have to attack the root problems head on.

I'm afraid the only way to really attack the root problem is to get despotic on their asses and do what amounts to a hostile takeover and buy up those countries wholesale, turn them around, and then and only then, give them back to the people who have deserved far, far better than what they've gotten.

Given that Microsoft made a habit of buying up companies to strip them of their assets, this process shouldn't be unknown to you. Use the talents you have, you were a pretty terrifying despot in your day, rather than pretend you've changed, use the skillset you developed at Microsoft and apply it to the reform of Central Africa.

Once your success has become clear after around 5-10 years, your countries will show the way to the other countries surrounding them.

So that's my modest proposal directed solely and Bill and Melinda Gates. Enjoy spending both your own and Warren Buffett's fortunes, I'm sure even if you don't follow my suggestions you will do much good with what you've got, but I still must assert that if you really want to change the world for the better, the path I've laid out for you wouldn't be a bad one to follow.


bill said...

Don't know if you watched "West Wing," but that's pretty much the final plot line for CJ Cregg. She's approached by a Gates-like character who wants to give her $10 billion dollars and do some good. CJ's idea is to build roads in Africa. Her thinking being that starvation would be eased with easier distribution of the food (flashback to maybe they could move to where the food is). I, cynically, think roads might make it easier for those kleptocracies to kill more people...but maybe if we spent $5B on your kleptocracy eradication idea, we could spend the rest on some roads.

XWL said...

Never watched an entire episode of any Aaron Sorkin show (unless I slipped up and watched a whole Sports Night, but I don't think so)

My objection to West Wing was stylistic, not ideological.

Given that, the idea that roads alone would solve the problem, rather than make it easier for kleptocrats to steal from and terrorize their people is typical liberal thinking.

Africans deserve better than they get, but they have to find a way to demand it for themselves, there will be no Deus Ex Machina to come save them from themselves (and given that the wave of independence broke almost 50 years ago, they can't continue to credibly blame colonialism for their continuing problems).

And aid money has only fueled the greed of the kleptocrats and increased the misery of the people.

Things like the Make Poverty History movement are so wrong headed as to be laughable.

Pastor_Jeff said...

Remember The Book of Lists? One of them had a category where they'd asked some celebrities what they would do if they were President.

Ed Asner had some laughably stupid things like "Outlaw war" and "Eliminate poverty." Reading that hippie-drippy claptrap as a young teen had a lot to do with me becoming a conservative.

And what's the idea with the actually modest proposal? There's nothing sarcastic, cynical, ridiculous, or extreme about your idea at all!

I only wish there were a way to make it happen.

XWL said...

Admittedly this one is on the borderline between 'modest' and not so modest proposal, but the notion that an entire nation could be bought for cold hard cash probably might seem outrageous to some, and to others this might sound like a reintroduction of colonialism.

Still, aid to Africa is harmful, not helpful, until the governments are forced to change, and an enlightened interim benevolent dictatorship that transfers power to a democratic lower/middle class (like Singapore, though that dictatorship seems not so interim anymore) seems like the most efficient way to ease the misery permanently.