12.20.2007

GREED VERSUS CHARITY

The provocative title - "Can Greed Save Africa?" - only made me lament all the more that I had to keep putting off reading last week's Business Week on account of busyness. But last night I finally got around to the issue and the article, and it confirmed for me that mutually profitable business transactions are vastly superior to one-way philanthropy in lifting people from crushing poverty. Witness this bite from the article:

"Masoud Alikhani is no moral crusader; he thinks the 'We Are the World' movement of the 1980s, which sought donations to end African hunger, 'made beggars of whole nations.' The burly 66-year-old is among the new wave of investors at the tenuous nexus of venture capital and agribusiness in Africa. Five months ago he pitched a large hedge fund in New York on the merits of ESV Biofuels, as his company is called. The fund's partners agreed to take a tour of the facility in January. 'We are capitalists and opportunists,' says Alikhani. 'We are doing this to make money. That's the only way to help.'"

Deliciously, while charity may not lead to economic empowerment, capitalism may lead to charity:

"Inhassune's revival is already under way. Mosquito control, power lines, and potable water have quickly arisen from a barren stretch of bush. 'I'd be the last person in the history books to go down as a philanthropist,' says Renier van Rooyen, ESV's South African on-site manager. 'But you cannot run a business when your workers are out with malaria or sick from dirty water.' On a warm weeknight, villagers greet the season's first rainfall with dancing and singing. 'There was nothing here before,' shouts Ineve, a fieldworker, over beating drums. Others proudly brandish newly issued government ID cards. ESV employees have been lining up behind the schoolhouse for hours to register to vote for the first time in their lives."

So take care the next time you denounce capitalism as greed gone bad. It can be used for such purposes, to be sure, but it can also lead to wonderful things. Those who have benefited from the win-win transactions that have characterized many commercial efforts in Africa would wholeheartedly agree.
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