Back in March 2007, I suggested in a First Things On The Square article that “Bono Still Hasn’t Found What He’s Looking For.” Critical of the approach the U2 rocker took to developmental aid, I argued:
Regardless of whether foreign aid caused, and continues to cause, these problems, one thing is clear: Monetary aid will never be able to solve Africa’s problems until institutions that foster individual and collective enterprise flourish. Transparent governance, the rule of law, and market economies are necessities. As long as governmental corruption, misplaced market incentives (through subsidies), and institutions of repression rule the day, no amount of money will change a thing.
Money, technical know-how, medicines, and all sorts of material goods can only do so much without the necessary political, legal, and economic institutions. But it is even more important that cultural institutions rise to the challenge of inculcating the personal virtues required for self-sufficiency, self-governance, and economic growth: honesty, integrity, fair play, hard work, thrift, investment, creativity. The entrepreneurial spirit, coupled with moral backbone, is the only way Africa will lift herself out of poverty. Helping Africa enter commercial society is foundational. As John Paul II put it in his encyclical Centesimus Annus, it is “necessary to help these needy people to acquire expertise, to enter the circle of exchange, and to develop their skills in order to make the best use of their capacities and resources.” Until these institutional and personal changes are made, the (RED) and ONE and Buy (LESS) Crap! campaigns will founder. Money isn’t the real solution; changing hearts and minds and habits is.
Now it appears that Bono has learned a similar lesson:
The Irish singer and co-founder of ONE, a campaigning group that fights poverty and disease in Africa, said it had been “a humbling thing for me” to realize the importance of capitalism and entrepreneurialism in philanthropy, particularly as someone who “got into this as a righteous anger activist with all the cliches.”
“Job creators and innovators are just the key, and aid is just a bridge,” he told an audience of 200 leading technology entrepreneurs and investors at the F.ounders tech conference in Dublin. “We see it as startup money, investment in new countries. A humbling thing was to learn the role of commerce.”