“Mindless Austerity”, capitalism, and church-planting

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by Barry King

President Obama called recent years of record federal spending, including billions of Keynesian "stimulus" using borrowed money, "mindless austerity" - as though if he had his way such spending would be even more prodigal. That's hard to imagine, but he can apparently imagine it. Americans are consuming all of their income, and then consuming more and spending more long after they should stop, They are able to continue that for now only by borrowing from China, leaving it to their grandchildren to repay those loans to China with interest. That can't continue much longer, and the only reason it can happen at all is because 21st-century Chinese, unlike 21st-century Americans, produce more than they consume and save the difference, so that their net savings are available to be loaned to Americans - and invested in Africa.

If the President thinks current US federal spending can be described as "mindless austerity", that means he wants to spend even more, in support of American consumption of goods and services. And of course there may well be enough American voters who like that idea, to keep him and politicians like him in power for a while longer. In that milieu, China's surpassing the US as the world's largest and most powerful economy is not only inevitable: it will happen very quickly now, more quickly than almost anyone expects. Here in Africa, that process is more clearly visible - I have been meaning to write up a report of what I saw during a recent visit to Beira, Mozambique - but I suppose there in the USA it might remain out of sight and out of mind for a little while longer.

Africa never belonged to the USA. For a while it belonged to Europe, and is briefly now in the hands of Africans. Within about 20 years Africa may belong to China, and not long after that the Chinese may own the USA as well, given the continuation of current trends and processes.
Whether you view it as the just hand of God at work, or as Darwinian social selection, what's happening here in Africa now is this: the west continues its long-standing and self-righteous pattern of doing most of its "investment" in Africa as "aid", with "humanitarian" or religious motivations, and often with strings attached about how westerners think Africans ought to think and act. Meanwhile, the supposedly "communist" Chinese are investing all of their billions as classic capitalists: they are buying assets and land, establishing profitable businesses, and placing ownership of those businesses in the hands of entrepreneurs, some of whom will be eliminated by Schumpeterian creative destruction, but some of whom will prosper and survive, creating goods, services, jobs and tax revenue for Africans and their governments.

For China the key is: those surviving, successful capitalists will then look to China, not to the west, for markets, for trade, and for new capital. And, there are no moralistic or patronizing "strings" attached to any of that Chinese money. For Ugandans, if the US ambassador says, we are withholding your "aid" money because we want you to rethink your attitudes about homosexuality, and the Chinese ambassador says, we have more money than that available here (even after what we have loaned to the Americans so that they can offer it to you with their strings attached). Money directly from us has no strings attached, and we don't mind if you use it for profitable, private-sector businesses. For Uganda, that's pretty much a no-brainer.

Post-colonial Africa is only about 50 years old now, but that's already long enough to notice the following: If you pick internationally funded projects for evaluation, look at their starting conditions and principles, and then look again 20 years later to see the results: the humanitarian projects (with the notable exception of church-planting) have mostly withered away after 20 years leaving no significant enduring impact, whereas among the for-profit business start-ups there are always some successful and profitable survivors, creating jobs for Africans, products and services for them to consume, and tax revenues for their governments. Like it or not, by choosing to invest in Africa as capitalists, the Chinese have chosen the long-term winning strategy for themselves and for Africa. And, like it or not, by sticking with their pattern of supposedly benevolent "humanitarian" "giving", westerners are getting a brief dose of inflation for their own egos, but in the long run they are writing themselves out of the picture of Africa's future. For a scholarly debate about this google Dambisa Moyo and/or Jeffrey Sachs, and study what they have to say. My view is that Ms. Moyo (Sachs' former student) is partly right and Mr. Sachs is partly wrong. As to which one speaks authentically for Africa: Ms. Moyo is Zambian, and Mr. Sachs is American.

Maybe that can change. Starting points for the change will need to include a remembering in the west of a truth that the west used to understand, and which the Chinese have learned: that profits are not always demons, sometimes they can be angels. And that when "helping" hurts, it's time to give up that kind of "helping" - even from a Christian point of view http://www.amazon.com/When-Helping-Hurts-Alleviating-Ourselves/dp/1596448741

A hat tip is in order to the one bright exception to this generally gloomy view of western involvement in Africa. In 21st century Congo, one sees hospitals, schools, roads, bridges, airports, and other signs of "civilization" mostly in ruins, but the churches planted by early Christian missionaries are still there, and are growing. Those planted by AIM missionaries recently celebrated their first century of existence (1912-2012) with abundant joy, standing out as a beacon of hope and offering some degree of sanctuary and refuge in a sad and suffering region. If the departed are looking down from heaven on that scene, no doubt the ones who worked so hard and dedicated their lives to the building of all those infrastructures and institutions might be discouraged now, while the ones who planted the churches may be pleased. There's a simple reason for it: the churches were planted in the hearts of Congolese people, while the infrastructure was built on foundations of sand. http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/3502-matthew-parris-as-an-atheist-i-truly-believe-africa-needs-god

I suspect Americans think that the symbols of their own civilization and relative prosperity are built on solid, enduring foundations: it would be nice if that were to prove true.

BTW, as I understand it, a similar process of Christian church growth may be under way now in China. And in the west....?

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