The NS Interview: Dambisa Moyo, economist

“People need jobs and investment. There is no magic trick”

Your vision for Africa's future is a controversial one. Do you really believe that aid is dead?
If aid were a private-sector business or a political system, it would definitely have gone by now. But here we have a system that has been going on and on and not delivering.

So what's your solution?
There is no evidence anywhere on earth that aid has delivered long-term growth. The countries that have moved hundreds and millions of people out of poverty in our lifetime - China, India, South Africa, Botswana - have not relied on aid to the extent that some African countries do. Can we have a discussion about that?

How do you answer those who say aid is essential to development?
Behind closed doors, pretty much every international aid minister says that there is a fundamental problem with the system. Many African leaders are on record saying that it doesn't work, including Paul Kagame [of Rwanda] and Raila Odinga [of Kenya].

What about in a case like Haiti?
People need jobs. There is no magic trick. You need investment and job creation. Haiti can't come out of this disaster dependent on aid -
it's not viable.

What do you think of Barack Obama's attitude to the developing world?
It is too early to tell. But, as Africans, we can't continue to depend on the US. When America has double-digit unemployment, the government's priority is to provide for its people.

Don't developing countries need the help of rich ones to mitigate the effects of climate change?
The people at the forefront of this agenda are not going to be the aid agencies. In the past, the big development issues were led by western governments and the emerging markets were silent. But now, we've got a situation where they are taking much more of a lead.

Do you aim to influence African policy?
No. Most of what needs to be done in Africa should be spearheaded by African leaders. The fundamental problem is that the aid industry has become so pervasive that governments abdicate their responsibilities.

Would you ever get involved in politics?
I'm not a politician - it's not my cup of tea. I wouldn't be surprised if I ended up in finance again. Perhaps in developing markets.

Is there a plan?
No plan whatsoever. Life expectancy in Zambia is 39, so I am just happy to be here.

Has the financial crisis exposed the western economic system as unworkable?
Quite the contrary. Unfettered capitalism does not work, but over the past 300 years capitalism has created jobs and reduced poverty. To turn around and say that it is defunct is really a stretch. The banks didn't do anything illegal. It's completely simplistic to say that they are bad.

As an ex-banker, can you sympathise with the public fury over bank bonuses?
I don't think it's misplaced. If you are a taxpayer, you should be outraged. But it requires a more nuanced discussion.

You're now writing a book on "how the west was lost". Can you give us a preview?
Standard models of economic development have three ingredients: capital, labour and technology. I'm looking at how government policies on these have yielded bad outcomes.

What's your vision of the future?
By 2027, China will be the biggest country in the world. This year is the first year that Europe's population will decline. Our populations are changing. If you want to keep in the game, you have to do something transformational.

Do you want to go back to Zambia?
Absolutely. My family is there. Educated Africans won't stay if they are not getting paid what they think they are worth. But we have seen it in Ghana and Uganda - when things get more transparent, droves of people go home.

Do you vote?
You would be hard-pressed to find an African-born woman who doesn't.

Is there anything you regret?
I don't think so. I am fortunate: my parents told me the world was my oyster, when they could have said I wouldn't make it for a lot of reasons - rural, girl, small African country. So, no regrets.

Do some Africans lack that self-belief?
Many Africans succumb to the idea that they can't do things because of what society says. Images of Africa are negative - war, corruption, poverty. We need to be proud of our culture.

Are we all doomed?
Not at all. I am an eternal optimist. Look at me: I'm from the bowels of Africa, from a country without a coastline. I couldn't even have swum here. It would be impossible for me to think that we are doomed. I'm here, aren't I?

Defining Moments

1969 Born in Lusaka, Zambia. Moves to the US as a child, but returns for high school
1991-93 Back in the US, takes MBA, MPA at American University (DC) and Harvard
1993-95 Works at World Bank. Moves to the UK for a PhD in economics at Oxford
2001 Joins Goldman Sachs as a research economist and strategist
2009 Penguin publishes her first book - Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa

 

Read more NS interviews

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 08 March 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Game on

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times