African libertarians need to revisit their classics..

January 31, 2008

Franklin Cudjoe, editor of African Liberty, a CATO-sponsored african libertarian platform offers us yet another of those convulted long essays mixing up a bunch of different arguments in order to attack some government policy. The policy, a plan to directly give $8 to $15 every month to the poorest Ghaneans, is described as a “centrally-planned waste”.

See, as far as I know, the libertarian critic of central planning is that markets, the sum of individual decisions, are the most efficient way to allocate ressources. And that’s why, if there has to be social policy, poverty-alleviation measures, direct cash transfers are usually prefered to more market-disrupting measures. School vouchers, for instance, are considered a better way to provide education to the poorest than public schools. After all giving vouchers or money directly to the poor is trusting individuals to make their own decisions instead of governments inefficiently allocating ressources. That’s why I’m confused when I read:

How much of all the money sourced above and the one for merry-making every other month will go into agricultural reforms? Would it ensure secure land tenure for farmers to enhance large scale production? Train agric extension officers to advise farmers on best farming practices, provide soft loans, reduced prices of agricultural inputs, support infrastructure to facilitate storage and movement of goods, so that our energetic rural youth will not flock to the cities in search of absentee jobs?

My guess is not much. But then again, that’s because I’m one of those socialist/collectivists/statists Cudjoe is supposed to rant about. One who think that government intervention, via infrastructure, via education, via fertilizer subsidies, would work faster and may be better than market-based allocation. However if you value freedom, liberty and all that, why would one be concerned about how the money is used. And why would one think the energic rural youth would flock to the cities and not use their cash to buy agricultural inputs, build storage facilities, roads or invest in training ? Isn’t that the magic of the market ?

So yeah, I’m disappointed. Can’t the western libertarian network find smarter and more principled writers and thinkers to promote their cause in Africa ? May be, we’d get some interesting debates and may be one or two good policy initiatives could be squeezed out of it.

PS: to be fair, most of the article is dedicated to describing make-work schemes, utilities subsidies and other programs that are more deserving of libertarian attack but I did call it a “convulted long essay mixing up a bunch of different arguments” for a reason.

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6 Responses to “African libertarians need to revisit their classics..”

  1. Mbelolo Says:

    Cudjoe has not read his Milton Friedman, perhaps. See http://www.samuelbrittan.co.uk/text88_p.html


  2. Thanks for taking time to read my “convuluted
    long essay”. You actually just made it to the list of those disoriented propagandists.

    You confused your socialist dimented position because you failed to take into consideration all the 12 preceding paragraphs to your quote. You would have been a bad student of English summary if you were in a serious class.

    “How much of all the money sourced above and the one for merry-making every other month will go into agricultural reforms? Would it ensure secure land tenure for farmers to enhance large scale production?, train agric extension officers to advise farmers on best farming practices, provide soft loans, reduced prices of agricultural inputs, support infrastructure to facilitate storage and movement of goods, so that our energetic rural youth will not flock to the cities in search of absentee jobs?.”

    You said “However if you value freedom, liberty and all that, why would one be concerned about how the money is used. And why would one think the energic rural youth would flock to the cities and not use their cash to buy agricultural inputs, build storage facilities, roads or invest in training ? Isn’t that the magic of the market ?”

    I’m sorry, but freedom and liberty does not give any one the excuse to make foolish decisions especially when the money to be freely distributed here is borrowed in a people’s name and without any serious baseline data or indeed any reasonable criteria to select the poor people? Would it go to ohousehold heads? Come on, even my illiterate grand mum laughed at the suggestion as she grimaced ” yeah, there are a lot of drunks who will just spend the money on booze”.

    See, its just simplistic to argument that rural folks will accumulate $8 to $15 every two months to invest in agriculture, when they do not even own the land on which they will attempt to farm, or even if they did, would they be able to cart their peasantry produce to the markets since many roads are just filled with pot holes.

    Do you appreciate the value of decentralized decision making at all? You attempt to be smart by suggesting school vouchers. Thats okay, but these so called collectivist/socialist thinkers, including those who advised government knew of vouchers anyway. But then the real reason as many Ghanaians who are the legitimate assessors of this useless policy know it is an elctoral gimmick as we have crucial votes this year.

    Let me reiterate again thatthe market is a process and bound to make mistakes. Even that we expect sensible regulations from government. But seriously, putting all the isms aside, do you seriously think this is the best way out? Aba?? just for three years?? and then what? the beneficiaries ceases to exist? even you don’t expect your father to live forever. We must be clear not to confuse philathropy with serious development issues. You see we in Ghana even under socialist administrations have seen the unitended consequences fo these utopian ideals and left many worse than they were before. Come to Ghana and I will take you around and ask simple villagers about how they ababdoned their dremas becasue fo governmnet free money and what happened to them later. A stranger has wide eyes in deed!!!


  3. Sounds like a South African forum here. Oh I see, are you guys the ones exacting the eveils of apartheid with BEE? I now understand.

    See, Mbelolo, I do not need to be a scholar of Friedman, Hayek or Adam Smith to come to terms with a stupid idea such as getting free money from government when I know it is indeed not free money but will come back as an albastross around our necks – I know it will make me dull, and when I don’t get any longer, i become a social misfit, drunk and produce vengeful street urchins who say in South Africa could add to the crime wave there. We in Ghana are trying to avoid such hell!


  4. Listen to what another Ghanaaian has written about the article in another forum http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=138450&comment=3510017#com

    Date: 2008-01-31 17:28:07

    The fact that Europeans are doing it does not mean that we have to do it in Ghana!

    Europe and the US have well organized systems with checks in place where they identify the most vulnerable of their societies so that fraud and waste is prevented.

    In the case of Ghana however, there is no statistics to identify who is poor and who is not, neither is there any full-proof mechanism to prevent fraud, abuse and waste.

    We are always quick to quote Europe and the US to justify our misguided policies, forgetting that in those societies, laws are respected and fraud is frowned upon, but sad to say in our Ghana, the opposite is the norm.

    This is just another ploy for the greedy politicians to sink their dirty teeth again into the small pie that is left for the country.

    We cannot even manage the payroll of civil servants with thousands of ghose workers being paid every month and the country losing billions of cedis every month.

    What in the world is wrong with Ghanaians, and when can we for once get up and say, enough is enough?

  5. aflakete Says:

    “You confused your socialist dimented position because you failed to take into consideration all the 12 preceding paragraphs to your quote.”

    No, not really. I ignored those 12 paragraphs because they were about other policies. A bit of focus from you guys would be nice for a change.

    As far as the rest of what you said, well, it seems you don’t get what confused me. Do you think poverty alleviation and social policy should be done via direct government intervention ? Do you think this is the worse idea they came up with ? Worse than import substitution plans ? Worse than roads to nowhere ? Worse than building a dam with the hopes of jump-starting industrialisation ? Worse than industrial policy ? Worse than price controls and single-product subsidies ?

  6. Mbelolo Says:

    Mr. Cudjoe, direct cash transfer is a concept with a respectable libertarian history, as discussed in the article I linked. For one example, Milton Friedman advocated a negative income tax, which would give money to those below a poverty threshhold.

    You may wish to disagree with Hayek and Friedman on the subject, that’s certainly fine, but an acknowledgement of the libertarian history of the concept is in order.


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