TOS Blog: Daily Commentary from an Objectivist Perspective

Is Africa the Next Beneficiary of the Industrial Revolution?

Starting in Scotland and England in the late 1700s and quickly expanding to America and beyond, the Industrial Revolution opened the floodgates of innovation and wealth creation, leading to rapidly improving living standard and increased life expectancy among the general population.

But, as economist Charles Robertson writes for CNN, “Africa largely missed out on this journey.” Robertson hopes that is about to change:

Over the past decade, the billion people who live in Africa have experienced the fastest growth the continent has ever seen, and many of its countries (Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Guinea) are among the fastest growing in the world. A growing body of evidence backs our view that as Africa’s population doubles to two billion over the next several decades, its GDP will increase from $2 trillion today to $29 trillion in today’s money by 2050.

Among the reasons for his optimism, Robertson cites Africa’s young population, the rapid spread of cell phones and other technologies, an increase in banking, higher prices for exports to China, and increased oil production.

Although each of these things undoubtedly can contribute to Africa’s economic success, Robertson buries in this list the most important element: government reforms toward protecting individual rights. The reason Africa has remained poor while other regions have prospered is that much of Africa has been overrun by tribal warfare, government corruption, and state-sanctioned violence against individuals.

As Ayn Rand observed, in order to pursue life-enhancing values, men must be free to do so. They must be free to think and to apply the products of their reasoning minds to the task of producing values. When tribal warlords or bad governments perpetrate violence against individuals and steal the product of their effort, they harm people, destroy existing wealth, and cut off the possibility of creating new wealth. When government recognizes and protects people’s rights by thwarting criminals, protecting property rights, and so on, it frees people to thrive as individuals and, consequently, as a society.

Robertson sees hope for Africa in the spread of democracy. But democratic voting is a value only in the context of a rights-respecting republic. To thrive over the coming decades, what the people of Africa need above all else is to recognize individual rights and to achieve governments that protect people’s rights.

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Image: iStockPhoto

Posted in: Individual Rights and Law

Comments are welcome so long as they are civil.
  • John Shepard

    Well said, Mr. Armstrong!

  • Anonymous

    Democracy without individual rights might bring a greatly retarded, scheduled and rationed advancement in material conditions of life. Not much improvement in the overall quality of life. It would still be very oppressive. But, hey, it might be enough to thrill devoted altruists, secular and religious. They won’t care about any ‘trouble making’ egoists who think things can be even better. Egoists will have to become the majority, then establish republics from individual rights. Then they’ll ALL get the full benefit of an industrial revolution in Africa. So will the rest of the world.

  • John Gold

    It’s good that Africa is doing better and that some countries are embracing a more free enterprise approach. However, the evidence suggests that a group can’t rise higher than its IQ and, unfortunately, the IQ of sub-Saharan Africans tends to be quite low (75 at best).

    Books such as The Bell Curve, The Global Bell Curve, and IQ and the Wealth of Nations are a strong antidote to environmental and cultural explanations for the lack of success of certain groups.

  • Martin Lundqvist

    Oh really? I wonder what the antidote to racism is? Because that’s the theory you are advocating right there!

  • Anonymous

    Maybe he’s being racist, but maybe not. What do ‘IQ’ tests measure? Is it, purely, how much brains somebody has? Or is it how much more brains he seems to have since he has lots of knowledge?

    If, along with more political freedom, sub-Saharan Africans start getting more education & skills, they’ll advance economically & they’ll acquire higher living stds. and, uh, start scoring better in ‘IQ’ tests. But, they always already had as much brains as anybody else ever had. Otherwise, their new freedom & knowledge won’t take them very far.

    Now, environmental & cultural explanations for their lack of success are going away, freeing up their brains. They’ll go far. What was the antidote to those explanations of failure? The Bell Curve? The Global Bell Curve, and IQ? Might be part of it. Wealth of Nations? Could definitely be part of it. A mere modification of world views could be it.

    I see nothing in John Gold’s comments saying, or hardly suggesting, racism and that sub-Saharan Africans have any less brains than anybody else.

  • Martin Lundqvist

    I think you missed the topic here. His points on “sub-saharan africans” has less IQ all ties into the same argument that blacks-are-stupid in general (the thesis of which is propagated in those “Bell Curve” books he recommends).

    As for environment and culture… obviously those are hugely important. If obstructive bureaucrats refuse to let you start a business, or a Robert Mugabe confiscates your land to hand it out to his goons, then that is very much influential on your chance for success. And if this environment is accepted in the general mind (that is, the culture at large), because they lack Western values, then you obviously won’t get any help or assistance from other people to fight this tyrrany.

    To sum it up: to blame the failure of Africa on black brain genetics instead of philosophy and politics, that is racism demonstrated right there.

  • Anonymous

    So, I suppose Mr. Gold IS demonstrating racism, right here. As fer envir. & culture, there must be some change of philo., for the better, going on, yielding some freedom. That’ll yield acquisition of more knowledge & skills, econ. advancement & higher living stds. And, if ‘IQ’ tests just make you look smarter if you know more, they’ll start scoring higher on them. But, they won’t need that glitz. They’ll show their brains by their advancement, and if there are IQ tests that just show ACTUAL brains, that’ll formally confirm what they already show.

  • John Gold

    Why is it racist to point out that IQ measures intelligence and that Sub-Saharan Africans score quite low on IQ tests?

    The evidence supports the idea that this IQ gap is genetic. Consider the fact that black IQs regress to a lower mean than whites, blacks adopted into white homes don’t show an improvement in their IQ, etc.

    There is also the general fact that IQ tends to be fixed. You don’t find groups of low IQ Chinese. For example, Indonesians in Indonesia have IQs of 85. Second generation Indonesians in the Netherlands have IQs of 87 even though they have gone through the Dutch school system and speak Dutch fluently. There may be an explanation for this which is not genetic, but I’m hard pressed to come up with one.

  • John Gold

    Anyone interested in the subject should look at the essays by Rushton/Jensen and R.A Nisbett on the issue. They are available on the web. I think Rushton/Jensen get the better of the debate.

  • John Gold

    Anyone interested in the subject should look at the essays by Rushton/Jensen and R.A Nisbett on the issue. They are available on the web. I think Rushton/Jensen get the better of the debate.