The smartphone and the Third World

It’s no use sending governmental aid to Third World countries.  Almost all of them are dictatorships and the money finds its way quickly into rulers’ hands and as loyalty bribes to their immediate supporters. This has not only been the practical experience of the last 50 years of governmental aid but also several economists such as William Easterly and Angus Deaton (the winner of this year’s Nobel prize in Economics) have all said the same after what amounts to lifetimes’ study of the problem.

The best that can be done, according to Angus Deaton, is for the Western-based charities to teach those at subsistence levels of poverty a few minimal techniques which can be carried out with modest donations placed directly into the hands of individuals, not governments — use of a bicycle, new condensation and irrigation schemes to save water for better crops, sand dams, very simple technologies, better midwifery care, safe abortion techniques, reading and writing, etc — in order to lift them just onto the health side of the poverty threshold.

Any advancement from then on requires massive investment in further education, advanced health care, scientific R&D, production for goods that can sell into the trading network of the dozen advanced countries.and thus simply can’t be done given the governmental corruption of most deserving countries.

William Easterley goes a little bit further in his article in today’s Sunday Times. The people of the Third World countries, indoctrinated as most of them are into cultural submission must be stimulated into claiming political freedom. This can only arise initially from exceptional individuals. Easterley thinks that the idea of freedom is actually sparking into life and in the same way that it did in the case of rare individuals in no more than four countries on the northern rim of Europe — Britain, France, Holland, Germany — in the 17th and 18th centuries in refusing to be cowed by the dominant political power of the time, the Medieval Church.

So, how could the idea of freedom be stimulated? I suggest that we now have the possibility via the mobile phone.  Still too expensive to be bought by more than a small fraction of Third world populations at present, its price will undoubtedly become at least a quarter of what they are now — and very possibly less — if the previous history of electronic goods such as radio and television are any guide.

However, because I think that the minimum threshold of a country’s advancement requires leading edge scientific research and this, in turn, already needs some sort of highly profitable industry to pay for it, then even with the cheapest smartphones and most skilful propaganda from the advanccd countries stirring up the idea of freedom, I still cannot see how the Third World can develop as we have done.

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