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The Reith lectures

When Lord Reith was Director-General of the BBC, the BBC was admired around the world. The annual lectures that honour him were delivered by persons of note including Bertrand Russell, John Kegan, Arnold Toynbee, and my old teacher, JZ Young, a zoologist and neurophysiologist, who has been described as "one of the most influential biologists of the 20th century".

The lecture this year was just given by American economist Jeffrey Sachs. He was, I believe, repeating the ideas in his 2005 work The End of Poverty. Sachs said that Africa’s governance is poor because Africa is poor and we should pour in £billions more than we have already given. This flies in the face of what African economists have told us.

They say that Africa is poor because its governance is poor. Usually there is no rule of law, no democracy, and no transparent accountability. Sachs ignores their real and inconvenient evidence. For instance, African children and African productivity have been badly damaged because kleptocratic governments have stolen money that should have been used to tackle malaria.

The rule of law does not come without a struggle, as the Liberty Timeline attests. Without the rule of law some people in a country may be very rich, but most people will be terribly poor.

With people such as Mr Sachs advising the Secretary-General of the United Nations, it is no mystery why the nations of Africa have become poorer despite massive amounts of aid. Having said this, I will note that the opportunities and challenges for Africa are complex. African farmers have been hurt by the European Union’s unfair trade policies as well.

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