Bono Affirms That Capitalism Alleviates Poverty More Than Aid
Religion & Liberty Online

Bono Affirms That Capitalism Alleviates Poverty More Than Aid

In the world of celebrity-do-gooders, Bono has earned the reputation of being more than a mouthpiece. Over two decades, the musician has created the ONE campaign, worked with Amnesty International, collaborated on the Band Aid concerts, and became increasingly involved in poverty-stricken Africa. He worked for years to promote debt forgiveness for African nations, while working for increased foreign aid.

And now? Bono says capitalism is the answer. Rudy Carrasco writes at Prism Magazine:

…Marian Tupy, who writes at the Cato Institute blog, ‘For years, Bono has been something of a pain, banging on about the need for billions of dollars in Western foreign aid…’

The world has taken notice that Bono has adjusted his economic tune. In a November 2012 speech at Georgetown University, Bono said, ‘Aid is just a stopgap. Commerce [and] entrepreneurial capitalism take more people out of poverty than aid.’ One month earlier Bono had shared at a tech conference in Ireland that he was humbled to realize the importance of capitalism and entrepreneurship in philanthropy.

These recent declarations, however, have been brewing for a few years. A 2010 New York Times op-ed by Bono notes how ‘lefty campaigners’ and business elites are learning to collaborate: “The energy of these opposing groups is coming together [because both] see poor governance as the biggest obstacle they face.”

Bono’s affirmation—that business takes more people out of poverty than aid—should be a rallying cry for a new generation.

George Ayittey, an African entrepreneur, met Bono in 2007 and gave the rock star a copy of his book, Africa Unchained: The Blueprint For Development. Some of it must have taken hold, as Bono has come to acknowledge that foreign aid is merely a “stopgap” for poverty, not a realistic solution.

Carrasco (who works for Partners Worldwide) has much first-hand experience of how capitalism, entrepreneurship and enterprise works to help ease poverty in a way foreign aid never has.

Two examples of this multiple bottom line are Dignity Coconut in the Philippines and Broetje Orchards in the state of Washington. Dignity Coconut operates a coconut processing plant in Cagmanaba Barangay that produces virgin coconut oil and coconut shell powder for global markets. Their quadruple bottom line emphasizes shared profit, community transformation, spiritual formation, and environmental stewardship. At Broetje Orchards, one of the largest privately owned apple farms in America, more than a thousand employees benefit from a quadruple bottom line of people, planet, profit, and purpose. A number of the employees participate as de facto program officers in the company’s philanthropic decision making.

‘Job creators and innovators are just the key, and aid is just a bridge,’ says Bono. I agree. From my years leading an inner-city ministry in California I know the difference between relief and development. Relief is a man taking home bread from the food pantry so his family eats that night. Development is that man earning a paycheck at a sustainable job—a job sustained by sales of products and services that people want, not by a grant that runs out after a period of time.

The Rev. Robert Sirico has said that business isn’t always glamorous, but it is the way out of poverty: “Business is the normative way in which people rise out of poverty, not state-to-state aid, not the largess of politicians and bureaucrats.” We’re glad to see that Bono is catching on.


Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.