Bono, Money, and Humanitarianism

Ryan Anderson, writing at First Things, wonders if Bono, with his (RED) campaign, hasn’t drowned out the very voices he is trying to help. Bono’s campaigns rarely ask individuals to sacrifice much of anything (in fact, the (RED) campaign advocates more consumerism)–we simply attempt to have other shoulder the financial sacrifices (whether it be Congress, as with his ONE campaign, or trendy retailers with (RED)). Anderson wonders:

What a bizarre method. Why not appeal to our consciences directly and ask every American to donate 1 percent of our personal budget to the poverty-fighting charity of our choice? The ONE Campaign made significant inroads with the religious communities—having them demand more from the government. Why not ask for a tithe? Why not call for personal contributions instead of political noise-making?

But that would require sacrifice. And that wouldn’t sell. Nor would it be trendy. It’s so much easier to say we can fight AIDS by buying Armani and Gap. It’s so much easier to say we’ll end world poverty by telling Congress to do something about it. My “good-looking” “fine self” sleeps so much better at night knowing that my (RED) purchase has bought pills for someone in Africa, that my signature on the ONE declaration means I’ve done my part.

Additionally, Anderson notes that $2.3 trillion in Western aid has made but a tiny dent in the problems in Africa. Money is not the answer–an environment that foster individual and community development is. Anderson notes that a free market economy would do wonders for ailing African nations, and lest you think he is simply walking the Classical Liberal line, he quotes Pope John Paul II, no friend of unfettered capitalism:

It is also necessary to help these needy people to acquire expertise, to enter the circle of exchange, and to develop their skills in order to make the best use of their capacities and resources. Even prior to the logic of a fair exchange of goods and the forms of justice appropriate to it, there exists something which is due to man because he is man, by reason of his lofty dignity. Inseparable from that required “something” is the possibility to survive and, at the same time, to make an active contribution to the common good of humanity.

Anderson’s conclusion is proper: “In many cases there is no “real solution,” but only a response: love.” Bill Kauffman would agree. We can’t expect to help anyone by simply wearing a bracelet or buying a pair of jeans. The sacrifice is ours to make.