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Some people believe authoritarian development pays off and justifies violating someone else's rights. But we have to be humble about the limits of our knowledge. It's a strong burden of proof for someone to say, "We have good enough evidence that we're willing to take away your rights to make you better off."

You talk about Bill Gates in this context. He's been giving away billions of dollars to help people. Where does he fit into your understanding of this?

I think Bill Gates is the poster child for the technocratic illusion—that alleviating poverty is purely a technical matter. That there is just a long list of technical solutions to finance. The illusion is that you are paying no attention to who is actually implementing these technical solutions and that there are no politics or moral choices involved in who is actually doing the implementing.

Of course, I'm not disagreeing with giving medicine to sick people. [The Gates Foundation] is doing great things with medical aid directly or indirectly throughout malaria-prone regions like Africa.

Bill Gates is the poster child for the technocratic illusion.

But Gates lavished praise on the government of Ethiopia in his annual letter last year, explicitly giving them all the credit for the reduction in child mortality in Ethiopia. He overlooks direct evidence that the government of Ethiopia is not at all benevolent. Unfortunately, Meles Zenawi and his successors have been serial human rights abusers.

But equally importantly, the data Gates celebrates is incredibly shaky. About the only safe thing we can say is that there is a significant child mortality decline, which we should all celebrate. It's great—but it is a regional thing that's happening all over Africa, and all over the world. No one government should get credit for this if it's happening everywhere.

If Bill Gates would just talk about his technical solutions and the direct effects they would have on helping people with real needs, then I'm very sympathetic. It's wonderful that he's so generous with his own money. But why did he have to praise an oppressive, human-rights-abusing government, siding with the oppressor against the oppressed? There is a technocratic blindness to the moral dimension of development.

What about when some American evangelical Christian leaders get involved in, for example, Uganda or Rwanda?

I think Rick Warren, when he collaborates with President Kagame of Rwanda, is suffering from the same moral blindness as Bill Gates. You just have to open your eyes to the full picture and understand that autocracy is an evil system. I'm very comfortable in making that moral statement because autocracy does things to people without their consent.

And Kagame is committed to maintaining autocracy at all costs. People are overlooking clear evidence of indirect involvement in war crimes in the Congo, assassinations and attempted assassinations of political opponents. Kagame is understandably concerned about protecting minority rights after the genocide. But he's also been involved in wars that are creating misery and death and suffering, and backing people who are accused of war crimes. And then somehow, Kagame is able to turn on the charm for American church leaders. It baffles me.

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Poverty Is a Moral Problem