In a speech last week to Georgetown University students, U2 frontman Bono acknowledged that his support for free markets might be surprising.
“Rock star preaches capitalism,” Bono said. “Shocker. Wow. Sometimes I hear myself and I just can’t believe it.”
He’s no libertarian; Bono has worked for decades to increase foreign aid to Africa, particularly for AIDS relief (he remains a great fan of President George W. Bush, who did more on that front than any previous president).
But as he challenged Georgetown students to look realistically at global poverty, he spoke of what actually works. Foreign aid is a temporary measure, he said.
“Commerce, entrepreneurial capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid, of course, we know that,” he declared. “We need Africa to become an economic powerhouse. It’s not just in their interest, it’s in ours. It’s in our national interest, in our national security interest too. We want to see the region fulfill its potential.”
He said the most powerful force for Africa will be “the nerd.”
“Because it’s the nerds, the innovators, the programmers who are changing the game not only here, in America, but even more in places like Africa which are more mobile than we are,” Bono said. “Africa is the second-largest mobile market after Asia. This is the era of the Afro-nerd.”
That wasn’t the only point he made that conservatives would embrace.
“The disease that kills the most people in the world and the world’s poor is corruption,” he declared. “But we have the vaccine. It’s called transparency.”
And that’s being assisted by technology, he added.
“African citizens are holding governments and companies to account,” he said. “In Uganda, they’re monitoring elections with mobile phones and cameras. In Kenya, they’re using websites to expose officials who are on the take.”
And then Bono — whose Irish band played the Super Bowl in 2002 — began to praise America itself.
“Because America is an idea, isn’t it?” he pointed out. “I mean, Ireland’s a great country, but it’s not an idea. Great Britain’s a great country, but it’s not an idea. That’s how we see you around the world — as one of the greatest ideas in human history. Right up there with the Renaissance, right up there with crop rotation, and the Beatles’ White Album.”
He made no apology for idolizing America.
“This country was the first to claw its way out of darkness and put that on paper,” he said. “And God love you for it. Because these aren’t just American ideas anymore. There’s no copyright on them. You’ve brought them into the world.”
It’s rarely a good idea for an entertainer to start talking economics or politics. Those aren’t their areas of expertise. But that rarely stops them. So it’s nice, from time to time, hearing a rock star talking sense.