The Talented Tenth

According to the business plan of the 10,000 Women project, an investment of $100 million over five years will create 10,000 female entrepreneurs in the developing world. The money goes to business education – MBAs – for women in the global south who, in turn, are expected to create businesses that employ people and grow the economy.

Forget about “it takes a village to raise a child.” The 10,000 Women approach turns the African proverb on its head. According to this entrepreneurial model, it takes a child (who grows up and gets an MBA) to raise a village.

The notion that a small group of talented people will raise up their community is an old one. The African-American intellectual W.E.B. DuBois, for instance, coined the expression “talented tenth” in a 1903 essay in his volume The Negro Problem. “The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men,” DuBois wrote. “The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races.”

Here, in raw form, is an appeal to the elite to turn its talents toward bettering the masses. The entrepreneurial model, while comparably elitist, eschews such moralism. In the cloud-cuckoo-land of the market fundamentalist, the MBA-wielding businesswomen pursue their own self-interest and, through the magic of the market, manage to do good by doing well.This “talented tenth” approach can be found in microfinance as well. Outfits like the Grameen Bank and Kiva provide small loans to women who raise goats, families that run very small businesses, small farmers who need fertilizer. These fledgling entrepreneurs don’t attract the interest of established banks, much less international financial institutions. They borrow small sums of money, grow their businesses, and pay back the loans.

As a narrow strategy – getting credit to poor people who need it – microfinance succeeds admirably. But the larger claims that it can serve as a development strategy is at best questionable. The French economist Esther Duflo has worked hard to develop techniques to assess public policies much as medical researchers test drugs: through randomized control trials. Her team published a report on microfinance that concluded that the technique didn’t increase average consumption, improve levels of education, or boost women’s decision-making. “Duflo’s work has convinced her that the absence of a steady job is what is most likely to be preventing a person in poverty from having an easier life,” writes Ian Parker in The New Yorker.

This criticism goes to the heart of the entrepreneurial “talented tenth” approach. Investing in people is a fine slogan. But it ignores the importance of infrastructure (roads, public transportation, fiberoptic cables), a health care system that sustains a population, and a robust public sector that provides secure jobs. It’s not so easy to squeeze money out of donors by showing them a picture of an irrigation system. The “sponsor-an-entrepreneur” strategy is doing for development what the “sponsor-a-child” strategy did for the Christian Children’s Fund.

In many ways, the 10,000 Women project is the flip side of the corporate remuneration scheme. The “talented tenth” of the corporate world receive enormous bonuses for their putative contributions to the firm. These “exceptional men” – and most of them tend to be men, just as they were in the days of DuBois – pull up the performance and the standards of the rest of their colleagues.

Or do they? The 10,000 Women project, it should be noted, is the brainchild of Goldman Sachs. In April, firm representatives faced charges in front of the Senate that they not only helped precipitate the financial meltdown, but deliberately profited by it. In the hot glare of media attention and public outrage, even Republicans deserted the firm. “There is something unseemly about Goldman betting against the housing market at the same time it is selling to its clients mortgage-backed securities of toxic loans,” Susan Collins (R-ME) said.

The $100 million that Goldman Sachs shells out for the 10,000 Women project is a mere pittance compared to the $16.2 billion in corporate bonuses it distributed in January. Goldman Sachs is translating its backwards strategy from the corporate boardroom to the development world. The result may well be some short-term profit. The MBA-armed women will likely make money, just as “fabulous Fab” Fabrice Tourre, the banker at the heart of the scandal, made a lot of money for Goldman Sachs. But will the 10,000 women actually help the common good?

W.E.B. DuBois ultimately repudiated his “talented tenth” essay. In 1948, he wrote: “When I came out of college into the world of work, I realized that it was quite possible that my plan of training a talented tenth might put in control and power, a group of selfish, self-indulgent, well-to-do men, whose basic interest in solving the Negro problem was personal; personal freedom and unhampered enjoyment and use of the world, without any real care, or certainly no arousing care as to what became of the mass of American Negroes, or of the mass of any people.”

I doubt Goldman Sachs will ever repudiate its own “talented tenth” approach. After all, it is woven into the very texture of the firm and the environment within which it operates. But when will the rest of us wean ourselves of the delusion that a talented tenth – be they entrepreneurs or technocrats or pundits – will deliver us from poverty and the other ills of the world?

Flotilla Fallout

The Israeli government is still reeling from the consequences of its commando raid on the humanitarian flotilla earlier this month. The Netanyahu administration has announced an investigation into the matter, with a sop thrown to its critics in the form of two non-voting international representatives. Meanwhile, several days ago, 6,000 protestors rallied in Tel Aviv against their government’s militarist policies. A young Jewish-American protester, Emily Henochowicz, lost her eye at the Qalandia checkpoint. She told The Washington Post “that her affection for Israel is strong even though she opposes many of its policies.” She doesn’t regret participating in the protest and would do so again.

It’s a shame that Henochowicz didn’t have a chance to testify in front of Congress before members of the House spoke out on the issue. As Foreign Policy In Focus senior analyst Stephen Zunes points out, those Democrats in particular issued a remarkable series of inaccurate, intemperate, and downright foolish statements.

“To rationalize what virtually the entire international legal community recognizes as an act of war, congressional Democrats have engaged in a series of falsifications and radical reinterpretations of international law,” Zunes writes in Democratic Party Defends Israeli Attack. “The first involved a radically overextended notion of maritime sovereignty. The attack took place in international waters, roughly 85 miles from the Israeli coast. International maritime law has long recognized that territorial sovereignty extends only 12 miles out to sea. A Libyan effort in the 1980s to extend its claim of sovereignty into the Gulf of Sidra beyond the 12-mile limit led to a series of deadly clashes between U.S. and Libyan armed forces in order, according to then-President Ronald Reagan, to enforce America’s ‘global Freedom of Navigation program’ to defend ‘our rights on and over the high seas under international law.’ At the time, congressional Democrats joined their Republican colleagues in defending the use of force to challenge Libya’s illegal overreach of its maritime boundaries.”

At the FPIF blog Focal Points, columnist Conn Hallinan discusses the possibility that Israel is planning something much larger: an attack on Iran. “Polls show two out of three Israelis disapprove of the attack on the flotilla, but are the two military men running the Tel Aviv government listening?” he writes. “Or are they about to take advantage of a crisis to launch a regional war that would make the Gaza boat attack look like a glass of spilled milk?”

Finally, in a piece published at TomDispatch and FPIF, I delve into the relationship between Israel and Turkey in the context of Ankara’s much larger foreign policy reorientation. “In 1999, Bill Clinton suggested that if Ankara launched a reformist movement, the twenty-first century could be ‘Turkey’s century.’” I write in Stealth Superpower. “Turkey has indeed heeded Clinton’s advice. Now, Europe and the United States face a choice. If Washington works with Turkey as a partner, it has a far greater chance of resolving outstanding conflicts with Iran, inside Iraq, and between the Palestinians and Israelis, not to mention simmering disputes elsewhere in the Islamic world. If the European Union accepts Turkey as a member, its economic dynamism and new credibility in the Muslim world could help jolt Europe out of its current sclerosis. Spurned by one or both, Turkey’s global influence will still grow.”

What’s Next for Peace Activists?

On May 2, thousands of peace activists gathered in New York for a conference and a march in support of disarmament and non-proliferation. Didn’t hear about it? You’re not alone. As FPIF contributor Lawrence Wittner points out in What’s Next for the Nuclear Disarmament Movement?, “To the dismay of their organizers, these important and very colorful events were met with an almost total news blackout by the mass communications media. The best of the lot, the PBS News Hour, devoted about 30 seconds to the May 2 rally. And that was it. None of the major newspapers or commercial television networks in the United States, including those in New York City, gave any coverage to these civil society events.”

Over at our blog, meanwhile, blogmeister Russ Wellen tackles the same issue in a three-part post. “For most of us the fear of nuclear weapons has narrowed to a nuclear terrorist attack,” he writes. “We believe either that the end of the Cold War has freed us from the threat of war between nuclear powers or we’re convinced that deterrence works. Speaking of tough arguments to win, demythologizing deterrence is almost as difficult as explaining to pro-lifers that pro-choice is not murder.”

Unify the security budgets to rein in out-of-control military spending, urges FPIF staffer Miriam Pemberton. “Most experts believe it is far more likely that a nuclear device will approach our shores smuggled in a ship than delivered by a missile,” she writes in Fresh Thinking on National Security. “And so it would make sense to be spending more on Coast Guard inspections of container ships than on missile defense. But when legislators vote to approve billions for new missile systems, they aren’t required to weigh this decision against cuts to the Coast Guard. Likewise, when they approve new fighter jet programs, they don’t weigh that investment against the costs of expanding the diplomatic corps.”

Then there’s the landmines treaty. The United States still hasn’t ratified it (and the “threat” of a North Korean invasion remains an idée fixe at the Pentagon, as FPIF contributor Caleb Rossiter points out in this FPIF blog post). One argument the anti-ratification crowd should consider is the economic one: Demining is good for economic development.

In Rwanda, demining has opened up more land for agriculture, industry, and schools. “Each year in Laos, the Vietnam War continues to claim hundreds of causalities long after the conflict’s end,” writes FPIF contributor John Perra in Demining for Gold. “Of the 2.5 million munitions dropped on the country by the United States, 30 percent failed to detonate, leaving the landscape polluted with explosives hindering socioeconomic development and directly threatening the Laotians who try to collect them for scrap metal.”

Racism and Recession

Racism and extreme right-wing activism has surged in Europe. Much of it is directed at immigrants, who arrived during the earlier economic booms to take jobs that locals generally didn’t want. “With the collapse of the boom, however, local perceptions about migrants are undergoing rapid changes — even among those who are not driven by explicitly racist ideologies,” writes FPIF contributor Jayati Ghosh in Racism and Recession in Europe. “Migrant labor remains critical for many activities, as immigrants continue to do jobs that locals no longer want to or can do. But immigrants are increasingly seen as threats, not only to local culture but also to the employability of local workers. They are accused of driving down wages, of creating unsanitary conditions, of making public spaces insecure, and of much else.”

In Africa, colonial powers often used “human rights” and “humanitarianism” as excuses for military intervention, writes Caleb Rossiter in Liberals Back Dictator’s Ethnic War. “In the case of Uganda, human rights groups and their liberal supporters in the U.S. Congress are making a similar mistake,” he argues. “Their calls for action in support of human rights are strengthening both Museveni, who has ruled Uganda since his own army of child soldiers placed him in power in 1986, and AFRICOM, the Pentagon command established by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.”

Finally, we’ve got our 60-Second Expert feature back up and running. If you missed Tim Shorrock’s powerful expose of U.S. involvement in the 1980 Kwangju uprising in South Korea, you can read a condensed version of it here. The piece was also featured in Jeff Stein’s round-up of intelligence news in The Washington Post.

John Feffer is co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus.