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Lecture explores U.S. role

Michael Fernandes | Thursday, October 4, 2012

What would happen if America ceased to be – if it failed to provide the leadership in the international arena for which it is best known?  

Professor Paul Collier, director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at the University of Oxford, raised these questions and more in his lecture Wednesday titled “International Human Development: Has the U.S. a Leadership Role?”

Collier, whose research includes the political economy of democracy and poverty, emphasized the distinct way in which the United States must exert its influence in the world so it may more effectively foster human development.

He said the United States must lead by employing soft power, the power of influence and example, as opposed to the traditional notion of hard, physical power.

With its “power of example, of imitation, [soft power] is much, much stronger than people appreciate,” Collier said.

The U.S. should also use soft power to communicate particular values that have empowered America but are lacking in Africa, he said.

Motivation is an important aspect of any healthy, vibrant society, including the United States, Collier said. Prosperous nations and successful organizations empower individuals to make a leap of identity, internalize objectives and become motivated. Africa, he said, suffers from a chronic “failure of motivation.”

“If you look at the public sector across Africa – schools, health clinics – the fundamental problem is the astonishingly low productivity of the labor force because the labor force is not motivated,” he said.

Collier defined another pivotal value, neutral regard, as two-pronged: it empowers individuals to achieve a cooperative solution to problems and allows for redistribution from the better-off to the worse-off in society. Here too, he said, the developing world struggles and must look to the developed world as an example.

“Quite systematically, there are big variances, big differences, between the ability of different societies to reach [a] cooperative outcome,” he said. “It is much more difficult for poorer societies than wealthy societies.”

Collier emphasized the power of integrity, which has reeled in the shadows of dictatorships and crumbling democratic governments.

“The poorest countries have enormous problems with high levels of corruption, low levels of integrity in their government,” he said.

But Collier said the virtue of stewardship – one that even Americans have not fully embraced– is one of the most pressing.

“Stewardship is the central task of the present generation of African decision makers,” he said, “in the next decade there is going to be a resource boom.”

Collier praised American society as an exemplar, but stressed the urgency of communicating its values to a world greatly in need.

“[The developing world] needs role models of high integrity,” he said, “which is something that America has been able to deliver dramatically over the years.”