Thursday, 30 December 2010


I've just finished Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, whose radical individualist philosophy is provocative and challenging.

At its heart, the book is an argument for the human mind: she argues that science, medicine, industry - progress - result from brilliant people applying reason to the problems they face.

However much ordinary folk toil in labour, she says, it is only the creative, intelligent, fearless few who invent and lead, so producing value in the capitalist system and driving forward humanity.

How many people could have discovered electricity? How many people could have produced the ipad?

Perhaps there is a rather unpalatable fact that some people, by their genes, or upbringing or disposition, are always going to be more productive than others.

It may not be fair and it may not be the way we would have wished it to be. But if it is an historical fact that the effort of a few individuals has been central to human progress, then shouldn't this fact be reflected in development policy?

What would a 'pro-ability', rather than a 'pro-poor' policy look like? What would we change if we wanted to maximise achievement rather than fairness?

Here are some ideas:
  • Maths, science and technology olympiads for a country's brightest students
  • Overseas university scholarships for promising students (with a monetary incentive to live in-country after graduation)
  • Seed funding for entrepreneurs who have shown early signs of success