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Hey !

Fascinating write up. Congratulations for taking so much perspective on yourself ! This is prime time for you to consider such important life choices, so don't hesitate to take all the time you need to be sure of your decisions.

Disclaimer: I studied a bit of engineering, a bit of economics in business school, worked in the corporate world and now work in the fight against poverty within a social enterprise. My views are very liberal. I also have a very entrepreneurial character, as reported by my colleagues. I feel our trajectories are not too different - I just have a few more years under my belt I guess.

Reading through your summary of Hickel's points, my immediate reaction was that he is pushing his agenda pretty hard. As others have outlined, both relative and absolute poverty have decreased as a % of the population. Of course the growth of population has outpaced the decrease in poverty, but that's a little dishonest to show only this side of the picture.

Regarding neo-colonialism, it's a mixed bag. Yes, there used to be a lot of foreign interference with coups etc. And it might still be there today - I don't know that there is a good way to quantify this. Nations have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests. Changing that is a daunting task, but if you believe you are able to make it happen, then by all means, pursue it at all costs.

I would just expand on a couple of points:

  • Whether we like it or not, capitalism is the name of the game. I find it more efficient to learn the rules of the game than to try to change it. When you say "For example, farmers in sub-Saharan Africa starve because their produce is undercut by below-cost competition from Europe and the US, where farm subsidies exist in contravention to WTO rules", I think this shows that whoever's idea this is does not understand the game. Sub Saharan African farmers are not connected to global markets in any kind of way. Believing that corn or wheat subsidies in the US are causing corn prices to increase in Botswana is delusional. The cost of bringing that corn to landlocked countries is totally prohibitive, and as a result no ear of corn produced in the US reaches these poor countries. There are cases of African governments importing corn from, say, Mexico once the local production has ran out - to avoid famine !
  • I like to raise the example of two countries to compare the impact of different policies: Rwanda and Burundi. Both countries are very similar in agro ecology, natural resources, population & ethnies, social norms, etc. Following the '94 genocide, you could say that both countries emerged with roughly the same situation - with the exception that Rwanda had lost 1M+ population in the genocide, while Burundi's civil war kept going until ~2003. Both countries adopted widely different policies. Rwanda "gave in" to international aid, working with all the traditional donors you can imagine - WB, EU, USAID, etc. Burundi chose self-reliance, and was much more wary of foreign aid. This was reinforced after the 2015 coup attempt - half of foreign aid was pulled out of the country. While the situation is of course more nuanced than what I am describing, Burundi is now the poorest or 2nd poorest country in the world by GDP per capita, with a GDP growth of 2-3% (nominal !), while Rwanda's GDP has consistently grown by 7-8% over the last 10 years. To illustrate the gap more concretely, let's mention the Covid situation: Rwanda was one of the few countries that were allowed to resume flights to Europe recently, while Burundi's president first claimed that "Burundi was favoured by God, and Covid would spare the country", before his wife was evacuated to Nairobi for emergency treatment, and he himself died of cardiac arrest (probably Covid related).

I could go on for days about this - feel free to reach out directly if you'd like to continue the conversation in private - but in short, I think promoting the sovereignty of a developing country might not be the best solution to accelerate its development. Providing fertiliser to farmers so that they can grow enough food to feed their families, on the other hand, that's impactful and there's no question about it.