September 27, 2004
I should note that it’s easy for Americans to miss what a big deal this is. But my brother (who’s quite the motorhead himself) spends a lot of time with Nigerian mechanics and often remarks how under-tooled they are. He always takes a bunch of stuff over there with him to give away, as it can make a huge difference in someone’s ability to earn a living. Things aren’t quite as scarce in Iraq, I imagine, but it’s still a much bigger deal there than it would be here.
UPDATE: Virginia Postrel emails that next time my brother goes, I should solicit reader donations for him to take more tools. Not a bad idea.
Via our effectively-nonprofit (well, it never turns one) record company, we had a sort of foreign-aid program for African musicians going for a while. We put their stuff on MP3.com and let them earn the “payback for playback” royalties. Those weren’t a lot of money for most Americans (a few people made a lot, but a few hundred dollars a month — what my band, Mobius Dick, was earning — was doing pretty well). But a few hundred dollars a month is a lot of money in places like Uganda and Nigeria. Sadly, that was another casualty of MP3.com’s collapse. If we can get micropayment-style systems working, I think that African musicians and artists would really benefit. There’s a lot of talent there that’s going underutilized for want of capital, in a whole range of fields.