JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: IS FOREIGN AID WORKING?   Leave a comment

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY MARTIN WOLF IN THE FINANCIAL TIMES

This is a murky question, and necessarily so since foreign aid is a murky subject.

A good portion of foreign aid has nothing to do with wanting to help people. It represents a form of bribery, very much resembling the “pensions” that the king of Spain or France in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries would award to important people in other countries.

Keeping influential people abroad under “pensions” is a very effective method of limiting their behavior.

Aid payments also are a way of securing votes in international forums such as the UN. The US, for example, regularly quietly threatens those it wants to vote a certain way with reduction or removal of aid.

Much of aid goes to making corrupt leaders wealthy – and in third-world countries, there is rarely any other kind – or to building prestige projects which have little or no economic value.

A good portion of aid goes directly or indirectly to military projects, thus further impoverishing already poor lands in the name of government security.

Another good portion of aid gets spent on salaries and travel expenses for middle-class Westerners who supervise projects. While some agencies in the world do genuinely important work through either paid or volunteer work, there is a large cadre of professional humanitarian types who absorb substantial amounts of aid themselves while helping relatively little.

Much of aid also comes with conditions that make it much less useful than it might be otherwise.

The US, for example, has long stood against the propagation or abortion and even birth control in programs it supports.

There is no greater single thing we can do for the progress of many poor lands than vigorously supporting all forms of fertility control. Overpopulation – in relation to a place’s resources and economic opportunities – is the world’s most serious economic and social problem.

It also happens to be the world’s greatest ecological problem, dwarfing the impact of all the anti-pollution efforts of the world’s advanced countries.

I actually do not know what the answer is concerning aid. It may well be one of those questions for which there is no good answer.

Individuals and certain private and government programs do some great work, but that has to do with their motivation and good management, but the greed and self-importance of our own governments and institutions may render impossible any systematic effective approach to aid.

That’s a gloomy view, but then it is the damned human race we are talking about.

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