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Telling the unvarnished truth about government “aid”

“It is easier to search for your own solutions to your own problems than to those of others. Most of the recent success stories are countries that not get a lot of foreign aid and did not spend a lot of time in IMF programs, two of the indicators of the recent indicator of the White Man’s burden…Most of the recent disasters are just the opposite – tons of foreign aid and much time spent in IMF constraints. This of course involves some reverse causality….the disasters were getting IMF assistance and foreign aid because they were disasters, while the IMF and the donors bypassed success stories because those countries didn’t need the help. This does not prove that foreign assistance causes disaster, but it does show that outlandish success is very much possible without Western tutelage, while repeated treatments don’t seem to stem the tide of disaster in the failures. Most of the recent success in the world economy is happening in Eastern and southern Asia, not as a result of some global plan to end poverty but for homegrown reasons.”

The White Man’s Burden, pages 345-346, by William Easterly (2006).

Easterly is a US-based economics professor and has been a senior economist at the World Bank, as well as a columnist and regular commentator. His book, which despite the title is anything but a piece of Western triumphalism, is an example of a man who is prepared to discard ideas, however seemingly noble, if the results don’t stack up. And it is a book that ought to be compulsory reading for Britain’s coalition government as it continues to pour billions into overseas aid, despite the questionable results and even more questionable assumptions behind it.

For far too long, the late writer and economist, Peter Bauer, was, like John the Baptist, a “voice crying in the wilderness” when it came to government aid programmes. Let’s hope more people wake up to the nonsense that a lot of so-called “aid” actually is.

7 comments to Telling the unvarnished truth about government “aid”

  • Britain’s overseas aid might also be a matter of influence-buying. That could not be defended or even acknowledged out loud, but it would be more understandable than the present explanation, that India still needs Britain’s help.

  • Wolfie

    Britain’s foreign aid target is based on nothing to do with the benefits or otherwise accruing to the recipients. It is a sacrifice designed to demonstrate the moral worthiness of the donor.

    It is just like carbon targets – a religious devotion to the green religion which must be made regardless of the ineffectiveness of doing so on the supposed evil it is meant to prevent.

  • Shockwave's logically considered opinion of Michael Bay's cinematic atrocities

    Wrong. It’s corporate welfare disguised as “aid”; bung a few fat bribes of taxpayer’s money to foreign governments so British companies get lucrative contracts. Why do you think Cameron and co visit India to “drum up support” for Brit business, even though that is not the job of the government.

    Indeed, why do our politicians travel abroad anywhere; in this age of video-conferencing, there is no need for summits or embassies.

    Anyhow, Germany’s vastly superior public transport is already subsidised by British taxpayers and long-suffering commuters, so India isn’t that much of a stretch in terms of Government policy, given we subsidise Germany.

  • Runcie Balspune

    that India still needs Britain’s help

    Came across this article the other day:

    “The problem is that you can see now in looking back, once you move your manufacturing offshore, you’re training your supplier to become your competitor,” said Lou Lenzi, general manager of design for GE Appliances.

    Having been subject to IT outsourcing, I can’t help thinking this is just the same thing applies to India. Once your benefactor becomes a competitor, then surely it is time to stop giving.

  • Andrew

    Surely as regards this UK governent’s (ring fenced) aid programme, it was all about ‘detoxifying’ the Tory brand, which iDave has put above all other priorities.

  • Ernie G

    I am sure that there are happy exceptions, but my impression is that in many cases the aid funds things like vanity airlines, layers of corrupt bureaucrats, palaces, Mercedes Benzes, and Swiss or Cayman Islands bank accounts.

  • Paul Marks

    Lord Peter Bauer proved many years ago that government “aid” was a demented idea (see “Dissent on Development” and many other works).

    The only good thing about the 12 billion Pound gvovernment overseas aid deparment is that it was as nice visual aid showing that the British government had no intention of getting its spending under control.

    If the British government (Cameron, Clegg and the rest of the nonenities) had any real intention of getting government spending under contol the first thing they would have done is to ABOLISH this absurd overseas aid departement (and then gone to abolish the department of “Culture, Media and Sport” and then “Trade and Insustry” and then on and on).

    Instead they INCREASED the government aid budget (partly at the urgeing of a certain nasty little man who has been in the news recently).

    Therefore the government borrowing figures that came out last week (which showed that govenrment spending is totally out of control) should have come as a shock to nobody.

    Cameron, Clegg and so on never had any intention of getting government spending under control – the department of overseas aid was indeed a useful visual aid showing that.