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Does aid to evil regimes cement them in power? Should we do it anyway?

When I was young I read many earnest articles saying that international aid should be directed towards eradicating the long term causes of famine and poverty rather than short term fixes for specific disasters. Back then I was convinced by such arguments, but later I reversed my opinion. Give generously in emergencies, yes, but most government-to-government foreign aid was well described by development economist Peter Bauer: “Aid is a phenomenon whereby poor people in rich countries are taxed to support the lifestyles of rich people in poor countries”. The money from the sky is not merely wasted but counterproductive:

Governments embarked on fanciful schemes. Private investors, lacking confidence in public policies or in the steadfastness of leaders, held back. Powerful rulers acted arbitrarily. Corruption became endemic. Development faltered, and poverty endured.

Yet it remains true that when catastrophe strikes it is often only governments who have the power – the credit, the personnel, the ships and aircraft – to render aid quickly. In most such cases I unhesitatingly say, do it. Yeah, it might be nicer if we were not forced to pay taxes for any cause at all but when people are dying by the thousands don’t wait for Libertopia to evolve before helping them.

However it is at least arguable that one situation where even emergency aid can end up doing net harm is when the regime in charge of the country stricken by famine or disaster is so bad that perpetuating it (as the aid will undoubtedly do) is an even worse catastrophe.

Is Afghanistan such a case? This Guardian article does a fair job of presenting both sides of the dilemma, albeit from a starting point far more in favour of international aid than mine.

19 comments to Does aid to evil regimes cement them in power? Should we do it anyway?

  • Rudolph Hucker

    According to Wikipaedia

    For Bauer, government-to-government aid was neither necessary nor sufficient for development, and may actually hinder it. The danger of aid, according to Bauer, is that it increases the power of government, leads to corruption, misallocates resources, and erodes civil society.

    I concur, and would go further.

    I have to confess that at various times I have worked for (cough) various government agencies and also (cough) for a certain UK NGO charity based in Oxford.

    With the government agencies, the government-to-government aid was fairly blatant in its purpose. Many millions of pound were “donated” in “foreign aid”, but usually with strings attached. The biggest string was that the “donation” was in the form of guaranteed loans to buy products and services from UK businesses. Sometimes the products might be exported as innocent-sounding “agricultural machinery” but later turn out to be surprisingly lethal.

    But with the NGO’s the corruption is much more insidious. People aren’t surprised when governments are “economical with the actuality”, but they don’t expect high-street charities to mislead them. People would donate to the charity in the innocent belief that nearly all the donations would go to the intended countries and projects. The one I was briefly involved with spend about 80% on “corporate costs” and senior people being paid “competitive salaries”. While I was there it was not uncommon to have three or four line managers “managing” the same one person doing actual work. Only a small fraction went were you might think it should go, and often with very dubious results.

    I forget where I found the “league table” showing all the major charities and what percentage went on “corporate costs”. The one charity with the lowest of all “corporate costs” was Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), so that’s where my donations go now.

  • Rudolph Hucker

    Oh, and another thing about that Guardian article. You have to wonder about who writes them, or whether they are copying and pasting from press releases.


    The group, including two former national security advisers, a former chief of defence staff and a former ambassador to Afghanistan … The group say a distinction needs to be drawn between money that can still be withheld to try to leverage political concessions from the Taliban, such as large-scale infrastructure projects, and money to enable government institutions to deliver basic human services and to keep the economy from collapsing.

    Sniff, sniff, security advisers and a former chief of defence staff? Smells like something bovine.

    Didn’t we see, within days of the collapse of Kabul, stories about Afghanistan signing deals with China? For China to take over the exploitation of some of the largest untapped mineral resources in the world? Resources that had effectively been locked-up for twenty or more years, but no way would Afghanistan now want “international aid” from Alliance Countries. We’ve reaped what we’ve sown, and no amount of special pleading will change that.

    Anyway, aren’t we’re already too busy right now with “international aid” for the Ukraine?

  • Bruce

    Gee, who ‘da thunk that vast amounts of money being sloshed about by virtue signalers might just prove counter-productive.

    Then again, as we all become MUCH more aware of the political proclivities of the “virtue signalers” and “concerned citizens”, it is all perfectly understandable.

    Rob the western “coping class” to bolster the turd world tyrant class. And it IS “robbery”, with threats of violence. Tried NOT paying taxes, lately?

    And, as always, FOLLOW THE SPILLAGE.

  • Martin

    I dread to think what the total amount of aid (civilian or military) was wasted in Afghanistan. There was some dark humour when the Taliban seized all that American built hardware last summer. As well as providing further proof that Brandon and his woke generals and admirals are morons, it also completely exposed the aidmongers.

  • People would donate to the charity in the innocent belief that nearly all the donations would go to the intended countries and projects. The one I was briefly involved with spent about 80% on “corporate costs” and senior people being paid “competitive salaries”. While I was there it was not uncommon to have three or four line managers “managing” the same one person doing actual work. (Rudolph Hucker, February 2, 2022 at 9:05 pm)

    ‘Non-Profit’ is one of those terms, like ‘Anti-Racism’, that modern political correctness too often makes the opposite of its literal meaning. Nowadays, ‘aid’ no longer only creates the power imbalance in the target country that Peter Bauer observed. The source country also suffers as the sector becomes a special interest, typically battening on both compelled taxpayer and misled donor while competitively-salaried loudmouths exert undue influence on the government and public mind alike, often pursuing woke goals little related to the nominal task.

    Thanks for the info about Médecins Sans Frontières’ low corporate costs. It’s a tough task today identifying the charities that are genuinely not overly profitable for their managers.

  • Phil B

    Afghanistan does not need aid cash. It can sell some of the 85 Billion dollars worth of weaponry and kit to (say) Ukraine and earn foreign income like that. Even at cents on the dollar, that is a hell of a lot of cash, in anybody’s estimation.

    I dare say that both Russia and China (and others) have purchased several examples of the latest and best American kit (secure radios, aircraft, computers, rangefinders, tanks etc. etc. and so forth) and would be willing to pay whatever it takes to get their hands on Americas defence secrets and latest hardware.

    If America had any sense (but I jest) they would take the cost of the abandoned kit out of the frozen bank accounts of the Taliban and Afghani government that are under American control.

  • Ferox

    All of these objections are not restricted to foreign aid. Domestic “aid” suffers from the same liabilities and creates the same corruptions and dysfunctions in those places where governments take it upon themselves to engage in charity with other peoples money.

  • John B

    After the last two years, there is no ‘regime’ on the Planet that is not evil. And the evil is to get worse as ‘climate change’ policy nonsense digs deeper into our lives and what little freedom we have left.

  • Pat

    Uncle Sam already donated $80 bn worth of gear! Ok that’s at as new new prices, but even secondhand in a fire sale its got to be worth $8 bn.
    The Taliban has the money it needs.

  • Paul Marks

    Food aid to the Taliban?

    Well not quite as insane as the food aid that Herbert “The Forgotten Progressive” Hoover organised for the Soviet Union – aid that may well have (unintentionally) prevented the regime of “Lenin” falling.

    Still the argument may soon be moot.

    The United Kingdom, like so many Western countries, is a Credit Bubble economy – and we are only about 60% food sufficient (in the 1980s it was over 80%).

    The brutal logic of that is clear – when the international bubble economy bursts, we will be no position to give anyone food aid. We may indeed need it ourselves.

    I see no sign that Western countries (including the United Kingdom) are restraining either the wild spending of governments or the crazy antics of Credit Bubble bankers and corporations (which are joined as the hip with Credit Bubble governments), so hard times are coming.

  • Bruce

    When the bubble bursts and Britain desperately needs food and other aid, there will be NO round-the clock convoys dodging U-Boats to deliver the goods..

    The surviving handful of gamekeepers and farmers will be beating off the Borg as best they can, for as long as they can.

    As for everybody else?

    Good luck.

  • bobby b

    My Farm Belt rels and friends are having trouble getting seed and fertilizer and pesticides. They were resigned to paying more, but they’re having trouble just finding the stuff, and a lot of their future receivables are already contracted. These problems predated the supply chain issues, which will just exacerbate the situation, especially and even more so if the US truckers decide to emulate the Canadians.

    Might be interesting this spring. Buy extra food. Not “survive for three years in the wilderness” food, but be stocked enough to be comfortable if your stores are bare for a week or two this summer. And then restock it after that happens, because it will maybe happen again. Our robust society is about to get brittle.

  • dougg

    tell them that the money can only be used during a catastrophe and you are merely daring them to define down the meaning of catastrophe

  • dougg

    …. and i see a lot of people on here talking about the credit bubble eventually bursting. i’ve been reading about this eventual bursting for almost 25 years. is there some other thing perhaps that libertarian leaning economists have not taken into account. i’ve been slowly losing my faith in libertarian arguments about damned near everything, but the paper money collapse is starting (to me) to to resemble the perpetual doom saying wrongness of the global warming crowd……

  • staghounds

    And during that 25 years the dollar has lost about half its value.

  • Paul Marks

    bobby b – as you may well know, Federal regulations (thousands of pages of them) and the Credit Money of the Federal Reserve (hello “Cantillon Effect”) concentrate the economy under a handful of Corporations – and these Corporations are not really interested in providing farm supplies, what has that got to do with really important “Woke” “Equity” (Frankfurt School Marxism) things such as sex changes for eight year old children?

    Besides most farmers and ranchers are white – and, therefore, RACISTS (no I am not making that up – I have seen that argument from the academic and cultural elite types, specifically about farmers in South Dakota, but it could apply to most States). Why should government or the vast corporations (which are joined at the hip – and both “Woke”) care about RACISTS? And forget about corporations being motivated by profits earned from customers – Corporate Managers do not own the Corporations they run (indeed most shares are owned by institutions – hired managers “accountable” to other hired managers, with no real owners), they are not going to pass the business on to their children (because they do not own the business themselves) – and money comes from the Federal Reserve and the Credit Bubble banks (their concern is the ESG, Environment and Social Governance, score system – NOT customers).

    Farm Belt States must break with the Federal Regulations that are crippling supply chains – but how can they do that? How can the States break with the Federal regulations – the “mandates” and so on.

    It is a difficult situation – as you know.

    The establishment are both evil and insane (the source of both is the education system – especially at the elite level) – but that does not mean they are not powerful, they are very powerful indeed.

  • Paul Marks

    staghounds – the Dollar has lost a lot more than half its value in the last 25 years. Remember that official statistics (for everything – inflation, unemployment, temperature figures, the Presidential Election result) are systematically rigged.

    For once the source of the corruption is not Marxism – it is “Pragmatism”, American “Pragmatist” philosophers taught that there was no objective truth (especially not objective moral truth) and no objective honour. All that matters is the RESULT – the objective.

    So, for example, if you have to pretend that the early 1930s were cold when they were hot (in order achieve the result of pushing the Global Warming narrative) that is what you do. If you want to give money to the bankers and corporations (and finance government spending) then you under report inflation. If you want to remove “Trump”, you rig an election.

    There is no objective moral right and wrong – that is what the elite has been taught, and taught for a very long time.

  • dougg

    the question isn’t whether the dollar has lost value. of course it has. but collapse has not happened. the question is, why has it not happened? the question is, will it ever come and when? again, i’m not an educated man so my economic literacy has been limited to half a dozen libertarian economic writers, and i’m wondering whether it is perhaps that they have not accounted for something.

  • Ferox

    but collapse has not happened

    I guess it depends on what you think collapse looks like. If you think it looks like Fallout 3 or some Hollywood post-apocalyptic film then it certainly seems like nothing is happening.

    But if collapse looks, in its beginnings, like a decline in available goods and services (either amounts or quality), and a decline in overall employment, and a decline in essential government services, and a decline in general civic-mindedness (people starting to withdraw from the community and become protectively self-oriented), and a decline in the fundamental precepts upon which the civilization is founded (i.e. free speech, economic freedom, etc) then why would you think we are not already seeing it happening?

    We have more crime, fewer goods and services, less employment, more people who are absolutely disinvested in the society (i.e. homeless with no hope whatsoever of becoming employed and housed), more intrusive government and simultaneously less capable government for things government is supposed to do (i.e. the police power), a rapidly degrading currency, and an increasingly hopeless runaway debt situation with no hope of recovery. We have the gatekeepers of public debate becoming more and more censorious, the civic morality of the culture itself being continually undermined (how many fringe people 50 years ago thought it acceptable to loot stores or shoot police, vs how many mainstream politicians and public figures who think it is at least excusable today).

    We are witnessing the collapse happening around us, but Hollywood has blinded us with sci-fi fantasies. Look to the last years of the Weimar Republic, its moral degradation, its economic decay, its civic collapse, to see what is right before your eyes.