Towards A Good Samaritan World

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


If any single leader of a rich country is a friend to the world's poor, it is Tony Blair. Blair has apparently talked Bush into boosting aid to Africa and providing debt relief to 18 countries. At the same time, Blair is spending his political capital in Europe on attacking the Common Agricultural Policy, the disgraceful agricultural subsidy program that eats up most of the EU budget while artificially boosting European food production and thus robbing Third World food producers of what could be an excellent market. (The US also has disgraceful farm subsidies, which Bush has exacerbated, but not as bad as those in the EU.) But do they have to campaign on the utopian slogan "Make Poverty History"? Poverty will never be eliminated, for two reasons: first, the threat of poverty is a necessary incentive to make people work; second, poverty will always be perceived as a relative rather than an absolute condition.

Much foreign aid is wasted, some of it may even be harmful. I'm convinced on balance that it is beneficial. But it would be much more beneficial to poor countries to pass Social Security reform, thus raising our savings rate and draining less capital from the rest of the world. Of course, if we really care about the world's poor, the ultimate way to show it is to be the first nation in the world to recognize the right to migrate. Let poor people come here and win better lives for themselves through labor. Let them work, save, and bring their money home to enrich their families and their countries. Why is the wealth and income divide in this world so appallingly great? Borders.


  • Aid to countries suffering from hunger can be good, if it actually results in expanding the food available to the typical starving or malnourished person there. In almost all of these situations, however, the root cause of the starvation has vastly more to do with the government in power than with simple lack of food. In far too many instances, such aid has either been appropriated on receipt by the chief kleptocrats and transferred into their overseas bank accounts or diverted to increased military spending to tighten and prolong their stranglehold on the people. There's a good argument to be made that regime change is a much better solution to most hunger, particularly in the long run.

    There's also the frequent problem of quick fixes through food imports destroying or hindering the development of locally self-sufficient food production. Avoiding the quick fix may result in more obvious starvation and disease immediately, but can remedy the problem more permanently than those often-photographed palates of sugar, wheat and rice.

    Perhaps I'm a bit of a cynic due to the fact that most of the countries in the greatest need are the same ones we've been "helping" for the past 50 years. Perhaps it's that old belief in the efficiency of free markets relative to government "fixes". Still, one can always hope.

    By Anonymous Strophyx, at 9:36 PM  

  • There's very good reason to be cynical about foreign aid. But I think to completely dismiss foreign aid as useless is going a bit too far. There is evidence that aid helps in countries that have good policies in place.

    The Economist had an interesting article recently in which they talked about the similarities between what Wolfowitz will be engaged in now, at the World Bank, and what he did in Iraq: in both cases, regime change is part of the job, though in the World Bank's case it's through forcing governmental reforms.

    To "just say no" to foreign aid is too simple.

    By Blogger Lancelot, at 6:15 AM  

  • It's interesting, although the EU has higher farm subsidies (aboyt 1.3% of total EU GDP vs. 0.9% of total US GDP), the ratio of farm subsidies to aid works against the US (since the US aid levels are less than half those of the EU, as a proportion of GDP). Certain countries (say France) probably do have much more egregious farm subsidies than the US, but it seems the EU as a whole comes out looking shinier than the US.

    By Anonymous Andrew, at 1:19 PM  

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