May 21, 2011
Yesterday I was on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show sparring with Cristina Odone about Dave’s mooted compulsory foreign aid levy on the British taxpayer. She was arguing – with some high level support from Lord Gummer – that it was a good thing, part of our moral obligation to the world, and really not that much money all things considered. I was arguing that, no, actually, £8 billion now (rising to £11.4 billion in 2015) is quite a lot of money and that in these dark economic times the very last thing our government ought to be doing is hosing down ungrateful foreigners with cash we haven’t got.
The biggest recipient of our foreign aid largesse is currently Pakistan to which over the next four years we will be sending a total of £1.4 billion. This is roughly the same amount that Pakistan has earmarked to spend on a new fleet of Chinese made submarines; these will go nicely with the two squadrons of Chinese J-10 fighters which Pakistan has also bought at a cost of $1.4 billion. So, in effect, our foreign aid donations are helping to underwrite the military expansion of the country which until recently was shielding the world’s number one Islamist terrorist, organised the massacre in Bombay and is doing so much to fund the Taliban insurgency killing and maiming our forces in Afghanistan.
Still, at least DFID is winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan, with spectacular projects like the amusement park and ferris wheel in Lashkar Gar (pop: 100,000) which you, dear taxpayer, cheerfully funded with a mere £420,000 of your hard earned dosh. One day a week, it’s Women Only day. That’ll certainly put paid to any funny ideas the Taliban may have of taking over the country as soon as we’ve made our ignominious departure: “You have the watches; we have the time; but, aieeee, nooo, we cannot compete with your secret propaganda weapon: impressive views of the green zone from a precariously swinging chair while struggling to eat candy floss through a burka.”
And I’m not even going to begin to mention the £10 million of taxpayers money DFID splurged on the ineffable Rajendra Pachauri’s TERI organisation. Or draw your attention to the environmental damage which has been done, quite likely as a result of the TERI-encouraged planting of bio fuel crops. It would make too many people too angry.
But though all these examples quite neatly expose the profligacy, political correctness and imbecilic incompetence of DFID what they also do is distract from the bigger picture. The real story – as I should have said on Jeremy Vine’s show if only I’d had my wits about me and hadn’t been so keen to major on the Ferris Wheel anecdote – is not that our Foreign Aid budget is grotesquely misspent (though of course it is) but that we shouldn’t have a Foreign Aid budget at all.
For chapter and verse on this I refer you to m’learned friend Dambisa Moyo, the Zambian-born, Harvard-educated author of Dead Aid. In her superb book, she explains how, far from helping the Third World, well-meaning aid packages from the West – such as the $1 trillion dollars spent in the last 50 years on aid for Africa – have only harmed it.
The notion that aid can alleviate systemic poverty and has done so is a myth. Millions in Africa are poorer today because of aid: misery and poverty have not ended but have increased. Aid has been, and continues to be, an unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian disaster for most parts of the developing world.
Foreign aid props up corrupt governments – providing them with freely usable cash. These corrupt governments interfere with the rule of law, the establishment of transparent civil institutions and the protection of civil liberties, making both domestic and foreign investment in poor countries unattractive. Greater opacity and fewer investments reduce economic growth, which leads to fewer job opportunities and increasing poverty levels. In response to growing poverty, donors give more aid, which continues the downward spiral of poverty.
But Moyo isn’t calling for total disengagement from the developing world. She just wants us to renegotiate our relationship with it:
The mistake the West made was giving something for nothing. The secret of China’s success is that its foray into Africa is all business. The West sent aid to Africa and ultimately did not care about the outcome; this created a coterie of elites and, because the vast majority of people were excluded from wealth, political instability has ensued.
China, on the other hand, sends cash to Africa and demands returns. With returns Africans get jobs, get roads, get food, making Africans better off…..It is the economy that matters.
Let’s say that one more time:
It is the economy that matters.
You might have thought that this was a point readily comprehensible to a graduate with a first class degree in PPE from Brasenose, Oxford. Especially to one claiming to be a “conservative.” But what has become abundantly clear during David Cameron’s first year in office is that key economic concepts like secure property rights, free trade, low taxes, personal liberty and minimal government intervention – the basic necessities for stability and prosperity – simply don’t interest him. If they did, in the case of Foreign Aid, this is what he would have done:
1. Arranged a high level briefing by thinkers like Dambisa Moyo, David Landes, Niall Ferguson, Arthur Laffer et al on the strategies most likely to bring peace, stability and prosperity to the developing world while – equally important – advancing Britain’s economic and political interests.
2. Used these conclusions as the intellectual basis for a sweeping reform of British aid, based on the self-evident truth that DFID’s old policy has been an unutterable waste of money and that “White Man’s Burden” gesture politics while perfectly suited to snake-oil salesmen like Tony Blair are most certainly not the business of a conservative administration.
3. Scrap ALL foreign aid programmes. Spend a much smaller amount of public money developing trade ties throughout the world. Deal with countries which are open for business; encourage those that might be open for business; refuse to waste money on those that aren’t open for business, no matter how well stocked with nuclear weapons nor keen to foster terrorism they might be, for they won’t respect you any more for your profligacy they’ll just take the cash and laugh all the way to the bank.
It won’t happen of course because Cameron is not that kind of guy and most certainly not that kind of conservative. His attitudes are neatly, damningly summed up by Moyo:
Deep in every liberal sensibility is a profound sense that in a world of moral uncertainty one idea is sacred, one belief cannot be compromised: the rich should help the poor, and the form of this help should be aid.
David Cameron’s thinking on aid is of a piece with those of such towering intellectual sophisticates as Bob Geldof and Bono. He is the man in the crowd at the Make Poverty History concerts with the wrist bands showing how much he cares, and Sam Cam in her hippy threads next to him showing how much SHE cares, and if only we all cared as much as we do, well what a difference that would make…
No it wouldn’t. We don’t want a hippy in number 10 Downing Street. We need a man of courage and conviction.
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