Magazine article The Spectator

Fifty Years of Failure

Magazine article The Spectator

Fifty Years of Failure

Article excerpt

NEXT YEAR will mark the 50th anniversary of the inception of development aid, which began with President Truman's Point Four programme of 1949. In those early days advocates of aid suggested that the expenditure of a few hundred million dollars a year over a decade or two would give rise to `self-sustaining growth' in the underdeveloped world. The elimination of world poverty (the title of a recent White Paper) was feasible and in sight. Thereafter aid would no longer be required.

Half a century and many billions of dollars later the need to continue development aid indefinitely is taken for granted. This attitude was evident among the G8 leaders at the meeting in Birmingham. Their overriding concern was with the question of cancellation of the debt of several Third World countries. Even the Church's `Jubilee 2000' campaign is for 'a new start for the world's poor'. In the changing aid scene, the only constant has been the well-orchestrated demand for more aid.

The failures and excesses of aid programmes are notorious. Of course there have been examples of gross incompetence, not to say corruption. But these are irrelevant or insignificant in comparison with other flaws in the system. The anomalies that have attended official aid include the subsidy to governments which have pursued such policies as brutally enforced collectivisation (Tanzania), promotion of mass sterilisation (India) and the persecution, eviction and even genocide of ethnic minorities in both Asia and Africa (of which Uganda provided a conspicuous example).

Western aid has also gone to governments explicitly hostile to the West, such as those in Ethiopia and Cuba, to governments at war with one another (India and Pakistan) and to regimes that have persecuted the most productive groups in their society.

Topical examples of countries that have derived little or no benefit from the aid they have received include Sudan, Mozambique, Angola and Rwanda, all of which have been ravaged by civil war, with the resulting breakdown in the economy leading to disease and famine.

Aid goes to rulers; it does not go to their subjects. Quite often these rulers are at war with large groups of their poorest countrymen. Examples include the Sinhalese-dominated government and its Tamil subjects and the Muslim Khartoum government and its Christian or animist subjects in the south.

Nevertheless, the case for aid is still regarded as axiomatic. Parliamentary debates on the subject are hardly debates in the accepted sense of the term. They are more like conclaves of like-minded enthusiasts, and the criticism most frequently heard is that not enough aid is being given, and that more is better. The current obsession with debt cancellation is the most recent example of this attitude.

A fresh assessment of what has gone wrong and what might be done to put it right is in order. Debt cancellation, which of course is not new, is no solution. It is subject to all the objections to aid and exhibits anomalies of its own. Cancellation specifically favours the incompetent and dishonest over those willing to honour their obligations. It also undermines the credibility of Third World countries and makes it more difficult to raise capital.

These government-to-government handouts should be ended. This is impracticable because of the powerful emotional, political and commercial interests behind this policy. …

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