Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Foreign Aid Follies

No matter what the task, libertarians are well aware of the shortcomings and outright dangers that go along with seeking government action for, well, anything. One of the government programs that is regularly touted as being one of the most benevolent is foreign aid. Never mind the fact that this money isn't at all charitable since it is all stolen from us, there seems to be many other problems associated with the endeavor. As a recent story from Yahoo News points out:
Red tape, inefficiency and nepotism mean that only one fifth of international aid actually gets to the people who need it, aid agencies said Monday.
Not only that, but 40 percent of international aid is spent buying overpriced goods and services from the donors' own countries, Action Aid and Oxfam said in a joint report calling for urgent reform of a politically compromised system.

The worst culprits here are Italy and, wouldn't ya know it, the USSA. While there's no doubt that red tape and inefficiency plague every government endeavor, this particular issue is one where the third problem listed, nepotism, plays a much larger role. Much of the literature out there on the subject documents how aid ends up serving favored enterprises, or even favored despots. As Christopher Manion put it in an article written shortly after the recent tsunami disaster:
U.S. government foreign aid represents a devil’s brew cooked up many decades ago, a Frankenstein combining left-wing "humanitarianism" and right-wing "anticommunism." Neither concept could have made it on its own through the congress, and so the bloated two-headed monster has stalked the earth ever since. As Peter Bauer once observed, foreign aid created the "Third World" countries, who had only one thing in common: resentment of America. Playing on American guilt, the dictators and corrupt elites would parade through the halls of international organizations and insist, "our poverty is your fault." And, of course, "we" guilt-ridden Americans would send them millions.

Private agendas, of course, abound. In only one example, a friend on Capitol Hill estimates that Israel alone has received one hundred billion dollars in U.S. foreign aid in the past 50 years.

Manipulation and subterfuge were always central to the foreign aid enterprise. Under the cover of "assistance," however, lurked the ever-present menace of power-lust. There lies the dirty little secret (one of many, alas) about foreign aid. It represents one more familiar fraud, namely, the greed of the usual corporate suspects around the government hot tub whose "services" constitute the warp and woof of countless foreign aid programs. Any time a serious challenge is made to foreign aid, U.S. government luminaries scatter country-wide to induce the corporate "customers" who supply the goods to lobby Congress for this "indispensable" program. After all, they know where their bread is buttered.

A much more detailed analysis of foreign aid, how it's dispensed, and who benefits, can be found in an article written back in November by Bill Walker called "Aid to Dependent Dictators".

Of course, some of the aid out there actually does wind up in the hands of impoverished people throughout the world. Some of this aid is in the form of food. Unfortunately, the food that is sent abroad is not always kosher, or even fit for human consumption. I recently stumbled across this report on the Organic Consumers Organization website, which brings up the fact that Starlink corn (or maize, if you want to get fancy about it) has been shipped to many Latin American countries.

You may or may not be concerned with Starlink corn or other examples of genetically-modified foods, but the truth is that many of these foods have not been thoroughly tested and people who consume them end up being guinea pigs. These foods are far less popular in other countries, including the countries who recieved these food shipments, than they are here. On top of that, many people here in the US who praise the idea of foreign aid are critical of these foods, and this recent news strikes a blow to the credibility of foreign aid. In other words, not only is most foreign aid nothing more than corporate welfare or mischievous political maneuvering in disguise, but now examples of aid directly going to the world's poor is tainted in the eyes of an increasing number of people.

Call me cynical or call me cunning, but I have to say that one question comes to mind when trying to figure out what went wrong: what else do you expect when you turn to the political means (a.k.a. government) to achieve goals, benevolent or not? Methinks that aid from private sources wouldn't end up doing the harm that government aid is responsible for.


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