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November 13th, 2010 6:50 pm
Is Foreign Aid the New Colonialism?

It is if it means exporting a set of beliefs into an area ill-suited to implement them.  So says a startling (but by no means new) assertion about the real world effects of foreign aid.  In an article that fleshes out the unease some of us encounter about the efficacy of giving good money to bad people, Margaret Wente of The Globe and Mail argues that aid to Africa is being used to prolong suffering rather than end it.

Ethiopia provides one sobering example.

The starving children of Ethiopia were not the victims of drought, as most people believed at the time. They were the victims of politics. The government of the time was using famine as an instrument of war, and the rebels were more interested in defeating the government than in feeding famine victims. As William Easterly, a leading aid skeptic, puts it, “It’s not the rains, it’s the rulers.” Political famines attract the food aid industry, with the consequence that governments or rebel groups are able to feed their own armies and divert resources to buy more weapons. Humanitarian aid in conflict zones is always problematic. It helps the bad guys as well as the innocent.

Today, the children of Ethiopia are still starving, and the brutal regime that keeps them hungry continues to get funding from well-intentioned people trying to fix the wrong problem.  It’s not the rains, it’s the rulers.  Unless the rule of law protects the property and dignity of individuals, all that the philanthropy in the world will do is empower the strong at the expense of the weak.

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