Thursday, September 27, 2012

Just say no

What is it about organizations like the Taxpayers' Alliance that makes them incapable of making truly radical statements even when they clearly would like to? Well, I assume they would like to. I recall asking one of their high panjandrums (yes, I do converse with people of that calibre occasionally) about foreign aid and what their policy was. Well, he said proudly, we are calling for its freezing. Oh really, said I. How about calling for its abolition for a number of excellent economic, political and social reasons? At this point the high panjandrum realized that there was somebody at the other end of the room he absolutely had to talk to.

Here we are again. At the UN David Cameron (that was before he disgraced himself and his school on the Letterman programme) reaffirmed that" that 0.7 per cent of national income should be spent on overseas aid by 2013" . It won't be, of course, but that is not the point. He is still proclaiming the same mantra despite decades of evidence that foreign aid does not help countries to build up their economy, develop strong social structures or promote democratic and humane policies. On the contrary, it strengthens bloodthirsty kleptocrats, prevents the growth of a link between government and governed and allows governments to mis-allocate their income.

So, is the TPA saying this? Errm, no, not exactly. What they are saying is:
The TaxPayers’ Alliance has long argued against increasing the budget of the Department for International Development (DfID). It should not be immune from having to find ways of delivering more for less like all other government departments (except Health), especially when serious concerns remain about whether value for money is being delivered out of its existing budget.
Those concerns have been voiced for many a long year and the sort of scandal Andrew Gilligan has once again uncovered is not new either. The only purpose foreign aid serves, apart from filling up the coffers of the people Mr Gilligan so aptly names "Poverty Barons" and of the aforementioned kleptocrats, is to make us all feel so virtuous with no effort of our own. The money goes, we feel virtuous and to hell with the recipient countries and their people.


  1. Today I have come across Helen Szamuely for the first time when I heard the talk with Andrew Marr et al on I player. I then googled her, and ended up here. I thought the post above about the Stalin adoring historian excellent. However this post not so. If the problem is that underdeveloped countries completely misuse the aid they are given, surely the answer is better control. The alternative seems to me to lead to the logic that there should be no charity. That is n NOT the sort of person I think you are.

    1. The DfID is not a charitable organisation, it is a wealth redistribution organisation. The government takes our money through coercion and then spends it to achieve some politically-desirable objective identified by themselves. Charity is voluntary not under duress, and when money is free those charged with spending it are hardly likely to do so wisely, even if they are well-intentioned.

    2. Quite. Government funded aid is not charity. It is something else entirely, and it is often very self serving as well as being ineffectual. If governments wanted to do something for the poor world, they could spend their time lowering trade barriers (both direct and indirect) and get rid of agricultural subsidies, so that African and other poor world farmers (many of whom produce excellent produce) can compete on a level playing field. As a bonus, this would save money and lower prices for consumers rather than costing money.

  2. Helen, I confess that I am not a great fan of the TPA. They are good at lobbying the media and being politically smooth, but their thinking and the quality of their research is generally sloppy. Too many lawyers and not enough analysts of any other kind, I think.