by Robert Henderson
“Aid – an excellent method for transferring money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries”. — Peter Bauer (http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/globalDimensions/research/aidTradeDevelopment/Default.htm)
The UK has been pumping Aid into the Third World since the 1950s. At present day values several hundred billion pounds of British taxpayers’ money has been given to foreigners. Despite the present economic crisis all three major British Parties have committed themselves to not merely maintaining the Aid but substantially raising it. This year around £9 billion will be given away ; by 2014/15 that is projected to increase to £11.5 billion as our political class have committed themselves to meeting the UN’s 0.7% of GDP target by then. (http://www.dfid.gov.uk/Media-Room/News-Stories/2010/Spending-Review-2010/).
If the UK’s economy grows by more than anticipated by 2015, the figure would be higher and to maintain the 0.7% target it will continue to rise after 2015 as UK GDP increases. No other developed country of larger or greater size than the UK spends as much on Aid (http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/207565/Britain-s-foreign-aid-bill-scandal)
Because all the parties which can realistically to be expected to have a major presence in the House of Commons are for the payment of ever increasing Aid, the British people have no choice in the matter. This is indubitably not what the electorate wants. A poll in July 2010 (after the Coalition Government announced only two budgets would not be severely reduced – the NHS and Foreign Aid) came down firmly on the side of reducing the Aid budget (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10504916).
Such polls, together with the consistent placing of worries about immigration and race relations as high on the public’s list of concerns , suggest that scrapping Aid altogether would meet with widespread approval.
There is also growing evidence that the political and media elites are beginning to get cold feet over Aid. Tory backbenchers got into the act early in this Parliament (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/8196241/Tories-warn-Cameron-Listen-to-us-or-we-mutiny.html) and the Defence Secretary Liam Fox argued against the cutting of the Defence budget when the Aid budget was protected and enhanced (http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23950774-tories-back-liam-fox-warning-against-overseas-aid-law.do).
On the media front, most of the national press has criticised the ring-fencing of Aid from cuts and there have even been a few brave souls who have called for Aid to be discontinued at least during present circumstances (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/rogerbootle/8571156/No-need-for-UK-economy-Plan-B-but-lets-suspend-the-foreign-aid-budget.html).
The problem is that the leadership of all the major political parties and the broadcast media, especially the BBC, are still Hell bent on showing how “compassionate” they are and make ever more absurd and reckless statements about their commitment to Aid. Here are a selection of recent statements from supposed Tories:
“My ambition is that over the next four years, people across the country will come to think of Britain’s fantastic development work around the poorest parts of the world with the same pride and satisfaction they have in some of our great institution like the Armed Forces and the monarchy,” he said. “This is brilliant work that Britain is doing.” (Andrew Mitchell Overseas Development Secretary http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/8560089/Britain-will-love-being-an-aid-superpower.html).
“We, as a nation, should be proud that our humanity and generous spirit will reach every corner of the world – and we will all be richer for that.” (Sir John Major ex-Tory PM http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/8556639/Sir-John-Major-foreign-spending-isnt-just-right-it-should-make-us-proud.html).
“I think there is a strong moral case for keeping our promises to the world’s poorest and helping them, even when we face challenges at home,” he said.
“When you make a promise to the poorest children in the world, you should keep it.”
Mr Cameron recalled watching the G8 summit at Gleneagles and the Live 8 pop concert in 2005 and thinking it was right that world leaders should make public pledges to help the poorest countries.
“For me, it is a question of values,” he said.
“This is about saving lives. It was the right thing to promise. It was the right thing for Britain to do. And it is the right thing for this Government to honour that commitment.”
Some people were pressing him to put off aid commitments until after Britain’s economy is back on an even keel, said Mr Cameron.
But he insisted: “We can’t afford to wait. How many minutes do we wait? Three children die every minute from pneumonia alone. Waiting is not the right thing to do. I don’t think 0.7% of our gross national income is too high a price to pay for saving lives.” (David Cameron on announcing a further £814 million Aid to fund vaccinations in the Third World (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13744922)
This is so far removed from what the vast majority of Britons believe that it is risible. Its relationship to the truth is akin to Soviet grain harvest and tractor production figures and reality. The reality is that Foreign Aid is a Danegeld extracted from the populations of Western states by political elites in thrall to the doctrine of liberal internationalism. In the fifty odd years of this practice the countries which have been the main beneficiaries of Aid have either seen their economic condition deteriorate (for example, virtually all of sub-Saharan Africa) or no discernible relationship between Aid and economic development can be shown (for example, India and China). This is unsurprising given the amount of money spent on war and repression or embezzled by Third World elites whose wealth is often not measured in millions but billions (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/How-Hosni-Mubarak-Got-So-usnews-3723955512.html?x=0).
But determined as they are to continue with Aid, those with power and influence realise that it is becoming an ever more toxic issue. Because of this, the supporters of Aid have begun to argue that Aid is good value for the UK taxpayer because it reduces the risk of the UK becoming involved in wars, reduces the likelihood of terrorism in Britain and makes mass migration less likely. The most used argument is that Aid is part of our defence strategy. To this end UK foreign Aid has been included in the official Government spending on UK defence (www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/uk_defence_spending_30.html).
David Cameron has led the way with repeated claims of a defence aspect for Aid , for example, before a panel of House of Commons select committee chairs: “Preventing a conflict is always cheaper than taking part in it.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/blog/2010/nov/18/1)
The idea that Aid prevents wars is risible, especially while we have governments following the so-called Blair Doctrine that intervention in states which had not been aggressors to other states was legitimate if it promoted liberal internationalist values . Since this dangerous nonsense was floated in the late 1990s, the UK has been embroiled in more wars than in the previous fifty years. Not only that, but the provision of massive amounts of Aid has enabled dictatorial regimes to conduct war and repress their populations far more efficiently than would be the case without or fuel civil wars. It is also deeply ironic that the likes of Cameron are arguing this when they are at the currently deserting regimes the West has supported for years . If foreign Aid has had a national interest element in it has been to prop up regimes which are beholden to Western governments on the basis that that they may be bastards, but they are our bastards.
As for terrorism, the claim that Aid prevents the radicalising of Muslims abroad who will then attack the UK is fanciful in the extreme. There have only been two Muslim terrorist attacks which got as far as an actual attempt, 7/7 (which succeeded) and 21/7 (which failed). This in itself suggests the actual threat, as opposed to fears of a threat, is not massive given the ease with which bombings could be made if there was a widespread and serious attempt at terrorism in the UK by those here and abroad. There is a great deal of difference between those who are serious about being terrorists and those who like to fantasise about it and form groups who do nothing but talk or the individuals who get a thrill from downloading bomb-making instructions,. Moreover, both UK attacks were carried out by Muslims either born in Britain or Muslims who had spent a long time in the country. In addition, those convicted of terrorist offences short of an actual terrorist attack in the UK have mostly involved Muslims who have been long resident here.
The highly questionable effect of Aid on extremism abroad is mirrored by the outcome of money spent in Britain to discourage radical Islam. The Government have just admitted that the millions poured in has been ineffective at best and may well have financed radical groups at worst (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/8560679/Failed-anti-terror-campaigns-waste-of-money-Prevent-strategy-admits.html).
With the claim that Aid prevents mass migration to Britain, it is difficult to know whether to laugh or cry. Not only has there been massive and ever increasing immigration to the UK since the Blair Doctrine was established (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/8449324/David-Cameron-migration-threatens-our-way-of-life.html),
a large part of that immigration has come from places where Britain has intervened (the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan) and immigrants have continued to flood in from the Third World countries to which we have given the largest amounts of Aid (for example, India, Bangladesh) (http://www.dfid.gov.uk/About-DFID/Finance-and-performance/Aid-Statistics/Statistic-on-International-Development-2010/SID-2010-Section-4-Where-does-UK-expenditure-on-International-Development-go/). It is also worth bearing in mind that we do not give large amounts of Aid to most of the Third World (http://www.dfid.gov.uk/Where-we-work/).
Even if the idea of Aid as an immigration preventative carried weight, it would not prevent vast numbers of people from the Third World seeking to come to Britain because we do not send them any or much Aid.
The second prong to the defence of Aid is the ending of direct Aid to some of the more outrageous recipients of such as Russia and China. This is Aid still within the UK’s power to directly allocate rather than be allocated by bodies such as the EU and UN) ended . (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12589626).
However, Britain will still be handing large amounts of direct Aid to India, a country with its own space and nuclear weapons programmes and more billionaires than Britain (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/8350487/Andrew-Mitchell-British-aid-to-India-will-continue.html) and indirect Aid may still go to the likes of Russia and China through the UN and EU. Any changes will be essentially cosmetic and an attempt to blind the public to what is happening.
Finally, there is the claim that Foreign Aid will buy Britain friends as the recipient countries grow richer. The fact that there is no evidence of the Aid enhancing the wealth of countries is strong evidence against the claim, but any one with normal psychological and sociological insight will also doubt whether Aid will leave a residue of gratitude. Rather , it is more likely to leave resentment because people do not like to be dependent on others especially those outside their community, a resentment which will be enhanced by the constant refrain from Western liberals and Third World dictators that the West is to blame for Third World poverty .
Despite these rumblings of public dissent, on 13 June 2011 David Cameron put two fingers up at the British public by committing the UK to a further £814 million of Aid for vaccinations in the Third World, money which will make the UK the largest donor in the world to this programme (http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/252594).
Disruptive and unpleasant as the effect that Aid on foreign governments in terms of promoting war, repression and corruption, there is a more fundamental problem. Despite the corruption and violence of experienced by many Aid recipient countries, the provision of governmental Aid and the work of NGOs such as Oxfam has fed a population explosion in countries whose ability to accommodate their now vastly increased populations from their own resources is nil. By keeping the Aid flowing a vicious circle is created. The population in a country rises because the Aid allows more to survive which generates a demand for more Aid is made because the country cannot support them. More Aid is forthcoming and the population increases again above what the country can bear. This was an easily foreseeable outcome and a policy no responsible person let alone a government should ever have advocated, bringing increased poverty to the poorest countries. Aid has disrupted the traditional structures which supported and limited the population to what the environment would bear.
The disruption of the Third World has been worsened by the West to varying degrees driving them towards economic practices which have radically altered their native economies for the worse. In the poorer, less developed states, the political policies with regard to international trade and consumer demand of the developed world (and latterly the developing world in the shape of the Chinese) has slanted their economies towards dangerously narrow economic bases, most commonly built on the extraction of raw materials, tourism and the production of food and horticultural products
The extraction of raw materials commonly has little benefit for the local population because the countries lack the ability to develop the resources themselves and have to sell licences to foreign companies. This means deals between foreign companies and governments with the money derived from the licences going directly to the governments. The consequence of that is it commonly ends up in the pockets of a corrupt native elite, is squandered on grandiose projects, used to fund civil wars or simply employed to keep a regime in power by force (Nigeria is a prime example of how a great natural resource – oil – can turn into albatross around the neck of a country).
The solution to Third World debt is in principle simple: the debtor nations repudiate the debts and take the consequences of bankrupts. The debts should be ameliorated by the West by their identification of money stolen and placed in Western banks by third World kleptocrats. This money should be sequestered by the West and used to defray the debts of the defaulting states. Simply writing off debt and increasing Aid will feed the corruption and debt accumulation.
The claim that Western protectionism is keeping much of the Third World in poverty does not stand up to scrutiny. The agonised liberal directed public debate over African poverty ignores two fundamental facts. First, the trade relationship between Africa and the developed world is the choice the African rulers. They could, if they chose, protect their own markets and refuse the trade regime wanted by the West. That would do far more for the long term stability and wealth of the poorer states of the world because they would develop a strong domestic economy based on the resources of the country and the capacities of its people. Economic history tells us that a strong stable domestic economy is the most certain way of economic progression. As for relaxing trade barriers one-sidedly, that is, by allowing African goods freely into the West but not vice versa , what of those in West who lose their jobs because of it? Fair and unfair to whom is the question?
If I wanted to play the politically correct game I could rest my argument on black commentators who have called for its end such as Dambisa Moyo (: Dead Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is another way for Africa, 208 pages, Allen Lane. www.deadaid.org http://www.hiiraan.com/news2/2009/mar/_stop_giving_aid_to_africa_it_s_just_not_working.aspx) But that would not only be cowardly but to miss the point. Peter Bauer’s dictum on Aid: “A system which takes money from poor people in rich countries and gives it to rich people in poor countries” is all too true. But even it was “taking money from rich people in rich countries to give to people in poor countries” it would indefensible. It should not be the business of a government in a supposed democracy to tax its own people to give money to foreigners. That the UK is currently having to borrow the money given in Aid because of the massive fiscal deficit whilst massive cuts are being to British public services makes the situation more poignantly absurd and indefensible, but any Aid is indefensible because it is taken from the taxpayer without the public having any meaningful say in the matter.
Aid should be restricted to private charity. Then we would see how much the British public want to subsidise foreigners. Of course, those who support Aid know very well that only a minute proportion of what is currently sent abroad would be voluntarily donated. That is why they are so determined to keep state-enforced Aid. ( It should be remembered that many of those who wish to keep Aid have a vested interest because they either work for the government directly or for NGOs which are substantially funded by the taxpayer. )
Could Britain end its Foreign Aid? The direct Aid could be stopped, but Britain would need to leave or get them to moderate their Aid demands, organisations such as the EU and the UN. Yet another fine internationalist mess our politicians have got us into with their love of “right-on” vanity projects.