David Frum

01.09.13

Britain's Foreign Aid Delusion

Jonathan Foreman, who recently published Aiding and Abetting: Foreign Aid Failures and the 0.7% Deception, takes to Spectator magazine to savage British Tories for continuing to push foreign aid despite considerable evidence against its efficacy. (And I'll alert you when his book is available here in the States.)

They also know that this development aid is at best useless and at worst counterproductive. A quarter of Britain’s foreign aid goes as ‘budget support’ into the treasuries of some of the world’s least competent, honest or responsible governments. Even more goes to multilateral institutions, like the World Bank or the EU aid body that Clare Short described as ‘an outrage’, ‘a disgrace’ and ‘the worst development agency in the world’. 

After 60 years and $3 trillion of development aid, with one big push following another and wave after wave of theories and jargon, there is depressingly little evidence that official development aid has any significant benign effect on third-world poverty. The Tories know this. They’ve read William Easterly and Robert Calderisi, who argue that the cash we dole out has enriched privileged Westerners and kleptocratic third-world rulers more than its intended beneficiaries. Moreover, they’ve seen how South Korea and Taiwan have risen from poverty to prosperity and they know how small a role foreign aid played. So why do they still insist on this enormous, ‘ring-fenced’ aid budget? ...

In the meantime, a decent aid programme might even invest in military emergency aid capacity that could genuinely make the UK an ‘aid superpower’, to use Andrew Mitchell’s cant phrase. We could invest in the transport aircraft, ships and heavylift helicopters that are, as the 2004 tsunami showed, the ultimate ‘dual-use’ emergency aid resources.