2006-10-30

Foreign Aid

I am a firm believer in the moral imperative of wealthy nations with immigration controls to assist the World's poorest. Unfortunately, when foreign aid distribution is administered by wealthy governments, the worthless inefficiencies of bureaucracy usually squander all the resources.

This NY Times article about condoms for Africa via Cowen illustrates the point. I propose governments begin to divert such funds to well-established, efficient, and successful charitable foundations such as Bill and Melinda Gates run by true captains of industry.

5 comments:

Timothy said...

Pace, why do you say 'wealthy nations with immigration controls' have a moral imperative to assist the poorest countries? If wealthy countries do not have immigration controls, are they still under a moral imperative to assist poorer countries?
In my opinion, a moral imperative is imperative, in that, it and derives either from a 'higher power', law, or customary norms. If one does not act when there is a clear moral imperative to do so, then one violates one of these standards or norms to their detriment and that of others.
To restrict the instances where a moral imperative is applicable in the realm of foreign aid, to only wealthy nations with immigration controls, vitiates the meaning and the obligations required of a moral imperative.

Pace said...

My implication in the qualification was to say that countries without immigration controls (of which I am aware of none) are welcoming the poor masses of the world to immigrate to improve their lives there. In such a theoretical circumstance, I see no reason for such a country to have a moral imperative to improve the world outside, their only imperative is to improve internally or to assist those outside in their migration inside. Exclusivity demands a higher level of responsibility.

If suddenly everyone in the world were magically Jewish, then Israel would then qualify as a morally upstanding nation state by this metric because it is legally considered a birthright for all Jews to immigrate to Israel, and the Israeli government pays for the travel if necessary.

Pace said...

There may still be a moral imperative without the immigration controls, but I consider such an issue at the least open to debate. Therefore, I qualfied my insistence for international aid while saying nothing of the hypothetical alternative.

Mark said...
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Mark said...

Before we rail too hard against the worthless inefficiencies of governments, some of the following thoughts should be considered.

One: Let us not be too quick to blame the governments of wealthy nations for the inefficiency of foreign aid. The US federal budget for international affairs, including both foreign aid as well as the bureaucracy to deliver it (as well as the foreign service) is just about 1% of the budget, and has been since the Reagan Administration. The US international budget hasn't exceeded 2.5% of the budget in recent history (see http://publicagenda.org/issues/factfiles_detail.cfm?issue_type=federal_budget&list=9 ). The blame of bureaucratic inefficiency would be better laid at the doors of the inefficient and corrupt regimes in developing countries who must (by definition) be partners in all foreign aid. And here, of course, is the dilemma, because if these bureaucracies were not inefficient and corrupt they probably wouldn't need foreign aid to begin with.

Second, let us not pretend that private foreign aid is all that it is cracked up to be. I can say this from experience, and for others I would recommend the book: "The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and Charity" by Michael Maren (a former Peace Corps volunteer). He correctly points out that most international donor organizations and charities actually raise funds through government contracts (and I would be very surprised if the Gates Foundation didn't, especially as they have a Washington, DC office). Even if these organizations are not corrupt, they have to contract most development work to local organizations and individuals, and often these are.

Finally, as for the Gates Foundation itself, I have read a great deal of positive press regarding it, but I remain skeptical because it is in my opinion just that: press. I have not yet seen or heard of strong, concrete benefits that the foundation has brought, although it has big plans and a seemingly sound methodology (although things always look better on paper in the development business). I could be wrong, but regardless I just have not seen many reports about the actual gains and benefits from the Gates Foundation to date.

It is because I am interested and in many ways dedicated to international development that I am so skeptical.