Someone from university who I follow on Twitter retweeted a statistic saying that the money (I assume profits) generated from the recent iPhone 4 launch over the past 3 days could supply 8.5 million ‘Africans’ with enough clean water for life.

I wasn’t really shocked or disappointed in this. I mean, Western countries are extremely prone to selfish spending and are largely ignorant of assisting third world countries. Hypocritically (as I do little by ways of ‘assisting’ third world countries other than sporadic charitable donations) I often bring up facts like this to people who whine and moan about all sorts of things. Notably, when the uproar was going on about trialling the Internet filter in Australia, I put out into the Twitterverse that I’d seen more stupid posts about the internet filter in the past week than I would see poignant posts about aid to Africa in a lifetime from the same people.

I was e-attacked, but my point was well made: Few people care about Africa enough to do something substantial. And everyone has an excuse. “I don’t have the means.” “I need to take care of my own family first.” “Australia has enough problems of its own.”

Me? Like I said, I’m hardly a world leader in charity but I do a small part. I am rather anti-foreign aid though, and my reason goes back to the same monetary statistics that started this post. And it is always my underlying principle for advocating a different course in assisting Africa.

Yes, in 3 days a company can generate the money to supply 8.5 million people with clean drinking water. But The same continent has pissed away over $1 trillion dollars in foreign aid over the past ten-year through corrupt regimes and politics. What’s the point of giving foreign aid if the vast majority of it is going to line the pockets of the fat cats over there and have no real impact on the average person?

If I were running a country – a big country – I would have a raft of strings attached to my foreign aid. The more the money, the higher the level of ‘scrutiny’. It would run on a scale of having government-run companies going in with the framework and the management to directly employ locals to do the developing (while supplying the capital to make it possible), to a significant government handling/monitoring/running of the country, all the way to a direct military presence. How is that not better than just handing over buckets of money to the IMF or the World Bank or directly to the government that is screwing the nation over, and saying “Do what you want with it”?

Say what you will of my plan, I bet it wouldn’t be any worse than $1+ trillion grafted funds.



4 thoughts on “Thoughts

  1. Thomas you have clearly thought about this. It made me think about the problems I see as being major in my life in comparison to those overseas. I, like you, would want strings attached. Mine would be along the lines of the country passing an enabling act of some description giving its authority in certain areas (ie infrastructure etc) to a government owned (mine, not their’s) charity/department which would oversee the implementation of the tied funds. This way the money goes to a purpose build x roads or irrigate y parcels of land. It is really the only way man can make it work in any measurable way.

  2. You are never going to stop rent-seekers on government largesse. We couldn’t avoid it even in our own country (eg: the roof batts scheme and the school buildings scheme) and we would even less avoid it if we had an army of “aidocrats” (as opposed to AIDSocrats, some of whom on an international level are also aidocrats) running a slide rule over the proceedings and trousering a groschen or two for their pains (and don’t tell me that some of those lordlings don’t live well).

    Attaching strings is exactly one way that rent is sought: already Govt “aid” budgets have strings attached, quite often making the aid effectively aid-in-kind where the supplier from the donor country makes a tidy profit, thank you very much.

    Just to put this all in proportion, I am really stingy about charitable giving, so maybe it’s a bit impertinent for me to have any view about this really. On the other hand (even though I’m struggling to see the justification for treating this as a hand-by-hand juxtaposition), I certainly feel as though I am taxed quite enough.

  3. I agree that you wouldn’t be able to stop all corruption – within and without an aid system – but surely a system with strict regulation and a significant amount of safeguards and checks would go a long was to eliminating a significant amount that currently exists and could develop in my proposed magical system.

    Yes, foreign aid has, and continues to be, tied to all sorts of conditions. I remember the Howard government’s attachment of the non-abortion clause to foreign aid some years ago. I would like to see my system have the types of attachments that promotes actual development, not social conditions. So the strings would only be to insert a limited amount of foreign workers into the targeted country (who would abide by either on-the-ground laws or their home country’s law, I’m undecided on this at the moment) who would help to develop the country and not seek to directly influence the local cultural or social trends.

    I also understand that an increasing amount of foreign aid is used to pay off foreign debt, which just nulls all possible development. In an ideal world, writing off foreign debt would go for a long way to helping out countries that are stuck in the downward spiral that they are in now. But that’s hardly likely to happen without a massive change in global politics. So perhaps some type of suspension of payments while a country engages in this development? Or no interest accumilation and just paying off the principal? At least in this last one, it wouldn’t affect the amount of tax that you contribute. And it would go a long way to helping out a country.

    I’m not saying charity is foreign aid. But they both aim to do the same thing: help the citizens out. It comes back to the effectiveness of either an NGO or a government body in helping people. Considering the largest amount of money filters though government bodies as well as the most political capital at their disposal, I would like to see a government body that eliminates most corruption and does the most ‘good’. Double when you consider that your taxes are the money that are lining the pockets of the corrupt as we speak.

    I think why I brought the two together because the NGOs do more of the groundwork and get more done with less money, while the governments are stuck with a pile of cash but an ineffective approach to getting the most out of their money when it comes to the groundwork. Charaties do good, but would do much more with more money. Governments do alright, but would do better with a charity-style model, that is all.

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