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Turning off the taps

Billionaire  Lord Michael Ashcroft made quite the splash recently when he requested that the UK government “‘turn off the golden taps’ of foreign aid.” Ashcroft argues that there is no hard and fast evidence that foreign aid is working to alleviate the “grinding poverty” of the developing world. In fact, he contends, it is “undermining progress,” “corrod[ing] civil society,” and “encourag[ing] corruption and conflict.” To help the developing world, then, all aid must be stopped.

Ashcroft is not the first person to make this argument. In 2009, international economist Dambisa Moyo hit the New York Times best seller list with her book Dead Aid, which argued that aid had done more harm than good for Africa and that it should be curtailed. Former Secretary-General of the UN Kofi Annan called Moyo’s book “a compelling case for a new approach in Africa.” 

So should we turn off the “golden taps”?

Not quite. There is evidence that much aid has failed to accomplish the lofty goals set for it, and done some real harm via such things as propping up corrupt leaders, destroying local businesses and communities, and encouraging governments to neglect their people so as to collect still more aid from willing donors.

But there is also evidence that aid has done, and continues to do, much good. Aid has enabled countries to build infrastructure and fund projects and programmes that have had a tangible impact on their people’s lives. On the medical front, aid has been found to be especially effective, being credited with the near eradication of smallpox, polio, measles and African river blindness.

We explore the comlicated evidence for aid in our paper A Heart and Mind for the Poor. We also look at the solutions that experts and practitioners have suggested for garnering more successes than failures from aid. 

Aid is far from perfect, but there are tried and tested ways of making the aid a country, an organisation or a person gives more effective. Rather than “turn off the golden taps” we need to make sure the resource is used with wisdom and care. 

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