The Daily Demarche
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
"Foreign Aid II-... First do no harm.
Great comments all, thanks for reading us and contributing.

Many of the points I planned to make have already been made. I closed yesterday by saying "I am not convinced that the aid we give is having the effect we want". To clarify: I think in a great many places it is having the exact opposite effect.

While a person, or people, in need, make take assistance, they are likely to forever more feel that the person or government who gave the aid saw them at their weakest, and to resent that moment. The clearest example of this, to me, is Western Europe. From the U.S. entry into WWII until at least 1989 the region depended on us for everything from force of arms and food during and immediately after the war (Spam!) to funds to rebuild, followed by nearly five decades of physical protection in the shape of millions of troops and massed weapons. What do we have to show for it today? This.

The second negative effect is the cycle of poverty created by aid given from one government to another. The plain truth is in most cases the country receiving the aid is not equipped to make use of it at the federal level to bring about real change in their nation.

"Jake" in his comment may have engaged in a bit of hyperbole, but still hit the nail on the head: "foreign aid to goverments... is ALWAYS wasted. I am for micro aid projects where we deliver an end result." I too am a firm believer in micro-loans. Like FSO(r) I believe that micro-loans to women offer the most bang for the buck. I have seen firsthand the benefits these loans can reap. In Mexico, where towns have been depleted of young men (all gone to el norte), women are now receiving micro loans of up to $500 to start a business. As they succeed larger loans are opened up to them. In some cases men are returning to help grow the business. As a vice consul in Mexico I saw these programs work. Here is information about one in Oaxaca, and here is one in Mexico City.

In addition, if these loans can be U.S. financed and that information can make it's way effectively into the local population we achieve one of our most sought after goals: winning hearts and minds. Making a clear, personal loan to someone sends the message "We believe in you. We believe you can succeed and that you will pay us back."

While there will always be humanitarian cases where we will be compelled to send food, clothes, equipment and money, I believe that in most cases that is the wrong approach in the long term. I can't tell you how many women applying for visas brought in proof that they had repaid their micro-loan as a symbol of financial solvency and trustworthiness. In a great many cases it did the job, pushing their situation to one where granting a visa made sense. The power of personal pride in accomplishment can never be overestimated.

FSO(r) also made a few other very valid points. Large-scale foreign aid in many cases does damage local production, and can have a strong magnet effect, drawing even more people into an area that is already in dire straits. In addition countries dependent on foreign aid are unlikely to draw investors, promulgating the effects of poverty. Can anyone recall hearing that what Ethiopia needed at the height of famine was a Nike factory to give jobs? Is anyone rushing to Haiti today to build a semiconductor plant? Direct investment in local communities at the smallest of scales, coupled with education and perhaps medical aid (again tied into education and self sufficiency) is at least a part of the answer. First, do no harm.

This, to me, however, only applies to aid to countries facing starvation on a large scale, or intense long-term poverty. The other aid we need to examine is the kind we engage in most: aid to countries with no real trouble feeding their population, or providing clean water, but rather countries we want something from. Leaving Iraq aside for the moment, we give the bulk of our aid to Israel and Egypt. Since 1949 we have given over $91 billion in aid to Israel, and almost $51 billion Egypt. What have we gotten for it? We'll leave that to Part III, but as always welcome your comments, suggestions and ideas.
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dé·marche 1) A course of action; a maneuver. 2) A diplomatic representation or protest 3) A statement or protest addressed by citizens to public authorities.

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