Rising Foreign Aid - The Injustice and the Scope of Debate

Wednesday, 4 December 2013 at 19:07
The UK government recently announced a £1 billion rise in foreign aid over 5 years, amidst ongoing economic austerity. The Express and Daily Mail covered the story yesterday, with all the expected outrage.

Of course there is huge corruption and waste when it comes to foreign aid, and charity in general. As if to fuel the resentment, it's ultimately the most disadvantaged that are paying for it, whether through tax revenue (however much of that money is first delivered in profits to the top income percentiles, through their leveraging of the work of the bottom percentiles, and then a fraction paid back out through income tax) or donation.

So then there is the question, which the tabloids and more right leaning broadsheets delight in posing: "Why should the poor be helping out the poor in other countries, or just funding corrupt and inefficient aid programs over there, when there are lots of people struggling here, and those countries have things like space programs?" Obviously there is a lot of injustice in the scenario, which calls for firm measures to address it.

But to address the injustices involved in foreign aid (and much large charity programs) most effectively, it's important to look at a broader context; the context of the global market-economy system, which encompasses the military and propaganda apparatus of war and economic exploitation, and the bought 'democracies' that promote and support it. Not only are the people with the least economic freedom and opportunity the ones who fight and die in wars, though they do not call for war, and provide the grunt in systemic mass exploitation, though many do not wish for exploitation, but they are then left to pay for repairing the mess, just enough for the whole travesty to carry on for another round.

So the question "Why should we pay to help them, when we need help too, and maybe they could help themselves?" may have some merit. But it doesn't dig deep enough (as the papers that push it well know) to help question the paradigm that leads to such messes in the first place. In fact, the question is most relevant to the leaders of the establishment, who seek to find the best cost/benefit ratio for maintaining the status quo, while at the same time undermining sympathy for the plight and exploitation of other countries which may contribute to profit. To stoke popular bitterness, even where a good bit of that is directed to the government - diffused somewhat by contributing to an image of it being caring (even over-caring) and progressive - comparisons are made between the aid fund and cuts to services and rising unemployment. As if a choice is, should and could only be made between those things. As if it's all a zero sum game between the disadvantaged.

On the one hand, the intention and effort of giving to those in need, even where we're in hard times too, is a mark of empathy, and if there is one human virtue that can change the system for the better, it's empathy. On the other hand this empathy is being contained and exploited. It's our willingness to help each other out, combined with our obedience that is keeping the parasite monster of Monopoly-made-real, breathing, where otherwise it would soon just eat itself out of existence (admittedly along with most of us). Is the answer to be less empathetic, less willing to help those in need? I don't think so. I think that would put us in a worse place. But if we can find the bravery to be less obedient, and more willing to learn, then there is much more hope.

The more pertinent question relating to aid, stepping beyond the mainstream prescribed scope of debate, then, would be "Why is it, that despite our knowledge and technology, there are still people in poverty and hunger?" And not to stop at the lazy answer of "Oh, it's just our nature" but to go on and examine what it is about the social, economic and political institutions in our society that are nurturing and emphasizing those potential traits to abuse, dominate and exploit other people? What it is about them that fosters mass obedience? What assumptions do they make about freedom, security and progress? When we start to get a clearer picture of that, then we can begin to see practical ways forward. It's ultimately not that complex, but it does require sustained effort.

Besides the bravery, we have to keep our minds engaged and continue to share and develop our understanding. Otherwise it's very easy to let the anger spill over into violence, where there are always voices there to encourage it, in the most 'revolutionary' rhetoric. The point where violence is embraced is exactly the point where we can sure of either losing or of creating something much the same as what we wanted to go beyond, and that's not going to help anyone.

* painting: "Cimon and Pero" - Peter Paul Rubens


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