The third world needs trade, not aid

This morning, I was listening (without great enthusiasm) to the BBC Radio 4 “Sunday” programme, with Edward Stourton, when I heard a piece about a world-wide Day of Prayer for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  Interesting, this.  I am familiar with folk praying for divine grace, for forgiveness of sins, for relief from disease or hunger or poverty, but praying for a UN programme?   I had hoped that Heaven might be spared well-meaning bureaucracy.  Thus is faith conflated with development goals, and religion recruited in the cause of politics.
The interviewee (I forget the name) admitted that the Day of Prayer was as much about motivating those praying, as about seeking divine intervention.  He was also clear that getting people to lobby politicians on the question of the Millennium Goals was a key part of the plan.  So much easier to ask MPs to spend other people’s money, than to dig into our own pockets.
This of course is all predicated on the proposition that we can eliminate poverty by giving more aid to the poor, in defiance of decades of experience proving that aid by itself certainly doesn’t solve poverty, and may indeed entrench dependency and low expectations.
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach him to fish, and you feed him until population growth and over-fishing destroy the resource.  But give him freedom, and security, and good governance, and the rule of law, and open markets, and free trade, and property rights, and enforceable contracts, and you create a self-sustaining and prosperous society – the one objective that aid universally fails to achieve.
I’ve said it before, but it can’t be said too often.  Aid may be necessary, especially in the event of short-term disasters like the Asian Tsunami, or the Haiti earthquake.  But the aid industry, and its advocates like Christian Aid and Oxfam, who depend on the aid industry for fund-raising and survival, are providing a short-term sticking plaster but failing to cure the disease.  Of course it’s easier to deliver rice or money than to deliver good governance and the rule of law.  We’ve learned that nation-building, seeking to impose democracy, intervening from outside, is extremely expensive in both blood and treasure, and far from earning gratitude it simply attracts accusations of neo-colonialism.
But at least we can start with trade (while offering help if requested with constitutions and institutions).  I’m astonished to find that there are still some people who take the naïve view that the EU is a Free Trade Area.  If only.  It is not a Free Trade Area: it’s a Customs Union, with a Common External Tariff, and a fiercely protectionist Common Agricultural Policy, which excludes produce from many poor countries.
More and more voices from poorer countries – both government ministers and NGOs – are calling for less aid, but more free trade and open markets.  They are right.  That solution would be good for them, good for us, good for trade and growth.   So rather than a world-wide Day of Prayer for the Millennium Goals, how about an EU-wide Day of Protest against the CAP, and in favour of the Doha Trade Round?

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2 Responses to The third world needs trade, not aid

  1. L. Y. Davis says:

    Why cancel our aircraft to save money to send aid to India which itself can afford to buy military aeroplanes?
    Why send oversea aid to any country that can afford expensive military equipment. After all, all we’re doing with it is preventing their starving millions from rising up in protest.

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