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Gordon Brown: inputs = success

By Timothy Cox
January 18th, 2010 at 3:17 pm | 7 Comments | Posted in International Development

Rousing stuff from Gordon Brown in the Independent, where he announced draft legislation enforcing the UK to hit and maintain the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent of national income to be spent on aid each year:

“In conscience and in our own self-interest, for their sake and ours, we dare not fail. We must act now to give the entire world back its future and its hope.”

What he actually meant was:

“In the interests of DfID’s many conscientious bureaucrats, for their sake and mine, this government dare not fail. I must act now, to spend more tax payers’ money, giving hope to the legion of NGOs, charities, trade unions and self-interested government officials who rely on DfID for their future.”

If the past four decades of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) have taught us anything, it is that it has been monstrously ineffective. No one is advocating scaling down emergency relief efforts (such as the Haitian response, which has prompted the latest bout of ministerial soul searching), nor are they advocating restricting private aid flows, such as remittance payments or charitable projects. What they are right to question is the efficacy of ODA, distributed by DfID to the tune of £6.3 billion in 2008, in tackling poverty in the developing world.

So far it has been a disaster: despite over $1 trillion in aid since 1960, Africans are poorer now, than they were forty years ago. The money simply does not reach those who need it. Worryingly it is estimated that 40 per cent of Africa’s military spending is inadvertently financed by aid (Collier: 2007). It seems unlikely that increasing aid flows to an arbitrary amount set by the UN in 1970 will change this–not to mention the oddity of linking aid expenditure to national productivity. It rather smacks of medieval church donations: “we don’t care how much you give–as long as it’s more than you can afford.”

The last forty years has demonstrated that pumping aid money into faltering economies simply doesn’t work. Brown and Cameron want to re-test this theory by throwing another £10 billion annually at the problem (0.7% of national). Not only will this not work, but it is a terrible idea to judge projects upon the size of their budgets rather than the outcome of their endeavour. Et tu, Clegg?

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