Cutting Foreign Aid Would Save Domestic Lives | Dan Mikhaylov — Orthodox Conservatives
By now, COVID-19 has heaved into view of almost every human, its heinous and deleterious nature no longer beggared even by the most obstinate and fatuous amongst us. The doomsayers of yesterday have become today’s experts, the sceptics of yesterday today’s gainsayers, and the common man the victim of the impending economic recession. These difficult times have reintroduced into our lexicon such words as crisis, as we cower in the confinement of our houses from the emergency that has befallen us. The pandemic has demonstrated that life is not as impervious to challenges as we had assumed.
But the worst is yet to come. Every day spent overdosing on insipid Netflix shows or roiling across the sofa comes at a cost to the UK economy, an enormous cost indeed. The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that the economic fallout from this would contract our GDP by at least 13%, extirpating businesses and stoking unemployment in a period of extreme uncertainty. To rectify this issue, Boris Johnson’s government would have to resort to borrowing money, which The Guardian’s Richard Partington claims would double the national debt, and to exploiting huge parts of it not to improve citizens’ lives, but to restore the status quo ante. At the same time, the Conservative leadership, notwithstanding its penchant for augmenting state expenditure, will be forced to cut costs, dogged by the onus of devising a viable blueprint for our nation’s future reconstruction. It is in this regard that we urge the UK government to abnegate its existing foreign aid commitments.
In such a tribulating, unpredictable period, our policy should prioritise those living in the UK. The explanation is straightforward. Selfish and un-Christian though it sounds to abandon our brothers and sisters in poorer and more unstable countries, this has to be done. Firstly, much as the Bible teaches us to love our neighbour, its riff on economics is as good as its views on the composition of noble gases — i.e. hardly the be-all and end-all for those willing to grasp said subjects. In any case, it dictates that charity begins at home: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Secondly, in truth, we lack the resources to help them. After all, our tax revenue has already shrunk by £130 billion amid a harrowing £88 billion rise in spending by the Treasury.
Perhaps, we even lack the resources to help ourselves; for we are yet to find a study that does not betoken a future of difficult financial recovery. Only time will show which of these ex ante estimates, if any, hold true. The only indefeasible thing is that diverting funds from the devastated communities across Britain will stick in the craw of many, thereby rendering such efforts politically suicidal and outright ruinous in the context of a pandemic. A government, elected by and for our people, would not score points by neglecting the privation in its own backyard. Doing so would be tantamount to betraying the voters. As a result, the most logical conclusion is to decrease our contribution to optimise our expenditure and channel funds where they are most demanded.
In 2016 alone, the UK munificently gave a total of £13.4 billion as international aid. To put this figure into perspective, it amounted to 0.7% of our GDP and placed us at the forefront of global donors. According to Dominic Kennedy of The Times, “the only donors more generous than Britain by proportion of their economies are Sweden (1.01%), Luxembourg (1%), Norway (0.99%), and Denmark (0.72%)”. As you may see, what we donate constitutes a hefty sum, which nobody could spare, yet alone countenance, during the ongoing crisis. Even worse, foreign aid is often wasteful and quixotic, its benefits dubious and anaemic at best.
Of course, that is not to say we had no zero successes at all. The Millennium Villages Project (MVP), organised under the auspices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) between 2005 and 2015, managed to bolster living standards in 79 rural settlements across Africa, for instance. There, a team of NGO representatives and globally recognised academics helped boost local agricultural yields and literacy levels. Despite this, our accomplishments are outweighed by an endless list of shortcomings. Stories of money being squandered or embezzled, projects remaining unfinished, children enduring poverty and hunger largely account for our experience of distributing foreign aid even in the 21st century.
Much of this is owed to what George W. Bush’s speechwriter Michael Gerson considers “the soft bigotry of low expectations”. More specifically, the distribution of aid by us and other prosperous states has often presupposed that if a certain region of the world is poor, all the people residing in that region were thus poor and desperately in need of assistance in any way, shape, or form. The reality is different. Even the most unequal societies may narrate plentiful examples of how hardworking, ambitious individuals successfully ascend the rungs of social hierarchy. Moreover, it is irrefutable that, taken as a whole, poorer nations, such as post-colonial states in Africa, have achieved remarkable progress. Today, far fewer dictators roam the planet, their days numbered in most countries and their policies increasingly scrutinised by a resilient civil society. Economic development is marching in tow, no doubt. Just read this appropriately titled article in The Economist, “Africa Rising”, which states that secondary school enrolment had increased by 48% from 2000 to 2008, whereas the continent’s Foreign Direct Investment surpassed $50 billion back in 2012.
Here, many will retort by arguing that the market ex vi termini takes time to deliver for the ordinary people, many of them trapped in suffering. SOS Children’s Villages, the world’s largest charity dedicated to orphaned and abandoned children, believes that as many as 226.7 million Africans are malnourished. The question of why is complex and frankly irrelevant here. What matters are the images of famished children with defeatist outlooks and distended bellies that so effectively prick our conscience. Meagre survival prospects exemplify living standards in much of the Third World, their representativeness vindicated by its association with indigence and hopelessness. Clearly, the demand for aid is still there, and we must remember this. However, it befits us to fathom the variety of situations, in which individuals may find themselves, and correspondingly curb our foreign aid expenditure to reconcile the needs and wants of the British people with those of the international community. Failure to fathom this and adopt a more target-specific strategy is exactly the “soft bigotry of low expectations” we have struggled to eschew thus far.
Still, even being target-specific is no silver bullet for its success. In her book, A Challenge for Africa, a Kenyan political activist and Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai offers a concrete example to support this statement. At the 2005 Economic Forum in Davos, then the Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete delivered a passionate speech, in part focusing on the need for global assistance in combatting malaria. He lamented the previous initiatives that, in his view, promoted passivity and wastefulness in Africa’s rural communities, and called for an effort to provide both the technological remedies and the set of positive behaviours, needed to maximise their use. Comparing this revolutionary strategy that would incentivise non-material ownership and responsibility, he juxtaposed it with past efforts of giving Tanzanian villagers mosquito bed nets.
The practice of bed nets itself is good, but simply donating them to uneducated subsistence farmers did little to ameliorate suffering. Some did not fully comprehend the benefits of bed nets and threw them out as soon as state officials had left. Others, meanwhile, took advantage of them, but either struggled, or did not recognise the need, to repair holes in them. In short, the funding allocated for this project only produced subpar results, and Maathai maintains that such cases are commonplace. With this in mind, spending more may not necessarily mean benefitting the ordinary people in a developing country; far more effective is inculcating a positive and cognisant mindset in the individual recipient of aid. Arguably, it is more Christian, as well. Teaching good judgement and capacity for self-improvement is a far more lasting gift than any materials the UK could provide.
Based on this, the UK should divest our foreign budget to tackle issues that already exist or will soon arise in communities across the country. Supplying aid as carelessly and munificently as we do is bound to see us get hoist by our own petard, and pursuing a more internationalist foreign policy could very well end up improvident and regrettable. In advocating this, we neither spurn the idea of foreign aid per se, nor reject the Biblical principle of loving our neighbour. Yet, it seems impractical to pay more heed to the human needs thousands of miles away from the UK than to those expressed by the British public.
Such peculiar favouritism is politically dangerous, especially as we expect a 14% reduction in Britain’s GDP by July. Add to this the issue of Brexit, and we are left with no choice but to sacrifice our commitment to foreign aid. In times of crisis, every penny counts. Diverting foreign aid to domestic needs could save many lives here, perhaps even more lives than it would have saved abroad.
Originally published at https://www.orthodoxconservatives.uk on April 17, 2020.