Foreign aid has a lot of critics in part because it has a lot of problems. In particular, in the first couple of post-colonial decades there was enormous overpromising and people thought that foreign aid could really spark economic growth. Hasn’t worked. And while many countries have made progress in terms of sparking increased growth rates, nobody’s figured out a reliable path for external actors to really make that happen. That said, aid critics have a bad habit of terribly overstating their claims and neglecting the fact that, for example, aid aimed at curing disease saves people lives.
At any rate, Peter Robinson seems unduly impressed with Dambisa Moyo:
Today on Uncommon Knowledge, Dambisa Moyo, author of Dead Aid responds to her critics — including former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson. “Surely,” Gerson has written, “Moyo should recognize the difference between aid provided to oppressive kleptocrats and aid given to faith-based organizations distributing AIDS drugs.”
I’m not going to sit here and say the fact that 2 million Africans are on HIV drugs is a bad thing. Of course that’s a good thing. But whose responsibility is it to provide those HIV drugs? American society does not operate by sitting around and waiting for handouts. Why should we as Africans?
For one thing, in the developed world we clearly do offer financial assistance (“handouts”) to indigent people suffering from illness. Even in the United States there’s Medicaid and people get treated at emergency rooms regardless of their ability to pay. Meanwhile, in terms of HIV drugs obviously the reason Africans find themselves needing to rely on handouts is that the continent is so full of poor people. Ultimately, obviously, the ideal solution would be for Africans to get richer. But the per capita GDP of Africa isn’t going to magically reach American (or even Mexican or even Chinese) levels overnight even if Africa does start seeing strong growth. Meanwhile, people with HIV will die really soon unless someone gives them medicine. And even better, the marginal cost of producing extra HIV medication is really low. There’s just no getting around the fact that giving poor people medicine is a useful and important way of making the world a better place.