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Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 05:42 | SYDNEY
Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 05:42 | SYDNEY

Foreign aid: What's wrong with charity?

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This post is part of the Australia's aid budget 2012 debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

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23 April 2012 12:09


This post is part of the Australia's aid budget 2012 debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

Let me touch briefly on two issues raised by Tim O'Connor's response to my post on aid.

First, I'm sure Tim is right to say that aid can help foster economic growth by supporting health and education programs, because healthier and better-educated people are more productive. But that accords aid at best a modest role in the complex processes that drive economic growth. Aid does much more to alleviate the consequences of poverty than eliminate its causes. Nothing wrong with that as far as it goes, but let's not entertain the illusion that elimination of poverty is a gift that the West can bestow. It is something than counties must do for themselves, and many of them are.

Second, I would not be as swift as Tim to dismiss the place of charity (or altruism, if you prefer) in aid. There is nothing wrong with charity. There is however something wrong with getting charity and self-interest confused.

My comments about treating Indonesia as a 'charity case' were directed at those who argue that spending money on aid serves our interests in building our future relationships with our neighbour. I think that reflects a very deep misunderstanding of Indonesia and the factors which will shape our relationship in future. It also reflects a rather poor grasp of human nature. So by all means let us help those in need in Indonesia, but let's not pretend that we can help ourselves at the same time by purchasing Indonesian gratitude for our generosity.

Photo by Flickr user stevendepolo.

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