Sunday, June 26, 2005
I have been writing a lot on development aid as it has been in the news a lot. I harp on it since I work for a development agency so I am in the business of aid. This is an interesting column which frames the discussion between two points of view which he labels liberal and conservative. I am not sure I agree with the labeling, but the article is worth reading. The "liberal" or more precisely "materialist" (as I don't think it is inherently liberal) perspective assumes we can solve poverty with enough aid (i.e. resources). The real problem is that the rich world has not donated enough money and if we would we could end poverty. In contrast, the "conservative" viewpoint emphasizes non-material causes to poverty such as corruption, greed, lack of freedom, etc... And without addressing these root causes, additional aid will just be wasted.

From what I have seen down here I would definitely say that the "conservative" argument has a lot of merit. I have said this many times before, but it bears repeating: Money alone doesn't solve the problem. You have to work at the worldview level. You have to teach people to think about themselves and their environment differently. You cannot pull yourself out of poverty if you abuse your wife and kids every weekend and spend all your spare money on beer. But the "materialist" perspective is also correct. It takes money to change people's worldview. It is a very difficult process that takes a long time. And simultaneously you need to be working at the level of institutions and laws in order to open up societies to allow people to reach their full potential. So an organization like Food for the Hungry forms a critical part of the solution to poverty as it works at the individual and community level to change people's beliefs and worldview so they are better able to utilize the resources that they have. But we also need organizations like the World Bank to help countries at the national level reform their laws to allow for the easier formation of small businesses, establish law and order, crack down on government corruption, etc.... We in the rich world also need to be doing everything we can in addition to giving to make development easier (such as eliminating farm subsidies and tariffs which distort trade in favor of a few at the expense of many...including you the taxpayer).

So in my opinion the correct approach to aid is a combination of both perspectives. Yes we need to focus more money and effort on eliminating crushing poverty. But we need to do it in a way that addresses the non-material causes of poverty.

I have not addressed the churches role in this process, but will do that in another post. Some of you reading this may wonder about the "changing people's worldview" and equate that with "imposing western culture". I will write about that sometime too in more detail. But let me just say there is nothing western about clean water and sanitary indoor plumbing. I couldn't care less if you use a turkish toilet, a flush toilet or a bidet.


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