Paradoxes of Foreign Aid

Paradoxes of Foreign Aid

When the Roman Empire had grown old and tired it began to rely, for the defense of its ramparts, less and less on the prowess of its citizens; instead, it paid subsidia to its minor allies, and even tributum to some petty kings for staying neutral. This wise arrangement helped preserve the Pax Romana for several centuries. Nevertheless, it drew noises, substantially similar to Messrs. Bricker’s and Talmadge’s, from some senators who—happily were not in a position, then, to disturb the Emperor’s political decisions.

A modern Secretary of State is less fortunate than his ancient predecessor. To justify a policy which simply happens to be intelligent and appropriate, he must prove that it also is virtuous. The idea of foreign aid first was sold to the American voters, following World War II, not on its own merits but on two secondary grounds: it was philanthropic and it was supposed to keep the Communists at bay. Vice-versa, it was attacked for the opposite reasons, as a tool of wicked imperialists and as the fancy of starry-eyed globalists. Defenders of foreign aid, paradoxically, answered the charge of “imperialism” by pointing to the good they were doing to the needy abroad, and the charge of “idealism” by pointing to the good they were doing this country; to counter one type of argument, they espoused the other.

Further confusing the issue, a widely-held sentiment welcomes foreign aid as an opportunity to expiate the sins of imperialism.’ But if this redemptive offering is supposed to placate the ire of colonial rebellion, alas it only kindles resentment; since to a pre-capitalist mind misery is the fault of misers, the sacrifice is not even accepted as bona fide. Palestinian refugees set fire to a UNRRA ambulance which came to fight epidemics in their camp; they hold responsible for their plight those who pay for their meagre rations. During the famine of 1953, American wheat was sent to India; but instead of gratitude the U.S. Senate only earned reproaches for holding a hearing about the need for relief—and also because Indian forwarding firms were not allowed to share in the shipping profits. When “Atoms-for-Peace” was offered with a control device against military use of the donated materials, Krishna Menon cried “collective imperialism.” The Marshall Plan was discounted as a clever device to dispose of surpluses; other forms of aid are suspected of hidden strings which might encumber the “sovereignty” of the beneficiaries.

Small nations are tied by government grants and loans no less than by old-fashioned colonialism or financial penetration. Aid is offered not to the worthy poor but rather to those among the weak who are sufficiently strong to warrant appeasement or who promise to be desirable allies. Yet this technique need not shock us, provided it is used honestly, without hypocritical claims of humanitarianism. There is no...