Within societies that value individual life above suffering and death — no, it’s not a universal cultural value — the knee-jerk reaction of most governments and well-meaning individuals is to direct massive amounts of financial aid towards societies currently mired in the lowest of living conditions.
The “why” is no mystery: no matter the circumstances, to most it appears to be a charitable act; and the international bodies tasked with advocating for and distributing the aid are leeched upon by some of the successful thieves in human history. (See “Food for Oil.”)
As any economist can tell you, noble intentions are irrelevant to outcomes. Yet a great portion of the West continues to ignore the element of whether or not outcomes prove a program’s success, choosing instead to reward the supposed masters of “empathy,” like 2008 Obama, for simply stating the desire to bring peace and prosperity to the suffering. A desire that is borne by most every human, presuming he lives within a culture that isn’t bent on drumming it out of him.
Angus Deaton expressed a similar desire to raise the standards of the world’s suffering. So he examined outcomes and found that the redistributive actions favored by the political left in all matters of “inequality” are generally inferior — and often produce negative outcomes — when compared to the liberty and free trade policies advocated by the political right.
Apparently those bigoted, heartless, gilded-toilet bastards at the heart of all the world’s misery have ideas worth consideration. Who knew?
Today, even the New York Times has managed to publish an accurate take on just how beneficial Keaton’s findings can and should be for the entirety of the human race. Writes Vikas Bajaj, in an article titled “What Angus Deaton, the Latest Nobel Winner, Says About Foreign Aid“:
A good introduction to Mr. Deaton’s work and thinking can be found in his 2013 book “The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality,” which I recently read. In it he provides a succinct and cogent description of how billions of people around the world escaped poverty and disease in the last 250 years.
Take a moment here to consider the age of the United States, and the magnitude of the good that life, liberty, and property rights have brought to the world.
And recall that the Statue of Liberty was designed with a celebration of such an accomplishment in mind — the U.S.’s success not only as a safe land to flee towards, but primarily as a sample path for the rest of the world’s nations to follow.
He also explains what keeps so many hundreds of millions more in abject poverty and what can be done to help them.
In his analysis, he argues that foreign aid is not a good answer to the needs of the poor in developing countries and says that, in fact, aid can grievously hurt the countries that receive it. He points out that in recent decades China and India have made huge strides in reducing poverty but that those two countries receive relatively little in foreign aid compared with many other developing countries that got more aid per capita but have made much less progress.
Here is an excerpt from his book on international aid:
To understand how aid works we need to study the relationship between aid and politics. Political and legal institutions play a central role in setting the environment that can nurture prosperity and economic growth. Foreign aid, especially when there is a lot of it, affects how institutions function and how they change. Politics has often choked off economic growth, and even in the world before aid, there were good and bad political systems. But large inflows of foreign aid change local politics for the worse and undercut the institutions needed to foster long-run growth. Aid also undermines democracy and civic participation, a direct loss over and above the losses that come from undermining economic development.
These harms of aid need to be balanced against the good that aid does, whether educating children who would not otherwise have gone to school or saving the lives of those who would otherwise have died.
I just emailed Rep. Dave Brat for comment on Deaton. (Brat is the only economics Ph.D. or former economics professor in all of Congress, an astounding fact especially within the House, the body entrusted with the “power of the purse.”) Replied Brat:
Many voters told me I had their support because they wanted to see an Economics professor in Congress, working on our nation’s financial issues. Today, Deaton’s Nobel Prize is a great opportunity for a quick lesson about the best use of your tax dollars, a lesson D.C. really needs to hear.
I taught third world economic development and economic justice for 18 years. During those 18 years, we saw China and India improve the welfare of 2.5 billion children of God when they incrementally chose the rule of law and the free market system. They progressed from making about $1,000-a-year per person to about $9,000. I want that same outcome and better for the rest of humanity.
Ironically, it seems like we are turning our backs on this very success formula, which made the United States the richest nation in the world. We need to renew our efforts and sustain the tradition and institutions that have made us great.
Arthur Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute, a think-tank which describes itself as “a community of scholars and supporters committed to expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity and strengthening free enterprise.” Brooks is also the author of many books that help launch, along with Deaton, a fact-based, irrefutable response to the “bigoted, heartless, rich” narrative that has so successfully slandered the political and economic right, causing the situation mentioned in Brat’s penultimate sentence above.
In his 2007 book Who Really Cares, Brooks found that religious conservatives — the demographic most commonly labeled “heartless” — are in reality the most charitable demographic.
And it’s not much of a contest.
Religious conservatives give more financially both as a percentage of income and in absolute value. They volunteer more of their time to charitable causes. They even donate more blood. Additionally, as Deaton’s research reveals, they support the solution that returns the most successful outcome in the global battle for poverty reduction.
Meanwhile, the political left gives less of their wallets, their time, and their blood, while supporting the massive foreign aid transfers — of other people’s money — that can leave the world’s poorest in worse conditions.
They even award Nobel Peace Prizes for such failure, all the while questioning your heart and humanity.