Re-thinking foreign aid, growth and development

Yeah, I know that headline sounds a little boring and wonky. Re-thinking. Growth. Aid. Development.

That’s because using words like equality, wealth distribution and the like tends to scare people. Makes you sound like a socialist or something worse — like the original (and perhaps still persistent, despite all the evidence to the contrary) image of what some thought President Barack Obama had in mind for the nation.

But “re-thinking growth and development” does seem like the best way to sum up these three recent articles from The Guardian. I am highlighting them because I thought they were especially thought-provoking.

The basic working assumption here is that the gap between the rich and poor is increasing, both here in the U.S. and in many parts of the world. Global inequity causes global instability and, arguably, at a certain point this gap becomes morally difficult to justify.

With that working assumption in mind, I link to these three articles:

Jonathan Glennie — Want less, use less, share more

In the 20th century, increased production was a fairly successful response to absolute poverty, which had been the lot of most of the human race for most of history. But in the 21st century, that path has come to a dead end, as the planet reaches its resource limits. A more equal distribution of wealth needs to return to the centre of development theory.

Priti Patnaik — Is India showing the failure of a focus on growth, on trickle-down economics?

The cheerleaders for growth are, as is to be expected, the government, big business and the burgeoning middle class. Facing them are those on the wrong side of the lop-sided growth story, environmentalists and academics.

Madeleine Bunting — Will aid go on forever?

Does aid go on forever? Does global inequality carry on deepening? … Will the web and the growth of China, Brazil and India change aid forever? Or will climate change, conflict and corruption bring development fatigue and more celebrity campaigners?


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.

  • Terry

    That article about India didn’t seem to want to come up…..the other two were very interesting. You are right that any economic model that does produce an excess of profit is suspect. I think that is why NGOs do succeed in a good but limited way but also why, and I think this is utterly tragic, sustainability is doomed. I have warned more optimistic people than myself that when people hear the word sustainability what they think they heard is the word socialism. “enough” is anti-capitalistic. Without moral imagination–something like intensive empathy that takes you to your knees, hopefully–almost anybody with the basic ideas and ideals of western history with the chance to make more will do so. Selfishness is part of always wanting more. So, sadly, our culture empowers us to feel correct when being selfish and winning more than others. The disconnect from that engine happens in the most unpredictable ways and is usually dismissed by dominant people as a failure of will or worse. Maybe we will be tribal right up to the bitter end after all….