If you pay much attention to all the political talk going on right now around foreign aid and development (and you should), you might have noticed a trend.
The trend is for political leaders to talk about providing foreign aid, health assistance and poverty mitigation because of its value to us — improving our national security, providing a more vibrant global economy to sell our goods in and the like.
Two of my most favorite writers, and thinkers, on global health and development have recently argued that this is a mistaken conceit. Even if it is a well-intended strategy (supporting efforts to help poor people by dressing them up as selfishness), they say it is probably both too cynical and not effective. So
Alanna Shaikh, writing for End the Neglect, asks What Makes People Care About Global Health?
The big wigs were saying that we need to care about global health because conditions in the developing world have a direct impact on life in the wealthy world. They cited the risks of terrorism and instability resulting from global poverty, and they talked about the money to be made from selling to the bottom of the pyramid. Noticeably absent was any major talk about a moral imperative to help people who were less well off.
Owen Barder, at his blog Owen Abroad, asks Does the Public Care About Development?
We should celebrate the fact that there is, belatedly, recognition among policymakers that promoting development is in our national interest, as well as being the right thing to do. But I am concerned that we are letting the pendulum swing too far, by placing this argument at the centre of the public case for aid.
I’ve written about this merging of foreign aid with foreign policy, expressing many of the same concerns. But Barder and Shaikh go farther and make the case that it is not only a risky business to mix up politics with what should be humanitarian efforts; it’s not necessary.