International Development Committee inquiry into the Philosophy and Culture of Aid  Written evidence submitted by Brian Drummond

Summary of evidence

I briefly note, on this page, ten topics the inquiry should consider. The following pages give relevant quotes from the literature relating to these topics. A reference listing of the cited sources, and a few others, is given at the end.

In the summary below, and in the quotes in the pages that follow, I group these round the three of the four areas identified in the Committee’s call for evidence:

1.              why the UK gives foreign aid;

2.               what the benefits are to countries such as the UK of having an aid budget; and

3.                 how aid delivery can be improved.

1.       Why the UK gives foreign aid

1.1              To what extent can severe poverty be eradicated?

1.2              Would working towards the reform and extension of worldwide regulations be a more effective response to severe poverty than aid?

1.3              Is working to eradicate severe poverty in other states required by the UK’s recognition of human rights?

1.4              Do some of the UK’s resources rightfully belong to other countries?

1.5              Is the UK responsible for ongoing poor governance in its former colonies?

1.6               Does the UK have other remedial responsibilities to other states?

2.       Benefits to countries such as the UK of having an aid budget

2.1              To what extent is aid driven by benefits to the UK?

3.       How aid delivery can be improved

3.1              Is there convincing evidence that UK aid has reduced poverty?

3.2              What role do aid recipients have in determining their own needs and priorities?

3.3              What effect does aid have on the political engagement of the recipients?

3.4              To what extent is aid subject to accountability and appraisal?

             

1.              Why the UK gives foreign aid

              The eradication of severe poverty

1.1              To what extent can severe poverty be eradicated?

“There is in fact fairly widespread consensus that while many poor countries currently lack the resources, infrastructures, and governing capacity to secure the means of subsistence for all their citizens, the eradication of severe poverty is a feasible demand relative to level of global resources, technology, and feasible social institutions” [2]

“The problem is, however, not just one of providing the poor with sufficient resources and leaving equality aside. Poverty is not created and recreated in a social vacuum; it is produced and reproduced through practices that are both relational and unequal. At an obvious level, poverty is a product of the market economy, in which capital, income, and employment are disproportionately distributed among the population. Patterns of ownership, the production and the labour process, and unemployment produce and reproduce poverty.” [10]

“More than 1 billion people struggle to survive on less than US$1 a day (UN, 2005). Of these, roughly half – 550 million – are working (ILO, 2005). By definition, these working poor cannot work their way out of extreme poverty. They simply do not earn enough to feed themselves and their families, much less to deal with the economic risks and uncertainties they face. The majority earn their livelihood in the informal economy where average earnings are low and economic risks are high, especially among own account operators, casual day labourers and industrial outworkers. Rough estimates suggest that half of the working poor in the informal economy are self-employed; the other half are wage employed working for households, informal enterprises or formal enterprises. Poverty reduction is not possible without addressing the root causes of the low level of incomes and the high level of risks faced by the working poor in the informal economy. The root causes are not simply lack of productive resources and economic opportunities, as the people in question are working. What the working poor lack, more fundamentally, are economic rights, including: labour rights for informal wage workers and business rights for informal self-employed workers, as well as property rights, the right to social protection, and the right to organization and representation for both groups.” [11]

“If we take the finitude of the planet seriously we cannot continue with assumptions about growth – or even a stationary state – being possible. We need to recognize that the global economy has to contract. We certainly cannot simply assume that there will always be, or even is now, a ‘surplus’ to share out. So even if there were the will among the better off to allow some redistribution to the worse off, putting this into effect would involve more than setting aside a share of surplus. Put in other terminology, it is not possible to have convergence between the wealthy and the poor without also having contraction of the aggregate ecological space demands.” [24]

 

1.2              Would working towards the reform and extension of worldwide regulations be a more effective response to severe poverty than aid?

              “a theory of global distributive justice should concern itself primarily with the basic structure of international society - that is, the economic, political and legal institutions and practices that influence the global distribution of advantages. International transfers (for example, foreign aid programs) also influence this distribution, but by any measure they are less significant than other forces which are potentially open to political manipulation, such as private capital flows, the rules of the trade regime, and the system of international property rights. Principles of global distributive justice pertain to all of these.” [7]             

              “If we know that, between us, we are depriving a vast number of the means of subsistence, and that we could, together, avoid doing so through the introduction of coordinated global regulations, then we are under a shared duty to introduce those regulations. … ending subsistence deprivations requires solving numerous coordination and collective action problems, which would in turn require introducing and enforcing global rules. However, achieving their abolition is an urgent duty of basic justice owed to all those whose lives will otherwise be blighted or destroyed, and a condition on the minimal moral legitimacy of global and domestic structures”  [3]

              “‘governments of affluent, developed states have at least … responsibilities, I contend, … to show some moral leadership in mobilising for a more just network of international practices, rules and institutions.” [8]

              Why do I characterize the background situation as one of systematic injustice? Because it involves people having to endure a situation where their basic entitlements are routinely ignored, remain unconsidered or insufficiently considered by those who have responsibilities to respect such basic entitlements. It is a systematic injustice because we, collectively, as citizens of developed, affluent states, and especially our governments acting on our behalf, can reasonably be expected to give due consideration to such basic entitlements in discharging these basic responsibilities and, moreover, we could make feasible changes to the network of practices and rules we uphold … that would allow prospects for decent lives to be in reach for those currently denied them” [9]

              “A modern social organization, like traditional ones, can create absolute entitlements to food and water: no one eats unless everyone does, and if there is not enough, then we share what there is according to need. … So we should take seriously as a solution to hunger large scale interventions to remove food from the influence of markets …  Whatever money we devote to relief of famine or hunger is money that we do not devote to putting an end to the social relations that create hunger; whatever time we spend in activities of famine or hunger relief is time taken away from addressing large scale causes.” [21]

              “If we wish to ensure that we treat others fairly we must live within conditions of structural justice. This is because if there are no institutions monitoring and regulating social structures then over time structural injustices can develop and background justice can be undermined.” [29]

              “The sort of poverty experienced by the poorest billion people on the planet undermines their ability to make fair contracts with others. Any deals they make are in fact likely to be highly unfair. This is because there is no background justice: one party is in a much worse position than the other. Thus, according to an approach that sees the role of governing institutions as securing the conditions in which deals can be fair (maintaining background justice), there is a need for governing institutions to prevent the continuance of extreme poverty.” [30]

              “an effective enforcement of economic and social human rights should include the possibility of an international regulation of financial and commercial relations. It is important to note that whereas pursuant to the 1976 Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Human Rights Committee has been vested with the authority to hear individual claims of violations by states accepting this protocol of any right set forth in the ICCPR, there is no equivalent enforcement mechanism in relation to the rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The idea of establishing a similar type of body in relation to these latter rights has generated significant controversy in contemporary human rights discussion. To further stress the asymmetry between these categories of rights, the International Criminal Court, created by the 1998 Rome Treaty, attributes individual criminal responsibility in cases that entail serious violations of certain civil and political rights.  An international tribunal focused on the defense of social and economic rights should not, however, be primarily oriented toward penal law. Rather, it should control, and eventually sanction states or international unions and corporations that violate those rights or fail to enforce the enactment of such rights within reasonable periods of time. Financial and commercial relations would then be subjected to a normative accountability at an international level. Judges would be able to settle disputes impartially, with the greatest possible independence from the power of the parties involved.” [22]

1.3              Is working to eradicate severe poverty in other states required by the UK’s recognition of human rights?

              'the complex causal chains that ultimately lead to millions lacking secure access to basic necessities constitute a violation of a basic human right on a huge scale’ [5]

              “the persistence of severe poverty constitutes a structural human rights violation that demands complete abolition, and that responsibility for this violation is not plausibly confined to agents and institutions within the poor countries themselves but is shared by agents and institutions in affluent countries.” [4]             

              “norms and rules that fail to recognize as a violation ongoing patterns of behaviour that predictably deprive persons of the means of subsistence, and fail to specify and enforce regulations that prohibit such deprivations, are incompatible with genuine recognition of a right to subsistence” [3]

              “people have a human right to have their basic needs met. … Thus the arguments that some countries are not capable of meeting this minimum level, or that we are responsible only for alleviating the extreme poverty that we have caused, ignore the universal duties that a human right implies. … Governments have the obligation to respect the rights of individuals and not to violate them, whether by action or by omission. … And it is also important to remember that when the economic resources available to a country are insufficient, this often is due to unjust policies by other countries or to unjust global institutional arrangements. … in order to achieve the satisfaction of the human rights stated in Article 25 of the UDHR, it is necessary that all people should have their basic needs satisfied, irrespective of the communities to which they belong.” [17]

              “poverty is an indicator of injustice. It is a sign that essential human interests have probably been violated—even though these violations could have been prevented. Tolerating poverty contravenes universal moral rights and international law under most known conditions.” [31]

              “in any case where the human right of access to sufficient ecological space to maintain a decent life comes into conflict with a mere right of property, the latter should yield. [By ‘mere’ right of property I mean any property right for which no human rights justification can directly be adduced.]” [23]

              Obligations arising from the UK’s past and current actions

1.4              Do some of the UK’s resources rightfully belong to other countries?

              “Those born into affluent countries are the beneficiaries of enduring economic structures that can in part be traced back to historical processes that enriched the North through the theft of natural and social resources from countries in the South (including through slavery and through a colonial system under which imperial powers were held legally entitled to own the resources of the colonies). The North was also enriched by a process of industrialization that involved using up far more than an equitable share of fossil fuels (still the cheapest form of energy) and of the absorptive capacity of the Earth. Since both of these resources are finite, the North has thereby deprived of their share countries that have not yet fully industrialized. … agents in the North … cannot rightfully inherit economic entitlements without also inheriting the liabilities that the process of their acquisition incurred. Insofar as affluent countries were enriched through the theft of natural and social resources from other countries, they owe some form of financial compensation to those other countries.  It follows that some of the resources of affluent countries rightfully belong to other countries. Thus failure to pay the compensation that is owed constitutes (currently legal) theft.”  [4]

              “If I have stolen what is rightfully somebody else's property, or if I have borrowed from him and refuse to repay the debt when it is due, and as a result he is destitute, it would be unbecoming on my part to dole out some part of the money that should belong to him, with various strings attached as to the way in which he should spend it, and then go around posing as a great humanitarian. That is, in my judgment, an exact description of the position in which the rich countries have currently placed themselves. The need for humanitarian aid would be reduced in a world that had a basically just international distribution” [6]

1.5              Is the UK responsible for the enduring injustice of poor governance in its former colonies?

              “the developmental capacity of African states is partly a function of their degree of legitimacy and congruence with pre-colonial institutions, … the more illegitimate the state, the more likely political elites are to resort to the types of neo-patrimonial policies which lead to poor governance and economic stagnation. By linking such policies to original conditions of legitimacy and congruence at independence, I am able to explain both Africa's weak average performance and the wide variations which exist in state capacity and growth across African countries.” [19]

              “The consensus among the authors studying African postcolonial states (Mamdani, Mbembe, Bayart, Hibou, Ellis, Roitman or Reno) is built around the notion that post-colonial African leaders inherited a predatory state and they followed the same path as their colonial predecessors.” [28]

              “African nationalism then reproduced colonial violence and authoritarianism, bequeathing it on postcolonial Africa as a mode of governance.” [38]

              “'One of the legacies of colonialism in Africa has been the creation of artificial and dysfunctional states riddled with instabilities and conflict. The conflict that plagued northern Uganda for over two decades and which remains an open sore has roots in colonialism. Uganda was an ‘artificial creation’ 1 of British colonialism, which brought together several distinct nationalities with diverse, complex and cross-cutting divides.” [39]

              “… the state that was supposed to build the nation was the inherited colonial state – despotic, divisive, and in every respect antithetical to the tasks of nation-building. Nationalism in the hands of the post-colonial state degenerated into statism, politically authoritarian, economically rapacious, internationally compradorial and nationally dictatorial. The ideology of nationalism resolved into various ideologies of developmentalism at best, or ethnicism, at worst. The liberal constitutional order bequeathed by the departing colonial masters was a tragic joke be-cause it was superimposed on a despotic apparatus also invented, strengthened and bequeathed by the colonial master. The despotic infrastructure endured while the liberal superstructure blew off in the winds of factional political struggles or the so-called development imperatives” [45]

              “The past discussion has proved beyond doubt that a significant degree of drain took place during the British rule over India, even though there may have been difference of opinions between the supporters and the critics of the theory regarding the quantum of the drain. As the Company-rule lasted from 1764 to 1858 and then the British rule for 90 years (1858–1947), the systematic drain over such a long period had the potential to significantly alter the economic landscape of India.” [34]

1.6               Does the UK have other remedial responsibilities to other states?

              “we fail in our remedial responsibilities when we… do not make necessary changes to healthcare recruitment that strips countries of their healthcare personnel, leaving them woefully understaffed. And we fail miserably when we continue to implement trade liberalisation policies that undermine food security or allow massive levels of starvation and malnutrition to result. And the insistence on repayment of debts undertaken by repressive regimes no longer in power, which strips public coffers of funds to devote to healthcare, education, infrastructure, transportation and the like, is yet a further failure of our remedial responsibilities, as is our failure to reform the TRIPS agreements which perpetuate massive under-funding for diseases that affect the great majority of people.” [8]

              “A good case can be made that the largest humanitarian NGOs, based primarily in the US and Britain, are members of, and are substantially funded by, governments that are directly and indirectly responsible for a tremendous amount of harm and misery in the world. If this is right, these NGOs operate in many countries where they try to alleviate suffering caused by very large groups of which they are (fairly prominent) members.” [13]

              “what is the proper focus of our moral concern on the international level: should we be concerned only about poverty or should we also be concerned about inequalities of resources and power? …  justice is not only a question of poverty and famine relief—though … poverty relief is the most urgent and immediate moral obligation with which to comply. It is also one of rectifying unfair inequalities in resources and power generated by institutional arrangements.” [16]

2.               Benefits to countries such as the UK of having an aid budget             

2.1              To what extent is aid driven by benefits to the UK?

              “All aid is inevitably political: it benefits some whilst further impoverishing others, and it is increasingly only a disguised form of self-interest. It reinforces the racialised distinctions between donor – white, Western, civilised, wealthy – and recipient: abject, poor, dependent and, most often, black. And it functions to produce a permanent state of emergency that, ironically, enables the world to continue as it is.” [18]

              “The fact is that aid will only have tax payers’ support if its benefits—politically and economically—can be sufficiently demonstrated to the giver. … citizens of the South and East see governments that are financing and promoting international social development in other settings too, for example at the World Trade Organization. There, their behaviour sends the opposite message, namely that they will only consider altering structural causes of poverty if it does not threaten or erode the enormous advantages already enjoyed by “contented” Northern voters” [20]

3.               How aid delivery can be improved             

3.1              Is there convincing evidence that UK aid has reduced poverty?

“We find … that the composition of aid matters—multilateral aid and grants reduce poverty whereas bilateral aid and loans do not. … Donors may consider giving aid through multilateral agencies and grants in combating poverty.” [1]

“the effect of aid on growth is positive on average across all countries, but is limited and quite modest in comparison with other determinants of growth, and is negative in some countries.” [12]

““If the history of official aid giving teaches us one lesson, it is that the current “system” of raising aid funds and allocating aid on the basis of individual voluntary decisions doesn’t work. It provides a wholly inadequate basis for raising and allocating official aid funds. This remains among the most critical challenges facing donor states today, although it is rarely discussed. Surprisingly, it is not a new challenge. Almost from the time when the current aid system was being formed, a succession of prominent people have called for a more rational system of raising and allocating official aid funds. For instance, the first report of the Independent Commission on International Development published in 1980, more widely known as the Brandt Commission, as it was headed by the former German Chancellor Willy Brandt, judged, more than 25 years ago, that even then the time had already passed when the world ought to be raising aid funds through some sort of automatic mechanism, and disbursing aid without the repeated interventions of governments.” [41]

“we should have a great deal more humility than we do about saying when such actions are called for and what shape they should take. This is not only because there are questions about the efficiency of aid, but also because the provision of aid creates winners and losers within societies that can lead to worse consequences overall.” [26]

“Perhaps the key question is whether there is sufficient reason to believe that the effects of at least some NGO activities are good enough to support a moral requirement to give. Implicit in this question are a number of further questions. How good do the effects need to be in order to support such a requirement? How great a risk of negative effects of what level of seriousness, for example, would rule out such a requirement? … Such questions loom large for anyone wondering whether they should give to NGOs, but one finds very little about them in the academic work on that question, which is found mainly in the discipline of philosophy. It is not that philosophers have neglected the question whether the global rich are morally required to give to international NGOs. On the contrary, there has been quite a lot of discussion about it over several decades. However, philosophers have tended to discuss that question in a way that takes little if any account of the literature in development studies and related disciplines on NGOs and the effects of their work.” [25]

3.2              What role do aid recipients have in determining their own needs and priorities?

              “if … poverty is understood more broadly as a condition of social, economic, and political powerlessness that manifests as chronic vulnerability and disadvantage, then it will matter very much whether poor communities have a central role in determining their own needs and priorities, and in helping to devise reforms. … it will also require that the empowerment of those most vulnerable to poverty be treated as the goal of development and poverty reduction initiatives.’ [14]

              “the prevailing mode of aid is often dis-empowering. Legitimate interests of donors and recipients—be they governmental or non-governmental—are typically reconciled in favour of the former. … Overall, progress on proposals for structural reform that gives recipients real ownership of change has been poor if not deplorable. Reforms currently on offer are, in essence, administrative improvements. … Recipients’ rights remain secondary. After almost 40 years, those who justify the system in the first place still remain in second place and second class.” [20]

              “it is important to include in th[e] list of [humanitarian aid] actors those individuals and collectivities who, for one reason or another, require direct interference from others outside their circle of special relationships. It is deeply implausible that these individuals and groups cease to be actors in their own lives when the need for assistance arises. Their capacities to provide for their basic needs may be impaired, but their ability to reason and make informed decisions is not necessarily suspended. … they retain the capacity to make some choices, even if these are dramatically limited. It is also implausible to suggest that they do not, in some way, contribute to the practice of assistance, by acting in the interests of, or by providing direct help to one another, or to those with special and additional needs. For many experienced practitioners, their involvement in decision-making and planning is now widely viewed as a critical success factor for assistance interventions – thus the large body of literature concerning “participatory” methods and practices.” [37]

3.3              What effect does aid have on the political engagement of the recipients?

              “While one might find a positive overall effect of aid on economic growth, this could be compatible with a decline in governance quality that may have negative implications over the very long-term. A popular version of the thesis that aid undermines governance is … that governments less dependent on internal sources of revenue tend to be less accountable to their citizens and face weaker incentives to nurture effective public institutions.” [27]             

              “significant socio-economic inequalities are closely intertwined with the political powerlessness that is itself partly constitutive poverty, and which locks people into chronic deprivation. If I am right, then ethicists who seek to develop solutions to global poverty need to focus much more on relations and structures of social and political inequality and exclusion than they have hitherto done.” [15]

              “meaningful transformation will require that anti-poverty and development strategies target local and global structures of inequality, as well as practices of discrimination and political marginalization” [14]

3.4              To what extent is aid subject to accountability and appraisal?

              “agents (citizens, tax-payers, donors, and recipients) ought to engage in public deliberation on and appraisal of the performance of the institutions that they have selected to enable, the goals at which these mediating groups aim, and the outcomes of their actions. … Simply because the contemporary assistance industry intends to act for the benefit of others does not mean that these actions will benefit those others. The enormous ranges of activities that are currently performed in the practice of assistance across a multiplicity of institutions are an important site of moral scrutiny and critical reflection by those agents who have made such practices possible. … human beings, in their capacity as enabling agents, can … insist[] that those organisations remain engaged with communities to undertake rigorous evaluation of the outcomes of interventions, and further, to take responsibility for the outcomes of their actions. This would require substantial changes to traditional funding models that simply do not provide time or finance to address this essential work. ...” [37]

 

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