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Archive for the ‘Foreign Aid’ Category

There are many reasons why I’m not a big fan of the United Nations. Like other international bureaucracies, it supports statist policies (higher taxes, gun control, regulation, etc) that hinder economic development and limit human liberty by increasing the burden of government

Some people tell me that I shouldn’t be too critical because the U.N. also helps poor people with foreign aid. Indeed, the U.N. has a very active project to encourage rich nations to contribute 0.7 percent of their economic output to developing nations.

I generally respond to these (in some cases) well-meaning folks by explaining that there’s a big difference between good intentions and good results. If you examine the evidence, it turns out that redistribution from rich nations to poor nations is just as counterproductive as redistribution within a society.

An article in The Economist succinctly summarizes the issue. It starts with the rationale for foreign aid.

After the second world war, a new “development economics” came to dominate policymaking…, often at the urging of international institutions such as the World Bank. It argued that poor countries were victims of a vicious circle of poverty… The answer? Rich countries should provide the capital, in the form of foreign aid. …poor-country governments should plan their economies and…competition should be restricted through monopoly rights and barriers to foreign trade.

It then describes the revolutionary thinking of the late Peter Thomas Bauer, a Hungarian-born British economist who said the developing world needed economic freedom rather than handouts.

Lord Bauer set out alternative theories that, from the 1950s to the 1970s, were heresy. …Opportunities for private profit, not government plans, held the key to development. Governments had the limited though crucial role of protecting property rights, enforcing contracts, treating everybody equally before the law, minimising inflation and keeping taxes low.

Moreover, Bauer explained that foreign aid generally had a negative effect because it put resources in the hands of government, thus leveraging more statism. Which is the last thing these nations needed.

Aid politicised economies, directing money into the hands of governments rather than towards profitable business. Interest groups then fought to control this money rather than engage in productive activity. Aid increased the patronage and power of the recipient governments, which often pursued policies that stifled entrepreneurship and market forces. Indeed, aid had proved “an excellent method for transferring money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.”

Writing for the U.K.-based Spectator, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson explain that foreign aid has a very poor track record.

The idea that large donations can remedy poverty has dominated the theory of economic development — and the thinking in many international aid agencies and governments — since the 1950s. And how have the results been? Not so good, actually. Millions have moved out of abject poverty around the world over the past six decades, but that has had little to do with foreign aid. Rather, it is due to economic growth in countries in Asia which received little aid.

Meanwhile, the nations getting the most handouts have remained mired in poverty.

In the meantime, more than a quarter of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa are poorer now than in 1960 — with no sign that foreign aid, however substantive, will end poverty there. …huge aid flows appear to have done little to change the development trajectories of poor countries… Why? …economic institutions that systematically block the incentives and opportunities of poor people to make things better for themselves, their neighbours and their country. …The problem is that their aspirations are blocked today…by extractive institutions. The poor don’t pull themselves out of poverty, because the basic ability to do so is denied them.

What exactly are “extractive institutions”?

At the top of the list would be bad government policy, which creates a system in which politicians, bureaucrats, and insiders get unearned wealth via corruption and cronyism.

The authors give some powerful examples.

To understand Syria’s enduring poverty, you could do worse than start with the richest man in Syria, Rami Makhlouf. He is the cousin of President Bashar al-Assad and controls a series of government-created monopolies. He is an example of what are known in Syria as ‘abna al-sulta’, ‘sons of power’. To understand Angola’s endemic poverty, consider its richest woman, Isabel dos Santos, billionaire daughter of the long-serving president. …every major Angolan investment held by dos Santos stems either from taking a chunk of a company that wants to do business in the country or from a stroke of the president’s pen that cut her into the action.

I’d also include the wealthy Venezuelans who have used socialism as a vehicle to enrich themselves while impoverishing ordinary people.

To be sure, we have examples of insider favoritism and undeserved wealth in rich nations, but it’s a matter of degree. Cronyism is an undesirable feature of our economy, but it’s a defining feature of nations in the developing world.

So what does all this mean?

Acemoglu and Robinson basically reach the same conclusion as Lord Bauer.

When aid is given to governments that preside over extractive institutions, it can be at best irrelevant, at worst downright counter-productive. …Many kleptocratic dictators such as Congo’s Mobutu Sese Seko have been propped up by foreign aid.

Now let’s shift from looking at nations where failure has been subsidized by foreign aid and instead consider the success stories of economic development. Are there any lessons we can learn?

Well, if you look at the ranking from Economic Freedom of the World, you’ll see that the formerly poor East Asian jurisdictions that are now rich also have something else in common. They rank very high or somewhat high for economic freedom

In other words, there is a recipe for growth and prosperity. Nations that restrain the size of government and allow markets to flourish enjoy growth.

Which is exactly the message of this video.

By the way, you don’t need perfection to get climb out of poverty. China still doesn’t rank very high in Economic Freedom of the World, but it has improved its position over the past few decades and that has helped lift hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty. Same with India.

Yes, both nations are capable of much stronger growth with further improvements in policy, but it’s nonetheless good news that there’s been considerable improvement.

Let’s address one more issue that arises in the debate about foreign aid.

Professor Noah Smith of Stony Brook University, in a column for Bloomberg, debunks the myth that poverty in the developing world is a legacy of colonialism.

…the stolen-wealth theory is wrong. Oh, it’s absolutely true that colonial powers stole natural resources from the lands they conquered. …the stolen-wealth theory is wrong…because the theory doesn’t explain the global distribution of income today. …The easiest way to see this is to observe all the rich countries that never had the chance to plunder colonies. Germany, Italy, Sweden, Denmark and Japan had colonial empires for only the very briefest of moments, and their greatest eras of development came before and after those colonial episodes. Switzerland, Finland, and Austria never had colonies. And South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong were themselves colonies of other powers. Yet today they are very rich. They did it not by theft, but by working hard, being creative, and having good institutions.

Amen. And notice that he also mentions the tiger economies of East Asia.

P.S. Given what I wrote the other day about the statist proclivities of the OECD, here’s an item that shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Even though South Africa already has an excessive burden of government, the Paris-based bureaucracy wants that nation to impose even higher taxes to fund even bigger government.

I’m not joking. The OECD just put out a document entitled, “How can South Africa’s tax system meet revenue raising challenges?” and here are some blurbs from the abstract.

…considerable revenues will be needed in the years ahead to expand social spending and infrastructure in order to raise growth and well-being. …there is some scope to raise further revenue, particularly through broadening the base of these taxes further. …An important additional source of revenue is environmentally related taxes.

Yup, you read correctly. The bureaucrats at the OECD want people to believe that South Africa’s main challenge is that government isn’t big enough. Heck, they actually want readers to believe that a more bloated public sector will “raise growth and well-being”.

Huh, bigger government is associated with more growth?!? I guess that’s why Singapore is so poor and Cuba is so rich.

What’s especially remarkable about the OECD’s anti-empirical approach is that fiscal policy is where South Africa get its lowest score in Economic Freedom of the World. It’s almost as if the tax-loving bureaucrats at the OECD are trying to keep that country from prospering.

And we’re subsidizing this nonsense to the tune of about $100 million per year.

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Since I’m an advocate of smaller government, you might imagine I’m perpetually depressed. After all, I work in Washington where I’m vastly outnumbered by people who specialize in looting and mooching. At times, I feel like a missionary in a house of ill repute.

But I always look for the silver lining when there’s a dark cloud overhead. So while it’s true that government squanders our money and violates our rights, at least we sometimes get some semi-amusing stories about sheer incompetence and staggering stupidity.

Like Detroit spending $32 to issue $30 parking tickets.

The State Department buying friends.

Or Georgia’s drug warriors raiding a house because of okra plants.

FEMA house guidelines that make houses less safe in hurricanes.

Federal rules that prevent school bake sales.

Bureaucrats defecating in hallways.

Yes, I realize I also should be outraged about these examples. But I can’t help being amused as well.

So let’s add to our collection of bizarre, foolish, and wasteful behavior by government.

Here are some passages from a Washington Post exposé on mismanagement and waste at the federal department that is infamous for secret waiting lists that resulted in denied health care (and in some cases needless deaths) for America’s veterans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been spending at least $6 billion a year in violation of federal contracting rules to pay for medical care and supplies, wasting taxpayer money and putting veterans at risk, according to an internal memo written by the agency’s senior official for procurement. In a 35-page document addressed to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, the official accuses other agency leaders of “gross mismanagement” and making a “mockery” of federal acquisition laws that require competitive bidding and proper contracts. Jan R. Frye, deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics, describes a culture of “lawlessness and chaos” at the Veterans Health Administration.

I confess that it’s hard to find anything amusing about this story, but I’m worried that I might go crazy if I simply focus on how a bureaucracy gets more and more money every year, yet also manages to waste money with no negative consequences.

Or maybe I just enjoy the fact that I have a new reason to mock a wasteful government department (sorry to be redundant).

Here’s an example of spending that is so silly that it’s okay for all of us to laugh. Enjoy this blurb on how tax dollars are being wasted by the foreign aid bureaucracy.

American taxpayers might come down with a case of the blues when they hear about how the State Department is spending their tax dollars. According to ForeignAssistance.gov, India has requested $88,439,000 in U.S. foreign aid for the year 2015, but the State Department plans to spend additional funds on diplomacy: music diplomacy. The U.S. Mission to India is offering a $100,000 grant opportunity titled “Strengthening US-India Relations Through Jazz.” Eligible applicants include public and private universities as well as non-profit organizations. …Another grant available to universities and non-profit groups is for a “Visual Exhibit on Indian Faith and Traditions in America.” For $75,000, U.S. taxpayers will fund a “photographic exhibit that showcases both the ways that Indian-Americans practice their faith traditions in the United States, and the ways that Indian faith traditions have been adopted by American communities.” According to the offering, “The images will capture the diversity of the Indian-American community, so that a broad range of religious traditions are depicted.

These numbers are small compared to, say, the malfeasance and waste at the Department of Veterans Affairs. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get upset in addition to being amused.

Think about it from this perspective. The amounts being wasted in this example are equal to the entire federal tax burden for several American families.

Do any of us think it’s okay to confiscate so much of their income and then have it squandered so pointlessly and irresponsibly?

Besides, the foreign aid bureaucracy is also capable of wasting huge amounts of money.

But remember that the federal government doesn’t have a monopoly on foolish and stupid behavior.

Here’s another example of inane government behavior. And you won’t be surprised that it took place in California because, as Reason reports, it involved a raid against an establishment serving probiotic tea.

Last Friday, an undercover officer from the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) “infiltrated the temple,” Vice reports, “clearing the way for a 9 PM incursion by five officers.” What manner of crazy bootlegged hooch were the agents there to confiscate? Kombucha. Blueberry kombucha. For the uninitiated, kombucha is a type of carbonated, probiotic tea, popular among hipsters and health foodies. It’s made by mixing regular tea, sugar, and a “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast” known as the “mother” and letting the whole business ferment for a few days. The end result is a somewhat vinegar-like beverage that’s packed with good bacteria (à la yogurt) and ever-so-slightly alcoholic….But because the tea contains slightly above 0.5 percent alcohol, it requires a special license to sell say ABC agents, who cited a Full Circle rep for misdemeanor selling alcohol without a license.

Reminds me of the story about the federal milk police at the FDA. Or the federal bagpipe police at our borders.

Don’t these bureaucrats have anything better to do with their time (and our money)?!?

P.S. How could I forget all the examples of insane anti-gun political correctness in government schools?

P.P.S. Or the examples of unconstrained stupidity at the TSA?

P.P.P.S. And the odd collection of “human rights” that governments have created.

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I rarely delve into foreign policy and defense issues. And when I do, such as my post about the conflict in Ukraine, it’s usually because it gives me an opportunity to draw attention to a topic that is in my bailiwick (in the case of Ukraine, it gave me an excuse to write about federalism).

With this caveat in mind, let’s turn our attention to the Middle East. Unless you’re a hermit living in a remote cave, you presumably know that Israel is locked in another fight with Hamas.

I’ve previously explained that I’m very sympathetic to the notion that Israel has a right to defend itself.

But supporting Israel’s right to self defense doesn’t mean I should foot the bill. Yet that’s what’s happening. According to Wikipedia, Washington sends about $3 billion per year to subsidize Israel’s military.

And now that amount will be even larger because Congress just approved another $225 million to help finance Israel’s missle-defense system.

Congress approved a $225 million package to replenish Israel’s missile defenses with its last order of business before a five-week recess… The House’s 395-8 vote in favor late Friday followed Senate adoption of the legislation by voice vote earlier in the day. The money is directed toward restocking Israel’s Iron Dome, which has been credited with shooting down dozens of incoming rockets fired by Palestinian militants over 3½ weeks of war. …Iron Dome has enjoyed strong U.S. technological and financial support. Throughout its history, the U.S. has provided more than $700 million to help Israel cover costs for batteries, interceptors, production costs and maintenance, the Congressional Research Service said. The total already appeared set to climb above $1 billion after Senate appropriators doubled the Obama administration’s request for Iron Dome funding for fiscal 2015. Now it seems likely to rise even further.

But this doesn’t mean everyone is happy about all this spending.

Some libertarian-leaning fiscal conservatives opposed the added subsidies, or at least wanted Congress to come up with offsetting cuts.

Despite almost universal support for Israel in Congress, the Iron Dome money appeared in doubt only a day ago as Senate efforts stalled after an effort by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma to find cuts elsewhere in the budget to pay for the aid.  …Voting against the measure in the House were…Republicans Justin Amash of Michigan, Walter Jones of North Carolina, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Mark Sanford of South Carolina.

For what it’s worth, I applaud those four House Republicans.

I’m motivated in part by a desire to limit the burden of government spending in America, but I also think that Israel easily could afford more military outlays if it pared back its overly generous welfare state.

If you look at the IMF data, government spending consumes about 43.8 percent of Israel’s economic output. And according to the CIA Factbook, Israel’s military budget amounts to about 5.7 percent of GDP.

I’m not a math genius, but that certainly suggests to me that Israel’s government is diverting about 38 percent of economic output for non-military spending.

If national defense is important and worthwhile (and it is), then Israel should prioritize and reduce domestic outlays.

Heck, that’s what Roosevelt did during World War II and what Truman did during the Korean War. If you don’t believe me, look at lines 31-34 of this OMB spreadsheet.

By the way, some people accuse these GOPers of being anti-Israel, but I think that charge is grossly unfair. I’m not personally close to any of the Republicans who voted against the Iron Dome funding, but I’ve met and talked to all of them and I’ve followed their careers. Suffice to say that I’ve never heard even the slightest hint that any of them harbor any anti-Israel or anti-Jewish sentiments.

Indeed, here’s some of what Justin Amash wrote back in 2012.

Israel is our closest friend in a very troubled region. Our national defense benefits from Israel’s ability to defend itself and to serve as a check against neighboring authoritarian regimes and extremists. Assisting with training and the development of Israel’s military capacity allows the U.S. to take a less interventionist role in the region. I am hopeful that American troops soon can leave the region and Israel and its neighbors can live in peace without U.S. aid or involvement.

The last sentence is a pretty good description of libertarian foreign policy: Be prepared to defend ourselves, but don’t look for trouble outside our borders.

P.S. The government of Israel pays for people who do nothing but pray. Which means that my tax dollars are picking up part of the tab. Prayer is presumably a good thing. Just don’t ask me to pay for it.

P.P.S. While Israel’s government does dumb things, the governments opposing Israel sometime engage in truly evil acts.

P.P.P.S. If you want to learn more about the libertarian approach to foreign policy, my Cato colleagues are the real experts. I also call your attention to these thoughts from Mark Steyn, George Will, and Steve Chapman.

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I certainly take second place to nobody in my utter contempt for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund. Who knew that forcing yourself (allegedly) on women could earn you a reputation as “the Great Seducer”? I guess my failure to understand means I’m just a backwards and provincial American.

I’m also a bit old-fashioned in my approach to economics. I don’t think people should use the coercive power of government take what they haven’t earned. That’s why I hold international bureaucracies in low esteem. Most of my efforts have focused on the OECD, a Paris-based (gee, what a surprise) bureaucracy that squanders American tax dollars on statist schemes such as their ongoing anti-tax competition campaign that persecutes countries with low tax rates.

But I’m also a big believer in kicking an enemy while he’s vulnerable, so let’s shift to the International Monetary Fund. Here are some passages from a new column by my Cato colleague Doug Bandow. He points out that the IMF has a horrible track record of promoting and facilitating big government.

…the rape charges against him symbolize the IMF: an institution of privilege that routinely acts to the disadvantage of the vulnerable. The IMF’s founding purpose vanished when the system of fixed exchange rates collapsed in the early 1970s. But instead of closing up shop (no jobs for international bureaucrats in that!), the IMF switched to promoting development. That is, it became a welfare program for Third World governments (and, more recently, for Eastern Europe and even Greece). The IMF spent decades subsidizing the world’s economic basket cases. Few, if any, advanced because of its programs. …the agency often got “wise” wrong. It often focused on narrow accounting data, with perverse consequences — such as forcing governments to raise taxes rather than cut spending. …Years ago, economist John Williamson pointed to the problem of the IMF feeling pressure “to lend money in order to justify having it.” Indeed, the IMF seems to measure success by making loans. As a result, its cash often acted as a general subsidy for collectivist economic policies. (Williamson once defended the organization against the criticism that it was too market-oriented by pointing to its loans to several unreconstructed communist states.) Indeed, the agency proudly disclaimed any bias against collectivist systems, pointing to “programs in all types of economies” which had “accommodated such nonmarket devices as production controls, administered prices and subsidies.” It sometimes seems to favor the most perverse policies. For instance, in the IMF’s first 40 years, India collected more money from it than any other developing state — at a time when India was pursuing a Soviet-style industrialization program.

Ironically, some people are arguing that it is unfortunate that Strauss-Kahn is in jail at such a critical time, with several European welfare states teetering on the edge of default.

But this is actually very good news. If there is any chance of saving Europe, it will be precisely because bailouts stop and nations are forced to finally fix the awful big-government policies that have crippled growth and bloated budgets, thus leading to fiscal crises. Doug makes this essential point in the conclusion to his column, and also makes the key argument that it’s time to stop the handouts to this corrupt and wasteful bureaucracy.

The IMF’s loans have often likely postponed reform — allowing governments to keep going without making the tough changes that lead to long-term growth. That appears to be happening in Greece now — where the Fund has pushed more lending and a bigger bail-out (to the consternation of Germany, which is picking up much of the bill). Strauss-Kahn may finally have done a true public service by focusing attention on the IMF. With America drowning in red ink, Washington should stop throwing good money at this pernicious institution.

P.S. For those who want to hoist Europeans on their own petard, Tessa Berenson has a great little column at the Frum Forum pointing out how many of the political elite on the other side of the Atlantic thought it was horrible and inexcusable when an American head of the World Bank arranged for a pay raise for his girlfriend. The Europeans were right at the time, but they now turn a blind eye at a far more odious episode today.

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Here’s one of those “not just no, but Hell No” issues. The United Nations has put together a group of global collectivists to concoct a plan of global taxes. These new levies, on things such as airfares and energy use, would be used to finance bribes (oops, I mean foreign aid) to lure developing nations into a global warming (oops, I mean climate change) regime. 
Carbon taxes, add-ons to international air fares and a levy on cross-border money movements are among ways being considered by a panel of the world’s leading economists to raise a staggering $100 billion a year to fight climate change. British economist Nicholas Stern told international climate negotiators Thursday that government regulation and public money also will be needed to create incentives for private investment in industries that emit fewer greenhouse gases. In short, a new industrial revolution is needed to move the world away from fossil fuels to low carbon growth, he said. “It will be extremely exciting, dynamic and productive,” said Stern, one of 18 experts in public finance on an advisory panel appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. A climate summit held in Copenhagen in December was determined to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries adapt to climate change and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide trapping the sun’s heat. But the 120 world leaders who met in the Danish capital offered no ideas on how to raise that sum — $1 trillion every decade — prompting Ban to appoint his high-level advisory group. …The advisory panel is chaired by the prime ministers of Norway and Ethiopia and the president of Guyana. Its members include French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers, billionaire financier George Soros and public planners from China, India, Singapore and several international banks.

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Advocates of limited government generally focus on domestic spending, pork-barrel projects, and entitlement programs. This is target-rich territory, to be sure, and especially inviting because most of the relevant programs and department shouldn’t exist. But just because national defense is a legitimate function of the federal government, that doesn’t mean that national security outlays are somehow immune from waste, fraud, and abuse. Here’s an all-too-typical story from Federal News Radio about the Defense Department being unable to account for a staggering 95 percent-plus of the funds channeled through the Development Fund for Iraq.

The Defense Department is unable to account for $8.7 billion of the $9.1 billion in Development Fund for Iraq monies in received for reconstruction in Iraq. This according to a study published today by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. …The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) finds that only one Defense organization actually set up the accounts required by the Treasury. “The breakdown in controls left the funds vulnerable to inappropriate uses and undetected loss,” SIGIR says. The study recommends that the Secretary of Defense create new accounting and reporting procedures to avoid such mistakes in the future. It also recommends designating an executive agent to oversee progress, establishing measurable milestones, and determining whether any DoD organizations are still holding DFI funds.

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In general, I don’t pay too much attention to issues in the Middle East. I know we squander $billions on foreign aid to prop up socialist policies in Egypt and Israel, and I obviously would like to see an end to that wasteful spending. But I’ve never had strong opinions on the foreign policy issues in the region that get most of the attention. That being said, I found myself somewhat sympathetic to Charles Krauthammer’s column on the topic. There’s no question that there is a campaign to end Israel’s blockade. And there’s no question that an end to the blockade will lead to shipments of weapons that would be used to attack Israel. So unless one wants Israel to be wiped out (or at least endlessly attacked), doesn’t Israel have no choice but to maintain a blockade? If your answer is no, what’s the alternative?

…the blockade is not just perfectly rational, it is perfectly legal. Gaza under Hamas is a self-declared enemy of Israel — a declaration backed up by more than 4,000 rockets fired at Israeli civilian territory. Yet having pledged itself to unceasing belligerency, Hamas claims victimhood when Israel imposes a blockade to prevent Hamas from arming itself with still more rockets. In World War II, with full international legality, the United States blockaded Germany and Japan. And during the October 1962 missile crisis, we blockaded (“quarantined”) Cuba. Arms-bearing Russian ships headed to Cuba turned back because the Soviets knew that the U.S. Navy would either board them or sink them. Yet Israel is accused of international criminality for doing precisely what John Kennedy did: impose a naval blockade to prevent a hostile state from acquiring lethal weaponry. Oh, but weren’t the Gaza-bound ships on a mission of humanitarian relief? No. Otherwise they would have accepted Israel’s offer to bring their supplies to an Israeli port, be inspected for military materiel and have the rest trucked by Israel into Gaza — as every week 10,000 tons of food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies are sent by Israel to Gaza. Why was the offer refused? Because, as organizer Greta Berlin admitted, the flotilla was not about humanitarian relief but about breaking the blockade, i.e., ending Israel’s inspection regime, which would mean unlimited shipping into Gaza and thus the unlimited arming of Hamas. … The whole point of this relentless international campaign is to deprive Israel of any legitimate form of self-defense.

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