Foreign Aid and the Public: Interests and Ethics Redux

March 10, 2011
Especially in times of budget pressure, the debate over rationales for foreign assistance revive. Last night on PBS’ Newshour, former First Lady Laura Bush, Melinda Gates, and Helene Gayle, president of CARE, spoke eloquently about the importance of Congress maintaining funding for maternal and child health. I was heartened and impressed by their commitment, but also a little discomfited by the emphasis on national security as a key motivation for aid.  Then, this morning, I stumbled across this month-old post by Owen Barder where he nails the analysis on why this is risky and why development advocates should not overplay the national interest card.  He sums up the argument:
Development advocates have to make the case for aid and development policy. They are right to say that development is in the national interest of the donor, but it may be a mistake to put this at the centre of the argument. Most people don’t need to be convinced that development is desirable; they need to be convinced that aid works.
To be fair, the trio on the Newshour also made some of these points, but Owen’s analysis is well worth reading in full.


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