The government can’t preach austerity and then increase foreign aid

Categories Foreign Policy, Politics

Since the Conservative government has come into power there have been numerous talks and measures imposed on the British public designed to curb the expansive budget deficit accrued by the Labour party during the recent recession. While some have claimed the measures to be harsh, I have always taken the opinion that they have been needed and that the ordinances that have been cut were worthless government programs and bloated, near socialist policies. Then we have student fees which I feel hit two birds with one stone by reducing government expenditure and also possibly reducing university admission. The reduction in university admission was needed in order to stop students from attending university for low value courses which add nothing to career prospects and just serve to increase the graduate unemployment level as people punch above their weight because of their perceived qualification value.

However, recent plans by the government have not sat well with me. It has been announced that Britain will be pledging further foreign aid into less developed countries. This is on top of the fact that Britain is already one of the largest givers of foreign aid, as a proportion of GDP, worldwide. The current figure stands that Britain gives foreign aid to a value of 0.56% of GDP which may not seem like much but amounts to around £8.5 billion. While I could understand this sort of expenditure if the economy was doing particularly well at the moment it seems irrational to increase the giving of money to other countries when we can barely afford to fund our own. Obviously, if there are expected returns to come from the aid than I can understand as it could be construed as a form of supply side policy which will benefit us in the long term. However as simple, no strings attached donations foreign aid is impractical at the current time.

David Cameron mentioned in his speech today that it was Britain’s “moral principle” to increase aid up to 0.7% which was allegedly agreed at a meeting of all the main parties in Britain shortly before the last general election. One thing that most people, even our own prime minister it seems, don’t get is that Economics as a science is amoral and hence the notion of using morality as justification for an economic policy is irrational in straight Economic theory. For me it’s critical at times like this that we follow economic theory more closely in order to stabilise the economy and reach periods of sustained economic growth and prosperity.

It doesn’t help that we are already the top giver of foreign aid. We have nothing to prove to the world, we are doing our share. Instead we should be convincing the rest of the world to catch up and achieve parity with us in terms of foreign aid. Specifically we should be pressuring oil rich Arab countries and newly industrialised states such as China to start contributing more to the worlds interests rather than remaining mainly inward facing. While it is known that China invests heavily in areas such as Africa, it is more just disguised exploitation and it’s government should be encouraged to take more compassion to, at least, its poorer neighbours.

We are not the main superpowers any more, others need to pull their weight.

Currently studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at St Annes College, Oxford University. I have a keen interest in applied economics, food and most types of sport.

3 thoughts on “The government can’t preach austerity and then increase foreign aid

  1. I don’t mean to sound patronising Matt, but I’d first like to say congrats on writing such a great article.
    However, I must say I could not disagree more strongly with its content. It seems clear to me that you are of a very different political persuasion to myself and perhaps you would maintain you have a higher knowledge of the subject after all it appears you are setting yourself up for a career in politics.
    But I must add that I hope to pursue a career in foreign aid and after a number of different work placements, would like to think I have extensive knowledge of this particular subject.
    The reason the coalition government is perusing its target of 0.7% is quite simply because they have no choice. Following the Millennium Summit in the year 2000 every UN country signed and agreed to eight different goals, (one of these being the 0.7 of the GNP) which would be achieved by 2015.

    Yet much more important than this point I believe, is the fact that quite simply it is our moral dut to our fellow human beings. I was disgusted to hear that a number of MOD representatives were asking the PM to scrap this target, saying that defence should be given priority. Quite frankly it is ridiculous to suggest Aid and Defence cannot co-exist. The fact is given in the correct way Aid saves millions of lives EVERY year! Why on earth would we not want that!? This is less than 1% of the annual GNP.
    You say it is crucial we follow “economic theory”. But it seems to me that you undermine this entire ridiculous argument right there. As I’d hope you’d understand, having 3rd world countries more capable of trade in the future will no doubt be of benefit to our economy (If we must view the world through such selfish eyes. I for one do NOT believe that the economy rules the way in which we live and therefore find it once again ridiculous you insist we all take on amoral views simply because the economy does.)
    I do hope that you adopt perhaps a more “optimistic” view towards the world and its inhabitants in the future.

    1. Thanks for the comment chris, it seems we do have quite different views. I do agree that maybe in the short term aid can be beneficial and save millions of lives but I think a problem that we are experiencing now is that countries are becoming overly reliant on aid and it has become unsustainable. Take India as an example, it has become one of the richest countries in the world through it’s rapid industrialisation, but yet we still give aid to counteract the mass poverty. This situation has developed because the rich in India have realised that they don’t need to help the poor because the international aid is covering it for them and, without cutting off the aid, they are unlikely to change.

    2. Also, 1% of our GDP is nothing to be sniffed at. That’s 1p out of every pound going to international aid. It is also several billion pounds that could be better used in education (I don’t agree with the calls for a defence budget increase) which could make us more economically prosperous in the future and thus in a better position to give aid.

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