Aid to developing countries is a transfer of resources which is normally judged successful or unsuccessful by the extent to which it contributes to the recipient’s economic development. In the long and rather wearisome history of attempts to make out an abstract case for such a transfer, there is one continuing paradox.
The more closely its justification is tied to the promotion of development, the weaker the case appears to become. To that has recently been added another paradox. The most forceful critics of aid are no longer the ruthless pursuers of the national self-interest or the absolute advocates of laissez-faire. They are to be found among precisely those people who are most firmly committed to the planned promotion of economic development.
Both paradoxes are easily explained. They are merely a reflection of the discrepancy between what the aid-givers do and what they say they are doing. If the critics of aid were content with demonstrating the not very surprising facts that the aid-givers’ motives are mixed and their actions inconsistent, the argument would end there.
But more is claimed. In the aid debate, arguments take on an air of theology, with one side arguing that grants and loans and technical assistance are some sort of moral imperative, while the other side argues that the whole notion of deliberate action to promote another country’s development is fundamentally and necessarily misconceived. This sterile and muddled debate is characterised by a general failure to distinguish between stated objectives, unstated objectives, attainable effects, and observed effects.