Why We Should Be Careful How We Help Others

Poverty is all around us, even if we chose to ignore it. When you’re sitting in your warm car, it’s much easier to ignore the panhandlers by the intersections and continue your conversation than it is to acknowledge the human suffering going on. Poverty takes many forms and doesn’t restrict itself within borders, but forgive me for limiting the discussion, because for right now, I am going to talk about Africa.

What does a white person know about Africa, you ask? Not much- it’s not like I have ever even been there. But I have read Dambisha Moyo’s (she is an African) book Dead Aid, a treatise against “governmental” aid for African countries, which is what this discussion will be based off.

The fact that I have been mentioning Africa might have just caused a little pang of pity to vibrate on your heartstrings. That is why so much money and so many supplies have been sent there over the years. And, apparently, to little avail. Despite all this assistance from our rich governments to African ones, per capita income overall has decreased (Moyo 5). The money that is sent there, with its objectives that white people cooly dictate, is used for unintended purposes- about 85% worth (Moyo 39). And that’s not all. I wish that were all.

Sending foreign made supplies can be detrimental to the African economy because local producers will lose customers. Which means… People somewhere are losing jobs (Moyo 44). Clearly, something is wrong with that picture.

And here’s something ironic. The US government subsidizes farms, which costs money. While at the same time, we pay for aid. Sure, politicians have their reasons for it, but no one who knows about economics (I can attest to this too even as a first year economics major) will argue that more trade could really help Africa, and American consumers too (Moyo 114-115).

The flood of aid affects the value of currency, which can drive up the prices of African exports, making it hard to compete with lower world prices (Moyo 62). And this aid is not really free money. Interest must be paid, causing lots of debt. That’s something that we can understand here in the States. This debt had to be restructured (Moyo 18-19). Clearly that wasn’t a fantastic solution. Besides these concerns, there are so many others economic problems with aid that I can’t even begin to summarize without basically going over the whole book. Simplistically put, aid is starving Africa, and if you don’t believe me, read the book yourself and some intelligent counter-arguments as well, if you like.

Obviously, I’m a little uncomfortable with all of this as a Christian. As much as I would like capitalism to benefit everyone, I know that it doesn’t. Self-reliance is a nice idea, but it doesn’t always put food on the tables of well-intentioned people. The only thing is, it’s put food on more tables than its counterpart, communism.

I still believe in helping out our fellow man, not leaving our brothers at the mercy of the markets. Which aren’t terribly merciful. I still believe in missionaries, in people who help out kids who don’t have a voice and who didn’t have a chance. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to stifle the local economies of the countries we seek to help in the process. Is there a way to help out without doing more harm than good? I think so. We can spread the Word, empower, assist, and do all that in a way that respects the integrity of foreign peoples. Treating them like children isn’t going to cut it. I think there is a solution, we all just need to put our heads together. I hope to be part of that solution as soon as possible.

One way to help Africa, and probably many other regions, is through trade. But we don’t have free trade. Should we? If we did, African producers would be better off. But that begs the question- what about the American jobs that would be lost? This is a good question. I think anyone who’s been to Detroit lately will agree that Americans need jobs. But so do other people around the world.

It’s not an easy solution to an easy problem. It seems like no matter how you manipulate the situation, someone gets screwed. Why does it have to be that way? I would imagine that there’s enough money to floating around to feed everyone in the world and then some.

I’m not saying that we need equality. That is impractical and impossible, among other things. Sorry communists. But what if everyone in the world had a job and food to eat and hope for the future? What if everyone was aware of Christianity, even if they don’t believe?

Works Cited

Moyo, Dambisha. Dead Aid. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2009. Print

Photo credit: andykristian.com


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