In this chapter an account will be given of some theoretical issues in relation to aid as they have manifested themselves in the British context. The various moral, philosophical and ideological viewpoints and dilemmas will also be set against the existence of different lobby groups seeking to influence British aid in the period under scrutiny. The role and impact of the lobby groups will be assessed n order to illuminate the dominant influences on British aid practice.
Marx noted in the last century that in capitalist society
formal political equality is insufficient to guarantee a democratic society.
Even in the case of the
The mechanisms through which this occurs have been illuminated by subsequent writers in the twentieth century – group theorists – who have analysed the workings and dynamics of pressure and lobby groups. The relative importance of the electoral process and lobby groups is a key issue in this approach.
A conclusion reached by many such writers is that governments do not implement the wishes of the electorate but respond instead to the priorities of powerful pressure groups. Ministers become spokespeople for these lobby groups whose interests are essentially mediated by the Civil Service bureaucracy.
There are many different kinds of pressure groups in
However, it is clear that the most powerful lobby in society is the commercial and industrial lobby because that is where economic power is concentrated. Both the Labour and Conservative administration were compelled to acknowledge such interests when spelling out their aid policies. The development, gender and environmental lobbies are by comparison marginal in their influence on government. The NGOs with access to money such as the big private charities, which might have the resources to campaign less marginally, are prevented from doing so by their charitable status. The limits on their ability to produce material critical of official aid are very tight. They can only sail so close to the wind.
Anuradha Bose has illuminated the variety of the commercial lobby groups in relation to British aid. Most obviously, the CBI acts as a mouthpiece for industry in general. There is also, for example, the Export Group for the Constructional Industries and the British Consultants Bureau. There are many business associations with varying degrees of resources available to finance lobbying. As Bose points out, they all have in common certain obvious interests: more general Aid for Trade Provision allocations, better risk absorption programmes for firms operating abroad etc.
Although counter-pressure groups can neutralise to some extent the effects of pressure groups, there is an imbalance in their ability to exert influence as we have seen. The development and environmental lobbies may exert pressure which limits the effect of the industrial and commercial lobby but it is a very unequal struggle.
As Alderman has noted, there is a “conspiracy of silence”
and secrecy which surrounds many of the activities of civil servants. The Memorandum of Guidance for Officials
Appearing Before Select Committees, issued by the Civil Service Department
on 16 May 1980, authorises withholding of information by government
officials “in the interests of good government”.
The ability of the Government to issue Public Interest Immunity Certificates,
which restrict access to documents, also illustrates this problem. Many
documents are covered by the Official Secrets Act, and the thirty-year rule
prevents retired civil servants from making information public.
The dealings with the business lobby are shrouded in secrecy. The business
lobby is able to operate through private, informal and secret contact with the
relevant Ministries. Although corruption laws exist to stop lobbyists from
openly bribing officials, the rules allow for “conventional hospitality” –
lunches, annual dinners etc.
There is also nothing to stop a firm from contributing or raising its
contributions to the ruling party funds. The cross-over of civil servants to
firms they have dealt with, while subject to certain rules, does happen and
inevitably provides scope for rewarding officials with plum jobs in the private
sector. For example, officials at the level of Under-Secretary and above have
to seek official sanction for accepting posts in companies they have dealt with
in the Civil Service for a period of two years after leaving the service. But
such cross-overs do occur.
Cross-overs between the ODA and development lobby groups are also evident,
however, although the highly-paid jobs available in commercial firms are not
available there. As Grant has pointed out,
A picture emerges of British government functioning which is characterised by “departmental pluralism”. Ministers operate as advocates of their particular ministerial bureaucracies rather than as a collective cabinet making policy in the light of manifesto commitments. The Civil Service bureaucracy in turn mediates the conflicting lobby group pressures upon it, but in practice reflects the interests of the most powerful lobby groups linked to commercial and industrial interests. It does so through an institutionalisation of “consultation and consensus” with the lobbies before establishing policy. A patron-client relationship between Ministry and key lobby groups is evident. Only the more powerful lobby groups are included in the consultation and thus become the “policy issue community” in a process of “segmented policy making”. Parliament plays little role in actual policy making. The lobby groups and the Civil Service bureaucracy define the policy. He lobby groups may be co-opted and financed to perform a particular policy-related service. The growth of government agencies and quangos leads to policy-bargaining between the Government and its agencies which operate as quasi-lobby groups. Resources are allocated to Ministries and projects on the basis of “bargained allocation” not on the basis of “rational allocation” as a result of the implementation of manifesto commitments and priorities. Policy making is “incremental” in nature as a result of bargaining between interest groups. It is not essentially to do with the adoption of wholesale policies conceived in a coherent, “rational” manner. Pragmatic crisis reaction and short-termism more often than not prevail over long-termism and strategic thinking.
If we take as an example the most extensive statement of aid policy in the period we are discussing we can see that this is very true. The 1975 White Paper, More Help for the Poorest, reflected at one level a “basic needs” approach to helping the poorest communities, reflecting the views of the development lobby. As will be seen in the chapter on the Labour Government, however, criticism was levelled at the White Paper because the Minister had obviously “lost a battle” with the Treasury over local and recurrent costs which were essential to a poverty-focussed approach. The Treasury as always was primarily concerned with the balance of payments implications of policy. Its concerns reflected its own constituency of lobby groups which in this case prevailed over the “basic needs” aid lobby. Similarly, other critics pointed out the clauses in the White Paper which referred to the need to recognise wider commercial and political considerations. The cited examples in this thesis commercially-motivated aid projects of dubious developmental value to their recipients, demonstrated the power of the industrial export lobby. The writers of the White Paper were clearly faced with a number of ready-made policies prepared by the policy-issue communities associated with each lobby organisation. The end result was a White Paper which emerged as the product of a bargaining process between the lobby groups mediated and coordinated by the Civil Service bureaucracy. The poorly-attended Parliamentary debates on aid played little role in this process of policy formation.
The Conservative aid policy announced in the guise of the Marten Statement to the House of Commons in February 1980 did not essentially change the Labour policy, as Judith Hart noted at the time. A more explicit policy of shifting the emphasis towards a greater recognition of the importance of commercial, industrial and political considerations was adopted. But it was essentially the same policy – it did not, for example, repeal the 1974 White Paper which still has force today. This should not be surprising since the same constituency of lobby groups existed with the same relative balance of forces. The same Civil Service bureaucracy mediated these interests. The only shift which has occurred has been that of a greater lip service to gender and environmental issues instituted by Chris Patten. This reflected the greater consciousness of these issues by British society as a whole. The chapters on gender and environment, while acknowledging the cosmetic changes which have occurred also indicate just how far there is to go in these areas. The shift in the balance of forces between lobby groups has not substantially been altered. The changes are largely rhetorical and the resources committed are token in nature.
Political and foreign policy considerations also play their
part. This is especially so since the ODA is no longer an independent Ministry.
It is a department of the FCO. Group theorists have argued that Ministries and
departments may be conceived a “lobby” groups in their own right. A good
example of a clash of departmental priorities may be seen in the case of the
Pergau Dam Project in
We will now examine some of the different philosophical, ideological and moral issues which emerged in British developmental circles during the period we are surveying. It is, however, important to recognise that these theoretical approaches did not have an equal weighting in terms of the actual policies adopted or the practical outcomes of the bargaining process. The export lobby represented by the Department of Trade and Industry and the balance of payments concerns of the Treasury were overwhelmingly dominant. The aid lobby and the economic liberalism of the Bauer school were both marginal. We begin our survey, however, with the development philosophy of the 1974 Labour Government.
The Labour Government which came to power under Harold Wilson in 1974 was remarkable, in relation to aid, in that it had within its ranks two ministers who had each written a book on the issue of overseas development.
When one considers the lack of interest which this area has
merited under the Thatcher Government this fact is particularly highlighted.
The fact that none other than the Prime Minister himself, Harold Wilson, was
one of these people reinforces this point.
"There is one reason above all others why the world should be mobilised against human poverty. It is not a question of self-interest or power politics. It is a moral imperative. We are rich and they are poor, and it is our duty to help them."
"'To thou shalt not kill is added another rule--Thou shalt not let thy fellow man starve when the science and industry at thy command enable him to be kept alive.'"
Most of the book is concerned with the mechanics and economic technicalities on an international level of what he envisaged as the way forward in overseas development, with an emphasis on alleviating hunger through rural development. Some idea of the commitment which he had towards overseas development at this time can be gained from the picture he paints of the origins of British overseas development during the colonial period, a picture which points up the stark contrast between this record and the moral stance he advocated in the above quotations:
"Social development was limited to the miserably inadequate sums which a tight-fisted Treasury, dedicated to low taxation, allowed to colonial governments. Economic developments were limited to the work of private enterprise developers and the small supplemental assistance with roads and port and harbour installations which colonial governors thought necessary to support the major private enterprises of the area..."
The contrast between the moral basis for aid giving which
he advocated and the undistinguished British record on overseas development
during the later colonial period was highlighted when he went on to describe
the first Colonial Development Act in 1929 as having been motivated more by a
"desire to relieve unemployment in Britain, than the promotion of economic
and social advance in the colonies". He also described the subsequent Act
in 1940 as being the result of riots in the
At the end of the war the annual funds allocated to colonial
development were tripled from £5 million to £17.5 million and a much more
coordinated development programme was instituted by the incoming Labour
government. This increased attention to colonial development paralleled the
welfare reforms in
The other minister in the 1974
"And what should be the starting point of such an approach? It must clearly be one which recognises the shared objectives and common interests of the working class in all countries, and seeks to create unity of purpose in development and aid policies among socialists in both rich aid-providing countries and poor aid-receiving countries."
Whereas Harold Wilson's position on aid, quoted above, was a case where a moral basis for aid was adopted which appealed to a presumed supra-historical system of morality applicable to all humans--an approach which may be based on religious convictions; the above quotation from Judith Hart on the other hand is ideological.
The motivation for the aid policy of the Labour Government
in the 70s was the classic Keynsian prescription of giving the
"The really key issue was that aid policies, not just
In contrast to the approach adopted by Wilson and Hart, the
development lobby and the churches, there were sections of the political right
who argued that there was no moral obligation whatsoever on the part of
governments to act, as opposed to individuals. Perhaps the best known person to
argue this case in
"Global egalitarianism is based on the idea that people's requirements are fundamentally the same everywhere. As we have seen, this idea is obviously unfounded."
And even if they were, it is argued, the failure of the poor to meet their own needs is because they lack abilities, the capabilities, the inclination or motivation for economic or cultural achievement. Economic differences are deserved, according to this view:
"In addition, advocacy of egalitarianism usually assumes that people's capacities, attitudes, values and beliefs are uniform, so that differences in income and wealth among both societies and individuals result from accident or exploitation. If that were so, redistribution (i.e. confiscation) would be both just and relatively painless... in fact, however, attitudes, motivations and policies differ greatly among societies. These differences provide the underlying causes of visible differences in income and living standards."
"Income differentiation is just and not a result of misappropriation by others." "Lack of natural of resources has little or nothing to do with the poverty of individuals and societies." Attempts at redistribution will cause injustice by conflicting with liberty.
And, according to Bauer, the history of colonialism does not provide evidence of a need for restitution because:
"The West has not caused the relative poverty of the
Bauer's ideas have been echoed within the Conservative Party by Enoch Powell who replied to an earlier speech by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Coggan, which had called for an increase in the aid programme. Powell's speech was reported in The Times as follows:
"There was only one set of circumstances in which Dr
Coggan's statement would not be nonsense and that was if the wealth of
Bauer's argument that people have no common needs ignores the basic biological needs of all humans, which is what is at stake in many poor countries. When questioned about this Bauer gave the following reply:
"Even if people have the same biological needs they
live in widely different social and physical environments. This has to be taken
into account. Certainly you don't need the same protection from the cold in
When it was put to him that there are nevertheless basic needs for pure water, food, clothing, shelter and there is a certain limit in terms of their supply beyond which life cannot be sustained he replied:
"Oh surely, but a basic limit... but the requirements
for shelter are very different in, say, South Asia or Africa than they are in
This argument is absurd. While it was clearly not possible to extend the pedantic point about clothing and shelter needs not being identical, he was unable to make this point in relation to water, which clearly is identical, and is therefore forced to fall back on the utterly ridiculous assertion that pure water is not a basic need because humanity survived without it up to the 1830s. It should not be necessary to point out that while humanity did survive without pure water until the 1830s it did so at great cost in terms of health and disease.
His next argument is that "economic differences are largely the result of people's capacities and motivations", and that the lack of resources has little to do with poverty and would appear to be saying that the hungry of the world are hungry because they do not have the motivation to eat and survive. All humans are normally driven to meet such basic needs and it does seem ludicrous to ascribe the predicament of the starving to a lack of motivation. His answer to this was as follows:
"How do they come to be poor in the first instance? Look ultimately at the conduct of the people including their government: that is, I think to explain riches and poverty you have to think in terms of the conduct of people including their governments. I regretted putting in 'largely' later. I don't put that in any more. Economic differences is the conduct of people including their governments."
What Bauer means by people's capacities and motivations is
therefore the poor conduct of their governments. Also, "the government is
part of the people". The upshot of this is that differences in wealth
between North and South are caused by internal causes, not by external causes.
He also conveniently rejects the concept of neo-colonialism, which he describes
as a "term of generalised abuse" not to be taken seriously. But what
Bauer forgets is that many of the
Bauer's argument that attempts to redistribute income inevitably involves coercion and conflicts with liberty ignores the possibility that the freedom of some to acquire unlimited wealth, and the economic and political power that goes with it, might affect the freedom of others even more.
Bauer's arguments that colonialism improved living
standards rather than caused
"In general, the role of the Colonial government was defined as that of 'holding the ring', of keeping law and order, ensuring the payment of taxes, and providing the minimum of communications and social services. The task of economic development was left to private enterprise. Wherever the private trader, the limited charter company, saw a profit to be made, let him enter, and in times of danger back him with military force...Thriving and profitable industries were developed, but it was the profit of the company in the City of London or the trader on the spot, and not the welfare of the native peoples that provided the impetus in development. Some native workers gained a little in their standard of life: many more suffered exploitation and victimisation, as the record of the Rhodesian copper mines and West Indian plantations has shown.
The second argument – that historical wrong-doings
(assuming that they did occur) cannot be put right except over short periods,
and that it would become impractical if every wrong-doing in history were to be
taken into account – can equally be used as an excuse to do nothing about
anything in terms of restitution. Instead of negatively hiding behind the
complexities of historical wrong-doings in order to dismiss the possibility of
action it would probably be more helpful to examine what is practically
possible. As Riddell points out: if Bauer seriously believes his second point
(restitution of wrong-doings impractical) then he cannot hold his first point
(beneficial effects of West on
In a similar vein, Nozick argues that the existing income inequalities are just if people are entitled to their ownership of wealth and it was acquired by just means.
These individual rights are so strong and far-reaching that they leave very little role for the state to play. It thus excludes any redistributive role. Its role should be confined to law and order and the enforcement of individual, contractual rights. Thus this theory is historical in that a given distribution is just only if it came about in a just way.
Nozick develops the idea that a given distribution cannot be unjust if the procedures which gave rise to it were themselves just. This, he claims, is a total rejection of other concepts of social justice based on need or egalitarianism.
The most comprehensive attack on this line of argument has been marshalled by Riddell: Nozick fails to explain the reasons why there is an absolute entitlement to property justly acquired. Neither does he, despite accepting that there are certain constraints on this absolute entitlement, put forward an adequate basis for any such obligations and constraints arising from such rights.
"If the taking of a small piece of property that is unnecessary for your survival or well being can save the life of a child, then the infringement of your property rights would be done for the sustenance of life. Can one object to this basis for overriding absolute property rights and if not, where does one draw the line."
The conflict between different individual rights, thus, implies a moral basis for making judgements between them, which, as Nozick concedes must make some reference to the ability of all people to live a "meaningful life", a concept which Riddell argues is related to need. Nozick, thus, appears neither to rule out nor adequately acknowledge that such a moral basis is necessary. Similarly, according to Nozick, property can be acquired which is freely available on its own or by mixing one's labour with what is freely available. He also accepts the "Lockean Proviso" that goods can be acquired provided there is "enough and as good left over" for others to use. As Riddell points out this too implies an acceptance of the needs of others. Nozick's insistence that the operation of a free-market will not actually cut across the Lockean Proviso is disputed by Riddell on the grounds that in reality perfect competition is less common than monopoly ownership in which free resources are scarce and in which the majority must have been acquired without there being " enough and as good left over". Given that the world prior to individual ownership was in reality one where property was commonly owned rather than owned by no-one, Nozick's assertion that most property has been justly acquired remains in need of proof.
Francis Moore Lappe has put the same point in a rather more forthright and down-to-earth fashion:
" ... Fewer and fewer people (own) more and more of the land, controlling credit, water, marketing channels and so forth. As the poor in ever greater numbers are pushed from the land, they are less and less able to make their demand for food register in the market... In parallel urban development, a small elite often controls banking, industry and commercial institutions... With such concentrated power, the wealthy are free to indulge in investments that employ relatively few workers and to resist workers' demands for a living wage."
Riddell cites Kirzner's argument to great effect, that Nozick's notion that justice in transfer occurs if free market transactions are voluntary is dependent on there being complete information about market conditions equally available to all concerned. This is not the case in reality and, indeed, all competitive entrepreneurial activity is based on the commercial exploitation of errors made by others arising from this uneven distribution of information. Decisions cannot be considered to be voluntary if they are made without complete awareness of the state of the market.
Riddell also brings in Arrow's argument that the justice of individual acquisition via the mixing of an individual person's labour with a given resource has to be set against the possibility that greater gains could be achieved via social interaction with the resource.
Finally, Riddell also highlights the effect that Nozick's views have had on British Conservative politicians, Sir Keith Joseph for example:
"At the root of our present preoccupation with equality is the instinctive notion that differences somehow need to be explained and justified. But although this is very frequently asserted there is no obvious reason (or obscure reason) why it should be. What renders a particular distribution of wealth 'fair' or 'unfair' is not the distribution itself but the manner in which it arose. Since inequality arises from the operation of innumerable individual preferences it cannot be evil unless these preferences are themselves evil."
Similar arguments have also been put forward by Milton
Friedman in the
"Friedman insists that the most salient virtue of the free market is that it responds to individual preferences. In our response we said that the preferences of most individuals is to eat when they are hungry--yet more than half a billion people living in market economies are not eating. The lesson is unmistakeable: the first shortcoming of the market is that it does not respond to individual preferences--or even needs. It responds to money."
Given the concentration and monopolisation of rural and urban property outlined by Lappe in a previous quotation, the argument that the market responds to free preferences is undermined:
"Under these conditions what does the market do? The only thing it can: it responds to the tastes of those who can pay, the privileged minority. They alone have the income to make what economists call effective demand. Production inevitably shifts to items desired by the better off, such as meat, fresh fruits and vegetables, imported VCRs and Chivas Regal. (...) an invisible food revolution (occurs) in which basic foods for the majority are displaced by luxury crops for the minority."
Economists Friedman and Bauer also see aid as an international extension of state intervention which obstructs the unrestricted development of market forces and inhibits growth. It is argued also that most of the aid given to recipient countries, including food aid, is used to supplement the consumption of the middle classes not the poorest and that this in turn props up the corrupt regimes which depend on their support. Bauer also argues that external finance has little to do with development and that it has more to do with the individual attributes of the recipient populations.
On the political left, a number of writers have drawn the
same conclusion as the above economists, but for the opposite reason. Whereas
the right-wing economists have opposed aid because it inhibits market forces,
the leftist writers such as Hayter in
The problem as identified by Lappe is not so much one of
the lack of resources on the part of the poor as a lack of power to direct a
development process in their own interests rather then in the elite's interests
or the North's interests. Lappe et al called for an ending of aid to all such
corrupt, repressive regimes, in other words those that were favoured by their
Judith Hart's book referred to above contained both a polemic against what she regards as the "anti-aid" lobbies of both right and left and, at the same time, a recognition of the contradictory nature of previous aid policies, in the sense of aid being an agency of neo-imperialist interests while, despite this, achieving in a number of cases some developmental goals:
"To reject the whole concept of aid in despair because so much aid in the past has been wrongly directed is to contract out of the whole developmental issue, in so far as any help from the rich countries is concerned... to contract out is to evade the responsibility and guilt that any former imperialist power must bear for the pattern of past events, which have shaped the present, and produced the poverty gap. A socialist in a rich country must try to make reparations; he cannot get off the hook by coming to easy terms with his own failures... Instead, he must seek and work for a new approach to aid. Giving neither blanket condemnation of all aid, for even the most neo-imperialist rich countries have given some help to developing countries which has been valuable to them and has not damaged their interests, nor blanket support, for some aid has been damaging, he must be selective and discriminating, and accept the greater demands that such an approach will involve."
As we can see from the above quotation, Judith Hart was at
pains to distance herself from those with whom she might have shared a common
premise, that aid for much of the time is little more than an agency for donor
country neo-imperialist interests, but with whom she parted company over the
conclusion that aid as it is presently constituted with strings and
conditionality should be rejected. As we noted above, Teresa Hayter was
perhaps the best-known advocate of this view in
She subsequently clarified her views on this question in more recent times and advocates a position which takes account of the state of the domestic opposition within repressive Third World regimes: where a given domestic opposition is well organised and is itself demanding the cessation of aid, she advocates that this should be so; where there is little organised opposition and little prospect of change then ways and means should be found for getting aid through to the poorest groups within a given country on humanitarian grounds. In fact this would appear to represent a gravitation towards the conception of ideologically-motivated morality which adopts different forms according to the intensity of social contradictions outlined above.
As Riddell has noted, other writers such as Myrdal and Seers would appear to have gravitated from the opposite direction of having supported aid in the 1950s and 1960s to a far more pessimistic view of the impact of aid, but without seeing any alternative to continuing with it because its withdrawal would hit the poorest hardest. Mende would appear to have always held the view that aid was a means of promoting market forces in the South and that the rules of the market are inevitably loaded against its interests. He too can see no alternative to its continuation, however, and argues that there are no easy options; neither is there much prospect of rapid change in the terms and targeting of aid. He argues that external aid has little impact on actual development and that only the mobilisation of domestic resources can achieve this.
In the early 1980s the shift in policy under the Thatcher Government towards commercial and political priorities highlights the fact that there are many in the Conservative Party (and undoubtedly the Labour Party also) who believe that national self-interest is paramount, irrespective of moral considerations or the efficacy of aid. Moral considerations do not exist beyond the shores of one's nation, according to this argument. This view is what actually shaped aid policy under Thatcher led by the export lobby not crucially the ideas of Bauer, as he readily admits. Bauer speaks of the vested interests of the export lobby and the aid bureaucracy itself as being dominant.
The Brandt reports – the first of which coincided with the election of the Thatcher Government – on the other hand, attempted to bridge the gap by appealing to both moral criteria and "enlightened" national self-interest, stressing the existence of "mutual interests" of both the North and the South. The increasingly global nature of many issues as a result of the increasing ability, through technological development, of one nation to affect the interests of other nations means that all nations are forced to relate to each other and agreements become necessary to regulate conduct. As the first Brandt report put it:
"We are increasingly confronted whether we like it or not, with more and more problems which affect mankind as a whole, so that solutions to these problems are inevitably internationalised. The globalisation of dangers and challenges--war, chaos, self-destruction--calls for a domestic policy which goes beyond parochial or even national items... energy to ecology, from arms limitation, to redistribution of employment, from micro-electronics to new scientific options... everywhere there are people who see their whole planet involved... in the same problem of energy shortage, urbanisation with environmental pollution, and highly sophisticated technology which threatens to ignore human values and which people may not be able to handle adequately."
Aid and development policies which promote unrestricted
growth of exports in the Third World as a means of promoting debt repayments,
which in turn led to environmental consequences in terms of the depletion of
non-renewable natural resources, desertification and deforestation, cannot be
sustained even as a nationally self-interested policy in the face of the
increasing awareness of planetary inter-dependence among the world's
population. Sustainable development policies become ever more necessary with
each example of Third World environmental catastrophe from the
In practical situations most politicians have to balance national self-interest against public conceptions of the need to aid the world's poor. Most aid lobbyists take some account of national self-interest also although the balance is different. For many who would deny any moral responsibility on the part of governments, individual charity is seen as the proper medium for aiding the world's poor. The use of aid funds to further the commercial or political interests of the donor government is seen as perfectly legitimate, according to this view, and, indeed, the use of aid funds could not be sanctioned unless such national interests were seen to be being promoted.
We have seen in the chapter on the Thatcher Government that aid policy was to be tied more closely to "industrial, commercial, and political considerations". We saw also that no contradiction between this and development was acknowledged in any Ministerial pronouncements. In terms of stated policy then, the balance between national self-interest and international governmental moral obligations shifted towards the former under the Conservative Government. The very fact that the Thatcher government could actually come out openly and state so baldly that this shift was to take place must surely be related to a greater acceptance on the part of this government of the general primacy if not exclusivity of national interests over international moral obligations. The extent to which national interests could be publicly stated to be of prime importance in the politically and morally sensitive context of aid, however, was limited by public opinion. This point was effectively acknowledged when Peter Bauer said the aid should ideally be abolished altogether but that this was not politically possible in the Times article referred to above in the chapter on the Conservative Government.
Mrs Thatcher has let the cat out of the bag on at least one
occasion, as we have seen, when she made the following statement which, while
apparently acknowledging international moral obligations on the part of the
government, cites more pressing domestic obligations as a reason for not doing
more for the
"It would be a nice position if one were to be able to make enormous handouts for overseas aid, but we must give our own people priority first."
The same article went on to say that Conservative backbenchers were reported to have suggested that Mrs Thatcher's remark disclosed her true attitude towards overseas aid.
Statements in the Commons are one thing; public utterances outside Parliament are usually couched in more diplomatic terms, to the effect that commercial and developmental objectives do not conflict and that this is merely a form of "enlightened self-interest".
Once again the same arguments apply: the question of whether national interests come first or not is being made less relevant in the wake of the globalisation of issues as a result of growing interdependence. Ministerial statements, under the Thatcher government, that aid budgets could not be increased until the British economy was back on an even keel, together with the policy shift towards commercialisation of aid reflect, at root, a parochial preoccupation with domestic priorities as if Britain could afford to ignore the effect which such policies have on the global context.
The way the environmental problem has been perceived has changed since the advent of the Labour Government in the mid-seventies. In the sixties and early seventies environmental problems were identified as bad housing, poor sanitation, poor health care etc. In recent years we have seen the shift towards global warming, soil erosion, deforestation etc. There is a different perception of the environmental problem. This should be borne in mind in assessing the environmental credentials of the two governments we are assessing.
Gavin Kitching has noted that many modern development and environmental concepts are in the tradition of nineteenth-century romanticism, utopianism and populism. The romantic poets Blake, Shelley and Wordsworth wrote passionately about the "dark satanic mills" and rejected large-scale industrialisation. They glorified rural life, rejected urban life, and many of these ideas can be seen in the modern environmental and development movement. Populism counterposes small-scale agricultural and artisan communal life to large-scale capital intensive industrialisation. Many ideas of the development lobby are very reminiscent of the tradition of Proudhon, Robert Owen, the Ricardian socialists, the Russian populists.
A good example is the idea of "appropriate
technology" which was particularly fashionable in the late 1970s under the
Labour Government. Recent writers such as Schumacher, with his concept of
"small is beautiful", and Lipton's polemic against "urban bias"
in favour of small-scale agricultural peasant enterprises, also exhibit this
approach. A theme which runs through these views is the idea that in context of
capital shortage and labour abundance in most
The populist approach, which, as we have noted, is very
prevalent in today's development and environmental movement, puts forward
essentially the idea that what is needed is not a direct challenge to the whole
world capitalist system, but an "alternative" within the existing
system. In this sense it is "utopian" in the tradition of Owen and
the other utopians. In the
The populist approach, which argues against large-scale industrialisation in the context of the developing world thus plays into the hands of Northern neo-colonial interests. The populist perspective differs sharply from a socialist perspective in relation to this question. From the standpoint of socialist ideology, it is crucial that the South has access to technological developments in industry so that it can benefit from the improvements in technique and efficiency. The issue is not so much whether there should be large-scale, capital-intensive, high-tech industrialisation or not. It is rather whether this large scale, high-tech industry should be used to accumulate for the sake of accumulation, as it does within a capitalist system, displacing labour from employment in the search for increasing profits; or whether it should be used to meet human need by utilising the more efficient technology to reduce the burden of labour on a retained work-force in a society where the means of production is collectively owned. The objective for those wanting a poverty-focussed aid programme is: to combine a policy which is aimed at meeting the needs of the rural poor while avoiding policies which obstruct the development of technological progress in industry.
Most developed nations used protectionism in the initial
phase of their industrialisation,
There have been disputes over the question of development
priorities versus environmental priorities an example of which is the dispute
within the planning team for the ODA's
Geoffrey Hunt criticises the perspective of the Green
Parties in Britain and Germany from a socialist standpoint advocating a
participatory model of socialism which draws on the writings of those
"neo-Marxists" such Samir Amin whom he claims have shaken-off the
confused "circulationism" of the earlier dependency school
"A divorce arises between collective human good and the ends of production when the social product is compelled to feed increased production as its end, i.e. when accumulation becomes an end in itself, a self-expanding process. This process which is an autonomous appropriation of the product of human creativity at the same time that it is an autonomous appropriation of nature, arises not as a conscious abandonment of control over production but as a result of a structural constraint on the now atomised units of production. The constraint is competition. In competition owners of capital are compelled, if they are to remain competitors at all, to maximise profits and this becomes for each an end in itself which when aggregated emerges as so-called economic growth. This aggregate may overlap with the satisfaction of collective human good but need not, for human good is only one profit-satisfying means among others. What is indifferent, evil or even self-destructive in the long term may be more profitable."
Exhortations to consume less in the North proposed by Porritt ignore the question of the need for redistributive measures in the North and the South alongside the need to disengage production from accumulation for accumulation's sake and focus it only on production for need. To say that the North consumes too much ignores the wide differences in living standard within both North and South and the need to redress these inequalities. Instead of relying simply on moral exhortations to consume less and for the South to disengage from the world market and withdraw into the populist autarchy of small-scale peasant and artisan enterprise, the socialist perspective is for working class struggle in the North and in the South for redistribution of wealth and the disengagement of production internationally from the blind, wasteful accumulation for profit.
Another moral issue relating to women and development aid is the question of the extent to which strategic social objectives should be explicitly incorporated into aid projects. Some projects aimed at women are of the basic needs sort: for example a primary health care centre. Other projects may be more strategic and seek to empower women in various ways. In some societies which have religious ideologies which keep women secluded and which regard the involvement of women outside of domestic life as dishonouring themselves and the family, the more strategic objectives come up against very stiff resistance.
Allegations of cultural imperialism and foreign tampering with another culture are common. A related question is the extent to which aid agencies should declare their strategic objectives when proposing particular projects. These objectives are often not disclosed to community leaders because making them explicit might jeopardise the project although it is more common to disclose them to national bodies. An element of deception is often the result.
A debate has been going on between the ODA and a women's lobby organisation, the National Alliance of Women's Organisations (NAWO), on this very question. A paper submitted to the ODA by NAWO on the question of population and family planning policy raised this issue in the following way:
"The problem of imposing our own values on others must be addressed. This is a problem with any aspect of aid, yet it is in relation to reproduction that it is constantly raised. Why is it that reproductive norms are so closely associated with culture? Whose culture is it anyway--that of the dominant groups in society or of the women condemned to continuous childbirth? The emphasis should be on enabling women to choose rather than telling them how many children they should have."
NAWO have been particularly concerned to ensure that the
ODA does not hide behind the question of recipient country culture and it has
insisted that this question should be taken up by the ODA in a positive way
arguing that to do otherwise would be to accept patriarchal culture. As the
paper notes the ODA is not averse to policy dialogue on other economic and
political questions, but is perhaps a little hasty to raise culture as an
obstacle when it comes to family planning. Elsewhere in this thesis criticism
is made of the ODA for putting forward the population problem as the major
cause of poverty and environmental destruction in the
There is a danger, however, of introducing conditionality along the lines of green conditionality, which is also criticised elsewhere in this thesis. As the above paper says:
Population policies are a tool; they can be used to oppress,
but they can also liberate. Like any development strategy success depends on
the motivation of those implementing it. We cannot continue to deny women the
benefits of good policies because they have been abused in the past. Nor can we
ignore the issue because it seems riddled with stigma and preconceptions.
Population policies must be reassessed from the perspective of women....
Certainly coercion has taken place in the name of population control. There are
those who want to limit the number of people in the
For the same reasons put forward in opposition to green
conditionality, in a context in which official aid is dependent on structural
adjustment and other types of conditionality it is mistaken to imagine that
official aid can be a progressive force in general in terms of women. How can a
governmental aid agency of a society like
This should not, however, prevent the women's movement and
the development lobby in
An interesting debate has taken place between Oxfam field staff on the question of gender and the problem of culture and the legitimacy of intervention by the women's movement in the North. One of these contributions put forward the following view:
"Why is it that challenging gender inequalities is seen as tampering with traditions of culture and thus taboo, while challenging inequalities in terms of wealth and class is not? What if we accept the taboo? If we accept that challenging gender inequalities is taboo then we can only support projects and programmes aimed at making life easier for women and helping them in their given tasks. Would this approach be acceptable? If we look at Oxfam's history it can be seen that Oxfam gave up this 'sticking plaster' approach to its work many years ago, as it became obvious that it was not providing real, long term help to the poor. Oxfam now aims to support projects which identify and remove the root causes of poverty and exploitation... thus to take the 'easier life' approach to gender development would be contrary to the rest of our work and quite unacceptable."
This line of argument is further developed by another Oxfam
field worker who highlights the oppressive aspects of
"It is indisputable that, historically, religion and the law have given power to men. Therefore the inequality with which we now live is approved by tradition, religion and also the law. This has created a sort of mental oppression."
Onora O'Neill has highlighted the fact that the theories of justice which underpin the law both North and South do not address themselves to the predicament of women. These theories are either "idealised" in the sense that they abstract from the particularities of human kind in the name of being dispassionate and thus do not address the predicament of women; or they are "relevatised" in the sense that they do take account of variety and differences among human kind but they relegate women to a 'private' sphere where justice is said to be not relevant. They thus endorse institutions which exclude women from public life where justice is said to be relevant as well as see justice as only applying within national boundaries. The upshot of this is that:
"Both idealised and relevatised accounts of justice look inadequate from the perspective of those whom they marginalise. Women, in particular poor women, will find that neither approach takes account of the reality of carrying both reproductive and productive tasks as well as having relatively little control over the circumstance of one's life. Women's lives are not well conceived just as those of idealised individuals. A world of such individuals assumes away relations of dependence and interdependence; yet these are central to most lives actually available to women. Nor are women's lives well conceived solely in terms of traditions which relegate them to a 'private' sphere. The productive contributions and cognitive and practical independence of actual women is too extensive, evident and economically significant to be eclipsed by ideologies of total domesticity and dependence."
This brilliantly captures the predicament of women in relation to the law. She also goes on to spell out the implications for Third World women of the tendency of justice to be regarded as only relevant within the borders of a particular country in a way which implicitly challenges the notion that the Northern women's movement has no right to "tamper" in the culture of a Third World society.
"The awkward fit of theory to actuality is most vivid for women in poor economies. These women may depend on others but lack the supposed securities of dependence. They are impoverished but are often providers. They are powerless, yet others who are yet more vulnerable depend on them for protection. Their vulnerability reflects heavy demands as well as slender resources. They may find that they are relegated to and subordinated within a domestic sphere whose separate and distinctive existence is legitimated not by appeals to justice but by entrenched views of family life and honour. They may also find that this domestic sphere is embedded in an economy that is subordinate to distant and richer economies. They not only raise children in poverty; they raise crops and do ill-paid and insecure work, their rewards fluctuating to the beat of distant economic forces. This second subordination too is legitimated in varied discourses which endorse an internationalised economic order but only national regimes of taxation and welfare. A serious account of justice cannot gloss over the predicaments of impoverished providers in marginalised and developing economies."
From this point of view, it can be seen that citing the
existence of a distinctive
We can conclude this chapter by briefly summarising the shifting influences on government aid policy during the period we are surveying. We have seen that in the case of Harold Wilson a straightforward moral basis for aid giving was asserted in his book, War on World Poverty. In the case of Judith Hart, his most dynamic and committed aid Minister, a more ideological basis for aid was in evidence in her book, Aid and Liberation. The extent to which they were able to realise their objectives was circumscribed by the economic crises which they encountered in office and the austerity which was forced upon them by the IMF.
Under the Thatcher Government, aid policy has been influenced to a degree by the anti-aid policies of Lord Bauer and other writers of a similar outlook. The strength of the churches, the development agencies, and public conceptions of the need to do something to combat extreme poverty, particularly when it has been in evidence in the media, as well as the strength of the pro-aid export lobby within the Conservative Party, limited the extent to which aid could be wound down altogether. The eruption in particular of the Ethiopian famine on the nation's television screens created a climate in which it was not politically possible to reduce the aid budget at the rate that the Conservative Government's ideological and philosophical predilections might have dictated.
Similarly, the growth of public awareness of "green
issues" as they relate to aid policy in the late 1980s created another
constraint on government choices. This was based on a revival of populist
sentiment which was distinct and indeed on some questions counterposed to a
socialist perspective in relation to the environment and development. These
conceptions represent in many cases a view that there is a "third
way" between capitalism and centrally-planned democratic socialism, in
which the class struggle is replaced by struggle between the human race and
nature and in which working-class struggle for redistributive measure North and
South is replaced by a voluntaristic notion of consuming less and more
ethically in the North. This also includes a rejection of materialism alongside
an advocacy of self-denying policy in relation to large-scale industrialisation
in the South. The Green Parties in
The debate around moral issues in relation to providing aid
to women in the Third World has focused particularly on the issue of the rights
and wrongs of people in the North "tampering" in sensitive areas of
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