Piety and Foreign Aid

President Obama’s implication that the Bush Administration stinted on foreign aid was the most disingenuous part of his inaugural speech. It may also have been the most depressing. It signals that he is likely to replace one kind of faith-based policy with another, equally blind variety.

I couldn’t agree more, Heather. One of the things that depresses me most about public affairs is the extraordinary persistence of bad ideas. A thing can be disproved a thousand times over, but there will still be earnest people plugging it, and politicians listening to them. (Head Start, anyone?)

Foreign aid is a prime example. It is now 40-odd years since Peter Bauer taught us that aid is “a transfer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.” Nothing that’s happened in those years has contradicted his judgment. The influence of religion on government in these areas, as in the matter of immigration, has been entirely malign. I expatiated on the topic at the time of George W. Bush’s visit to Africa last Spring.

Asked by the NRO editors for some predictions at the end of last year, I included this one: “USAID will be elevated to a cabinet-level department.” Obama’s just the man to do it. Jimmy Carter gave us a cabinet-level department for maintaining the power of the teacher unions; Obama will give us a cabinet-level department for sluicing taxpayers’ money through to the Swiss bank accounts of foreign gangsters and despots, to the great joy of clerics everywhere. My ECUSA Diocesan magazine — they still send it to me, though I haven’t been to church in over four years — is full of cheerleading for aid programs.

Add the trendiest of all diseases to the feelgood factor of foreign aid, and you have a perfect storm of self-congratulatory piety to justify the squandering of public funds to questionable purposes.

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