Question: During July of this year the G8 conference in Scotland, together with a world wide rock concert, focused on poverty and disease in Africa. If these two secular groups could take such an interest in charity, why did we heard so little about foreign aid from the Church?
Answer: It is unquestionable that the “haves” ought to see to the needs of the “have-nots.” “For I was hungry, and you gave Me to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave Me to drink: I was a stranger, and you took Me in: naked, and you covered Me: sick, and you visited Me: I was in prison, and you came to Me.”[i] Traditionally, Christian missionary activity has almost always been accompanied by efforts to raise the living standards of those being evangelized. This has been true not only of Catholic efforts, but also of those by other Christian and secular groups. Hopefully, there will always be good people trying to do good things. But in modern times missionary activity has all too often given way to government aid programs.
The United States Catholic Mission Association reports that in 1960 there were 6,445 US missioners serving outside of the US and Canada; in 2003, the latest year for which figures are available, the number had dropped to 3,414; about 53% of the earlier number.[ii] Some of this may be blamed on the inclination of modern man to seek the comfortable life; some may be blamed on the Modernist error that “all men are saved,” and, thus, there is no reason to go into “unpleasant places” to convert “unpleasant people”; some of it reflects the decline of religious vocations in general since Vatican II; and a great deal of it may be blamed on the danger posed by governments and ideologies hostile to the Faith. A great deal could be done to diminish the problems of underdevelopment and disease by restoring the Catholic enthusiasm for service in the religious orders.
Before yielding to the temptation to solve problems by just throwing money at them, one ought to examine the results that can reasonably be expected. Since World War II the wealthier nations of the world have spent large sums on foreign aid only to discover that government to government transfers of money are usually somewhere between inefficient and harmful.
No less an internationalist figure than J. William Fulbright, a post war proponent of international aid and political intervention, a proponent of United States membership in the United Nations, and Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was to write in 1966:
In recent years both private and governmental authorities have come to realize that the postwar spending on foreign aid has failed to lift the living standards of the poorer countries which received it. “Despite decades of foreign assistance, most of Africa, parts of South America, Asia and the Middle East are economically worse off today than they were 20 years ago.”[iv]
The number one problem with foreign aid is corruption. There is a great temptation on the part of the recipient rulers to use aid money to make their positions secure. Modern weapons can make the ruler invincible in a third world country, eliminating all political dissent—unless, of course, another developed country favors aid to different leader and starts a well armed civil war. Money can be and is channeled to Swiss bank accounts to provide for the day when the ruler falls from favor (Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were on our payroll at one time). Sons, wives, daughters, uncles, and cousins benefit as well. The form in which aid is received matters little. Military aid is always useful, but cash can be converted into weapons very quickly or sent to Switzerland as is. Food can be sold on the local economy and is almost as convenient as cash. The right to buy food can be controlled through rationing, allowing the ruler to distribute it where it will do the most political good—rarely to the poor. The breeding of corruption through foreign aid has been recognized in recent years, and today the World Bank actually maintains Government Corruption Indices to help in deciding where aid money will be loaned!
The World Bank views good governance and anti-corruption as central to its poverty alleviation mission. Nowadays, hundreds of governance and anti-corruption activities are taking place throughout the World Bank Group. They focus on internal organizational integrity, minimizing corruption on World Bank-funded projects, and assisting countries in improving governance and controlling corruption. [v]
Given the enormous sums involved, whether or not the World Bank and governmental agencies can be successful in controlling the corruption they measure is, of course, questionable.
Government to government transfers, or transfers through quasi-governmental third parties like the World Bank, can also have an overall adverse effect on the economy of the recipient country. Foreign aid is in direct competition with local capital markets and foreign private investment—no lender or investor can compete favorably with the government of a wealthy nation. Failure to form private sources of capital will keep the recipient country dependent on foreign aid forever.
Aid monies given to a government tend to foster socialism and its attendant inefficiencies. If a nation is unable to grow enough food or produce goods for export, getting government into the process is certainly not the best solution. Government owned industries force private industries out of business—both by legal and by economic means. For example, a government operated aluminum industry may try to mask its inefficiencies by establishing itself as a monopoly, or by placing a tariff on foreign aluminum brought into the country. The local industries that used to be able to purchase foreign low cost aluminum must now purchase it on the government’s terms. Aluminum will be available, or not, based on bureaucratic decisions rather than market needs. Worse yet, producers may now be unable to export their aluminum products because of retaliatory tariffs placed by nations hurt by the aluminum import tariff. And, of course, the socialized aluminum industry will be plagued by all of the imaginative ways which workers in a command economy contrive to meet quotas.
There is a correlation between bureaucracy and low productivity. Very few entrepreneurs are interested in establishing a factory in a country that requires yards and yards of forms, months of waiting, and outright bribes to obtain a business license. Such concerns are addressed by another World Bank index for government efficiency. Some governments think the answer to every problem is taxation. The government of Niger, for example, tried to deal with the catastrophic famine currently under way by raising the tax on various staple foods by nineteen percent! Protest strikes got the increases rolled back on wheat, rice, and milk, but not on sugar.[vi]
The corruption and inefficiencies of recipient governments are important moral issues. Aid can accidentally make war and poverty even more severe. But from the Catholic point of view there must also be a concern with aid monies that are spent on positively immoral programs. “Reproductive health services,” a euphemism for abortion and contraception are a standard part of most international aid packages, and recipient nations are often required to accept them as a condition for receiving other funding. Take, for example, the involvement of the United Nations Population Fund (UFPA) in the July 2005 deliberations of the G8 nations:
Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, who claims to be a Catholic and 'personally opposed' to abortion, has already pledged $15 million to support the UNFPA pro-abortion agenda in Africa....
The recommendations of the [UNFPA] Commission report sound more like commands and tie financial support to the starving nations directly to adherence to the population control/pro-abortion "reproductive health services" agenda. "African governments must show strong leadership in promoting women's and men's right to sexual and reproductive health. Governments must be accountable for ending the stigma and gender discrimination associated with sexual and reproductive services.... Donors should do all they can to enable universal access to sexual and reproductive health services."
Jim Hughes, Vice President of the International Right to Life Federation commented on the situation for LifeSiteNews.com saying, "To alleviate poverty we are called to give food, shelter and clothing, not to kill off the poor."[vii]
But “killing off the poor” is precisely the methodology favored by UN and its “biodiversity” advocates. What they call “sustainable development” means no less than making sure there are not too many humans around competing with the other creatures of the Earth for her resources.[viii] The “Oil for Food” program in Iraq maintained Saddam in power and continued to enrich UN bureaucrats even after he was deposed.[ix]
AIDS prevention programs are another area where international assistance is often counter productive and immoral. In Africa, some AIDS cases are attributable to immoral behavior brought about through superstition and ignorance, so an education program is clearly warranted. AIDS could be all but eliminated in a generation if people were educated to abstain from intravenous drug usage and from violating the Sixth Commandment—but the internationalist approach is to promote immoral (as well as unreliable) means to allow drug users and adulterers to sin without becoming infected.
Of similar concern to Christians is the way in which international aid has supported regimes that are positively anti-Christian. MSNBC described the situation in Israel at Christmas last year:
International aid has also backed fundamentalist Islamic rulers, making Christians second rate citizens at best, and in some places outlawing the Faith altogether.
An estimated two million Christians have fled the middle east over the past 20 years. 600,000 Lebanese Christians (mostly Maronite Catholics) fled and 100,000 were killed in the fighting between 1975 and 1990. Three million Christians in Turkey in 1910 were reduced to roughly 100,000 at the end of the century; the Greek Orthodox, who accounted for fifty percent of Istanbul’s population, have been reduced to one percent in the same period. Hundreds of thousands of Coptic Egyptians have gone the same route.[xi] The process is now well under way in Iraq—home to Chaldean Catholics—CIA figures put Christians at about ten percent of the population twenty years ago, but “Christians and others” now make up but three percent.[xii]
One final point about US foreign aid is that it has no Constitutional basis. The enumerated powers simply do not empower Congress to levy taxes for foreign giveaways. It should be of the utmost concern to American Catholics that more and more is being done by government in violation of our fundamental law. There is no “right to abortion” or “separation of Church and State” in our Constitution—indeed there is a guaranteed right to life and a guaranteed right to the free exercise of religion, along with a number of other civil rights which are more and more eroded with time. Allowing government to “make believe” it has authority when it does not can only lead to further immorality.
The route to good nutrition, shelter, and health in the less developed nations is through allowing them to build strong free economies. Private missionary and charitable initiatives can work toward this end in ways that are simply impossible with government transfers. A resurgence of traditional Catholicism with an attendant rise in missionary vocations would certainly improve the lot of the poor along with the lot of everyone else.
[i] Matthew xxv: 35-36.
[iv] A Clinton Administration report cited in Thomas Woods, The Church and the Market (Lanham MD, 2005), p. 132.
[vi] Associated Press, “UN Appeals for $80M for Niger Crisis, 5 August 2005
[vii] LifeSiteNews.com, 7 July 2005, http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2005/jul/05070708.html
[viii] See Parish Bulletin, August 2004, www.geocities.com/pelicanlara/answers/qa082004a.html
[ix] Claudia Rosett, The Weekly Standard, 7 April 2003, “Oil for Food, Money for Kofi. www.defenddemocracy.org//in_the_media/in_the_media_show.htm?doc_id=218139