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Players and Issues in International Aid

by Paula Hoy

The median American believes we spend 15 percent of federal spending on international affairs. Our median citizen believes five percent would be better. The actual amount spent is one percent. Spending on non-military foreign aid takes even less. Non-military foreign aid equals about 0.08 percent of GDP.


Paula Hoy looks at assistance successes and disasters, arguing that assistance rarely reaches the poorest of the poor.

Famine relief and major projects, rather than preventative measures, attract most aid dollars. Hoy explores some strategies for development. She counts schools, clinics, monitored elections and the elimination of smallpox among the aid success stories. She suggests institutional developments fostering self-reliance are among the most successful but least well funded.


Loans, however, contribute to horrible spirals of debt and are among the worst. Hoy excoriates the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for creating corruption, crushing debts, and other evils. In 32 countries debt equals at least 80 percent of GNP, including countries with three-figure per capita incomes. Many subjects, er, citizens in these nations pay debts they had no role in creating. Dead dictators created the debts before they were born.


The U.N. receives gentler treatment from the author. She claims that many its problems stem from the policies of member nations, failing to note that the U.N. is a democracy of dictators.


Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as Oxfam, she writes, are best at local efforts and at reaching the super poor. They suffer from the flaws of government organizations, especially an ignorance of long-term consequences. NGOs should emphasize training, reciprocation, and self-reliance. Some, such as the Grameen Bank, succeeded.


NGOs based in less developed nations show more promise. These NGOs get directly affected individuals involved, performing better because their survival is at stake.


The problem of parents abandoning families remains far worse in developing countries. Men seek sexual prowess and personal status while women struggle with the work. Ten million children allegedly die each year from comparatively easy to prevent problems. About 150,000 deaths result directly from starvation: Nutrient depleting illnesses (diarrhea, measles, malaria) cause five million deaths. Forty percent of the world suffers iron deficiencies, though in some microbe ridden places an iron deficiency helps because lower levels of iron slow microbe multiplication in the body. Undernourishment plagues over 25 percent of the world's children under five. Serious poverty reduces mean life expectancy about 30 years. About 1.2 billion people live in serious poverty, two-thirds of whom are always malnourished.


Players contains introductory information rather than detailed arguments. Many of the book's claims are dubious such as Robert McNamara's claim that aid is the best way to avoid war.


Hoy offers a splendid appendix listing various assistance organizations, their addresses, phone numbers, and short summaries of what they say they do. One new organization not listed and garnering attention: Educate Girls Globally, telephone (415)561-2260, on the web at


The book ends with two weak arguments against aid offered by conservative Jesse Helms and liberal David C. Korten. Both arguments serve as straw persons. Better arguments against aid exist elsewhere. Korten's argument includes the tired claim that "oil spills and terrorist bombings both generate new economic activity and therefore add to GNP." They do not. They transfer wealth. Money spent cleaning up oil spills would be spent elsewhere, creating growth elsewhere. Economists refer to claims like Korten's as the broken windows fallacy. In addition, terrorist bombings cause panic, capital flight, and other harms that reduce GNP. 181p (H) 1998


Book review by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 7, 2009.


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