Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Does aid create Civilization

Fredrik Erixon points out that "The reason countries are poor is not that they lack infrastructure – be it roads, railways, dams, pylons, schools or health clinics. Rather, it is because they lack the institutions of the free society: property rights, the rule of law, free markets, and limited government." (Hat tip Arnold Kling).

In my mind "the institutions of the free society" would have been called "Civilization" in less PC times. Let's face it, "property rights", "rule of law", "free markets" etc. sound like Civilization to me. Countries that are "poor" today used to be fairly average several hundreds of years ago, and the main reason they seem so poor now is because other places have become so much richer.

So the question becomes how do you bring Civilization to uncivilized places? The term "civilization" has a jingoistic air to it, with overtones of colonialization and the white man's burden, but I think it more accurately captures the essence of what's missing than "institutions of free society".

The US seems to be testing whether Civilization can be brought at the point of a gun in Iraq, and the jury is still out on that. France and Germany is testing whether Civilization can be brought on the point of a remote and faceless bureaucracy, and they recently suffered major setbacks to that with the rejected constitution. I don't see, however, how Civilization can be brought on the back of foreign aid, which is what Blair and Bush currently seem keen on. Foreign aid is usually riddled with the sort of corruption, on both donor and receiver side, that Civilization is meant to eliminate.


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