The late great science fiction writer Brian Aldiss wrote a story where a jaded millionaire used an employee to rev up his system by giving him a “hate brace.” This was an experience which created anger, fury, an adrenalin rush and a reason for going on living. Anger can do that.
Prepare yourself for a hate brace.
The Department for International Aid recently released a press statement, which it seems to believe exonerates it from the accusation that the UK is giving money to a country which has its own space programme. The logic is curious. Let me quote the release:
“The UK no longer gives any money to the Government of India. More than half of the projected £98 million will be invested in Indian enterprises, while the rest funds technical expertise. Together these help develop new markets, whist creating jobs for some of India’s poorest and marginalised people.”
Got that? Because the money doesn’t go directly to the Indian government it somehow doesn’t count, so we are no longer allowed to mention their upcoming moon shot. DFID taxes poor people in the UK and then scores compassion points by giving it away. Damn our potholes, damn our closed libraries, damn the poor in this country, someone in Whitehall can go to bed each night in a warm glow of smugness having given away someone else’s money. Our money. Damn them. Feel that hate brace burn!
It would be possible to cut overseas aid to zero but that would be inhumane and, more to the point, it might not be in our own interests. Sometimes there is a need for emergency aid, sometimes there is an unanswerable case of enlightened self-interest. For example, it may be possible to break the bird/pig/human cycle that breeds the flu virus, the cycle that one day will unleash a devastating pandemic on the world. Will unleash, note, it’s certain, it’s just a matter of time. Aid to laboratories all over the world to genetically engineer local pig varieties without a receptor for the virus is good for everyone, especially those like us who live in one of the most crowded countries in the world. I’m sure that you can think of other examples. It is past time that the colonial mindset of Whitehall was broken: it is not the place of the UK to condescend to poor benighted natives, these are sophisticated and successful people in immense and powerful countries with their own priorities and their own agendas. For HMG to give them aid is an insult.
Let’s cut overseas aid to £3,000,000,000. Still a substantial amount, still enough to help those in dire need, but doing so would free up well over £10,000,000,000 to spend on our own poor, our own technical expertise, to develop our own enterprises.
There are those who will feel that by refusing to help we are not being a proper citizen of the world, not pulling our international weight. OK, let’s solve that problem. At the same time as the aid budget is cut, let us set up a bank account run by HMG which accepts charitable donations and which sends the money raised to deserving causes overseas. My preferred distribution system would be to give it to the Salvation Army, but that’s a detail which can be thrashed out later.
What’s not to like? Those who want to give can give. Those who don’t, and those who can’t afford to give, won’t. Brian was writing in the sixties and the idea of truly obscene wealth measured in billions or even trillions was unimaginable even for a man with his fertile imagination, but now we have many wealthy philanthropists who will no doubt step forward.
Best of all, we can fire hundreds of highly paid civil servants and get them out into the economy where their expertise will help regenerate our own enterprises and markets. I will watch their performance with great interest.