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A Global Marshall Plan Link Drop

Last week, I advocated for the US radically increasing its foreign aid budget, calling for a new, global Marshall Plan. However, aid to Africa definitely falls in the category of "topics that interest me, but I am not an expert in." Gigantic foreign policy initiatives like the one I suggested last week are definitely outside my pay grade, so I pulled together some articles on the issues of foreign aid, development and Marshall Plans.

Obviously not everyone agrees with my pie in the sky proposal. Moses Naim, of Foreign Policy, argues that wars on social problems, and the "Marshall Plans" to solve them, have never worked. I agree with Naim about the overused rhetoric but, unlike the wars on drugs and crime, America hasn't yet seriously attempted a second Marshall Plan. He mentions plenty of proposals, but no actual money spent on a new Marshall Plan.

This is partly because conservatives ask a more serious question: does aid even work? The conservative anti-handout crowd would say that it doesn't. Welfare is still welfare, even on the international scale. A reader emailed us last week and pointed out that by supplying EMT services for Afghans, we prevent them from developing their own medical industry. We disagree--Afghans wouldn't have medical services with or without the US--but this debate misses the larger point: aid works.

James Surowieki endorses effective, substantial aid in this New Yorker piece. Between 1946 and 1978...South Korea received nearly as much U.S. aid as the whole of Africa," and of course it is a prospering, modern nation. In fact, American allies that receive huge influxes of cash, military aid and access to American markets--Israel, Turkey, and Taiwan--do very, very well.

Aid isn't perfect, but it isn't ineffective either.

Although constantly refining how we use aid isn't a bad thing either. In this article about Rick Warren for Relevant Magazine, Dr. Warren points out that we can't just throw money at the problem of Africa, but then offers a solution of his own based on spending labor and using education. I agree. If we started some sort of massive "Marshall Plan of Labor," that sounds great to me as well. The point is we need to give something away, be it intangibles like labor and energy, or tangibles like money and resources.

This article by Glenn Hubbard, in Foreign Policy's "Think Again" series, agrees that aid hasn't worked in Africa, but only because we haven't invested in the right places. America needs to invest in businesses, then infrastructure, not NGOs and government programs. It makes sense, but again, it would work best on a massive scale, not piecemeal solutions. He also makes a compelling argument that, though micro-finance is an incredible innovation, it doesn't go nearly far enough.

And frankly, when you see what innovative small groups can do in Africa, it amazes you that we don't fund more. Whether is is micro-finance at work in Kenya, Plumpynut in Nigeria, or AIDS vaccines through PEPFAR in Uganda, there are plenty of ideas that could be replicated if we had more energy and effort. Like the Bill Gates model, find what works and invest in it, and don't let the programs get too big.

There are two organizations currently calling for Global Marshall Plans, and I want to clarify that I don't endorse either one specifically. The owners of www.globalmarshallplan.org advocate specific social and political policies in addition to a massive new foreign aid program. A group called The Spiritual Progressives do something similar including requirements that a Global Marshall Plan get its funds from military spending. A new Marshall Plan shouldn’t be bogged down with requirements that are clearly on one side of the political spectrum (liberal/socialist). This dramatically decreases that chances it will actually happen.

As I was researching last week's post, I stumbled onto this blog that has the catchline "just asking that aid help the poor." It goes to the point that not all aid is bad, but some of it is mismanaged. We need to do a better job of finding what works, and what doesn't.

A while back, I wrote that failed states are the biggest threat to America. I still believe this. Kick the terrorists out of Afghanistan and they will just move to Somalia, which they have. And this is why we need a new Marshall Plan.

three comments

The crazy ideology isn’t just from the left. Not handing out condoms even though it would prevent aids is, in my humble opinion, crazy.

This sounds noble, wonderful, even, but I am reminded of the argument the writers of Condemned to Repeat: the Paradox of Humanitarian Action advance: that aid itself, even with a humanitarian-response structure such as the Marshall Plan or the new(er) UNHCR-era aid structures, almost always supports the insurgent- or rebellion-force threat causing the need for aid. The aid itself becomes a bargaining chip, a chip the local economy did not have before, something that leaves the subjected (or maybe even abject) population even more deeply at risk.

When I started interviewing Nancy Peddle about her work in Siera Leone, and investigated the impact of large-scale aid versus grassroots-centric aid like Kiva or other community-based or locally managed support like the work LemonAid manages so well, I was struck by the disruption large-scale aid brings to an already fragile situation.

Just 2 or 3 cents.

@ Trish – Yeah, you can say that twice. Even the NYer piece described how in the Cold War a lot of money was just thrown away to our allies for political reasons.

That said, not sure that a criminal or tyrant can stop the best aid. Anyways, we need to try.