April Freeman Banner 2014

ANYTHING PEACEFUL

We Want to do Nothing You Say?

MARCH 01, 2012 by NICHOLAS SNOW

Recently New York University economist and FEE summer seminar faculty, Claudia Williamson, gave a talk to the George Mason University Economics Society, cosponsored with the Future Freedom Foundation, on “The Trouble with Aid.” Williamson’s answer was simple, “We give it.” Of course she went on to give a lengthy and empirically supported explanation for why foreign aid fails and should not be given. Still, in the Q&A the question naturally came up: “What should we do then?”

To most this question is reasonable, but it really shouldn’t be. Williamson’s talk centered on a means-end framework, which showed that foreign aid not only has not achieved its stated ends but may also have actually caused more harm than good. We can also see empirically that countries which have institutions that promote market interactions tend to be much wealthier than less market-oriented countries. (Thus breaking the so-called vicious circle of poverty is a matter of getting the institutions right.) Sadly, however, this is all too often interpreted as, “So we should do nothing?” Or to put it as Leonard E. Read’s put in Cliches of Socialism #31, “If the government doesn’t relieve distress, who will?  ”The market solution is not a do-nothing approach. It replaces a failed centrally planned approach (governments giving aid to developing countries) with a decentralized array of plans of many individuals. Rather than doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result (Einstein’s definition of insanity, by the way), we need to abandon the idea that aid is the only solution. By eliminating aid and allowing any individual to attempt to help in his or her own way, we allow entrepreneurial individuals the chance to create real change. As Read put it, “There is no way to determine in advance who that pioneer might be?” But by allowing for more plans rather than the narrow, let-government-do-it approach, we increase the likelihood of success. This is what economist William Easterly refers to as seekers versus planners. The planners big push for aid projects has failed for well over 50 years. Maybe it is time we eliminated aid and allowed the seekers the chance to provide the relief we are all searching for.

comments powered by Disqus

EMAIL UPDATES

* indicates required
Sign me up for...

CURRENT ISSUE

April 2014

Around the world, people are struggling to throw off authoritarianism, with deeply mixed results. From Egypt to Venezuela, determined people build networks to overthrow their regimes, but as yet we have not learned to live without Leviathan. In this issue, Michael Malice and Gary Dudney discuss their glimpses inside totalitarian regimes, while Sarah Skwire and Michael Nolan look at how totalitarian regimes grind down the individual--and how individuals fight back. Plus, Jeffrey Tucker identifies a strain in libertarianism that, left unchecked, could reduce even our vibrant movement to something that is analogous to the grim aesthetic of architectural brutalism. The struggle for our lives and freedom is a struggle for beauty; it begins inside each of us.
Download Free PDF

PAST ISSUES

SUBSCRIBE

RENEW YOUR SUBSCRIPTION