Professor (specialises in the foundations of sustainable development)
University of Amsterdam
It is a well known fact that public opinion polls are often commissioned and used by institutions and organizations who want to promote their agenda. The European Commission is one of the institutions which most frequently use this technique of manipulation.
The EU Commission press release from November 26 is a case in point:
Tackling poverty in developing countries should be one of the main priorities of the European Union, according to 66% of EU citizens. Seven out of ten people (69%) believe that helping these countries is also good for the EU, benefiting its citizens. These are some key results from a Eurobarometer survey to be published today at the European Development Days in Brussels (26-27 November).
Despite the economic crisis, more EU citizens are now willing to pay more for groceries and products that support developing countries (48% of respondents, which represents an increase of 4 percentage points since 2012). 83% of respondents, meanwhile, think that it is important to help people in developing countries and 61% are of the opinion that aid should be increased.
Already this text on the cover of the actual Eurobarometer survey should be a warning sign:
This survey has been requested by the European Commission, Directorate-General Development and Cooperation – EuropeAid and co-ordinated by Directorate-General for Communication.
The survey as such was certainly done in a professional way by TNS Opinion & Social, but the results should be taken with a huge pinch of salt. By formulating the questions in a certain way - and by totally omitting critical questions - you get what the Commission wanted - a useful propaganda tool.
When Ipsos-Mori last December asked what UK citizens think about development aid, they got a totally different (and of course much more true) picture:
And more than 60 per cent believe the cash is wasted, according to a poll.
The finding is a major blow to David Cameron, who is committed to protecting international development from budget cuts.
It follows a spate of stories linking Britain's aid spending to corruption or waste.
Spending on development by the Coalition is set to rise to £11.3billion next year.
Only 6 per cent of people in the Ipsos-Mori poll strongly disagreed with the idea that foreign aid is wasted. A further 20 per cent tended to disagree with the statement.
Together the total of 26 per cent is little more than a quarter of the public. But 61 per cent said that development money is being wasted.
Despite the lack of support, Mr Cameron made a passionate defence of his target of spending 0.7 per cent of the UK's income on foreign aid.
The decision will require an increase of 30 per cent in 2013 from £8.65billion this year.
Mr Cameron acknowledged it was 'difficult' to persuade the public that increasing aid was the right thing to do at a time of cutbacks at home.
For people who still believe in the effectiveness of development aid (outside of the aid agencies), Jonathan Foreman's recent article in The Spectator should be good reading:
Our rulers must know that development aid doesn’t work. So why do they throw money at it?
One of the more bizarre mysteries of contemporary British politics is the ironclad, almost fanatical intensity of the government’s commitment to foreign aid spending and the activities of DFID, the Department for International Development.
It is bizarre because the Prime Minister talks about foreign aid as if it’s all about famine relief and saving children’s lives. But he and his Cabinet are intelligent, worldly people and they know that the real world of aid rarely resembles the one celebrated in DFID pamphlets and Oxfam ads. They know that most aid is ‘development aid’ intended not to help in emergencies, but to foster prosperity.
They also know that this development aid is at best useless and at worst counterproductive. A quarter of Britain’s foreign aid goes as ‘budget support’ into the treasuries of some of the world’s least competent, honest or responsible governments. Even more goes to multilateral institutions, like the World Bank or the EU aid body that Clare Short described as ‘an outrage’, ‘a disgrace’ and ‘the worst development agency in the world’.
After 60 years and $3 trillion of development aid, with one big push following another and wave after wave of theories and jargon, there is depressingly little evidence that official development aid has any significant benign effect on third-world poverty. The Tories know this. They’ve read William Easterly and Robert Calderisi, who argue that the cash we dole out has enriched privileged Westerners and kleptocratic third-world rulers more than its intended beneficiaries. Moreover, they’ve seen how South Korea and Taiwan have risen from poverty to prosperity and they know how small a role foreign aid played. So why do they still insist on this enormous, ‘ring-fenced’ aid budget?
Some suggest it’s about being nice (however ineffectually) to our less fortunate neighbours; showing them we’re not racist. But being admirably attuned to matters of race and prejudice, Cameron and his crew must have noticed that the fiercest defenders of aid are invariably white, and the most trenchant critics tend to be African intellectuals like Ghana’s George Ayittey and Uganda’s Andrew Mwenda. Some of them who have been in the field will have seen for themselves how aid activity of both kinds — development and emergency — all too often replicates much that was bad about 19th-century missionary activity and imperialism, and even with the best intentions tends to patronise its beneficiaries and undermine good government.
Like so many things in Britain, the new Tory obsession with aid may come down to class and religion.
It is a matter of religion partly because so much aid is faith-based, by which I mean that those who fund it and carry it out have little or no real evidence that it works, but they take a leap of faith that it does. It is also faith-based in the sense that foreign aid has become one of those substitute religions so often adopted by middle-class, educated people who look down on organised religion of all kinds. Like other pseudo-religions, aid has its owns myths, iconography, priesthoods; its state and private elements; its conflicts between fundamentalists and moderates; its guardians of purity, its true believers and cynical hucksters, its genuine saints and its ruthless bureaucrats. And it offers believers an almost spiritual sense of their own goodness — which goes some way towards explaining their extreme reluctance to listen to the evidence against it.