An open letter to John Bull

My early morning ritual is so British I could be used as a model for the ‘English way of life’. I wake up to the sonorous tones of the Queens English on the BBC, sip some tea while watching the BBC World Service news and then top it all of my reading the Guardian, Telegraph and the Independent newspapers, albeit in electronic form. Yesterday, while going through this daily ritual I learnt that the British International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, was getting quite a battering in the right leaning and tabloid press because of the government’s plan to increase British overseas development aid by four billion pounds per year, from the 8.4 billion pounds they gave in 2010.

Many of the opponents of the aid increase were incensed at the increase in aid, especially while other government departments, such as defence and transport, faced budgetary cuts. “Why, commentators asked, should we send money to Africa and Asia while the care for OUR elderly is disgraceful and the British armed forces have no aircraft carriers”?

The Development Secretary made the argument that Britons would gleam a lot of moral authority from helping struggling overseas nations.  Britain would become “a development superpower”.  I’m not normally interested in the intricacies of the British budget but as a citizen of a country that receives about 83 million pounds of direct budgetary support, I feel that I must get my voice heard as well in this conversation.

Let’s deal with the most basic facts; the entire British aid budget is a measly 0.56% of GDP. It’s a shame that some British commentators go around pretending that, if no aid money was sent to help people around the world, all of Britain’s problems would be solved. They know that this money would register barely a drop in the British deficit. To politicize aid increases is behavior unbecoming of an English gentleman.

But let’s look as this ‘aid’ they are talking about; is it really a ‘gift’ to us, the poor people of the world?  Well, let’s start with the history of British wealth. Would London have had so much largesse to give if it didn’t ruthlessly exploit the poorer people of the world? Would they have enjoyed such an empire, ‘where the sun never set’, without the slave labour of Africans, without the mines of India, without the naval presence in Hong Kong?  To pretend that the British government doesn’t have the moral duty to give back and try to undo the damage they did is silly.

But even if we ignore the moral duty the UK government has, it’s simply good business to increase budgetary support. In this globalised world it simply makes sense to increase the wealth of poor. China plays it right. It realizes that the poor people aren’t the basket-cases the West makes them out to be. These people are both customers and suppliers; they buy Chinese goods in their droves and their agricultural products are sold in the markets of Beijing. It’s a symbiotic relationship, not a servant-master one.

Rwanda is a good example of why aid should be increased.  This money is spent to improve health facilities, to improve schools, to improve agricultural practices and good governance. The impact of all this? A more prosperous people. And guess what happens when there is more money in people’s pockets? They stop trying to run off to the colder climes of Europe and North America searching for greener pastures (and taxing the oh-so precious welfare state that Westerners have built for themselves) PLUS they actually have the money to buy the superior goods that the Brits and others produce. At the end of the day everyone moves forward.

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