One of the more controversial appointments in the first May cabinet was the installation of socially conservative Priti Patel into the Department for International Development. It is no secret that she has, in the past, called for the entirety of the Department to be scrapped. This underpins a current of conservative thought which considers foreign aid to be a pointless waste of time and could be better spent in the UK economy. The standard critiques of the nations receiving the aid is that they develop a dependency upon Western capital which shackles domestic development, the governments of these nations are corrupt and so the aid is very inefficiently used, and the fact that these countries are not suitably developed to transition economically.
It is very easy to get suckered into this kind of thinking. But it is of vital importance to realise that a dedication to foreign aid should not just be a pillar of the left, but that it is something that the right should get behind wholeheartedly as well. There are a number of reasons why we ought to do this and be proud of the fact that we are dedicated to improving the lives of those in the developing world. The first is a highly moralistic case that is often neglected by those who advocate statism of any kind. What, more than any other policy or tool, has managed to lift more people out of poverty than anything else? The answer is market capitalism. Israel in the 1970’s, India in the 1990’s, the reforms of Deng Xiaoping in China and the economic miracle in Japan. All of these things, which unequivocally improved the living standards of millions upon millions of people, were united by the fact that these were the periods where the governments of the day followed policies of marketization and competition, and a reduction in the provisionary role of the state. It is of vital importance that the institutions which uphold property rights and the ability to partake in transactions are strengthened all over the world. If the foreign aid afforded to Commonwealth countries like Kenya allows them to do this, then it ought to be encouraged, not scorned.
The other reason is that foreign aid ties actually runs alongside, as opposed to countering, the conservative belief in self help. It is a commonly known fact in macroeconomics that a country needs a minimum amount of resources in order to be able to have the capital accumulation required for economic growth. Or else, all economic activity will be focused upon sustenance as opposed to development. There are a number of infrastructural goods which have to be in place in order for an economy to grow. These are basic healthcare and education provisions in order to improve productivity, transport links between cities, communications etc. It is unlikely that a country ravaged by disease and famine is likely to be able to collect sufficient tax receipts in the medium term in order to maintain such an infrastructure without entering a spiral of debt that the whole world would do well to learn to avoid. By investing in these countries there is the provision of opportunity where otherwise there would have been one. The Conservative Party has always been the party of aspiration, it should be happy that this ideal is being given a global focus.
The final argument for ensuring that foreign aid is maintained at its present level is a purely self-interested one from the point of the UK. The UK is a large exporter of a number of key services that are required in order to run a developed capitalist economy. The UK should be visionary in expanding its markets in a way which is mutually beneficial. Some on the left proclaim that the use of foreign aid is just another tool through which the developing economies can be exploited. By contrast, the reality is that a mutually beneficial platform can be erected which ensures that all parties are better off by economic development in Africa, the Near and Far East, and Latin America. If it is the UK which has shown the greatest dedication to helping these economies onto their feet, then as a nation we will be viewed as a natural trading partner. Why anyone would want to forego such an opportunity, especially in a post-Brexit framework where trade with the rest of the world is paramount, to have new markets which they have a stake in. Profit is not a dirty word. That holds as true in the rest of the world as it does in the UK.