Along the Tracks

Wednesday, June 05, 2002
 

Money poorly spent


Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill has been on some kind of quasi-fact-finding tour in Africa with one of my absolute all-time favorite rock stars, Bono of U2, for the past week or so. Bono is not your average rock star-social crusader; he studies his subjects deeply, then commits himself fully to the cause. He has been campaigning for Third World debt relief, not exactly a glamorous cause to take up, for several years now. Despite what would seem to be the natural liberal connections between Bono and the Clinton administration, the singer has seen his greatest successes in American policy come since Bush was elected. O'Neill, in particular, has taken up Bono's challenge to help the Third World and has been a driving force in changing long-standing reluctance to increase foreign aid and push for debt cancellation.

However, cracks have started to show on this latest tour. Bono, an unashamed liberal, sees a deep well providing clean water to a village and says, "See, it wouldn't even cost that much to give clean water to everyone in this country." But O'Neill, a consumate businessman and bottom-line kind of guy, responds, "If the money we sent last year was spent properly, every village would have wells, with a lot of aid left over. So they don't need more money, they need to spend it more wisely."

This is the dilemma that always ends up getting people hot on both sides and resulting in an end to what could be a beautiful partnership. Not saying that will necessarily happen here, but it's something to watch.

Yes, debt reduction is a great way to provide extra funds to Third World countries. And yes, more aid does the same thing. But that only gets you half way to a solution. Those countries need the legal standards, guarantees, accounting practices and intelligent policies that will result in the funds actually providing benefits to the population. Otherwise, all that money just ends up in the hands of a few common criminals that happen to run the government and the construction racket, banking racket, distribution racket, etc.

Bono looks at the abject poverty and his heart calls for all of us to do something; I can appreciate and even agree with that. But what he, and so many liberals, miss, is the fact that we are doing something. We just can't do it all. Part of it is up to the people getting the aid. So the question becomes, do we send aid to the corrupt leaders in hope some small percentage reaches the destitute masses, or do we cut off aid until the masses rise up against their corrupt leaders? My Leader readers will realize this falls into that category of Hard Truths of Life that I so often cite: Doing the right thing for long term benefits sometimes means doing a hard thing in the short term.


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