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286 CONCLUSION The Case for a Radical Reduction in Development Assistance In his 1949 inaugural speech, Harry Truman proposed four major courses of action directed at undeveloped areas. He began his fourth point by saying: More than half the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery . Their food is inadequate. They are victims of disease. Their economic life is primitive and stagnant. Their poverty is a handicap and a threat both to them and to more prosperous areas. For the first time in history humanity possesses the knowledge and the skill to relieve the suffering of these people. The United States is pre-eminent among nations in the development of industrial and scientific techniques. The material resources which we can afford to use for the assistance of other people are limited. But our imponderable resources in technical knowledge are constantly growing and are inexhaustible. I believe that we should make available to peace-loving people the benefits of our store of technical knowledge in order to help them realize their aspirations for a better life.1 This was the birth of Point Four and, in essence, the modern development establishment. About it, Truman says in his memoirs: “Point Four was conceived as a world wide, continuing program of helping underdeveloped nations to help themselves through the sharing of technical information already tested and proved in the United States. The principal item of expenditure would be the skill of our technicians teaching these people how to help themselves.2 Point Four was signed into law on June 5, 1950, after which the Technical Cooperation Administration (later USAID) was soon set up under the State Department. By March 1951, 350 technicians were at work on more than a hundred technical cooperation projects in twenty-seven countries. When Truman summed up progress to date in his 1952 State of the Union Address, he noted: “This is our Point Four program at work. It is working, not only 1. Harry S. Truman, Years of Trial and Hope, vol. 2 of Memoirs (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday , 1956), 227. 2. Ibid., 232. in India, but in Iran and Paraguay and Liberia—in thirty-three countries around the globe. Our technical missionaries are out there. We need more of them.”3 Though almost touchingly innocent and naïve from a distance of fifty years, there was something sound in Truman’s original vision—the notion that one should transfer knowledge rather than money. But right away, the structures of the fledgling industry started flexing their imperatives, and ageold truisms came alive. One of these was that “money talks.” When the recipient countries began clamoring not just for technicians but for money as well, we and others responded. And with the faith in technicians as missionaries—so blatantly conflated by Truman himself—things began to steamroll. By 1953 the original appropriation of $34.5 million had been increased to $155.6 million, and 2,445 technicians were now at work in thirty- five countries. Today, looking back over the half century since that time, it is embarrassing (or should be) to note the poor track record of development assistance. But we are not embarrassed. Recall the criticisms made by development insiders cited in the introduction, like the World Bank’s own conclusions in the early 1990s about its declining performance. Instead of embarrassment , we promise improvement. Outsider critiques, often harsher than our own, are no less inclined to propose a fix, whether it is a complete overhaul , a reorientation of vision, or a newfound coherence. Here is a 1989 Washington Post article: “The Agency for International Development, after spending tens of billions of dollars in 25 years of trying to help Third World nations stem poverty, has concluded that the program largely failed to achieve its objectives and suggested that a complete overhaul may be necessary.”4 And in a 1992 letter to President George H. W. Bush, Vermont senator Patrick Leahy wrote that “our international assistance program is exhausted intellectually, conceptually, and politically. It has no widely understood and agreed set of goals, it lacks coherence and vision, and there is a very real question whether parts of it actually serve broadly accepted United States national interests any longer. . . . As a whole it is failing to address adequately fundamental American interests in the global population explosion, international environmental degradation on a massive scale, and seemingly ineradicable poverty and hopelessness in the developing world.”5 But looking for the “right” formula...


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