Shimon Peres on Foreign Aid

by on June 23, 2011 at 9:18 am in Current Affairs, Education, Travel | Permalink

Shimon Peres gave a press conference for a small group of bloggers. He was very impressive. When asked about foreign aid, specifically foreign aid to some Arab regimes he had this to say (again a paraphrase from my notes, the clever lines are his, the order may have changed somewhat and this is incomplete).

Look, the West can’t help everyone and the regimes would be insulted if we tried. But they don’t need our help. The greatest poverty in our time has been in China and India. Did these countries reduce poverty because of our help? No. They did it themselves.

Giving is problematic. We take money from poor people in rich countries and give it to rich people in poor countries. Aid sometimes creates corruption.

And suppose we gave people computers. Would computers help? No. There is no technology without civilization, civilization is the carriage of technology. It is a matter of institutions. If a country discriminates against women, for example, no computers will help. Do you know who are the greatest opponents of democracy in the Middle East? The husbands. As long as husbands discriminate against their wives the husbands will support the dictators.

Now, however, there is a young generation who are realizing that the glory is within. The glory [of civilization] it is within their power to grasp.

Peres was also great on science, a question I asked. More on that later.

In other news Dr. Ruth criticized social media, “I like to touch my friends.”

1 Rich Berger June 23, 2011 at 9:26 am

“In other news Dr. Ruth criticized social media, “I like to touch my friends.”

That’s a chilling image.

2 Miguel Serveto June 23, 2011 at 9:42 am

“We take money from poor people in rich countries and give it to rich people in poor countries.”

I remember this line being delivered by Ron Paul. Are Paul and Peres quoting from the same source, or is he adopting Paul’s rhetoric?

I certainly wouldn’t deny the economic benefits of liberalization, but I will play devil’s advocate here. The claim that foreign aid “can’t help” is untenable. Just because foreign aid has been handled poorly, both by the donor(s) and recipient(s), does not mean there cannot be benefits. For instance, if there are poor countries where the leaders are actually willing to implement economically sane policies, aid in the form of capital goods to assist in production could be beneficial for both parties in the long term, allowing the underdeveloped nation to develop a base conducive to future prosperity, and the donor could benefit from the eventual increase in production and trade. As I said, this can only work where the politicians do not loot the funds for themselves, which is why aid to corrupt countries such as those despotic Marxian regimes in Africa should be cut off, or come with strict conditions attached. The ideal situation would probably be giving aid to a country that has already undertaken steps towards liberalization, e.g. if a country that previously pursued socialistic or interventionist economic policies decided on their own to take steps towards liberalization, they would be a better candidate for aid as I’ve described than countries which just want funding for their redistributive schemes. Or, we could abandon the concept of aid as pure altruism and instead offer underdeveloped nations sub-market prices on capital goods with the understanding that the cost will be paid back with interest. Of course, simply embracing free trade (actual, unrestricted trade and not protectionist programs with free trade in the title) and open borders would do much to “aid” the global population, particularly in the long run.

3 david June 23, 2011 at 9:54 am

They are both paraphrasing the British economist Peter Bauer:

“government-to-government transfers are […] an excellent method for transferring money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.”

It seems impossible to determine where exactly Bauer said this, however, and numerous anti-aid thinkers have paraphrased it in some form.

4 Rahul June 23, 2011 at 10:03 am

Wasn’t there a graphic posted on MR a few months ago making the point that poor people in rich countries are often ricer than rich people in poor countries?

5 Andrew' June 23, 2011 at 10:47 am

True, but if we can’t help the poor here, how much are we going to be able to help the poor there?

6 Rahul June 23, 2011 at 11:26 am

Much more. A dollar goes far further in the third world. Also more bang for the buck. Easier to save someone from starvation than, say, unemployment.

7 Anon June 23, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Better to die on your feet than live on your knees.

8 Andrew' June 23, 2011 at 11:45 am

By that, I mean, you can keep someone alive through an acute situation- if they need food or some spare vaccine we know how to do that and few become dependent on that relief because the situation is acute. But you can’t give them a system that will work for them if we can’t even figure out how to help our own poor in the system we made.

9 Andrew' June 23, 2011 at 11:47 am

The vulgar anti-aid folks would say that they’ll just have more mouths to feed. And the recent post about the economist with the integrated growth theory of everything essentially said the same thing.

10 Emil June 23, 2011 at 5:08 pm

No, that is not what the vulgar anti-aid folks would say, what they would say is that:

when evaluating the impact of aid programs over a longer time period they have not only cost a lot of money (which is a scarce resource and could therefore have been used elsewhere) but also made things worse rather than better. Therefore it appears to be more evil to advocate aid programs than not to advocate them

11 The Anti-Gnostic June 23, 2011 at 12:56 pm

That’s a horrible state of affairs. We must not rest until the US poor are as poor as the Third World mean and the Third World rich are as rich as the US mean.

12 FHayek June 23, 2011 at 9:50 am

Sounds like Ron Paul

13 Rahul June 23, 2011 at 9:51 am

Giving is problematic.

How much aid does Israel get directly and indirectly from the US every year? Wonder if he would include that under the rubric of “problematic giving”?

14 DK June 23, 2011 at 10:34 am

Roughly $3B annually, or about 1.5% of its GDP.

15 Rahul June 23, 2011 at 10:47 am

Definitely not what I’d call peanuts. Of course, maybe Peres thinks they are different coz’, their aid might be more egalitarian. If this aid is largely bombs and bullets may not be a rich-only cash transfer.

16 J Thomas June 23, 2011 at 3:48 pm

$3 billion is roughly the direct aid.

Indirect aid includes direct loans which in theory will be repaid someday but which in practice get rolled over until they are forgiven, loan guarantees that eventually get paid by the US government, technology sharing approaches that result in Israeli corporations second-sourcing US military spare parts and whole weapon systems, etc etc etc.

This is hard to quantify but is probably less than $100 billion per year.

17 Dan Dostal June 24, 2011 at 5:49 pm

I’ve seen estimates as low as $8 billion and as high as $15 billion. I believe the indirect aid varies considerably per year and circumstances, and it wouldn’t surprise me that it’s less now than it was with Bush and the Second Intifada.

18 j r June 23, 2011 at 10:09 am

“The greatest poverty in our time has been in China and India. Did these countries reduce poverty because of our help? No. They did it themselves.”

This is an odd sentence. The moment one utters it, the mind is moved to ask, “what is so special about China and India?” And the moment one asks that, is the moment that the answer becomes apparent. He would be better off contemplating the case of a Singapore or a Taiwan.

19 Dan Dostal June 24, 2011 at 5:52 pm

It is especially troubling that he ignores the poverty of Sub-Sahara Africa which I’m certain was comparable to conditions in China or India since WW2 and has only become worse since the ubiquity of the AK rifle post-communism. Of course, I do fall into the camp that suggests foreign aid has mostly been used to purchase these weapons.

20 Dean Sayers June 23, 2011 at 10:22 am

As the president of Israel, it is pretty bizarre for him to decry foreign aid. Israel has always relied on foreign aid and transfers of value, starting first with the transfer of population from Europe, and culminating today with 3Bn/year in military aid.

For “labor Zionism” to succeed, they had to enact laws which discriminated against indigenous labor – and the land purchases largely piggybacked on archaic Ottoman Empire standards for land rights – where papers couldn’t be produced for land held by families for many centuries, indigenous people were kicked off of their land without even the pretense of respect for “property.” If land was purchased, it was taken from those whose land the Ottoman’s had decided were owned by their “chief.”

Indeed, the “pulling oneself up by their bootstraps” argument is quite a convenient argument when the facts are obfuscated. But understanding these examples should make anyone wary of Western aid, anyways.

21 John June 23, 2011 at 12:02 pm

He didn’t say the West can’t help anyone. He said we can’t help everyone. The aid given to Israel has largely been put to good use. The transfer of population from Europe you mention was a humanitarian necessity, a way for Jews to live apart from those who would, and did, readily murder them. Likewise the transfer of population from the Middle East and Africa that you didn’t mention. (Baghdad, like Warsaw, was once 1/3 Jewish.) Military aid allows Israel to fight enemies who seek to destroy it as a Jewish state. No one seeks to destroy Egypt or Jordan as states that privilege Muslims. There are external forces preventing Israel from pulling itself up by its bootstraps, so I really don’t see Peres being hypocritical here.

22 The Anti-Gnostic June 23, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Yeah, that was sure some great thinking back in 1948. Where to put several million Zionists? I know–let’s just set them smack dab in the middle of several hundred million Arab Muslims! Then we can carve out two reservations in the dirt and tell the Palestinians that’s where they live from now on. Well, at least until some Hasidim and his ten state-supported kids decide they want to live there. Then we’ll spend billions of dollars propping up this ethno-nationalist state and a bunch of deeply corrupt, unpopular Arab dictators who’ve agreed not to attack it. Then, when decades of resentment and humiliation run their course and some Muslim Arabs blow things up, we’ll erect this vast, multi-trillion dollar national security state to suck up private capital and pour it into two giant holes in the ground known as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Money well spent.

23 Rahul June 23, 2011 at 12:58 pm

It’s an interesting thought as to what would happen if the new Jewish state had been carved out, say, in the middle of Canada. I mean Israel is probably a tiny fraction of the immigrants Canada has accepted in subsequent decades. And at least it wouldn’t have been like keeping a snake and mongoses in the the same cage.

24 John June 23, 2011 at 2:45 pm

I’m not excusing Israel’s moral lapses by any means. I abhor the settlements, and I hope for a two-state solution along the Green Line. I’m just saying, is it really that difficult to sympathise with the fact that millions of Jews were killed in the Holocaust? Is it that difficult to understand that they wished to leave for the sake of their own survival, and that they wanted the lands surrounding Jerusalem because that’s where they came from? Or that a million Jews were ALREADY living smack dab in the middle of a hundred million Muslims, where their oldest synagogues predated the oldest mosques by centuries if not a whole millennium, and that almost all of them were forced to flee anti-Semitic reprisal in the wake of Israel’s creation, without compensation for the homes and property they left behind? I understand that many Palestinians lost their homes, but keep in mind that a comparable number of Middle Eastern Jews did too, and now Israel is all they have. So regardless of which side you favour, the conflict just isn’t black and white, and it’s important not to approach it that way.

25 The Anti-Gnostic June 23, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Israel needs “sympathies?” Send them a card. Otherwise, you need to convince me how that $3B/yr serves my interests as a US taxpayer. From this side of the pond, all it’s done is buy us two wars, a Department of Homeland Security, and an Arab Spring that gets more violent and unpredictable by the week.

In fact, this is looking like the worst $3B/yr I’ve ever seen spent. And we haven’t even gotten to the foreign aid going down various ratholes in the Third World.

26 Dean Sayers June 23, 2011 at 3:42 pm

“I’m just saying, is it really that difficult to sympathise with the fact that millions of Jews were killed in the Holocaust?”

Absolutely not. Precisely because I sympathize will all victims of Genocide, I oppose the creation of a national Jewish ghetto largely carved out of stolen land, with constituent ghettos placed on the forefront of a takeover of yet more land from the indigenous population.

I find it bizarre that people think that Jews have to be expelled to achieve the liberation of Palestinians. They don’t; Jews in the region have a history of very effective political assimilation with others there – in fact, the Ottoman Empire seems to have been at the forefront of Jewish autonomy in its time, even granting them political control over their own communities. This was the proverbial “right to self-determination” which occurred without any apparent exploitation or dispossession of their neighbors.

The history of the suffering of Jews does nothing to dull the very explicit attempt to ethnically cleanse the former Palestinian Mandate. Indeed, the Israeli program appears to be little more than the latest European attempt to alienate Jews from Europe. The fact is that we are talking about the individual rights of each person in the region – and defining Jewish suffering as a justification for ethnic cleansing is a rather crude, but common attempt to collectivize and compare morals along religious or ethnic lines.

27 Rahul June 23, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Well one way to look at it is that the deed is done. What are we going to do about it now? Send all the Israelites back to the nations they came from? Hardly possible.

What’s a constructive outcome?

28 Dean Sayers June 23, 2011 at 3:58 pm

I’ll tell you one constructive outcome – stop bombing Gaza and road-blocking the West Bank to worse economic conditions. Allow positive, proportional trade relations between Israel and the territories. Provide reparations to Palestinians (and Israelis, during some of the pull-outs for instance) who have been dispossessed in the conflict. Redistribute the water rights and the arable land. Recent acquisitions of Palestinian land should be revoked. The right of return and free movement should be enforced.

All within reasonable parameters of course – the territories need autonomy and economic stability long before Israel’s border’s can be opened up, for concerns of reprisals. But as we see, steps are only being taken in the opposite of these goals; the first step is to stop strangling Palestinians economically – give them the rights to control their own economy with fair trade with Israel, and the most overt hostilities will quickly cease. It’s not hard to understand why this is so if you’ve any familiarity with just how repressive the Fatah/Israeli regime is to Palestinians.

29 J Thomas June 23, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Well one way to look at it is that the deed is done. What are we going to do about it now? Send all the Israelites back to the nations they came from? Hardly possible.

What’s a constructive outcome?

As it is, they can expect endless war, and on our dime. That is not constructive at all.

So here’s a better choice. The USA could put the money we are currently putting into Israel, toward giving them a nation in the USA. Some ways Canada would be better, but Israelis will not settle for less than a completely sovereign nation, and who would give them that except the USA?

So I propose we give them Alabama. It’s currently one of our poorest states, so it would not be a giant burden to remove less than 5 million Americans from there and compensate them for what they lose.

Alabama is green. It has lush fertile lowlands to the south, lush fertile hills in the middle, and lush fertile forested mountains to the north. There’s iron ore, lots of coal, some gold. A deep water port, and the Tenn-Tom canal provides access to the Mississippi and transportation across the entire heartland bypassing New Orleans.

52,000 square miles, compared to 8,000 for Israel. If they gave some to the Choctaw in the west and the Creek in the northeast, they would have friendly relations with the other claimholders.

What about the biggest problem, Jerusalem? Easy! Start the biggest archeological project in the world. Excavate the entire Old City, and make a good copy of every stone. Then put it back together with half original stones and half copies. Send the other set of stones to Alabama and build a new Jerusalem, however the Israelis want it. The whole thing would cost far less than Israel costs the USA now.

This is not just a good idea. It’s the only approach I’ve ever heard of that has a chance for success. Every other proposal is obviously doomed. But this one is has a fair chance.

30 John June 23, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Mr. Sayers, you support the right of return? Have you bothered to understand the Jewish perspective, one that lived through through the Holocaust, the Farhud pogrom, the confiscation of lands and property belonging to Jews indigenous to the Middle East? The Jews of the Ottoman Empire were tolerated, but they were also taxed and denied certain liberties. If you’re seeking to convince Israeli Jews why Israel needs to be dismantled as a Jewish state, that probably isn’t the best model to point to.

Tyler Cowen linked to a post by Bryan Caplan a few days back that made a very good point: One’s position is more likely to be clear and persuasive if one can articulate the sensible and reasonable views of the other side. I recognise that the Israelis have behaved badly and violently. You don’t seem willing to admit the same about the Palestinians. I have acknowledged that many Palestinians lost their homes. You don’t seem concerned with just how much land and property Jews lost in the last century alone, not just in Europe but in the Middle East and Africa. I support the two-state solution as the best compromise that acknowledges one side’s need for economic development, the other side’s need for security, the tragic losses suffered by both, and a history of mutual distrust and violence that will leave its imprint for generations to come. Your solution is for these two sides to suddenly become one nation, not unlike Cyprus, Bosnia, and Iraq.

I’ll just let all that speak for itself.

31 Dean Sayers June 24, 2011 at 9:08 am

You said: “The aid given to Israel has largely been put to good use.”

It’s been used for ethnic cleansing, and one only assumes that you support the same when you say it’s been put to “good use.”

32 Dean Sayers June 23, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Ah, yes, the old “our friends have no choice but to commit ethnic cleansing, but our enemies are bad because they do it.”

I’m assuming you apply the same “humanitarian necessity” argument to the ethnic cleansing of the Native Americans and Aborigines?

33 John June 23, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Is such a bald-faced ad hominem attack really necessary?

34 Dean Sayers June 23, 2011 at 3:31 pm

It’s not an ad-hominem – I’m asking for consistency (indeed, if we are talking about control from external forces, one should be far more sympathetic to Palestinians – but actors shouldn’t be judged on this sole issue, anyways).

35 Rahul June 23, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Technically an ad hominem requires an attack on the person, right?

36 John June 23, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Rahul, Mr. Sayers assumes that my support for the evacuation of Jews from the lands where they were persecuted and murdered is tantamount to my support for the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans and Aborigines. That’s not a personal attack on my character?

37 Dean Sayers June 23, 2011 at 4:39 pm

You claim that Israel has no choice to do what it does re: its foreign policy in the region. You really open yourself up there, for obvious reasons. If you were not including the ethnic cleansing, you really should have stipulated as such, given how central it is to the Israel’s history.

38 John June 23, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Where did I claim that Israel has no choice but to pursue its current foreign policy? In my second post I mentioned that I oppose the settlements. I only came here to point out that the conflict is not as black and white as many commenters here, including yourself, seem to view it. I am not rabidly pro-Israel by any means.

Yes, ethnic cleansing is central to Israel’s history if you’re a Muslim or an Arab. Just like it’s central to Turkey’s history if you’re an Armenian or a Kurd. But no one would ever assume that a defence of Turkey’s foreign policy equates to a defence of ethnic cleansing. We’re posting comments on Marginal Revolution here, not Electronic Intifada.

39 Rahul June 23, 2011 at 12:54 pm

How are Egypt and Jordan more “external forces” than, say, malaria for Africa?

40 J Thomas June 23, 2011 at 3:50 pm

As the president of Israel, it is pretty bizarre for him to decry foreign aid.

No, it isn’t. He’s against foreign aid to arab nations. Israel is an implacable enemy to every arab nation.

So it makes perfect sense.

41 jasonh June 23, 2011 at 11:28 am

A bit off point, but a related and (very!) misunderstood point about U.S. aid to the Middle East is that most all of it goes to Israel, both directly and indirectly. There is the direct aid to Israel, of course. But the massive U.S. aid to Jordan and Egypt is also in essence aid to Israel, since the money is paying off Jordan and Egypt to maintain unpopular peace treaties with Israel. Relatedly, I heard Rand Paul say that cutting off aid to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt is neither pro nor anti-Israel, because is affects Israel and its Arab neighbors equally. I don’t know if he was being politically savvy or just really stupid, because cutting off aid to Jordan and Egypt would be running against the Israel lobby just as much as cutting off direct aid to Israel.

42 k June 23, 2011 at 1:25 pm

“Can Jerusalem be rebuilded here, in this trivial time, in this land of fear?” asks Bruce Dickinson in his 1998 album, Chemical Wedding.

Yes, but it comes at cost.

43 Bhanumati June 23, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Well of course what Peres says makes perfect sense. Aid should only go from rich countries to other rich countries. My tax $ should not go to the Sunni guy with 8 kids but is a wonderful gift to the Haredim family of 14.

44 Pithlord June 24, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Everyone owes that guy who killed his parents and asked for mitigation because he was an orphan an apology. There really is a greater example of chutzpah.

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