Safe Deposit

The case for foreign aid.
  1. Paul O'Neill and Bono's recent Africa trip—during which the odd couple wore fun clothes and inspected village wells—made headlines across the United States. But lost in the celebrity-induced excitement was a more significant development in the debate over foreign aid: George W. Bush and other prominent Republicans suddenly want to increase it. "I am here today," Bush told a United Nations conference last March, "to reaffirm the commitment of the United States to bring hope and opportunity to the world's poorest people and to call for a new compact for development defined by greater accountability for rich and poor nations alike." The president adroitly avoided the phrase "foreign aid," but everyone knew what he was talking about. Around the same time, Jesse Helms, long the Senate's determined roadblock to international assistance, announced that he too thought aid spending should rise. Bush pledged the United States to its first foreign aid increase in many a moon—a small one but significant for a nation where political discourse generally, and Republican discourse specifically, has been anti-foreign-aid for decades.

    Bush's speech and Helms's conversion suggest that the politics of foreign aid may be changing. But they won't change enough as long as most Americans—in both parties—think foreign aid doesn't work. One reason many Americans think so is that they expect foreign aid to banish developing-world poverty and to build liberal democracies across the globe; by that stand...

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