I wrote this a while ago - still stands and is relevent as we debate whether to set an arbitrary requirement that we spend 0.7% of GDP on international aid:
I really don’t care whether the UK spends 0.5% or 0.7% of GDP on aid – what I care is that the money actually does some good.
Taking this view doesn’t make me some kind of moral leper, someone who doesn’t care about the development of Africa or the suffering of the world’s poor. Indeed, those who advocate increased aid budgets but support the subsidising of western agriculture should look to their own contradictions – the Common Agricultural Policy does more damage to Africa than our aid programmes do good. And much the same can be said for other market distorting actions of the developed world – the structure of financial regulation (making it ever more difficult for developing countries to build a financial sector – even massive countries like India), the subsidising of basic industries, the dumping of production surpluses in the name of “aid” and much else besides.
If we really cared about helping Africa transform we would start removing these barriers, we would concentrate on opening up our home markets to the products of poorer countries, we would incentivise moving production upstream (processing and packaging the coffee in Ethiopia rather than Banbury maybe) and we would concentrate our aid on disaster relief, educating women and disease prevention.
Instead we choose to wave and shout about how good we are and how much money we spend. I find this sad.