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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33, No. 2 4 March 1970

Jim Mitchell comments on... — One Percent Aid

Jim Mitchell comments on...

One Percent Aid

The most successful pressure group of 1969 was undoubtedly a student group the 1% Aid movement. Its activities were marked by the use of sophisticated techniques, and responsibility (as distinct from the violence and intimidation practiced by the Viet Nam and apartheid demonstrators). Its demands have in great part been met, with government accepting in principle that 1% of New Zealand's gross national income should be spent on foreign aid.

Nevertheless, despite its success, the campaign depended on false and dishonest reasoning (where any intellectual backing of the professed altruism was actually provided) and the essential arrogance of those behind the movement is best exposed in the short Opinion written by Kevin Clements for Salient 25, at the end of last year.

Clements, a doctoral student in sociology at Victoria, was one of the leaders of 1% Aid; indeed he was perhaps the main protagonist. His attitudes can be thus accepted as symptomatic of the whole movement. His Salient article commenced with an unproved assertion: " ... we have to take our international responsibilities a little more seriously than we have in the past", and ended with the epidemiological trick of bypassing logic by applying psychological pressure: unless we keep the pressure up, he says, "we might find ourselves in the middle of a white, right anglo-saxon protestant backlash." It is nonsense to claim that New Zealand has not taken her international responsibilities seriously: since World War II we have been militarily involved in four minor affairs — the Malayan Emergency, Korea, the Indonesian confrontation, and Viet Nam, all of which have taken the lives of New Zealanders, and spent the wealth of this country. If Mr Clements wants a redirection of our efforts, he should say so, and avoid total irrelevancy if he can. And who would care to be called part of a WASP backlash for daring to question Mr Clements' beliefs? Yet, if we are psychologically intimidated by this line of reasoning we have fallen for the old hoax that was played on the Emperor who bought a set of invisible robes.

For the 1% Aid arguments — and few and far between they actually are — fallacious. Clements and his ilk must resort to the smears of argument from intimidation, for their theses have no logical framework whatever to prop themselves up with. In their crudest forms, the arguments for foreign aid reduce to three propositions:
1Aid as a bribe. If we give them enough, they will never be hungry, or envious, enough to attack us. We can buy their friendship!
2Aid as an investment. If we give them enough, they will gain the economic power necessary to trade with us on an equal footing (and perhaps we can unload some butter on them).
3Aid as a sop to the Christian ethic. We are our brothers' keepers, whether or not they are idle, lazy, or shiftless, lucky or unlucky, rich or poor, and for the good of our souls we must punish ourselves by heavy self-taxation to give to others.

The first two claims have been proved by experience to be false. Aid as a bribe has appeared in many historical situations, each one marked by failure. Those who are hungry and envious will only be made more so by the realisation that someone has goods enough to give away. Hitler was hungry for lebensraum: Chamberlain and Daladier gave him Czechoslovakia. His appetite grew: Poland went. Stalin tried to appease the desire for more with the NonAgression Pact shipments of precious war materials to Germany. We know the result.

Does aid as a bribe buy friendship? Look at America, a country which gives more in aid than any other. Dislike and distrust is the answer from the recipients. Strangely enough, the massive foreign aid bills of the U.S.A. have also bred a distrust of the recipients within the U.S.A., in the minds of those who see their hard-earned taxes being poured down a bottomless funnel. And for those who would like to blame this on capitalist selfishness, I would recommend the comments in Message from Moscow, by 'An Observer', (Jonathan Cape, London, 1969), which in its description of present-day Russian life details some of the resentment felt at the shipments of much-needed goods overseas, for

Does aid as an investment actually produce that return in the form of dividends? — for this is the purpose of investment. A very short course in the economics of primitive countries will serve to demonstrate that massive injections of outside aid will only serve to so distort an economy that it becomes totally impossible for it ever to reach a 'lift-off point, and attain self-sufficiency. There is no known case of aid of this nature stimulating the native economic power of a country to a degree that enabled it to compete with advanced nations.

Aid as a sop to the Christian ethic is perhaps the most pernicious of these three arguments. It offers no intellectual backing, but rests merely on the assertion that it is good in moral terms for us to suffer for the sake of others and conversely bad for anyone to desire to use the fruits of his labours for his own pleasure. To accept this as reasoning is to dissolve the difference between independent judgement based on perception of the facts of reality, and subjective whims based on — nothing. This is a case of the argument ending with its own statement: there is no basis whatever for it, it is a matter of blind faith, with all that that implies.

Those are the arguments for foreign aid: it is easy to see why they must be defended by name-calling of those who question them. Behind the bluster there only air, and Mr Clements and his friends walk as naked as did the Emperor before the little boy in the fable threw an indecent exposure rap at him.