Metronomy | Monstrous
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The second problem with the dominant narrative about aid is that it casts Western countries in the role of benevolent benefactors, giving generously of their wealth to poor countries in the Global South. In reality, however, exactly the opposite is true. The flow of aid from rich countries to poor countries pales in comparison to the flow of wealth that runs the other direction.
Developing countries receive about $136 billion in aid from donor countries each year. At the same time, however, they lose about $1 trillion each year through offshore capital flight, mostly in the form of tax avoidance by multinational corporations. That’s nearly 10 times the size of the aid budget.
Because rich countries include debt cancellation as aid, it is only fair that we include debt service payments as part of the equation as well. Today, poor countries pay about $600 billion to rich countries in debt service each year, much of it on the compound interest of loans accumulated by rulers long since deposed. This alone amounts to nearly 5 times the aid budget. Using this metric, economist Charles Abugre calculates that the net flow of aid from the West to the Global South over the period 2002 to 2007 was minus $2.8 trillion. And that does not include the capital flight that I mentioned above.
There are many other flows of wealth and income that are being siphoned from the Global South that we need to take into account. For example, Action Aid recently reported that multinational corporations extract about $138 billion from developing countries each year in tax holidays (which is different from tax avoidance). This figure alone outstrips the global aid budget.
For another example, we can look at the WTO’s agreement on intellectual property rights (TRIPS), which has armed corporations with unprecedented rent-seeking powers. As a result of TRIPS, developing countries have been forced to pay $60 billion annually – half the aid budget – in extra patent licensing fees, over and above those required by normal laws, for the use of technologies and pharmaceuticals that are often essential to development and public health.
We can see these figures as direct cash transfers from poor countries to rich countries. And this is to say nothing of other forms of extraction that are more difficult to quantify, such as land grabs. Fred Pearce shows that land exceeding the size of Western Europe has been grabbed from developing countries by corporations in the past decade alone. The US, UK, and China are leading this movement by snapping up agricultural land in regions where land tenure laws leave indigenous inhabitants vulnerable to dispossession.
I’ve officially been vegetarian for 8 years today. April 16th, it’s been solid.