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Proudly Independent of Government Funding

Returning home this evening from an outstanding Liberty Fund conference in San Diego, I noticed above the baggage carousel at Reagan National airport a very artistically well-done billboard ad from Oxfam.  (I took a picture of this billboard ad with my cell phone, but, alas, the photo didn’t come out well enough for me to post it here.)

This ad, featuring a picture of the face of a lovely 30-something woman from somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, blared (among some less-prominent text) “Don’t Cut Foreign Aid!”  Foreign aid, you see, allegedly helps this woman, and many others like her, lead better lives.  So cutting foreign aid would – Oxfam wants us to feel – condemn this woman, and many others like her, to greater depths of grinding poverty and misery.

I’m too tired now to say more about the alleged merits of so-called “foreign aid.”  Read the great William Easterly (here, and here).  And read Peter Bauer.  (Heck, read also Adam Smith.  Inquiring into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations, that great Scot identified an expanding division of labor fostered by secure property rights, free trade, and “the obvious and simple system of natural liberty” as the source of widespread prosperity.  England, believe it or not, did not receive foreign aid as a prelude to its industrial revolution.)

What’s fascinating about Oxfam’s billboard is the fine print at the very bottom of it.  In that fine print, Oxfam boasts that it receives no funds from the U.S. government – a fact that, notes Oxfam proudly, allows it to maintain its independence.

Reading this proclamation-in-fine-billboard-print immediately prompted me to wonder what leads Oxfam to believe that receipt of “foreign aid” from Uncle Sam will not unduly compromise the independence of recipient governments – or of recipient individuals.

If Oxfam is too likely to be enervated, or corrupted or otherwise regrettably bent to the will of Uncle Sam by accepting funds from Uncle Sam, why will not a similar curse befall the governments of, say, Ghana or Mozambique if they accept funds from Uncle Sam?  And why will not each individual on the ground – such as the woman pictured on the Oxfam billboard – not be enervated, or corrupted or otherwise regrettably bent to the will of whoever dispenses “foreign aid” to him or her?