John D. Rockefeller, the author of this quote, formed the Standard Oil Company in 1870 and became the first American billionaire. Often referred to as the richest person in history, Rockefeller was also one of the world’s greatest ever philanthropists. When he was first employed as a humble book-keeper, he donated ten percent of his earnings to his church and pledged to give away a similar proportion of his earnings to charity when he retired. All told, Rockefeller gave away about $550 million. In monetary terms at least, he was well qualified to offer cautionary advice about charity.
A few days ago, India’s Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee caused a bit of a diplomatic brouhaha when he referred to the financial aid given by the UK to his country as ‘a peanut in our total development exercises’. Apparently, Mukherjee and other Indian ministers, concerned about the ‘negative publicity of Indian poverty’ highlighted by the aid, attempted to terminate Britain’s assistance last year, but the Department for International Development (DFID) ‘begged’ them to take the money. According to sources in Delhi, DFID officials were worried about the ‘grave political embarrassment’ cancelling the programme would cause to Britain.
When charity means so much more to the giver than the recipient, you know something’s not quite right. Ministers tell us they are ‘proud’ of our continuing generosity in foreign aid and, clearly, they make political capital out of vaunting their compassionate credentials. India still has poverty issues and its development is demonstrably uneven, but as an emerging superpower it is no longer comfortable with the needy bowl-waving caricature foisted upon it by our politicians.
The UK should have an emergency aid budget available to respond to disasters but the government’s pledge to increase foreign aid to 0.7 per cent of GDP by 2013 is looking increasingly unjustifiable. Our priorities urgently need revising. After all, right here in the UK we have pensioners deprived of care and dignity and we have one of the worst rates of child poverty in the industrialised world.
Charity is no more a miracle cure for poverty than quantitative easing is a miracle cure for an ailing economy. This government is beginning to behave more and more like a quack doctor, which, curiously, was the profession of John D. Rockefeller’s father!