Nonprofit Newswire | A Charitable Impulse with a Downside—Not Uncommon In Foreign Aid

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May 12, 2010; Source: Time | Jason Sadler says he meant no harm. He only wanted to do good. But the public drubbing he took for his recent idea to collect and donate a million used or leftover shirts and send them to people in Africa, not only chastened the 27-year-old Florida businessman, but as Time magazine recounts, the depth of anger his plan sparked showed how easily people can get inflamed about the topic of foreign aid.

As the magazine notes, “Flooding the market with free goods could bankrupt the people who already sell them. Donating clothing is a sensitive topic in Africa because many countries’ textile industries collapsed under the weight of secondhand-clothing imports that were introduced in the 1970s and ’80s.”

William Easterly, a New York University economics professor and author, has little sympathy for people who let their good wishes cloud their vision. He said, “I’m sorry to be so unkind to someone who has good intentions, but you don’t get a get-home-free card just for having good intentions. You have to do things that make sense. If a surgeon is about to operate on me, I’m not all that interested in whether he has good intentions.”

Some critics go even farther and say that all forms of foreign aid, whether it’s public or private, should be stopped because it is actually harming Africa. Kenyan newspaper editor Rasna Warah, who has previously written against foreign aid, said that “Africa is the greatest dumping ground on the planet. Everything is dumped here. The sad part is that African governments don’t say no—in fact, they say, ‘Please send us more.’ They’re abdicating responsibility for their own citizens.” One could say don’t give until it hurts, but also, don’t give if it’s going to hurt.—Bruce Trachtenberg