U.S. Money Aids World's Worst
by Benjamin Powell, Matt Ryan
The Independent Institute
Parade magazine recently ranked the twenty
worst dictators currently in power. Many names are familiar-Fidel
Castro, Muammar Qaddafi, Kim Jong-Il, Robert Mugabe and others.
They are all guilty of human rights violations and in some cases
have committed outright genocide. But there's another trait common
to all twenty leaders-every single one has received foreign aid
from wealthy Western countries.
Popular Washington, D.C., rhetoric says
that development aid should be dispensed to corruption-free countries
with laws and policies conducive to supporting sustained economic
growth. President Bush created Millennium Challenge Accounts to
funnel aid to such countries. However, few countries have qualified
for the program and little money has actually been disbursed.
Instead, we find that both the U.S. and its partner countries
in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
(OECD), have contributed a great deal of aid to these oppressive
Parade ranked the Sudan's Omar al-Bashir
as the world's worst dictator. During his reign OECD countries
gave his regime more than $6 billion in non-military aid. The
U.S. accounted for more than $1 billion of that aid. Kim Jong-Il
was ranked as the second worst dictator and received a little
over $1 billion in aid, with more than half of it coming from
the U.S. Than Shwe of Myanmar, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and
Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan round out the top five dictators on
the list. The U.S. contributed $32 million to Myanmar, $1.1 billion
to Zimbabwe, and $385 million to Uzbekistan.
Overall, OECD countries contributed aid
to every one of Parade's 20 worst dictators. Combined, these leaders
received nearly $55 billion in aid. The U.S. contributed to 19
of the 20 worst dictators; King Abdulla of Saudi Arabia was somehow
left off of the U.S. gravy train. In total, the U.S. contributed
more than $7 billion in aid to these leaders. In North Korea,
Belarus, Ethiopia, Swaziland, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan the
U.S. contributed more than 20 percent of the total aid these countries
received from OECD countries.
Government-sponsored aid has failed to
promote economic growth in the third world. From 1970 to 2000,
more than $400 billion poured into poor African countries with
no development to show for it. Parade's list of dictators makes
our foreign aid record even more disturbing. Not only has it failed
to promote development, in many cases our aid has supported oppressive
Following Hamas's recent victory in Palestine's
elections, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice threatened to cut
off aid to Palestine, saying, "The United States is not prepared
to fund an organization that advocates the destruction of Israel,
that advocates violence and that refuses its obligations."
Perhaps the U.S. should apply that policy to the dictators on
Parade's list as well. By providing aid to these dictators the
U.S. has given them a source of funds to use to secure political
support and likely prolonged their oppressive reigns.
The first rule of development policy should
be to do no harm. Unfortunately OECD and U.S. aid have failed
to promote development and actively promoted harm by aiding oppressive
dictatorships. This kind of aid also unfortunately tends to undermine
economic freedom by politicizing economic life in the recipient
country and by preserving inefficient regimes. Over the last 30
years development aid has lowered measures of economic freedom
in both dictatorships and democracies. To better promote freedom,
and consequently development, we should end economic development
aid to dictators and democracies alike.
Benjamin Powell, Ph.D., is the Director
of the Center on Entrepreneurial Innovation at the Independent
Institute, an Oakland-based policy think tank and a professor
of economics at San Jose State University.
Matt Ryan is an adjunct fellow with the Independent Institute
in Oakland, Calif. and holds a Masters degree in Economics from
San Jose State University.