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The Therapy Sessions
Monday, July 26, 2004

Aid to North Korea

This is distressing news:U.S. to Donate Food to North Korea.

I am all in favor of helping people who are starving (who wouldn't be?), but let us be realistic here.

Our good intentions need to be analyzed in the context of fifty years of foreign aid experience: Simply put, money is fungible. If we help out in one area, we free up the host government to use its money in other ways.

Now let's see, what might the excreble government of North Korea use its money on now? More nuclear weapons, more prison camps, more "security," more investments in weapons and drugs smuggling?

It sounds cruel, but that is the way it is.

I'm a firm believer that foreign aid is the problem in, for example, West Africa - where many governments have about a fourth of their state budgets paid for by other nations. Foreign aid helps mitigate food and health issues (albeit in ultimately destructive ways) and it allows governments to spend more on guns and graft.

(Buying weaponry is not particularly wrong (a government's first duty is to stay in power) but the problem in West Africa is that the guns arm the private armies of corrupt officials. Africa's problem is not guns; it is guns in the wrong hands.)

North Korea will ulimately have more funds to keep Kim Jong Il in power.

There is another - more omninous - way to read this story: the US believes that the bleak food situation in North Korea will force Kim Jong Il to become increasingly belligerant, and maybe even start a war. If that is true, our demonstrated fear of his military potential only makes it more likely that one will happen.

Nothing is more pleasing to the dictator's mind than the idea of his enemies paying him to be nice. Nothing is more likely to confirm his impressions about democracies: when confronted by military threats, they are complacent and rich, eager to pay money to live in peace.

Disproving these misconceptions is far more costly than letting them take root in the first place.

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