- The donation of large numbers of t-shirts to Africa has led to the collapse of the local clothing industry there.
- While foreign medical assistance to Haitians immediately after the earthquake was very helpful, the ongoing presence of foreign free clinics has put local hospitals out of business. There's a big fear that when the foreign doctors leave, there will be no local medical system to replace them.
Last night in conversation with a friend at a party, we came to the logical extreme version of this scenario -- the sort of UN emergency food aid that occurs when there is mass famine in a particular country (eg Ethiopia) may lead countries to not develop strategies to deal with the potential for famine. In some ways this is similar to the situation in the US with banks -- the banks did not plan for catastrophic risks because they knew that in the event of such a risk, the US would bail them out. Apparently my friend's political science professor from Ethiopia said that she has seen how food aid creates dependency and causes farmers to stop being self-sufficient.
Note that I'm NOT suggesting that we simply let starving people in Africa die. If people's lives are on the line due to government incompetence, it's still our moral duty to help them. However, this aid needs to be structured in such a way that the government is given the tools and training it needs to prevent future famines. It's less sexy (and thus harder to get donations for) than flying in with a planeload of food and saving thousands of lives, but it's more likely to prevent such disasters from returning.
In some ways it's like medicine. Societies, like bodies, are hypercomplex equilibriums with many internal forces in action, and smart solutions work with the existing systems instead of brute-forcing interventions.
I imagine that some countries would welcome this type of aid, but others may resent the foreign intrusion. It's possible that there may be some way to buy these leaders off -- for example, a company with expertise in infrastructure building could offer services for free in exchange for some % of any increases in GDP over a particular period. The trouble is that there are many ways this could go wrong (and has). The company could focus on a specific industry and ignore the well-being of the people. The company could make the government dependent on them indefinitely. The government could seize the company's assets and kick them out. If the parameters of the deal are poorly set, the company could exploit some loophole, for example leaving the country with massive unmanageable debt. Such deals would have to be carefully crafted.
I'm way out of my area of expertise here, but if any of you readers have some relevant literature to point me to, I'd like to see it.