The Selsdon Manifesto dates from the Group's founding in 1973. Nearly fifty years on progress has been made in some areas, particularly in the balance between the public and private sector. Some sections however remain relevant today
Concern for the peoples of the “underdeveloped world” has had a variety of results in this country. The flow of private charity is of course of no direct concern to politicians or governments, but there have been, and are, increasing pressures both domestic and foreign on successive governments to provide or increase “development aid”. It is assumed that such transfers differ from private charity only in size, concentration, and “acceptability”, but this bland supposition is open to doubt.
The prime characteristic of “development aid” is that it is a transfer not between affluent Western consumers and starving peasants, but purely between governments. As such, it increases the centralisation of resources and power in the hands of the state. As governments are subject to other than economic forces, prestige projects such as dams, landscaped capitals, airports and government offices and officials proliferate. Nor can the problem be solved by “tying” aid to specific projects: if aid can be channelled into food, agriculture, shelter, or whatever, domestic resources are released for “essential” spending on the armed forces or statues of the president.
Fortunately for those concerned with genuine help for the poor rather than the expiation of spurious guilt, there is a clear alternative. An entire complex of tariffs and quotas exists to distort patterns of production in the UK and abroad. If these tariffs were to be removed and, for instance, the uneconomic producers of cotton fabrics in Britain were squeezed out by producers in the underdeveloped world, both would benefit by concentrating on those activities at which they are best suited. And if transitional help were needed for those displaced in the North-West, it would be a small price to pay.
For those of us genuinely interested in the future of the “third world”, let the cry be “free trade rather than aid”