In his book, Playing Fair, the self-confessed Whig, Ken Binore argued for the redistribution of the “social cake”.
For progress to be made, it is necessary for the affluent to understand that their freedom to enjoy what their “property rights” supposedly secure is actually contingent on the willingness of the less affluent to recognize such “rights”. It is not ordained that things must be the way they are. The common understandings that govern current behavior are constructs and what has been constructed can be reconstructed. If the affluent are willing to surrender some of their relative advantages in return for a more secure environment in which to enjoy those which remain, or in order to generate a larger social cake for division, then everybody can gain. (p.7)
In other words, if we do not share the cake, “they” might burn down the bakery.
I am more idealistic. I have a sense that we should share the social-cake because it is the right thing to do, or maybe it is less the case that redistribution is right than it is wrong to leave people in states of significant disadvantage, particularly when one can do something about it. I am also sufficiently pragmatic not to care what motivates people to extend a hand to others.
Do it because it is right. Do it because it serves your own interests. Do it as a romantic, random act of kindness. I don’t care. The capacity of a dollar to make a difference is not altered. DO IT!
Let me extend this discussion to support offered by more affluent countries to less affluent countries. A couple of days ago I attended a virtual dialogue at Wilton Park as part of their “Future of Aid” series. “Aid” in this context is the (usually financial) assistance provided by one country to another.
Definition; Aid: Late Middle English from Old French aide (noun), aidier (verb), based on Latin adjuvare, from ad- ‘towards’ + juvare ‘to help’.
At least in conceptual origin, country-level aid is about one country doing something towards helping another country. And I would argue that what is really meant (or should be meant) by one country helping another country is that they are helping to improve the lives of the people who live in that country and, in particular, the less affluent and less powerful people.
An important idea emerged in the discussions about aid and that was “horizontality”. Horizontality is the idea that the donor and the recipient countries are equal partners. It is an attempt to move aid beyond neocolonial domination. I applaud this idea, at least I applaud the idea that we should not use aid as a vehicle for exchanging one kind of colonialism for another.
What I hope we are saying when we talk about horizontality is that aid is not about the exercise of power, it is about the redistribution of power. To achieve horizontality, aid can be neither handout, loan nor gift. Aid must be part of a just, redistributive process to improve lives and reduce suffering that recognises we all share one planet, and appreciates that donor and recipient governments are imperfect, though necessary, vehicles for realising these goals.
Horizontality does not mean that aid should be without conditions or accountability. In fact, it means the very opposite. Aid should have strong accountability mechanisms because the purpose of aid is to help people, and governments (and other involved commercial or civil society organisations) are simply vehicles for achieving that goal. The aid is from my people to yours.
If I give money to a homeless person, I am not asking for them to account for how they spend it. I am giving it to them because they need it. Maybe it goes on food or shelter, or maybe some momentary pleasure or relief from misery. If I give money, however, to a charity, I absolutely want them to account for how they spend it, because they are the means to the end and not the end in itself.
COVID-19 has brought the “future of aid” question into stark relief. We need better, more respectful mechanisms for delivering even more aid from more affluent countries to less affluent countries. The aid needs to come with strong accountability mechanisms to ensure that benefits are distributed according to an inverse power-law: the least powerful and the least affluent first. Aid, of all things, should not trickle down. When it does, governments on both sides of the aid-exchange should be held to account, by your people and mine.