Bill Frist Follow-Up

Yesterday, I interviewed former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist about his new project with ONE Vote ’08 — the effort to push aid for poverty relief into the presidential campaign. Senator Frist spent a half-hour discussing the topic for the benefit of CQ Radio listeners, and I asked him a number of questions about how to avoid yet another Band-Aid application of aid. Based on these questions and similar ones from other interviews, he responded on his blog this afternoon:

Governments must now be accountable for the assistance they receive . . . and when they fail to meet those accountability standards, America shifts resources to the private sector and non-governmental organizations to meet local needs. But those governments that demonstrate the effective use of funds are more likely to receive future assistance – a good incentive to use funding wisely.
And debt forgiveness can enable governments to spend billions of dollars each year on solving problems that would otherwise attract U.S. foreign aid for years to come. In other words, a small investment in debt forgiveness or financial assistance up front can save huge investments down the road.

On the other hand, as David reminded us during the same show, calling literally from the Gambian jungle, what Africa needs is basic infrastructure. They need sewage systems, clean water, and electricity. Aid can provide that, but it has to be a massive, focused program that gives Africa the building blocks of modernity it utterly lacks throughout most of the continent.
Be sure to read all of Senator Frist’s response.

12 thoughts on “Bill Frist Follow-Up”

  1. I disagree. We have enough poverty here to deal with, why does the US taxpayer have to go looking for more? Forget it.

  2. One of the nice things about living in America is that you are free to disagree. If you have followed this discussion at all you would understand that it is a national security issue. Read everything and then respond. Certainly there is plenty of poverty in this country, but almost anyone who needs help can get it. The same can’t be said about third world countries. Please become better informed then debate the issues. It is easy to say I disagree, without offering any rationale or answers.

  3. It was kind of fun to have to wait until your second paragraph to figure out who was getting this aid. I was rather hoping it was going to be the Feds taking Louisiana to task for the way they’ve handled their Katrina aid.

  4. Privatize it. Have you ever known the federal government to do a better job of anything than the private sector? (other than national defense?)
    Proven programs exist for the elimination of poverty in Africa. It is happening on a village by village basis in vast areas across the continent every day as the concepts of micro-finance lending, sound small business management and the miracle of group responsibility jointly backed loans is implemented through programs like Opportunity International. With a 98% repayment rate, money is reinvested in the community in perpetuity. Yes, there is also merit in infrastructure development and loan forgiveness, but the core of any aid program needs to be based upon personal responsibility. A hand up and NOT a hand out. There are also several other micro-finance organizations for those who prefer a more secular approach. The private sector does a much better job than any government. Give the private sector the money with accountability and the job will get done…

  5. Stewart J Mart covers half the answer. If the local government is not confiscatory, and if people are not starving, micro-lending and a dozen other tools can result in a rapid growth in the standard of living.
    But there are two other problems that are much tougher to address. In most countries where starvation is a problem, foreign aid does not work. Most if not all of it gets ripped off before it reaches the intended recipients. My church got involved with an orphanage in Romania years ago. By hand carrying a lot of the aid, well fly into Hungary and driving down, we could get things to the kids. Money also effectively hand-delivered could be used by the orphanage to buy food and other necessities locally.
    But, Romania passed a law prohibiting adoptions by non-Romanian parents, then forced all private orphanages to close. We managed to get the children into foster care instead of state run orphanages. The inflated charges–we know how much we pay, and how much reaches the foster family–are a strain, but currently better than abandoning these children.
    If you don’t follow the aid through the pipeline, instead of some getting siphoned off, none gets to the intended recipients. Unless, of course, you want to give money to corrupt government officials. So that is one huge problem.
    In countries where starvation is a problem it is even worse. Don’t accept any other answer–in today’s world creating widespread starvation takes a very corrupt and evil government. Look at it this way, starvation is not usually a major problem in the Gaza Strip. That takes work, and Hamas and Fatah are busy with other things.
    The other problem is education. Again, I have to be blunt. Perhaps 1% of children can become educated without a mentor. We expect parents to act as mentors for their children, but we know of many cases where they don’t. Can a teacher do it? Yes, in extraordinary cases. My sister taught in downtown Philadelphia for many years. As my mother said, Alison put more children through college than she did–several dozen, all on athletic scholarships, mostly in basketball. But she had to mentor them for years, and she only tried with the basketball and track teams. (Or put it another way, her test to see if they wanted it enough was to qualify for the team.) Even then, one of Alison’s students was shot and killed by her mother for going to practice instead of working as a prostitute to support her mother’s crack habit.
    Most good teachers can only mentor one or two students a year, and there aren’t all that many good teachers. If you are willing to do it, there are lots of programs like Big Brothers, or you can offer through your church. What about in third world countries? The situation in many is not as bad as in US inner cities, but when a child gets well beyond their parent’s educational level, they need some other help. Projects like OLPC (One laptop per child) are getting computers into the remote areas that need the most help. But once they have the computer, and can read and write well enough to use it, the next need is mentors. I’m trying to figure out how to make use of the many retired people who could do this–if they had the computer skills.
    Enough ranting. All I am trying to say is that problems that can be solved with money are today few and far between. If you are rich enough to help those who do have serious financial needs, don’t let me stop you. Just remember that if you provide someone the medical treatment they need, most of the money goes the work you want done, or other necessary expenses like transportation. If you give to a major feed the hungry charity, you are lucky if 5% of the money is actually spent feeding the hungry. In the better ones, 75% or more of the donations go to buying food and transporting it. That is not the problem. The problem is that once it gets in-country, everyone who can will skim a little. No that is not right. Those who can only skim a little will skim a little. The real problem are those officials who take the lion’s share.

  6. “Be sure to read all of Sen. Frist’s response”–Why?
    Poverty is the left side of the Bell-shaped curve of income distribution. Whether the bell is narrow or wide is immaterial; there will always be a Bell-shaped curve. So poverty is relative and cannot be eliminated. Mathematically impossible.
    That said, until Africans want to help themselves, forgetaboutit. If Frist and Oprah want to use their own $, fine. Welfare is welfare; the result is always the same: corruption and dependence.

  7. I’m reminded of the case of one Yasser Arafat. All of that US aid to the “poor suffering Palestinians” — billions — our taxpayer billions — and come to find out some $3 billion (maybe $7 billion) is missing, presumably siphoned off. And the widow and kiddies are off after it.
    Then it’s all down the memory hole. Nobody reports on the doings and whereabouts of the widow and kids. Did they find Yasser’s hidden treasure? Did US agents recover it? Did the Swiss government sequester it?
    We’ll never know. We just put up the money.
    – Niccolo

  8. Here Here to Tom. You are right, it cannot be eliminated. Jesus was right– “the poor you have with you ALWAYS.” Why do politicos feel so convicted to donate freely when the money is the public’s? Enough already.

  9. Ginny, which is more of a security problem: Africa’s thug-induced poverty, or America’s open borders?
    The solution to the problem in Africa is not going to be found through throwing more well-intended, always-diverted money at it. If you think it will, then you are naive and do not know your history.
    Africans will inevitably have to solve their own problems on their own, by standing up en masse against the thugs who rob them. The truth that you overlook, and which Dr., Frist stupidly ignores, is that no amount of money will free them until they choose to free themselves. Freedom is worth fighting for. If they aren’t willing to fight for it, then maybe they don’t care enough about it. Why should I bother giving money to a person who doesn’t care about fixing the root of the problem?
    I’m not going to throw my money into a bottomless hole. Frist can pack sand.

  10. Robert I. Eachus is absolutely correct about greedy confiscatory governments often being the root of starvation as well as inhibitors to government to government aid programs actually working effectively. A major correction however needs to be interjected –micro-finance is seldom hindered by this fundamental problem because it works on a private sector to private sector basis. If there is confiscation in any form- Opportunity would step out of that country and devote the resources more appropriately. It is an ideal model for how an aid program can be funneled to actually work. I know because I have seen it in action.
    One model is the combination Opportunity International and Habitat for Humanity Africa program which received a trial USAID grant a couple of years back. OI provided the business training and Micro-finance support and HFH the housing solutions.
    One other problem addressed by private programs is the Gates Foundation support for SmartCard Thumbprint technology to assure women are able to control their earnings (a huge problem in several cultures) via OI set up travelling micro banking banking centers.
    This stuff is not exactly a secret. George and Laura spent several hours learning about Opportunity International in Albania yesterday.

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