Turns out that it hasn't all gone where it was supposed to. In fact, much of it hasn't gone anywhere at all, and much that has is still trying to penetrate red tape. Mark Steyn examines what and where here. [Cached copy here.]The problem, notes Steyn, is that Westerners are "eager to help but too naive to understand that, no matter the scale of devastation visited upon a hapless developing nation, its obstructionist bureaucracy will emerge from the rubble unscathed."
The problem is that altruism has encouraged people to think the act of virtue inheres in the giving itself, rather than in the actual result of the giving. "It's the thought that counts," we say smugly. Time to rethink our virtues, I'd suggest.
Take the whole Live Aid palaver for instance. Organised to feed Ethiopia's starving millions after a famine of Biblical proportions decimated the population, the famine was no more Biblical in origin than was Stalin's starving of millions of Ukranian peasants half-a century before -- no surpise, since Colonel Haile Mariam Mengistu was following to the letter Stalin's own programme to exterminate the Kulaks in his own fiefdom. How he must have laughed at Bob Geldof. Daniel Wolf wrote (in a Spectator article originally published in the Spectator and titled in homage to Sir Bob "What Happened to the Fucking Money?"):
In 1984-85, up to a billion dollars’ worth of aid flowed into Ethiopia. Thousands of Western aid workers and journalists flew in with it. The regime ensured that the visitors converted their Western dollars to the local currency at a rate favourable to the government: in 1985 the Dergue tripled its foreign currency reserves. It used this influx of cash to build up its war machine, it commandeered aid vehicles for its own purposes and, by diverting aid supplies, helped to feed its armies.
The United Nations in Addis Ababa, which was co-ordinating the aid operation, denied that the level of diversion was significant. Later on, it became clear that a significant proportion of the relief food in Tigray - the epicentre of the famine - was consigned to the militia. The militias were known locally as "wheat militias".
As Mugged By Reality says, "People were not starving they were being starved." And giving was not saving them from being starved, it was helping to starve them. It was feeding and succoring their oppressors. As Daniel Wolf says, "The story of Band Aid is the story of us, not them"; and so it is with altruism -- with altruism it's the giving itself that matters, not the result of the giving. Sacrifice matters.
Giving the money made people feel better about themselves -- their new-found virtue in being 'good altruists' helped them feel they'd earned the right to be smug. That the giving did less than nothing to help the problem it was supposed to fix seems to have caused barely a ripple since. Don't want to challenge that smugness, do we?