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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This book has the flavour of someone who has stewed over the question of foriegn aid for some time and then suddenly this book has been an outpouring of every bit of frustration ever felt by the author. From looking at his other books it appears that he is a person with a thorough background in the industry.
The book is one of the most daming that I have read. Although short the book marshals its facts and explains every argument with a clarity that is breathtaking.
The arguments are that the organisations which are involved in providing aid are incompetent. There are a number of reasons for the incompetance but all orginsations which deal with aid are incompetant and corrupt.
At the head of the list is the world bank. The world bank is willing to make grants of aid conditional on changes to monetary policy and dismanteling of anti competative market systems but it never wants to make aid conditional on introducing human rights or democracy. As a result changes to make the market more competative almost always damage the poor by for example the removal of food subsidies. The benifits of World Bank loans almost always flow to the middle class or urban dwellers. The Indian Economist Sen has shown that democracies do not have famines. If the world bank was to make democracy the condition of aid packages it would be more likely to reduce famines in these countries. In fact govermental corruption or incompetance is the real reason for the sorts of problems which require aid in the first place.
The world bank is addicted to large capital intensive projects. Most of these turn out to be white elephants and have unsustainable maintence costs. Again the benifits of electification or transport benifits mainly the urban centres.
Those who are responsible for aid projects are overpaid, come from foriegn countries and lack language skills to properly evlaute projects. The result is that huge amounts of aid are used to pay for incompetant staff at aid bodies.
The author says that the proof of the pudding is that those countries which have had huge amounts of aid have simply gotten poorer. Aid projects have generally failed. The world would be a better place without any aid at all.
Whilst this is an extreme position the book is a valuable addition to debate in the area.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2001
It's too bad that updated editions of "Lords of Poverty" were never published; indeed, even this edition was out of print for several years before this reprint edition. Hancock's writing style here may be a sustained rant, but it nevertheless provides a great deal of useful information and tears down many of the misconceptions most Americans or Europeans may have about the international aid industry. Particularly interesting is his criticism of the various UN agencies and, especially, the World Bank and the IMF - whose projects all too often do more harm than good (if they do any good at all). Perhaps the most disturbing aspect exposed in this book is still quite valid today: that taxpayers in the big donor countries like the U.S., Germany, Japan, the U.K. etc. are footing the bill for many disastrous projects worldwide that make the lives of impoverished populations even worse and often destroy in the environment in the process. "Lords of Poverty" may be dated, but it's still well worth the read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2000
The book, while appearing to be quite academic, is, in fact a diatribe.
Some of the foregoing reviews have been pinned mainly on the emotion of the debate regarding foreign assistance, and not on the facts of the achievement thereof.
I'd like to put forth the case that, whatever may have been the operating environment during Mr. Hancock's experience, things have changed. They have changed with regard to the type of people that are working in the international development community, and the type of people who work for international NGOs. Whatever Viola P. Renya might think, my experience has shown that these are not people who believe they have 'dyed and gone to haven' (SIC), because they 'scored' a job with CARE or Save the Children. They are people who have left much more lucrative employment, in some cases, to help their fellow-people.
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on June 8, 2004
The first half of this short book is a relatively informative overview of the responsibilities and functions of major aid and development agencies, although the statistics are now well out of date. That said, little of any of this is primary research and the author relies fairly selectively on sensationalistic quotes and facts that tell the part of the story he wants to tell.
The second half of the book, however, is little more than a rant during which the author mocks and insults aid and development workers for about 100 pages. The vitriolic quality of writing makes one wonder if an aid worker dumped him at some point. You could skip this whole part of the book and be better off for it.
Maybe I take it personally since I'm an aid worker, but I can tell you with authority that Mr. Hancock really doesn't have any idea what he's writing about - he mischaracterizes the lives and personalities of most aid workers and oversimplifies the challenges and complexity of the work. He's angry and bitter about something and I don't think it's corruption or incompetence.
And just for the record: Reviewer Viola P. Reyna doesn't have command of the facts either. Most foreign aid workers are required to pay taxes in their home countries while living abroad. Americans living abroad for more than 330 days a year, whether they are aid workers or oil drillers or whatever, are not required to pay taxes unless they make over $80,000. Everyone is still, however, required to report their incomes and file their tax returns. So contrary to what Viola says, the US Government knows exactly what everyone is making.
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on January 6, 2000
Hancock exposes the seedy underbelly of development/aid as few have dared in the past. Those who live off this industry or have vested interests in spouting an image of Western superiority will rightly feel threatened by a book that unmasks supposed philanthropy and disinterestedness as a shameless money-making and exploitative sham. Hancock is relentless in revealing not only the inefficacy of many major projects, but also the attached strings of big business as well as the morally bankrupt nature of many of its protagonits. In addition, Hancock tellingly explores the mentality and logic behind NGO's as little more than another way of making a buck at the expense of the poor. Where would an industry that depends on poverty for its survival be left if poverty it tackled were to be eradicated? Some who find this study too close to home will claim it is condescending and lacking in solutions (as one reveiwer here does). It is neither. Hancock vents moral indignity in a fitting context and offers alternative approaches which in some cases obviate the necessity for development/aid agencies as we know them altogether ("God forbid!" some will cry). This book deserves to be read by all who sincerely wish to see a change in the way development/aid is carried out and in the appalling poverty it is supposed to alleviate. The career-minded need not apply.
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on October 4, 1999
Lords of Poverty presents a very coherent argument, backed up by lots of specific experiences *and* data. It is by no means sensationalistic.
People (such as myself) who have grown up overseas, and have moved in expatriate circles have encountered many examples of abuses and stupidity in the name of `development`. It is widely known and acknowledged that this is a serious problem. But Mr. Hancock has gone beyond giving a handful of anecdotes as examples of what is typical: he has investigated the entire infrastructure supporting this corruption and stupidity. He gets to the heart of the problem and exposes it, rather than just showing a few symptoms. I highly recommend this book. It is intelligently written, for the intelligent reader. Yes it may have a tone of anger at times, but it would be heartless not to be angry at the way in which the peoples of less developed nations are abused and used to make `aid` workers rich.
Furthermore, solutions *are* given, at least if you *look* for them. The author points out that smaller independent aid organizations--generally grassroots community or church-based groups--*are* effective. They are not without faults, of course, but nothing of the magnitude that typifies the large government run agencies.
While I have not worked with large government run agencies, I do know of a professor here at U of M who has worked for them, who admitted to a close friend of mine that the claims of this book are true.
Read the book and see for yourself if the argument stand up. And if you still doubt it, do some investigation. What you'll find will amaze you.
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on January 22, 1999
While mis-uses of international aid funds certainly do happend, and while development programs sometimes run amuck, Mr Hancock very poorly supports his thesis - that international development as such is bad. I was disappointed in the lack of coherent logical argument on the subject. What I got, instead, was a high-sounding pronouncement followed by a rather lengthy, blustering rant that was disjointed, circular and diffused. The evidence presented to support the thesis is often weak and generally un-diverse, and Mr Hancock is unabashedly ad hominem in his critique of an industry. The style of writing is condescending and may leave the reader with the mistaken impression that she or he has just been the recipient of knowledge bequeathed by a higher mind. Even more disturbing is the fact that Lords of Poverty is ONLY a critique - no answers are given or even postulated. In the end the reader is left feeling outraged or humiliated, but without a clue as to what can be done to remedy the situation.
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on October 6, 1998
This book is getting a little dated now, but remains a classic critique of the international aid business. Using colourful anecdotes and solid stats, Graham Hancock convincingly demonstrates how the IMF, World Bank and other international aid/development agencies effectively worsen Third World poverty. What they do is transfer wealth from the poor to the rich in donor and recipient countries alike. In the 1st world, taxes of mainly not-particularly-rich people finance these international organizations, whose administrators often lead lives of incredible luxury. In the 3rd world, money from the organizations helps to sustain corrupt regimes and swell the bank accounts of their leaders, while in many cases the money eventually has to be repaid with interest by taxes which again tend to come mainly from the poor, thereby creating an extra burden for the people it was supposed in theory to help. Meanwhile the projects financed by the money are often wholly irrelevant to the needs of the recipient country, e.g. expressways in countries where only a rich minority own cars, and often the infrastructure is built by companies from the donor country (tied aid) and proceeds to fall to pieces long before the debt incurred has been paid off. This book caused a fair bit of controversy when first published, but was soon forgotten. It's been business as usual for the IMF etc ever since. Meanwhile Graham Hancock got so depressed with uncovering corruption in big aid agencies that he abandoned the field entirely and switched to writing all those speculative books about lost cities of the gods etc. -- yep, it's the very same Graham Hancock in case you're wondering.
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on January 16, 1998
Hancock's aim is to encourage the reader to question the real motivations behind aid to "developing" countries. When we give, who are we really benefitting the most. Through careful and well referenced accounts of some truly amazing failures of the aid industry (and after reading this book you will gain an appreciation of the awesome size of this global conglomerate) Hancock takes us to a point where we are forced to question the very nature of charity and aid and consider its disempowering effect upon its recipients. His main offensive is against the UN and its subsidiary aid organizations who'se facility for spending money on self perpetuation seems less than matched by their ability to do any real good. The World Bank does not escape his attentions and Hancock spares us little in his account of their annual get together which bears more than a passing resemblance to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. If you want to know how, during the famine of the late 80's, Somalia was given huge supplies of slimming products and frostbite medicine, then read Lords of Poverty.
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on July 16, 2000
This is a thought provoking treatise on the AID industry to countries of the third world.It is a well researched book by an insider.The book was written in 1989 and deals mainly with the multiple errors of ommision and commision comitted by various governmental and non governmental organizations.However now with the recent changes in these organisations such as the United Nations it will be interesting to know if the testimony is still damning or the changes have indeed been effective.Looking through the book you may erroneously conclude that this organisations have only been in charge of a litany of woes in the 60's and 70's.I do not think this is the whole story but is indeed a thoughtfull and well reseached critique of bad planning,arrogance that occured.
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