Resolved: Wealthy nations have an obligation to provide development assistance to other nations (Files and Essay)


Wealthy nations. Wealthy nations is not a term of art, but rather refers to a set of countries that have accumulated a significant amount of financial wealth. This National Public Radio piece lists thirty “wealthy” countries and ranks them by the total amount of aid they have distributed.

One thing that Negative debaters will need to check against is any attempt by the Affirmative to argue that one (or 2+) of these three countries should increase development assistance.  Since there are at least 30 of them, allowing the affirmative to advocate that one (or two, it says nations) would render the topic nearly impossible for the negative to prepare to effectively debate.

There are some additional lists of “wealthy nations” here.

Obligation. An obligation is a course of action to which a person is “morally or legally bound”(Google Definitions). Since there is no legal/contract obligation to provide assistance, it really only makes sense to interpret this resolution as meaning “morally” obligated.

So, negative debaters may wish to argue that the Affirmative must defend that there is a moral obligation to provide development assistance and might then attempt to kritik or turn any morality claims. Similarly, they might present a counterplan or a kritik alternative that argues that we should provide the aid but not that we have a moral obligation to do so.

Development assistance.  While there is no universal agreement as to what constitutes development assistance, most sources (Wikipedia Summary, OECD) argue that it is designed to promote overall economic development of a country, with an emphasis on long-term growth and long-term poverty reduction. It is distinguished from short-term humanitarian aid such as food aid, which is designed to alleviate an immediate problem. Many definitions also exclude food aid. It includes outright grants and loans.

Other nations. This term is vague, but probably means “non-wealthy” nations in the context of the resolution.

A better resolution would have referred to “wealthy countries” as “developed countries” and “other nations” as “developing countries,” but I think this is the best way to interpret the resolution.

Affirmative arguments

Affirmative debaters arguably have to make a moral case for increasing the total amount of development assistance and will likely argue that it will improve a country’s economic development, reducing poverty and boosting long-term economic growth.  Debaters may also argue that it will it will strengthen a particular sector — health care, agriculture, environment, etc.

Moral arguments will focus on the obligations we have to help the poor, the importance of helping people beyond our borders, and the responsibilities we have to alleviate problems we’ve created.

One important argument that Affirmative debaters will need to win is that it is too difficult/impossible for countries to develop on their own without aid, as negative teams will argue that aid leaves countries worse off.  The question is whether or not, at this point in history, they can develop on their own without support from aid.

Negative arguments

Despite that fact that many developing countries are struggling economically, there are a number of strong negative arguments.


“Development” K/PIC.  There is a good kritik claims that it is bad to “develop” countries in the Western image. There is even strong evidence that the word “development” itself should not be used, setting up a plan inclusive counerplan or kritik alternative for the negative.  This will be a very popular negative argument.

Capitalism/neoliberalism kritik. The link to this kritik is that foreign aid comes with conditions that require countries to open their markets to western trade and often require the them to use the aid to purchase western goods.

Imperialism Kritik.  This kritik simply argues that foreign aid promotes imperialism because it includes conditions such as those just discussed. It also often includes conditions that require countries to adopt certain human rights protections, which are also imperialistic.

Social Contract.  The basic argument here is that we have a strong obligation to our own citizens, not to those who live in other countries. These arguments can either be used as defensive claims against morality arguments or combined to create a separate kritik.  A more crash version of this kritik is a Trumpish “America First” argument.

“Nation focus.” This argument needs more development, but the basic idea is that it is bad to focus development on the needs of “nations’ rather than individuals.

William Easterly,  Professor of Economics at New York University, joint with Africa House, and Co-Director of NYU’s Development Research Institute, 2013, The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor, Kindle edition

The objective of development as developing the nation-state—that is, development in, by, and for individual countries—is so taken for granted that it is rarely even noticed. In the various phrases in development discourse—developing countries, underdeveloped countries, Third World countries—the discussion is usually about which modifier to use while the word countries is never questioned. The phrases above were ubiquitous in Myrdal’s development writings. Whom did development advisers advise? They were “advisers to underdeveloped countries.”34 What problems did they study? It was the “problems of the underdeveloped countries.” Who was going to act? The advisers “from advanced countries” were “urging the underdeveloped ones toward . . . their social and economic reforms.”35 He described the actions that “underdeveloped countries have to attempt.” He regretted that “time does not allow them” any delay. His imperative was “they have to reform.”36 Myrdal’s they is “countries,” as it has remained in development development up to the present. Of course, some action is inevitably at the national level, and much development analysis is also at that level; zero emphasis on nations is not tenable. However, exclusive emphasis on nations carries dangers of its own to individual rights, as Hayek pointed out. One obvious danger is to the rights of ethnic minorities. Myrdal in Asian Drama described “religion, ethnic origin, culture, language” as “barriers” to be “broken down.”37 There are benign and less benign ways toward broken-down ethnic barriers, if indeed that is universally desirable. If it is simply a call for ethnic groups to show toleration toward each other, to abandon racist attitudes toward other groups, nobody would disagree with such benign ideals. A less-benign way is to deny minority ethnic groups the rights to assert their own, voluntarily chosen ethnic identity—for example, to ban minority languages or minority religious and cultural observances. The least-benign way of all is for one ethnic group to identify the nation with itself and actively promote hatred and discrimination toward all others. Myrdal did not seem aware that his call for individuals to show a “firm allegiance” exclusively to the “national community” might promote nationalism and intolerance.38 Hayek was far more aware of the potential threat of nationalism toward minority groups. He noted, for example, that nationalism is useful for autocrats, who are not above also manipulating hatreds toward nonnational groups to consolidate their own power: “The contrast between the ‘we’ and the ‘they,’ the common fight against those outside the group, seems to be an essential ingredient in any creed which will solidly knit together a group for common action . . . [for] the unreserved allegiance of huge masses. From [autocrats’] point of view it has the great advantage of leaving them greater freedom of action than almost any positive program.”39 Hayek noted the particular vulnerability of ethnic minorities prominent in business or finance to nationalist hatreds. Envy of their success and ethnic prejudice make a toxic mix. National policies such as “expropriating the excess profits” of the capitalists could in fact be aimed more at minorities than at capitalists.40 Hayek’s warnings about minority businessmen would be tragically prescient as the examples of the East Indians expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin in 1972 and mass killings of the Chinese in Indonesia in the 1960s would later show. The general minority problem would later become well known with examples like the Tutsis, Bosnian Muslims, Kurds, Tibetans, Darfuris, and many others. But there was more to the risk that nationalism posed for freedom than just its threat to ethnic minorities. What exactly did the goal of “national development” mean? It could not make sense as just a unified aspiration of all individuals, when individuals have so many different goals of their own. Indeed, another Nobel laureate, Kenneth Arrow, was to demonstrate a famous “impossibility theorem” in 1950, showing that no method can exist to rank the choices of a collection of individuals in a way that satisfies the most elementary common-sense rules for consistency and coherence. Hayek was blunt that a “national goal” just covered up the fact that some goals for some groups were attained at the expense of other goals for other groups. Economics and politics involve “the choice between conflicting or competing ends—different needs of different people.” Making a particular set of choices and calling it “national development” really means making decisions on which goals “will have to be sacrificed if we want to achieve certain others.” National development as advised by experts just means that the experts “are in a position to decide which of the different ends are to be given preference. It is inevitable that they should impose their scale of preferences on the community.”41 Since a democracy is unlikely to turn such vital judgments over to experts, the experts may even voice frustration at how democracies fail to get things done, how they fail to promote what the expert sees as development. The experts may actually welcome an autocrat, who in turn can use the expert promotion of development as part of his rationale for his autocratic rule. If it is impossible to reconcile the national goal of development with individuals’ own freely chosen goals, one must choose. It was clear that Myrdal and Hayek would make opposite choices. To Hayek, as we have seen in the introduction to this chapter, it was unacceptable that “the individual is merely a means to serve the ends of the higher entity called . . . the nation.”42 Interestingly enough, Myrdal understood, like Hayek, that the combination of nationalism with a national goal like development was a path to power: “The political leaders of the new countries have to arouse ambitions among the masses” because “this is their means of acquiring power.” The leaders know that “the aspirations which they know they can arouse successfully are the cravings for . . . economic development.” The leaders know that “the pliant, illiterate masses” can be “aroused by nationalist appeals.”43 Myrdal’s difference with Hayek is that he thought such extensive power for the national state and its nationalist leader was a good thing. Myrdal thought development could only happen through such national development goals, enforced by leaders, using coercion of individuals if necessary. Hayek and Myrdal occupied opposite sides of this debate on individual rights versus the prerogatives of nations in development, another debate that never happened. Let’s now turn to the third debate between Hayek and Myrdal. Easterly, William. The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor (p. 32). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.


Evidence from general statism files may be useful if you wish to develop this argument.

“Obligations” K/PIC. Maybe we should aid countries, but that doesn’t mean we have an obligation to do so.  While I don’t think you should read this as evidence in a debate, it is a good explanation:

Is there an obligationto help? No.  Would it be in everyone’s best interest for wealthy nations to aid poorer nations? Absolutely. How best to aid them?  Trade.  How best to improve environmental issues?  Once again, trade.  Currently Japan is aiding China in pollution control, to the benefit of both — Japan exports its technology, China improves its citizen’s health.  The toxic toy problem a while back is another example — Citizens in the US… (End Notes)

The net-benefit to the counterplan is all of the turns in the file as to why we should not adopt moral standards in foreign policy.

Case Arguments

It will be difficult for negative debaters to minimize the extent of poverty and other related problems (poor health, poor environment) in developing countries, but there are strong arguments that can be made against foreign aid —

(a) It is stolen by governments (corruption)
(b) It is poorly administered
(c) It is stolen by terrorists and other armed groups that are fighting in the countries and often utilized to increase violence
(d) It suppresses local production and local reforms
(e) It disincentivizes governments from creating the governance structures needed to support long-term growth and poverty reduction. Sample card —

Tim Worstall, 2015, October 13, Forbes, Angus Deaton’s Arguments Against Foreing Aid,

Angus Deaton was, as we all now know, awarded the Economics Nobel yesterday. Much of his work has been on the careful measurement of the consumption of the poor: exactly the sort of empirical data we need in order to be able to monitor how different policies improve said consumption opportunities. That being what we’d all rather like to achieve, making the poor richer. However, he does also have a rather more contentious opinion, which is that much foreign aid damages the opportunity for the poor to get richer. This is not about emergency aid: when disaster strikes then aid should indeed be freely given. Rather, this is about development aid: Unfortunately, the world’s rich countries currently are making things worse. Foreign aid – transfers from rich countries to poor countries – has much to its credit, particularly in terms of health care, with many people alive today who would otherwise be dead. But foreign aid also undermines the development of local state capacity. This is most obvious in countries – mostly in Africa – where the government receives aid directly and aid flows are large relative to fiscal expenditure (often more than half the total). Such governments need no contract with their citizens, no parliament, and no tax-collection system. If they are accountable to anyone, it is to the donors; but even this fails in practice, because the donors, under pressure from their own citizens (who rightly want to help the poor), need to disburse money just as much as poor-country governments need to receive it, if not more so. There are some things which must be done if the economy is to flourish and the poor to get richer. There’s another class of things which only government can do. And there’s even an intersection between those two sets, things which both must be done and can only be done by government. It’s a pretty minarchist set of things which meet both criteria, to be sure. Enforcing the rule of law, defending the country from maruading raiders, these sorts of things. There’s a very much longer list of things which government can do and which it might be desirable for it to do: ensuring at least a basic education for all for example. But that’s not absolutely necessary: only desirable. And when government fails to do those necessary things which only government can do then the economy will not develop and the average person will remain miserably poor. There’s a connection here to the thinking of Mancur Olson. Government is effectively a set of bandits, predating upon the society. It’s better to be predated upon by a stationary bandit than a roving one. For a roving one might just decide to take everything then move on. A stationary one has to farm the society. And as every farmer knows, you get higher output from contented cattle. Thus a stationary bandit might well find it in his own interest to aid the society in developing: this increases the amount that can be abstracted from the society for the benefit of the bandit. One time this might not happen is when there’s some highly profitable natural resource which can pay for the bandit’s government’s every dream. I can think of at least one small West African state where the dictator lives hugely well off the oil money and everyone else is still stuck in peasant penury. Actually, I can think of one nominal democracy in West Africa where the governing classes, rather than just the one dictator, do the same. Deaton’s argument is that official aid flows can become a sufficiently large portion of government revenues that the State doesn’t have to do those things which only the State can do and which must be done. Thus the result is non-development and the continuance of peasant poverty. He thus argues that we should stop doing this sort of development aid. What should we do instead? One thing that we can do is to agitate for our own governments to stop doing those things that make it harder for poor countries to stop being poor. Reducing aid is one, but so is limiting the arms trade, improving rich-country trade and subsidy policies, providing technical advice that is not tied to aid, and developing better drugs for diseases that do not affect rich people. We cannot help the poor by making their already-weak governments even weaker. As Branko Milanovic has pointed out, the great gainers from the globalisation of the past four or five decades have been those absolutely poor. Far more so than even the 1% of the rich. It’s been the largest reduction in poverty in the entire history of our species and the World Bank is now predicting that, by the end of this year, only 10% of humanity will be in absolute poverty. For the first time ever. Or as my boss at the Adam Smith Institute, Madsen Pirie keeps saying, buy things made by poor people in poor countries. And as Deaton is saying here, stop rich world governments putting in place idiot trade rules that stop us from doing so.

(f) It can undermine the development of more open economies (instead of pressuring them to be more open, as discussed above)
(g) It can undermine the development of countries own institutions, such as their own health care systems and agricultural sectors
(h) It generally has a high historical failure rate
(i) Aid agencies take strong employees away from local government businesses
(j) Aid agencies increase demand, raising the price of commodities and labor, making them unaffordable for businesses and people

In other words, there are reasonable arguments to be made that development assistance leaves countries worse off on the whole.


Trade-off.  Related to the Social Contract argument above, this argument makes the claim that supporting foreign aid will trade-off with the efforts of countries to help their own citizens. These trade-off arguments could focus on poverty prevention programs, but they could also focus on military spending trad-offs

Reuters, March 4, 2017, Newsweek, Trump Budget to Include “Dramatic” Cuts to Foreign Aid”,

Mulvaney said the cuts in foreign aid would help the administration fund a proposed $54 billion expansion of the U.S. military budget. “The overriding message is fairly straightforward: less money spent overseas means more money spent here,” said Mulvaney, a former South Carolina representative.

Note: This disadvantage is included in the evidence release.

Deficit spending. Popular on the last LD topic, this disadvantage argues that expanding the deficit will hurt the economy.

Note: You cannot read this disadvantage AND the military (or domestic) spending trade-off disadvantage

Politics.  A large foreign aid program will be politically unpopular, especially with Trump’s base. Loss of base support could be problematic for a few reasons —

(a) If he thinks he’s losing his base, he may lash out and attack North Korea

(b) If he loses his base, it may undermine his ability to get tax cuts passed.  Although Trump only needs Republican support to pass tax cuts, he can only lose the support of three Senators and many are committed to more fiscal discipline and reductions in aid spending.

(c) Losing the base could undermine the Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections.  You could argue that a Republican Senate is good. You could also argue a Republican House is good, though there is very little chance that he’ll lose the House.