Climate Change, Poverty & Development, Reviews
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Should Rich Nations Help The Poor? by David Hulme

Should Rich Nations Help The Poor?

First published in 2016 ‘Should Rich Nations Help The Poor’ is a book I purchased little over a year ago, and has sat in my ‘to be read’ pile ever since. I was skeptical that it could offer much depth of thought or argument, having read journal articles longer for my undergraduate. However, I was pleasantly surprised on my trip to France this weekend, in summary, David Hulme offers a concise, accessible, and pointed argument on how and why we should tackle global poverty.

At 124 pages long, Hulme guides the reader seamlessly through his narrative. Starting with ‘Why Worry About the Distant Poor?’ we are provided with a brief introduction to the multitude of reasons – current and historic – as to why nations have engaged with foreign aid. A particular quote that has stuck with me is “[t]he ideas that you have about poverty are important. They shape ‘who’ you think is poor and ‘what’ should be done about it”. In light of recent news regarding members of the UK government’s plan to subsume the Department for International Development (DFID) into the Foreign Office, and reassign development spending to activities such as peace building – this thought feels particularly time relevant.

Later in the chapter Hulme goes on to say that rich world leaders “do not experience sufficient domestic political pressure to have to keep their promises” – a notion that sings a very similar tune to ‘Client Earth’ by James Thornton and Martin Goodman. Key figures in charities like Save the Children, and Christian Aid have already spoke against the proposals with Laura Taylor, Christian Aid’s Head of Global Advocacy saying “[t]he concept of giving aid in the national interest is both flawed and immoral”. I am nervous to see if there is a reaction from the UK public significant enough to halt such a merger of departments.

Throughout the book Hulme offers a balanced take on the multitude of literature; followed by an extensive further reading list at the end. Of note to me were his mentions of Bill Easterly’s ‘The White Man’s Burden’ and Dambisa Moyo’s ‘Dead Aid’ – both books that I read passages of for my International Development Law module, which profoundly challenged my internal assumptions about foreign aid and international development. Ultimately he concludes “[i]n practice, we know that aid does work (in some forms, in some places, at some times) and also that aid fails (in some forms, in some places, at some times)”.


Later in the book he dives into the issues of climate change and inequality. Two factors that he identifies as being key blockers to successfully eradicating poverty. Both of these issues are covered in more depth in a variety of publications including ‘This Changes Everything’ by Naomi Klein, and ‘The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone’ by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett – Hulme offers a number of other authors too. The highest impact from his analysis came from his statement that  “[a]s global warming seems likely to stay higher up the international agenda than global poverty (because it impacts much more directly on the material and cultural interests of powerful countries, major corporations and better-off people), it may be tactically most effective to promote policies for helping the poor through agreements associated with sustainability”. It is disturbing, although not altogether surprising, that the global problems most likely to gain political traction in the West are those that are likely to cause short-term political gain for our governments, instead of long term sustainable improvements.

Ultimately, what Hulme offers is a practical overview and summary, of some core changes that he advocates could make foreign aid more effective, namely:

  1. Reform international trade policies
  2. Recognise international migration
  3. Take action against climate change
  4. Reform global finance
  5. Limit the arms trade to fragile countries

By finishing the work with “[a]cheiving a socially just and sustainable world will not be easy, but it is possible to move that direction much more quickly that we are”, Hulme leaves the reader with a sense of hope, and renewed positivity that there are solutions to these global problems, and we can be the change makers.

Should Rich Nations Help The Poor? provided the perfect holiday weekend read, and could easily be read in under 3 hours. It has left me with many books to be added to my ‘to be read’ pile including ‘Dead Aid’ by Dambisa Moyo, and ‘The Price of Inequality’ by Joseph Stiglitz. It will be interesting to following what happens to the UK aid budget over the coming weeks and months, especially with Brexit just around the corner. I for one, hope there is enough dissenting voices within the British people to pressure the UK government to keep it’s promises made both at home and on the global stage. World poverty is not going to eradicate itself, but that doesn’t mean we are hopeless, and it definitely doesn’t mean we shouldn’t act.

Should Rich Nations Help The Poor? in Facts:

Author: David Hulme

First Published Date: 2016

Publishing House: Polity Press

Pages: 139 (124 as bulk read)


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