Do We Have A Moral Obligation To Help Others (Part II)?

From Thinking Outside The Boxe’s Sydney Correspondent: The second part of this article will examine the extent to which we should help our fellow countrymen and women, and those of other nationalities. This assumes that we have a moral obligation to help them. And based on the first part of this article I believe the answer is yes we do have an obligation.

Most, if not all readers, would be aware of President Obama’s health care reforms, the so-called ‘Obamacare’, designed to give all members of our society access to basic healthcare. But are we really obliged to spend our tax on the health of those unable to help themselves? The Government does have a responsibility to look after all the nation’s citizens at the most basic level but few people would argue against the notion that their must be limitations on the extent of this help. Simple economics dictates that this must be the case. Just as with welfare, universal healthcare can become a crutch, and the first point of call for the needy rather than the last. An overly generous healthcare system may also encourage people to be less careful in maintaining their health because they know that they will be looked after. Surely all members of society should aspire to attaining a level of wealth that provides them with the means to help themselves.

Following two long and extremely expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, expected to end up costing the nation $4.4 trillion, (themselves foreign aid in ‘nation building’ terms).and a Global Financial Crisis it is time to spend less on foreign aid and help our fellow citizens first. The Guardian reported that the US was expected to spend $54 billion on foreign aid in 2012. But putting Americans first is best done through measures that assist our own economy, not the economies of other nations. Once the American economy has recovered then we can once again consider the amount of foreign aid we provide.

It is difficult not to the return to the argument put forward above. If we continuously pour foreign aid into impoverished nations how we can be sure we are not encouraging a sense of dependence. These nations must develop their econonomies so that they become self sufficient. According to a UN report, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea-Bissau all relied on foreign aid for over 70% of their Government expenditure in 2009. Should nations such as these even be rightfully viewed as independent sovereign nations? A detailed examination of this question is outside of the scope of this article but it is interesting to consider the level of foreign aid we provide, who we provide it to, and why we provide it. There are other problems with foreign aid. Some corrupt, and arguably immoral, Governments spend most of that aid money not on nation – building or helping their citizens in a broader sense but rather use it to prop up their regimes. Examples are not hard to find and include Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of the Republic of Congo, who astonishingly owns 16 luxurious houses and flats in Paris. It is interesting to read that in 2009 over half of Government expenditure in that nation came from foreign aid.

Governments are not often placed to provide foreign aid anyway. More often than not it is aid groups operating in these countries that are able to direct aid to the areas where it is needed most. And crucially they also know how to provide aid in the most appropriate form (rarely is it financial). Many nations are also now joining with their regional neighbors in order to forge a common bond and provide support to eachother. There are many benefits to this approach. Examples include the EU and ASEAN. These unions are already active in providing aid to eachother. As greater emphasis is placed on distributing aid through designated aid groups and these unions of nations there should be less need for our Government to be involved.

As a nation with a Judaeo-Christian heritage and majority religious belief, we are asked to help others because we should treat them as we would like to be treated.. Many people who are not particularly religious may still feel that they are obliged to help others due to their personal moral code. Our view of whether we should help others may depend on how geographically close those ‘others’ are. We feel good when we help other people and when we help people in our own community we feel especially good because we get immediate feedback. In other words we can see how we have helped. But since we do not get this level of feedback from those we help overseas we might be much less likely to wrestle with the idea of whether we are morally obliged to help. In fact, in this article I have argued that other people should be encouraged to help themselves where possible. The idea of the great American dream is that anyone who is willing to work can succeed. There are thousands of people, native born or immigrants, that have started out with very little and worked hard and achieved their goals. It is these people who provide a great example to the rest of us. In essence, while we should help others where we can, the needy should try to help themselves wherever possible rather than expecting that they will receive assistance for extended periods. This is true for both U.S citizens and for other nations as well. This article from Britain’s Daily Mail discusses the misuse of foreign aid by a number of African dictators including the one mentioned in this article.

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