Accepted paper:

Can there be a moral vision for international development in a time of populism?


Pablo Yanguas (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

Twenty-five years ago David Lumsdaine argued that the foreign aid regime could only be fully explained by the moral vision that emerged as part of the post-WWII order. This paper asks whether that moral vision has any relevance in this time of renewed nationalism and new narratives of development.

Paper long abstract:

Twenty-five years ago David Lumsdaine used the case of the foreign aid regime to argue for the role of ideas in international relations. According to Lumsdaine, great power politics alone could not explain the gradual expansion of the aid regime, nor of the breadth of issues it covered. Instead, he argued that the regime could be better explained by the moral vision that emerged as part of the post-WWII order: a set of principles dating back to the Atlantic Charter, and which he termed "humane internationalism".

Twenty-five years later, the global development landscape has changed drastically. Foreign aid is an increasingly irrelevant part of development, matched and in some areas surpassed by South-South cooperation, philanthropy, environmentalism, global finance, or technological advances. At the same time, while OECD aid continues to expand - albeit very slowly - the mood has shifted in donor countries, ushering an era of populism and nationalism that considers foreign aid at best epiphenomenal to the broader ill of internationalism, and at worst a corrupt endeavour to be condemned to the dustbin of history.

This paper investigates whether the moral vision that nurtured and sustained the aid regime for half a century has any relevance today, particularly in light of new practices, relationships, and narratives of development, such as sustainability, rising powers, or nationalistic economic policy. It asks whether the aid regime - and, by extension, some key actors in international development - can survive solely by the inertia of what once was.

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