"Our Hands Become Dirty When We Help a Terrorist or a Dictator"
...I have had intensive economic-policy discussions with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi [of Ethiopia]. ... I have no illusions about Meles’ commitment to democracy – or lack thereof. But I also believe that he is trying to develop his economy, and I offer policy advice because I believe it may benefit ordinary Ethiopians. ...
But choosing an action for the greater good does not absolve us from moral culpability. Our hands do become dirty when we help a terrorist or a dictator. ... In the end, an adviser to authoritarian leaders cannot escape the dilemma. ... But when the adviser believes his work will benefit those whom the leader effectively holds hostage, he has a duty not to withhold advice.
Even then, he should be aware that there is a degree of moral complicity involved. If the adviser does not come out of the interaction feeling somewhat tainted and a bit guilty, he has probably not reflected enough about the nature of the relationship.
With large consulting fees at stake, it would be easy to convince yourself that the advice will benefit a large segment of the population, i.e. that it is not "engagement only to legitimize" the position of the rulers. In cases where such moral questions are present, it might be best to refuse compensation for offering advice. That would help to ensure that the person giving the advice really does believe that it is in the best interests of ordinary citizens rather than what's best for the individual's pocketbook. On the other hand, the quantity of advice given would be smaller without compensation, and that might, on net, hurt those we'd like to help. Thus, another way to guard against individuals convincing themselves that it is morally correct to take the money would be to leave the decision to a relatively neutral third party.
How would you make this choice?
Posted by Mark Thoma on Saturday, April 16, 2011 at 11:07 AM in Development, Economics, Policy |
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