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Category - "World Bank":

Beware! The Golden Rule May Have Unintended Consequences

The Golden Rule
‘One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself‘. Its corollary, ‘One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated‘ is sometimes called the Silver Rule. Both were part of the religions and philosophies of ancient Babylon, China, Egypt, Greece, India, Judaea and Persia. There are three well-known passages in which Jesus preaches the rule:
Matthew 7.12In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
Luke 6.31Do to others as you would have them do to you.  

Luke 10.25-28 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

The passage continues with Jesus answering the question, “Who is my neighbour?”, by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, indicating that “your neighbour” is anyone in need.

So far, so uncontroversial. But I want to inject a cautionary note at this point, along the lines of:

‘All that you’re liable to read in the bible, it ain’t necessarily so!’

Before you complain that I am being disrespectful to the bible, consider St Paul’s advice to the Ephesians (4.26), ‘let not the sun go down upon your wrath’. I have already suggested on this blog that you might do better to sleep on it and this view has been endorsed by Penelopepiscopal , and Will Cookson, both priests. We of course agree with the general point that one should not let anger harden in one’s heart, but in practical terms a short ‘cooling off’ period overnight may help the healing process.

The Golden Rule, in my view, comes into this category. The first – and main – problem was identified by George Bernard Shaw:

Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.’

In the case of the Good Samaritan, he was presumably pretty sure that his help would be welcome. In Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ (see diagram below), the needs that he was seeking to meet were basic physiological and safety needs.

As you move up the pyramid into psychological and self-fulfilment needs, it is much less certain that outside involvement would be welcome; indeed it may be perceived as unwarranted meddling. As most of us know to our cost, this does not seem to prevent some of our most well-meaning friends from jumping in to give good advice because in our place they would like to receive it.

Foreign aid is an example of good intentions occasionally having unfortunate unintended consequences,  as set out in this paper, which – though simplistic – nevertheless has some good points.  I will take Tanganyika/Tanzania as an example, as I lived there from 1993-97 with my husband who, as British Council director, had oversight of several British government aid programmes. I hasten to add that the micro-projects in health and education in which he was involved were all very well-managed but  in 1951 the then Attlee government introduced the Tanganyika Groundnut Scheme, a macro-plan to cultivate large tracts of what is now Tanzania with peanuts.  It was soon abandoned because:
“ground nuts require at least 500 mm of rainfall per year; the area chosen was subject to drought”. 
In 1967, Presiden Nyerere introduced ‘Ujamaa’, a macro-policy which was in many ways disastrous.
In 1969, the brilliant economist, Bevan Waide:

‘advised on Tanzania’s second five-year plan, during the turbulent years when Julius Nyerere was consolidating his country’s socialist stance to development, and the World Bank was less concerned than today about nationalisation and substantial state expenditure…

From 1984 to 1988, he was chief of the [World] bank’s resident mission in India.
He left the bank to become a partner in the management and economic consulting firm of Coopers and Lybrand in London, specialising in privatisation and public enterprise restructuring work in developing countries…
From 1993 to 1996, Waide was seconded to the government of Tanzania, this time as lead adviser on privatisation… and played a crucial part in unwinding some of the excesses of the earlier socialist period.’

He, more than anyone, relished the irony of being the foreign expert put in charge of nationalisation when it was the fashion in the 1960s, and then privatisation when it became the vogue policy in the 1990s. 

I do not know what the present mood is amongst Tanzanians, but they are entitled to feel a certain cynical world-weariness and perhaps a wish that, however kindly meant, large-scale macro-economic projects be shelved in order to allow the country to find its own salvation (albeit with help at the local, micro-level).

So, if you wake up tomorrow morning with a burning desire to do good to your neighbour, may I respectfully suggest that you consider ‘this above all, primum non nocere, ‘first do no harm’.

Postscript: Ivor Stolliday just tweeted President Reagan’s famous line: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'”

1. The illustraton of ‘The Good Samaritan’ by Vincent Van Gogh is via wikipedia.
2. The YouTube version of ‘It ain’t necessarily so’ from Porgy and Bess is by the Ranot Vocal Ensemble uploaded by eldadindustrialmovie on Jun 20, 2010 
3. The diagram is of Abraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’
4. The quotation from George Bernard Shaw is from ‘Man and Superman’ (1903) 
5. The description of Bevan Waide’s role in Tanzania is an extract from the Guardian obituary by Roger Cooke of 22 May 2003 (follow hyperlink). I wrote a book about Dar es Salaam with his wife, Uma.

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