These revelations are an embarrassment to DfID and the aid industry more widely, but it would be wrong to draw the conclusion that the prospect of private gain on its own explains the sector's great popularity-why, for instance, 85 per cent of applicants to the civil service state a preference for working at DfID over any other branch of government. Abundant funds naturally increase opportunities and add to an impression of glamour and prestige. But the critical factor for young recruits, as well as for senior politicians and celebrities endorsing the aid consensus, is surely the quasi-redemptive quality of overseas development. Being paid well to travel the world is not unique to the aid industry; what is peculiarly beguiling is the conviction that by living this lifestyle one is actually making the world a better place.
It is always hard to disentangle the impact of material motives from considerations arising from altruism and compassion, self-image or public relations. Gordon Brown's knowledge of development politics, for instance, has contributed significantly to his £1.4 million earnings since leaving Downing Street (though his fees and royalties all go to the upkeep of his office and to charity).
Nevertheless, the abundant availability of public money has nourished a seductive moral microclimate in which intellectual certainty is bolstered by the applause of the international political establishment and an impressive array of Western celebrities. The film star Angelina Jolie has described the American economist and development expert Jeffrey Sachs as "one of the smartest people in the world", while Bono wrote the foreword to Sachs's bestselling The End of Poverty. More significantly, according to William Easterly's account, when President George W. Bush wanted a photo-opportunity with Bono, the rock star demanded in exchange a 50 per cent increase in the US aid budget — and Bush agreed.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the nexus of power, money and glamour that has come to represent the public face of international development is not just that it can give rise to such examples of wholly irrational decision-making; but even more that, by its nature, it excludes non-Westerners, both experts and the poor whose interests the aid industry exists to champion.
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