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  • Writer's pictureAhana Thapar

The Development Delusion: A Breakdown of Jason Hickel’s Stance on Foreign Aid

We have all heard about “developing” and “developed” countries. But have we ever stopped to consider what these terms really mean? Or to think about why we use these terms so rampantly to define countries. What even differentiates the two? And have we noticed the way these attributions commonly follow a pattern that continues to place the colonizers above the colonized?

If you hadn’t paid attention to these questions before, you aren’t the only one. Because neither did I, until it was brought up in a book I was reading; The Divide by Jason Hickel. The book provided an eye-opening perspective on the basis of the classifications that the international community now uses to divide the world into a hierarchy.

Origin of Development

The term development was first used in this context for the media campaign for Harry Truman during his second term as the President of the USA in 1949. The campaign needed something that could, in Hickel’s words, “tap into the zeitgeist –– something that would stir the soul of the nation.” This would necessitate something unheard of in campaigns before.

That finally came in the idea that third-world countries needed the help of the Americans to grow their economies, and that idea became a success because it told the American people that their money leaving the country was going to help people the world over. It gave them a sense of accomplishment, and also diverted their attention from the issues in their own country.

It was soon adopted by Western European governments because it provided a broad-brush solution to all inequality. It gained more and more traction as it convinced a certain group of people that they were inherently better, smarter, more efficient and that only by their grace of letting go of power and providing aid could the rest of the world flourish. It made them the heroes of the new world order.

It has now become a part of our culture, ingrained at its very core. Developmental aid is a multibillion-dollar industry, and most people have been a part of this narrative at some point in their lives. According to research that Hickel did as a part of WorldVision, a Christian humanitarian organisation, he discovered that the world order this philosophy has created also stops developing countries from growing meaningfully.

Impacts of the Delusion

So what does this really mean in the world around us? In a state of hypernormalisation, reality no longer matters—all that matters is the story. It means that our world order has been defined with discrimination at its base, ensuring that imperialist tendencies can continue to operate under the radar by making countries dependent on the so-called more developed nations.

The world celebrates aid endlessly. It is known to everyone that the West has endless numbers of programmes to help tackle the challenges of poverty. But then, why do we never see any gain coming of it? Why are the poorest countries in the world remaining so poor if the richest are doing as much as they say they care about it?

The reason lies in the Global South’s position as a net creditor to the world. Around $2 Trillion flows into the Global South in a year, but over $5 Trillion flows back out as interest payments on large loans. That means that the Global South is ending up owing much more than the amount that they are receiving, every single year, keeping them in a perpetual debt trap. In fact, the aid budget of $130 Billion is dwarfed by 24 times by the net monetary gain that the Global North gets!

This means that, basically, the developmental aid is a lie. It demonstrates how the industry of development was created to exploit the Global South for the continued gain of the Global North. The Global North continues to exploit the Global South for their gain. Does it not ring faint bells? Neocolonialism, or imperialism in the modern age, is no longer maintained through ripping away the sovereignty of nations. It is now done through a format of economic warfare that debilitates a country’s native economy and makes a certain, more western ideology the only proposed way to get out of the trap. Except it often pulls countries in deeper.

But by far the biggest source of outflows has to do with unrecorded—and usually illicit—capital flight. Global Financial Integrity Centre calculates that developing countries lose about $700 billion each year through a practice known as “trade misinvoicing.” Corporations, both foreign and domestic, report false prices on their trade invoices in order to spirit money out of developing countries into tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions, like Guernsey or the British Virgin Islands. This is remarkably easy to do, as rules introduced by the World Trade Organization in the 1990s require customs officials to take invoices at face value, even when they are obviously distorted, tying their hands when it comes to suspicious transactions.

Political Gain

What is there to gain from this continued power play? It suppressed the rise of “developmentalism”. Developmentalism was a concept where the countries in the global South began to cooperate at unprecedented rates –– forming their own alliances and banding together to form one of the most powerful forums, the G77, between the 1960s and the 1970s. They wanted their own style of economic policies to be considered legitimate, and to enshrine the fact that no outside force could intervene in their governance. They didn’t see foreign aid as a benefit, they rather saw the solution of development inequality in pushing policies through politics. And the Global North didn’t like that fact as it resisted their philosophy and their supremacy.

The reason they wanted to suppress meaningful economic growth was very simple. Their easily available supply of cheap, exploitable labour would diminish, their easy access to resources would end, and their large consumer bases from the Global South vanish. This meant that whenever a government came into power, one which could change this power dynamic, (especially democratically! counterintuitive, huh) the Global North planted dictatorships and regimes that would force the countries to align with their ideologies. In international organisations too, the Global North holds ten times the voting power per capita than the Global South. It becomes a grossly unequal, and one might argue, racist division of society.

This allowed countries to maintain their supremacy over others. It also allowed the Western ideology to become the predominant one because countries were seeing no successes with any other ideology. But the truth of the matter is, it was never allowed. And this simple fact can be quite terrifying to consider. The world is running now on cultural imperialism, a concept wherein the Global North forces its ideologies deep into the roots of a global society, and in the process, once again, makes the Global South the source of its wealth, suppressed under its thumb.


While development has its merits –– in increasing access to basic resources and providing methods for countries to move into a more modern, more technologically advanced way of living. It is the picture of the future. But there is another side to it that shows that development is not as clean as it seems. In the end, it has become a profit-driven industry: focusing on what grabs the most eyeballs and cash, and not an industry aimed at reaching out to the lowest common denominator that needs the help.

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