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Europe’s Original Sin and the Dangers of Doing Good

CFI (2014) “Europe’s Original Sin and the Dangers of Doing Good“, Capital Finance International (, 02 October.


Carlos Rangel, the Venezuelan diplomat and essayist, once pointedly remarked that western nations often send their failed politicians – the dreamers, utopians, and other ineffectual romantics – to far-off places where they can do no harm other than to their host countries. Mr Rangel (1929-1988) deplored the lack of pragmatism and structure in development aid and considered the untold billions of dollars spent on haphazard attempts at eradicating poverty in Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere largely a waste of resources. He argued that as long as policies are set and implemented out of pity, a heavy conscience, or an irrepressible urge to “do good,” they are doomed for failure.

Mr Rangel, a close friend of French philosopher Jean-François Revel, was ahead of his time. In his widely-praised book From Noble Savage to Good Revolutionary (1976), he posited rather convincingly that many of the damaging social experiments carried out in the post-colonial developing world had mostly originated in the fertile minds of those European politicians whose impractical ideas had failed to gain traction on the home front. These, then, were let go to peddle their designs at international organisations and in struggling countries of little consequence. Former Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation Jan Pronk comes to mind. Never more than an inconvenient footnote on the domestic scene, he was soon dispatched overseas to become an icon of the guilt-ridden left and the personification of the embarrassment of riches. Though Mr Pronk did not accomplish much, he did make the right noises at the right times and was duly rewarded with a long career – far from Dutch shores.

Today, ideology and its attendant lusting after the perfect society have all but disappeared from political discourse. Even pressing issues such as climate change are now generally considered economic opportunities that can and must produce revenue streams for agile businesses that can see and decipher the writing on the wall.


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