Our Logo

"I have come to believe that most aid is doing more harm than good for the countries that receive it. In most cases, aid is guided less by the needs of the recipients than by the donor country's domestic and international interests."
—Nobel Prize laureate Angus Deaton(1)

U.S. Navy men build a school in Djibouti. While this might seem like a generous act of international friendship, it's a sampler of what we call karma colonialism:

1. The U.S. selected this location based on self-interest; the school is going up near Camp Lemonnier, America's only permanent military base in Africa, where the U.S. needs good community relationships. (See Colonialism gets a facelift.)

2. Though Djibouti has roughly 50-60% unemployment, the work is being done by Americans. (See Undermining economies.)

3. It sends the subliminal message to Americans on the base, and to jobless Djiboutians who watch, that "People here can't do anything for themselves, they're lucky to have this help." These unspoken messages are often stronger than explicit statements. (See Pygmalion and Golem.)

4. The limited data we can find suggests that the new school is likely to make education worse, rather than better. (Why? See Poor Education.)

Karma Colonialism: We can stop it

Two hundred years ago, western powers were invading and exploiting smaller countries. A few people opposed that. Where would you have stood?

Two hundred years ago, Western powers were invading and exploiting smaller countries. A few people opposed that. Where would you have stood?

None of us can answer that for sure. We'd like to think we would have stood up against the brutalities of colonialism — but who can really be sure? It's safer and easier to go with the flow. The status quo always offers justifications for believing that everything is fine.

On these pages, we will show that while colonial attitudes have a new form, they're still with us, keeping poor countries poor. We urge you to learn more, then join us to stop it.

* * *

Foreign aid programs, international charities, and certain of the institutions known as NGOs tell us they'll help "needy people" in the poorest corners of the world — and they want our help.

But even as this flow of aid money provides genuine relief to some people, usually in highly visible ways, it does widespread but invisible harm in those same areas. Meanwhile, the charities, NGOs, staffs, governments, philanthropists, and foundations collect varied benefits for themselves, and do not want to actually end the problems they claim to address. "Needy people" are their bread and butter.

We call this karma colonialism. It stems from the same underlying dynamics as old-fashioned colonialism, but with a twist: A layer of karma keeps everyone feeling good.

Karma colonialism isn't the result of anybody's heavy-handed plan. It's the natural result of many people acting in their own best interests.

Karma colonialism was not created by a conspiracy, any more than your body was created because a lot of genes held a meeting and planned their strategy. It's a natural outcome of the haves — those with more power, more money, more connections, and greater media access — looking out for their best interests, but also eager to look good and feel good.

But it harms those without the power and money. On these pages we'll explain what led us to this conclusion, why we've chosen to use such a potentially incendiary term, and how you can work with us to stop it.

You may not agree with all of our conclusions, but we think you'll be dismayed at some of the things we report. If you believe these ideas are worth considering, please encourage others to visit this site, and join us to stop karma colonialism. Thank you.

Notes and Sources

1. Angus Deaton received the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2015. In his book The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality he presents his case that overall the world's population lives better than in the past, but that foreign aid hurts people in the countries that receive it. (back)