Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

Lords of Poverty

The Power, Prestige, and Corruption of the International Aid Business

by Graham Hancock

“A deadly serious book about a desperately important subject, a book that . . . succeeds in standing the myth of foreign aid on its head, and demands a serious reply from the development industry.” –Thurston Clarke, The New York Times

  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 256
  • Publication Date December 01, 1991
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8711-3469-1
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $17.00

About The Book

Each year some sixty billion dollars are spent on foreign aid throughout the world. Whether in donations to charities such as Save the Children, Oxfam, CARE, UNICEF, or the Red Cross, in the form of enormous loans from the World Bank, or as direct payments from one government to another, the money is earmarked for the needy, for relief in natural disasters–floods or famines, earthquakes, or droughts–and for assistance in the development of nations.

The magnitude of generosity from the world’s wealthy nations suggests the possibility of easing, if not eliminating, hunger, misery, and poverty; in truth, however, only a small portion of this sixty billion dollars is ever translated into direct assistance. Thanks to bureaucratic inefficiency, misguided policies, large executive salaries, political corruption, and the self-perpetuating “overhead” of the administrative agencies, much of this tremendous wealth is frittered away, as Graham Hancock’s alarming and comprehensive book reveals. Hancock cuts through the smoke screens and hot air of the “aristocracy of mercy” to provide a critical look at a multinational business that has never been subject to strict accountability.

Lords of Poverty is a case study in betrayals of a public trust. The shortcomings of aid are numerous, and serious enough to raise questions about the viability of the practice at its most fundamental levels. Hancock’s report is thorough, deeply shocking, and certain to cause critical reevaluation–of the government’s motives in giving foreign aid, and of the true needs of our intended beneficiaries.

From Lords of Poverty:

“Although it is the subject of a pious literature, and is credited with saintly and humanitarian motives, foreign aid often keeps strange and brutal company. In Mexico and Zaire, in the Philippines and Haiti, thieves and murderers, psychopaths and cheats have all been amongst its bedfellows. Elsewhere it has consistently bestowed its favours upon the big battalions. Big corporations; big and wasteful projects; big, ambitious, absurd development plans; big ideas; and big bureaucracies have all flourished thanks to aid’s bounty. Meanwhile local-level initiatives, relevant and realistic strategies, and the energy and enterprise of the poor in the Third World have been ignored . . . .

“To continue with the charade seems to me to be absurd. Garnered and justified in the name of the destitute and the vulnerable, aid’s main function in the past half-century has been to create and then entrench a powerful new class of rich and privileged people. In that notorious club of parasites and hangers-on made up of the United Nations, the World Bank, and the bilateral agencies, it is aid–and nothing else–that has provided hundreds of thousands of “jobs for the boys’ and that has permitted record-breaking standards to be set in self-serving behaviour, arrogance, paternalism, moral cowardice, and mendacity. At the same time, in developing countries, aid has perpetuated the rule of incompetent and venal men whose leadership would otherwise be utterly non-viable; it has allowed governments characterised by historic ignorance, avarice, and irresponsibility to thrive; last but not least, it has condoned–and in some cases facilitated–the most consistent and grievous abuses of human rights that have occurred anywhere in the world since the dark ages.

“In these closing years of the twentieth century the time has come for the lords of poverty to depart. . . .”


“A deadly serious book about a desperately important subject, a book that . . . succeeds in standing the myth of foreign aid on its head, and demands a serious reply from the development industry.” –Thurston Clarke, The New York Times

“Hancock has written a book which has a sure instinct for the arresting example and the telling incident, and which gets and holds the attention of anyone who worries more than momentarily about the calamity of world poverty.” –Christopher Hitchens, New York Newsday

Lords of Poverty is important not only because it illuminate how those we choose to perform some of our most important humanitarian tasks often are the least able to accomplish what we trust they will accomplish, simply because they can hide so quickly behind the rectitude and rhetoric of their cause. It is important because Mr. Hancock has provided the means by which we can begin to judge the arrogance, cynicism and ineptness of those who represent our best hopes.” –Denis Boyles, Baltimore Sun

“A merciless examination of the callousness, stupidity, and greed of organizations like the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and private charities. Hancock’s book is one of only a handful that looks at these immensely powerful groups in depth.” –Doug Henwood, The Utne Reader

“A rousing condemnation of the national and multilateral aid programs of the past forty years.” –Andrew J. Pierre, Foreign Affairs