The Cheat Sheet

A British ‘nanny’ is throwing money at ‘rich’ Indians

Venky Vembu | Updated on November 21, 2019 Published on November 21, 2019

I too have received one of those famous mails.

What mail would this be?

The one that says I’ve won a big lottery or an inheritance...

You’re talking of the infamous Nigerian 419 fraud, in which a scamster reels gullible folks in with an outlandish story of a big-money inheritance. I, on the other hand, am talking of a real-world British ‘nanny’ who spends lavishly on what she believes is the well-being of people around the world, including in India.

Lead me to this nanny, please.

In good time, but you may first want to know that the ‘nanny’, in fact, is quite a killjoy: she likes to wade in on people’s lives and lifestyle choices.

I knew there was a catch.

And back in Britain, which is already reeling from the exertions of Brexit, this ‘nanny’ is very unpopular — because of the fact that the money she throws around isn’t even hers.

The plot thickens.

It does. The nanny’s role is elaborated in a discussion paper authored by Mark Tovey, a health researcher, for the Institute of Economic Affairs, a London-based free-market think-tank dedicated to analysing and expounding the role of markets to solve economic and social problems.

What does the report say?

The report, titled ‘Nanny State on Tour’, revealed that an estimated £44.6 million (in 2018 prices) — or about ₹413 crore — had been spent between 2005 and 2018 on foreign aid projects funded by UK taxpayers. India was the second-biggest recipient, with £2.2 million (about ₹20 crore) in foreign aid.

Wait: foreign aid is a good thing, right?

Yes and no. While British taxpayers may be willing to underwrite foreign aid that is directed at eradicating malaria and other “cradle-robbing pestilences” in developing economies, they bristle at seeing their funds being directed at ‘nanny state’ projects.

What exactly are ‘nanny state’ projects?

Free-market advocates see the hand of the ‘nanny state’ in efforts by governments to wade into people’s private lifestyle choices: for instance, by enforcing prohibition — as opposed to conducting an information campaign about health risks from alcohol.

The mai-baap sarkar!

Exactly. Libertarians believe that a ‘nanny state’ represents the government at its most arrogant because it conveys the message that politicians and bureaucrats know more about how you should live your life, manage your health, and raise your kids than you do. And when ‘foreign aid’ is directed at such ‘nanny state’ projects, taxpayers in the home country are even more resentful.

So, was the nanny throwing money at rich Indians?

The report notes, for instance, that in 2017 some £602,541 of foreign aid was used to tackle ‘malnutrition’ among Indian children. It reads: “This sounds like the kind of response to Band Aid’s call to ‘Feed the world’ that the average taxpayer can feel good about. Only upon closer inspection of the project’s mission statement does one realise that the money was partly spent on making Indian children eat less food — as apparently 15 per cent of under-five-year-olds in India are obese.” That strikes some as throwing money at problems of affluence in foreign countries.

So, do they want foreign aid to be cut off?

As the report notes, in 2017 the UK spent nearly £600,000 on anti-smoking intervention in Indian schools. If that amount had been directed at inoculating Indian pre-adolescent girls against the human papilloma virus (HPV), it would have been a more productive use of money.


The ‘nanny’ should perhaps be prudent about who gets her money.

A weekly column that helps you ask the right questions

Published on November 21, 2019
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor