Neve Gordon in the LA Review of Books:
IN THE MID-1980s, Rony Brauman, who, at the time, was the president of the leading humanitarian organization Médecins sans Frontières, established a new human rights group called Liberté sans Frontières. For the inaugural colloquium, Brauman invited a number of speakers, among them Peter Bauer, a recently retired professor from the London School of Economics. Bauer was an odd choice given that he was a staunch defender of European colonialism; he had once responded to a student pamphlet that accused the British of taking “the rubber from Malaya, the tea from India, [and] raw materials from all over the world,” by arguing that actually “the British took the rubber to Malaya and the tea to India.” Far from the West causing Third World poverty, Bauer maintained that “contacts with the West” had been the primary agents of the colonies’ material progress.
Bauer hammered on this point at the colloquium, claiming that indigenous Amazonians were among the poorest people in the world precisely because they enjoyed the fewest “external contacts.” Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore, he continued, showed proof of the economic benefits such contacts brought. “Whatever one thinks of colonialism it can’t be held responsible for Third World poverty,” he argued.
In her illuminating new book, The Morals of the Market: Human Rights and the Rise of Neoliberalism, Jessica Whyte recounts this story only to ask why Brauman, a leading humanitarian activist, invited Bauer — whom the Economist had described as being as hostile to foreign aid as Friedrich Hayek had been to socialism — to deliver a talk during the opening event for a new human rights organization.