What Superman and Lex Luthor Can Teach Us About Foreign Aid

Denzel-Washington-as-Lex-Luthor-Justice-League-United-NationsLex Luthor first appeared in DC comics in the 1940’s as a comical bad guy twirling his mustache as he plotted against the pride of Metropolis–Superman. Since then he has gone through many changes including going bald, to donning a giant suit of armor but more importantly his motives have changed.  Anyone would be hard pressed to call Lex a hero but like any good villain he has a point.  What if Lex believes that Superman’s existence on Earth is breeding a level of dependence?

As an alien, Superman protects the Earth not only from other extraterrestrial threats but also everyday crime.  Not being from this planet he may be interfering with the evolution of the human race.  With our great protector will we need to develop our own systems and inventions to cope with the challenges of everyday crime and invasions from outer-space? Superman removes responsibility from the human race as we no longer need to develop on our own–we simply rely on our off world guardian. Our savior from beyond.


Aid has a similar track record of breeding dependence.  As Western nations funnel money into aid projects aimed at helping the world’s poorest they should be asking themselves if they are lifting people out of poverty or propping up institutions that are incapable of functioning on their own.

Haiti has become the poster child for this kind of development.  Essentially Haiti has become a nation run by NGO’s that no longer build capacity and good governance but instead detract from the government.  This results in a weak coalition of non-profits and aid workers who measure their success by intent instead of impact.

Lex could easily make a similar argument for Superman and his hero complex.  What does it mean for the human race that we rely solely on the powers of an alien to solve social ills like crime? In the case of defending us from larger threats such as Braniac or Darkseid…would these threats come to Earth if Superman were not present? Aid too has a dark side that comes with the footprint of aid workers and organizations.

This is not to say that we should end aid or that Lex Luthor is the unsung hero. We should however examine closely our intents and our impacts in the field.  Building capacity and building institutions that can better serve our stakeholders and pull them put of poverty would be a much better use of aid as opposed to simply giving benefits away.


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