Cash vs. In-Kind Transfers, Syrian Rebel Edition

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
July 20 2012 8:20 AM

Cash vs. In-Kind Transfers, Syrian Rebel Edition

One of my recurring themes is that in general if you want to help some people it's best to give them money—which is very flexible—and let them figure out how to help themselves. This isn't universally true. A 13-year-old needs school more than he needs cash in his pocket, but it's a point that has force in a lot of situations. Including, perhaps, the assistance of Syrian rebels:

It's not only the assassination that is bolstering the Syrian opposition's morale. The rebels have also sustained four days of fighting in the capital, which had previously seen only limited clashes and smaller demonstrations as the rest of Syria descended into civil war. Furthermore, in numerous meetings with anti-regime fighters in Lebanon over the past several months, it has become abundantly clear that new financing and equipment have reached the once shabby rebel army units.
"This regime is so rotten that even their own supporters sell us weapons," one rebel commander in a village along the border with Lebanon told me. "We never needed weapons from outside countries like America or Saudi—we needed money. Syria has plenty of weapons already and these guys are so corrupt that they profit by selling us the weapons we will later use to kill them."
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Now of course the wisdom of helping any given group of people is a separate issue. But the point is that when you're talking about assisting mentally competent adults, it's smart to give some deference to their own understanding of the situation and give them a flexible tool like cash.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.