Waylaid Dialectic

April 15, 2010

Missing the Point Seven Point – Laura Freschi gets it wrong

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 4:36 pm
Tags: , ,

Over at Aid Watch, Laura Freschi channels Michael Clemens and Todd Moss to take the two major UK political parties to task for committing to meet a 0.7% of GNI to ODA target. Clemens and Moss:

First, the 0.7% target was calculated using a series of assumptions that are no longer true, and justified by a model that is no longer considered credible…. Second, we document the fact that, despite frequent misinterpretation of UN documents, no government ever agreed in a UN forum to actually reach 0.7%—though many pledged to move toward it. Third, we argue that aid as a fraction of rich country income does not constitute a meaningful metric for the adequacy of aid flows. It would be far better to estimate aid needs by starting on the recipient side with a meaningful model of how aid affects development.

All this is true, but it’s wrong, I think, to dismiss the 0.7 target. To dismiss the target we need to, either:

a) come up with a better one, which hasn’t happened

or

b) prove that the 0.7% target does more harm than good.

The good it does is simple: it provides an international norm which countries can be evaluated against (as they are by the OECD). It also provides campaigners with a simple snappy target to campaign on – it’s a useful advocacy tool.

As for the harm, perhaps the target’s too high? If all the countries of the OEC DAC met it we’d be giving too much aid? There’s no evidence of this whatsoever. Even if there was it would be a distant fear – the World’s a long way of meeting the target.

On the other hand maybe it’s too low. Maybe more than 0.7% of OECD DAC country aid is needed. Possibly, but once again the target is still so distant that the risk that donor countries will meet it any time soon and subsequently pull up stumps and never increase aid levels again, is tiny. Not large enough to outweigh the benefits of the target. What’s more, despite the average country effort being low several countries exceed the 0.7 target – they didn’t stop when they met it. Swedish civil society successfully campaigned for a 1% target.

The third potential objection is that focusing on a quantitative target distracts from more important qualitative improvements in aid. This is also possible, although generally to two quantity travel hand in hand (the Scandinavian DAC donors that currently give the most are usually regarded as the best donors quality wise) and more aid means more money for two of the most important tools to improve aid – research and evaluation. What’s more most of the campaigns advocating for more aid don’t focus on this alone. The standard slogan: more and better aid.

In short – the 0.7 target may be meaningless in a way. But it’s also a useful advocacy tool, and a helpful international norm. And the potential downsides of the target don’t seem real enough to me to outweigh these facts.

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