Waylaid Dialectic

October 23, 2013

Angus Deaton and Roadblocks to Development

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 7:56 am
Tags: ,

Well, I was looking forwards to reading Angus Deaton’s new book, but Chris Blattman’s review leaves me less inclined. (Acting on the assumption that Blattman is treating Deaton fairly of course). In particular, writing of Deaton Blattman states:

Where he’s enflamed passions, though, is his last chapter: “How to help those left behind”. It’s a tirade against aid, especially naive aid. Overall one message comes through: Aid is a roadblock to development.

Blattman then goes on to sensibly point out that not all aid is equal, and to offer the following partial agreement with Deaton:

I think Deaton has his sights aimed at dollars sent by the West to local governments to supposedly reduce poverty, improve health, and ignite growth. This is a lot (if not the bulk) of money sent to poor countries, and so it’s a fair target.

This makes it easier to see what he means by aid not working. It probably hasn’t produced growth, even if most of Africa has been growing steadily for ten years. And it might not be what’s responsible for falling poverty levels. Frankly we don’t know, but I think we can say that if aid did ignite this growth, it certainly has been coy about it.

Yes, Chris and Angus, that might well be the case, but if aid — for all it’s flaws — really was a roadblock to development, Africa would not have grown so well in the last decade, would it?

The growth might have been in spite of aid, but that African countries could, on the whole, grow rapidly over a decade where aid to Africa itself grew rapidly, is about as definitive evidence as you could want for that aid does not prevent development.

There is a lot wrong with the world of aid. And giving aid that works is hard. But claiming that is a substantial roadblock to development is simply not true.

As an aside Blattman also writes that:

And, frankly, I personally find it hard to believe that levels of democracy in Africa would be as high as they are without aid. I think the most important forces driving democracy are probably internal to Africa, and the example and economic success of advanced democracies comes second. But aid and foreign meddling comes a close third. I simply find it hard to believe that aid–both the direct democratization kind, and maybe aid more generally–hasn’t played a big role.

Of course, I haven’t seen much evidence to support my gut feel, which (as we’ll see in a minute), is part of my larger point.

Yet there is evidence. See here and here.

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