Waylaid Dialectic

January 4, 2015

The problem with bottom up approaches to development

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 3:16 pm
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Duncan Green has an enthusiastic blog post on an interesting sounding book in which bottom-up approaches to development are promoted over conventional aid. Duncan writes:

 It covers a series of themes, with a set of practical recommendations on each:

Identifying and supporting local capacity
Listening to local voices to develop responses and approaches
Using funding mechanisms that enable rather than distort local entities
Supporting local actors to work together to achieve greater impact

It then distils these into a set of ‘good practice principles’ and key recommendations which are worth reproducing in full:

Good Practice Principles:

1. Listening: design and adjust according to locally-felt concerns and shifts in the local context; listen to and act upon information and feedback received.

2. Harnessing and deploying latent capabilities: before identifying gaps and needs, look at what already exists in terms of local resources and capabilities, and how they can be supported.

3. Providing support in a timely and responsive way: use small-grant mechanisms to respond to opportunities as they arise and to react to particular events; provide capacity support that is driven by local realities and priorities.

4. Promoting participation: in all stages (research, planning, implementation, monitoring), facilitate participation that empowers local actors to influence and drive processes of change in their societies. Participation can also promote accountability.

5. Recognising that change is a process: rather than leading, facilitate progressive, cumulative change over time; be open to testing, learning and developing through long-term engagement and repeated cycles of action.
Don’t ignore the small fish

6. Broadening the definition of success: balance the prioritisation of results to include both tangible and less tangible aims (such as changes in attitudes and behaviours).

Key Recommendations:

1. Move away from big aid to small, targeted and strategic funding. An approach of this kind could range from core funding (to help an organisation develop on its own terms) to activity-based allocations (to help local actors respond to specific opportunities or changes in their environment).

2. Nurture more beneficent and flexible bureaucratic environments. This could be as simple as ensuring that grant managers are available to talk to grantees over the phone as an informal feedback and monitoring approach.

3. Create space for ideas and new approaches to be tested and developed. This is connected to: having faith in the ideas of local partners; creating space for local actors to shape the design of programmes; and conceding that change is a cumulative process where learning through mistakes is as important as achieving successes.

4. Develop shared approaches for measuring ‘intangible’ aims and outcomes.

5. Develop staff performance metrics that encourage locally led practice.

6. Remove pressure to spend and stringent ‘value for money’ cultures in aid bureaucracies.

You don’t have to convince me that too little attention is paid to context in aid work. Or that too much aid is about what we have/want to give/think is needed. And there is *definitely* a case for a more participatory approach to aid. However, the advice Duncan conveys from the book sounds too simple by a half.

1. Most of the recommendations are relevant only to a very particular subset of aid: small NGO projects. Much of  the suggested improvements wouldn’t make sense if you were, for example, trying to aid a country in improving its state run health system. And, in the long run, in areas like education and health, the big improvements in people’s lives will come through functioning state run systems.

2. The sort of bottom up approach described needs A. Lot. Of. Staff. I’m ok with this. But seeing as everyone else in the world of aid, from politicians, to NGO marketing arms, to the donating public, doesn’t seem to be, this might be something of an issue.

3. While the external is often deeply misguided and not without its own mixed motivations, the bottom up approach suggested seems to idealise the local, as if there weren’t power dynamics, mixed motives, and the risk of unintended consequences there too.

4. Statements such as “Remove pressure to spend and stringent ‘value for money’ cultures in aid bureaucracies” suggest a naïveté to the politics of our own aid giving. Trust me, aid agency staff don’t work the way they do because they are very naughty. Rather there is a set of structures and incentives that shapes the way aid is given. And none of this is easily removed.

Don’t get me wrong. I think aid work needs to be a lot more context oriented, and learning about context — obviously — requires letting local actors speak (while not being blind to the fact that some, particularly the powerful, will have their own agenda). But the book — as it is summarised by Duncan — makes it sound like this is all about doing nothing more than waving the participatory development wand, which isn’t the case.

[Update: typos, or at least some of them, alongside clunky writing, tidied — sorry.]

January 3, 2015

Losing the battle, losing the war…

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 6:59 pm
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Amidst an impressive, depressing review on how the British lost the (this millennium’s) war in Afghanistan James Meek has a good little development relevant snippet:

Although it is about how poorly Britain understands Afghanistan, it is also, implicitly, about how poorly Britain understands Britain; about how, that is, Britain became the country it is in 2014, with its schools and hospitals and bareheaded women, its weak ecclesiastical law, its gunlessness, its multiplicity of roads, its sewers, its literacy. A thousand years passed between the famously literate King Alfred of Wessex’s victory at the battle of Edington in Wiltshire and England’s introduction of universal education. Afghan children shouldn’t have to wait that long; it would be wrong to suggest Afghanistan is at some pre-set historical ‘stage’ which it would be better enduring in isolation. Afghanistan needs help, encouragement, advice, money. It’s just that next time we think about military intervention in a foreign country that hasn’t attacked us, it might be worth running a thought experiment to work out at exactly which moment, in the many internecine conflicts that have afflicted the British Isles, our forebears would have most benefited from the arrival of 3500 troops and eight helicopters, and for which ‘side’ those troops would have fought.

October 17, 2014

Aid and Civil War in South Africa

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 2:47 pm
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An interesting looking new working paper:

Did the Aid Boom Abate Civil Wars in Sub-Saharan Africa?

by Jean-Paul Azam and Véronique Thelen

The incidence of civil war in Sub-Saharan Africa since the turn of the century is about half what it was on average in the last quarter of the 20 th century. This paper shows that the aid boom triggered by 9/11 played a key role in achieving this result using panel data for 46 African countries over four decades. The estimated linear pr obability model predicts that doubling foreign aid would reduce the probability of a civil war occurring in a typical African country/year by nearly 5%, not far from the sa mple average. This was achieved despite the pressure in the opposite direction of the rise in the incidence of natural disasters across the continent, a piece of information that is ta ken into account by donors to determine their aid allocation.

It goes on my long to read list…

September 2, 2014

Who gives? And do we put our money where our mouthes are?

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 8:53 am
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What traits are associated with more donations to NGOs? Do wealthy areas have more donors? Does education play a role? What about political leanings? Perhaps voting for the left is associated with a preference for giving to NGOs born of a desire for redistribution? Perhaps, on the other hand, giving comes from a right wing desire to help without using the state? And, also, is NGO support associated with support for ODA? Do people who want their government to give also put their own money where their mouths are?

Answers (provisional answers) to all of these questions, based on Australian research I’ve conducted with colleagues, can be found in a Devpolicy blog post here, and in a working paper here.



August 27, 2014

Making progress on foreign aid…

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 8:46 am

I’m only 6 pages in (usual disclaimer then, but hey when your blog is small as mine you can get away with this sort of stuff) yet Nancy Qian’s new NBER working paper on foreign aid is promising to become the best review of the economics and political science of aid written to-date.

The abstract:

Foreign aid is one of the most important policy tools that rich countries use for helping poor countries to improve population well-being and facilitate economic and institutional development. The empirical evidence on its benefits is mixed and has generated much controversy. This paper presents descriptive statistics which show that foreign aid to very poor countries accounts for very little of total global aid; reviews the evidence that foreign aid is often determined by the objectives of donor countries rather than the needs of recipient countries; argues that the evidence on the impact of aggregate foreign aid is hindered by problems of measurement and identification, which are partly due to the heterogenous nature of aid; and discusses recent studies using natural and randomized experiments to examine narrowed definitions of aid on more disaggregated outcomes.

Chris Blattman has already said many of the sensible things to be said of the paper. However, to add a couple:

1. It is surprising that economists such as Angus Deaton and William Easterly often focus on recipient side factors to explain why so much (their claim) / some (my claim) foreign aid does not seem to sustainably improve welfare. Given that, as Qian  shows, much aid does not seem to be given foremost for the purpose of helping recipients, it strikes me the first question we should be asking, before anyone starts shouting “aid doesn’t work” is whether we could give aid for more decent motives, and what might happen if we did. (This isn’t to say that aid which is given for reasons of our own interests itself never works; sometimes, I think it, can, often thanks to the hard efforts of aid workers).

2. If we are really serious about getting aid working (or, indeed, finding out what aid works, for what and in what circumstances), in addition to tackling our own political-economy of giving problems. We. Really. Need. To. Get. Better. Data. And do better testing. Data and methodology aren’t sexy and they don’t lend themselves to polemic. But if you want to know what works and why, they are essential.

April 23, 2014

Does aid make you more popular?

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 11:21 am
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Ethically, the foremost reason for giving aid is to help people in recipient countries. If aid does this alone I think we have good enough reason to give aid. Still it would be interesting to know if there were any benefits to donors of giving aid. In particular it would be interesting to know if donors received some sort of popularity dividend — where the fact they gave aid increased positive perceptions of them in recipient countries.

Like all the big questions in aid this is an empirical one. Like all the big questions on aid it is also a hard one to answer empirically. In particular, correlations between aid levels and opinion about aid are limited in what they can tell us because it’s just as likely opinions about donor countries influence how much aid a recipient country gets as it is that the amount of aid a country receives from a donor influences how popular the donor is.

In a recently published paper in the Quarterly Journal of Political Science two co-authors and I look use instrumental variables to try and overcome this methodological challenge and find out whether PEPFAR, the U.S aid fund for tackling HIV, has increased U.S popularity. The abstract is below; the paper is here; a blog post based on the paper is here (and here ungated).

Does foreign aid extended by one country improve that country’s image among populations of recipient countries? Using a multinational survey, we show that a United States aid program targeted to address HIV and AIDS substantially improves perceptions of the U.S. Our identification strategy for causal inference is to use instrumental variables measuring the magnitude of the HIV/AIDS problem in aid recipient countries. Our finding implies that in addition to its potential humanitarian benefits, foreign aid that is targeted, sustained, effective, and visible can serve as an important strategic goal for those countries that give it: fostering positive perceptions among foreign publics. By doing good, a country can do well.

Aid, blame and Rwanda

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 8:12 am
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Critiquing aid Angus Deaton writes:

Why might aid fail in aggregate? One of my favorite stories in Duncan’s book is about owners of fishponds being violently dispossessed by more powerful people, and then getting them back through political action. Money and know-how were not the issues; power was the problem, and politics the solution. But this good outcome is unusual. The worst case I know happened in Goma in 1994, when the perpetrators of the genocide in Rwanda fled into the eastern DRC with their wives and families. Perhaps two-thirds of the aid for the humanitarian emergency was diverted for training the murderers to go back to finish off the Tutsi “cockroaches.” Alex de Waal, in Famine Crimes, explains over and over how aid can only reach the victims of war by paying off the warlords, and sometimes extending the war. Such aid saves lives, but at the price of other lives later.

Meanwhile, also on Rwanada and Zaire, John Borton writes:

A clear example was in the refugee camps that formed in Zaire after the genocide. UN member states were unwilling to provide troops for a proposed UN force to provide security in and around the refugee camps and to separate the killers (genocidaires) from the majority of refugees who had not participated in the genocide. Humanitarian agencies were forced to choose between providing assistance to all those in the camps (including to genocidaires), or pulling out – as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) did in November 1994.

Which rather suggests to me that it’s far from inevitable that “aid can only reach the victims of war by paying off the warlords”. In the case of the camps on the Rwandan border the story would have been much different had the world been willing to lift a finger and provide troops. That we couldn’t bring ourselves to do even that hardly seems to be aid’s fault. Or to be evidence that in all post-conflict instances aid will only make things worse. It’s true, you can argue that the world will never care enough to send in the peacekeepers, and so therefore the Rwandan border story is a representative case, except that there are equally good examples where we have. Solomon Islands, the country context I know best, being one of them.

And this is the broader problem with Deaton’s ‘critique’ of aid, by selecting on the dependent variable, cases where aid hasn’t worked, (or the dependent polemicist, books whose authors critique aid) he ends up painting a very skewed picture of aid’s impact. For what it’s worth, the systematic evidence of aid’s impact on conflict actually suggests it reduces it on average, although much more study is needed. What’s more the best available evidence (ungated here) on the impact of major negative aid shocks (sharp falls in aid to a country) — you’ll recall that Deaton’s prescription for making the world a better place is cutting aid rapidly — is that they promote conflict, not reduce it.


April 21, 2014

Make Hot Air History

Filed under: Random Musings — terence @ 7:58 pm
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In a field with so many big questions — does democracy promote growth on average? (probably), does aid promote growth on average? (quite possibly), can the planet industrialise within environmental constraints? (technologically probably yes; the problem is political economy) — it seems silly to devote space to a small one. But hey, this is a small blog, so…

…over the last few weeks I’ve been pondering the following: out of Jeffrey Sachs and Bill Easterly who has done more to impoverish development discourse in recent years? It’s a close run thing.

Easterly’s new book, judging by the reviews, is meandering and misleading. Sachs’ defence of himself the Millennium Villages on Econtalk was agonising.

It didn’t have to be this way: White Man’s Burden and End of Poverty, were useful books, even if they were both wrong for the most part. And both E&S have written great papers in years past (Easterly some of my all time favourite papers). Yet the inescapable fact would seem to be that both of them have become so caught up in their own Big Ideas they’ve become ideologues of the first order. (Given the ideology he advocates, the irony of Easterly doing this is particularly rich, bringing to mind Oakeshott’s critique of Hayek: “A plan to resist all planning may be better than its opposite, but it belongs to the same style of politics.”)

Polemic’s fun of course, and even ideologues can still have good ideas. The trouble is development is difficult, there is a lot to learn, and nowhere near enough space to learn it in, and with all their bellowing, these two reduce that space even further.

And in breaking news, someone’s asked Ugandans what they think of aid…

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 8:53 am
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Angus Deaton knows, just knows!, aid is a net bad and should be stopped immediately. When asked for evidence by Owen Barder, he cited some selective examples, argued their couldn’t be any empirical answers to these questions anyhow, and that we should all trust his expertise. Could this be yet another example of an economist expert imposing his view upon the reality of the poor? Is this what William Easterly is banging on about?

I’ve pointed out before that Africans*, when somebody bothered to ask them, on average seem to think aid actually helps.



Adam Harris (NYU), Helen Milner (Princeton),
Michael Findley (UT-Austin), Daniel Nielson (BYU),
April 4, 2013
How do recipients view foreign aid? Systematic scholarship on this topic is very limited.
We provide a comparison of mass and elite support for aid from a randomized
field experiment and survey done in Uganda in 2012. We asked local village
leaders, provincial governors, national members of parliament, and more than 3,000
Ugandan citizens to demonstrate support for aid. For two aid projects, we randomly
assigned exposure to different project funders, including bilateral agencies, multilateral
organizations, and the domestic government. We invited subjects to demonstrate
their levels of support or opposition to these projects and donors by voicing
their support to others, signing a petition, and sending an SMS. For members of parliament
we asked them to sign letters of support to donors and the national president.
We examine the differences in attitudes and behavioral responses between
mass and elite recipients. We generally find that citizens strongly prefer foreign aid
over government programs, whereas elites support, albeit more weakly, government
programs over foreign aid in most outcomes. We interpret this as evidence
that citizens see aid as an escape from clientelism, but elites may perceive more
avenues for the capture of aid resources.

*and yup, I know Africa’s not a country. When I broke the AB results down by country support was high on average across almost all of those African countries surveyed.

January 14, 2014

Why I became an (aid) conservative

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 10:51 am

At 6.40am on January 1st I made a new year’s resolution. This year, I decided as I contemplated lifting my weary head from my worn-out pillow, I would become a conservative. With 40 not far off, and with Canberra’s political tides having turned, the time seemed right. Exchange the soy lattes for Victoria Bitter. Stop reading the Guardian. Trade in the Yaris for an SUV. Easy. Or was it — read the rest on the Devpolicy blog.

October 23, 2013

Angus Deaton and Roadblocks to Development

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 7:56 am
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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.

September 26, 2013

Politics, Development and Change

Filed under: Random Musings — terence @ 11:23 am
Tags: ,

In recent years the world of NGOs, bloggers and development think-tanks has gotten politics, big time. Or, at least, they’ve got it with respect to the governance of aid recipient countries. Politics matters. Good governance is not simply technocratic. It ain’t all markets. The state matters. And the state is shaped by politics.

Presumably because many of us are one way or another part funded via governments in donor countries we talking heads of development seem a lot more reluctant to concede that our own politics matter — that they determine the development-affecting international actions our governments take (aid and other foreign policy).

Fortunately, there is some interesting empirical evidence being generated in academia which is looking into this. As well as some interesting case study research just waiting to be done on different countries – indeed my wife’s just started a PhD on NZ aid).

While pondering the future for Australian aid I summarise some of this international work on the politics of aid donors in a blog post at Devpolicy.

May 22, 2013

Money to Burn

Filed under: Random Musings — terence @ 2:52 pm

From the latest issue of Perspectives on Politics (pay-walled):

“By mid-2010, the US Agency for International Development alone was spending [US]$340 million on Afghan reconstruction per month, often on questionable projects (p. 198)—but few were willing to register formal objections.”

US$340 is about NZ$416, which puts the total annual NZ aid budget of a bit over $500M in perspective somewhat…

April 18, 2013

And in the distance they spotted a herd of white elephants

Filed under: Random Musings — terence @ 2:03 pm

So, pushed by its minister, the New Zealand government aid programme (along with the EU) hosted a grand summit in Auckland where Pacific countries brought proposals for renewable energy projects they want funded, aid donors brought cheques, and energy companies brought wares. Lots of money was promised. Projects were married to donors to companies. And the Minister proclaimed that the enemy now was “process”.

Me? Well I like the idea of renewable energy. And I like the idea of getting things done. But I really, really, really hope ministry staff can insert a little of that hated process right now. Because the world of large aid funded infrastructure projects is strewn with corpses. A lot can go wrong. Especially if you’re in a hurry. Even more so if, like NZ’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, you think you know all their is to know about aid work. Process — the one thing standing between NZ taxpayers and their hard earned money buying white elephants. My wife and I have a longer, somewhat more considered blog post on this at Dev-Policy.

March 16, 2013

Meanwhile, in surprising news an economist decides the government is to blame

Filed under: Random Musings — terence @ 7:44 pm
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Over at Aid Thoughs Matt reads Jonathan Glennie lets out an anguish plea:

What is slightly disconcerting is that Glennie managed to write an entire article on land grabs while only using the world “government” once. NGOs and the media have largely painted the land grabbing story as a situation where evil companies are parachuting in and snatching land away (for example, check out Oxfam’s recent campaigning). In reality, land acquisitions which circumvent local property rights are only possible when governments themselves are incompetent, corrupt or overly-impatient. Of course campaigners realise this, but it’s much easier to set this up as story of evil capitalism than it is of governance, the latter being harder to sell and even harder to treat. I’m not trying to pick on Glennie for leaving out a lengthy discussion of governance in his article, but it would be nice for people to start using the g-word a bit more.

Now Jonathan Glennie causes me as much anguish as the next bloke, and I also believe that governance matters — a lot. But I don’t feel the same sort of despair that Matt does when campaigning NGOs and writers ignore the failings of governments and focus on the evils of business. Why? Two reasons:

First, because a lot of the time one of the major causes of poor governance in developing countries is the corrupting efforts of large businesses. For example, in Solomon Islands, while there are also problems of low state capacity and a form of electoral clientelism, the logging industry has done a spectacular job of ruining governance at every level, from community to state.

Second, NGOs and campaigners need to focus on what they can change. And when they are based in London, one of the things they probably have least impact is the quality of governance in developing countries. On the other hand, if companies from the global north are undertaking land grabs, or financing them, then it is quite possible that NGOs can achieve something via naming and shaming. I can see the case for academics being judicious in apportioning blame, but campaigners? Surely they should just focus on doing good where they can?

No Poverty In the USA? You have to be kidding

Filed under: Random Musings — terence @ 7:27 pm
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Lee, at the always excellent Roving Bandit Blog, ponders — is there really poverty in the USA? He provides some stats (contested in comments below his post) suggesting that poverty in the US is no where near as acute as it is in most developing countries.

I think it is fair to say that deprivation for most of those living under the poverty line in the US is not as acute as that experienced by those living in least developed countries. But I find it very hard to see why this means there is no poverty in the States.

If we define poverty as material deprivation causing suffering, poverty clearly exists in the US and should be called that. The fact that it is more acute in Afghanistan doesn’t make the suffering of the poor in the US any less, it simply means that poverty in Afghanistan is more severe. Just because 39C is hotter than 38C doesn’t mean that the lower temperature isn’t still a fever.

If find it really hard to see how anyone could see this any other way.

Lee also, particularly in comments, seems to suggest that it is unethical to fund anti-poverty work in the US when the money could be used to help those worse off in other countries. This is also confused, I think. It’s only even an ethical dilemma if you concede the case on the third part of the trade-off triangle: raising taxes. Were the US to raise taxes it to Scandanavian levels it could both take care of its domestic poor and give a lot more aid. You can claim that this will never happen, but taxes in the US were, in fact, a lot higher pre-Regan. And there is no reason why that isn’t the first thing we should be campaigning for here.

What is more, even if there is a trade off it doesn’t necessarily follow that the funds should flow overseas. Before you can say that you need to know how well they will work. I’m in favour of aid, and want to see more of it given, but even I concede that aid is sufficiently prone to failure that we should at least factor that calculation into our estimates of the most just way of allocating poverty alleviating spending across countries including our own.


July 29, 2012

Of Bill Easterly and Budget Constraints…

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 11:19 am
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William Easterly chortles

Mr. Sachs loses AIDS debate to Mr. Budget Constraint

The World Bank hosted a debate (click on the above screen shot to get to the link for the whole webcast) on the proposition:

Continued AIDS investments by donors and governments is a sound investment, even in a resource-constrained environment.

Jeffrey Sachs and Michel Sidibé  (head of UNAIDS) argued in favor, and Mead Over and Roger England argued against. There was a show of hands of the audience pro and con before and after. As Mead Over reports, nobody was surprised that a vast majority was pro before the debate; the surprise was that a substantial minority changed their minds to con after the debate.

Mead Over has written a post summarizing the debate, paraphrasing in his words each participant’s argument (see the video linked above if you want the exact words of each). Here is Mr. Sachs:

Jeff Sachs: This debate is a sham, because resources are not really scarce. With financial transactions taxes and higher taxes on the rich we would have more than enough money to address all the health problems of the world.

Mead Over and Roger England argued that, in the real world, alas, there really is a budget constraint on health and on everything else.

The cost of pretending this budget constraint does not exist, they argued, is that the lives saved by increasing AIDS spending cause many more lives to be lost when AIDS crowds out more cost-effective health interventions.

…Sounds like Mr. Budget Constraint did win the debate.

End chortle.

Sure, there are trade-offs in the World of aid. But Sachs is clearly also right, as a proportion of GNI developed country aid budgets are puny. We could give a lot more. And by doing this ease those trade-offs a little.

Why don’t we give more aid?

There are lots of reasons, but one of them is surely the small armada of professional aid sceptics like Dambisa Moyo and William Easterly (at least in polemic mode) who argue the case against aid. Sure, there are also times when Easterly, including in this blog post, points out that some aid can work, but the overarching tone in his polemic work at least is that: donors are venal, aid doesn’t work, and that markets are enough.

These are comforting words to readers of the Wall Street journal, and to organisations funding the Development Research Institute like the Earhart Foundation, the Thomas W, Smith Foundation, the Searle Freedom Trust, the John Templeton Foundation. But they are also words that help the cause of those who prefer for ideological reasons that we give less aid rather than more. And because of this, they are words which play a role in constraining possible future aid increases.

And this is, in turn, helps perpetuate the ugly world of aid trade-offs, where we have to decide whether to try and save the life of someone with aids, or someone with Malaria.

To be clear I’m not saying Professor Easterly is a Bad Person, I agree with some of what he writes (a great example of Easterly supporting a good cause is here), and find his academic work useful. I also think the world of aid needs critique.

But this critique needs to be good faith rather than bad faith, and thoughtful rather than polemic. Otherwise, you just end up with less aid rather than better aid.

When Mr Budget Constraint wins he kills people, and if I were Professor Easterly I would not chuckle about this.

March 9, 2012

Aid Myths Alright…

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 5:58 pm
Tags: ,

Meanwhile the editorial team at New Zealand’s National Business Review paper have penned a missive called ‘Aid Myths’. Even by the standards of the uninformed commentary that tends to come from Western elites when discussing global poverty this one is bad. Read if you dare.

My reply is below:

Dear Nevil,

Thank you for choosing to write about the important issue of global poverty.

Unfortunately you have made a number of factual errors that detract from your efforts to shed light on this topic.

1. First, you claim that the World Bank’s introduction of a dollar a day poverty line “spawned a huge global business based on government-funded and philanthropic aid”.

This is incorrect. Aid has been given by governments since at least the end of the Second World War (with private philanthropy going back further still). No industry was ‘spawned’ in 1985. As it happens, aid as a percentage of rich country GNI fell in the late 1980s and early 90s.

2. Second, you use the example of China to imply that aid doesn’t work. It is true that China has contributed in a major way to declining global poverty. You would expect it to: it’s the world’s largest country. It is also true that China’s poverty reduction successes have not largely been a result of aid. However, as you yourself note – in a moment of apparent confusion – poverty has been falling in almost all of the poorest regions on Earth in recent years. What’s more the best available evidence suggests that aid has played a modest but discernible role in this. See the following here, here and here.

Aid’s role has been modest because aid flows themselves have been modest. Official Development Assistance is more than one percent of GNI in only a few Scandinavian countries. In most OECD countries it falls far below this. In New Zealand’s case, last time I checked, we gave about 0.3% of our GNI as aid. Or, to put it another way: 30 cents from every hundred dollars.

3. You criticise India and Brazil for seeking more say at the World Bank despite poverty being a major issue in these countries. Yet both countries, and particularly Brazil, have made great gains in poverty reduction in recent years (every bit as impressive as those you cite for China). Quite possibly, in the complicated world of poverty reduction, there is actually much that can be learnt from them. For some interesting insights into Brazil’s success see here.

4. You cite research from Banerjee and Duflo to suggest that poor countries are poor owing to the fecklessness of their people (and therefore, one presumes, that aid can do little to help). This is more than just wrong – it is mischievous.

It is indeed true that poor people do not always make economically rational decisions (something that should provide some pause for thought amongst those who advocate free market solutions to poverty – as such solutions are predicated on rational choice models of human behaviour). However, it is not true that the poor are poor simply because of the bad economic decisions they make.

If bad economic decisions were the primary cause of poverty then we would all be poor – because we all make them.

And, in fact, as the Brazilian example that I linked to above shows – one very effective way of reducing poverty is simply to give the poor more money. It turns out that they do not squander all of it – by quite some margin.

Indeed, Banerjee and Duflo, themselves do not lay the blame for global poverty at the feet of the poor. They simply call for a nuanced approach to understanding and trying to solve the problems of global poverty. An approach which is informed and driven by evidence.

You would do well to learn from their example.


July 15, 2011

My NGO is teh Perfectest!

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 2:31 pm

Via Chris Blattman we find the aptly named J Starr enthusing about his own NGO and lamenting the fact that the rest of the development industry isn’t as wonderful as he is.

MONGORS (My Own NGO Rocks Syndrome) is a surprisingly common development affliction. From surfers lugging goats to far flung parts of Indonesia to volunteers in Africa, the symptoms are pretty much the same:

1. Smart capable person sets up small NGO in country where they have some connections.
2. Puts in a lot of work.
3. Gets some results.
4. And then concludes that they have it absolutely right and everyone else is hopeless.

1,2 and 3 are laudable. It’s just a pity they often seem to lead to 4.

In Mr Starr’s case he, along with a bunch of like-minded volunteers, has set up an English language boarding school in Somaliland which now has 300(!) students of some form or other. From this he concludes that the secrets to NGO success are:

* Volunteers
* Charging at least a nominal fee for your services
* English language classes
* And staying focused in only one part of the world.

According to Mr Starr the only reason everyone else doesn’t do this is because other NGO workers are venal, self-interested and insufficiently schooled in economic theory.

Yes, well either that, or perhaps, just perhaps, reality runs a bit more like this:

1. Mr Starr has succeeded in creating a very cost-inefficient way of solving a particular problem for a small group of people (those 300 students). It works because it’s subsidised by volunteers. On the scale that it currently operates that’s fine but it couldn’t be scaled up enough to be a real global solution because, while there are a lot of people willing to donate some time to volunteer in developing countries, there are many, many more people in developing countries in need of assistance. Which is why a lot of aid to education goes towards trying to get Ministries of Educations functioning or to community schooling projects. Because, at the end of the day, if you really want to educate all the people who need it education in country X, you’re going to need systems and teachers in and from country X to do this. This is a much harder task.

2. Lack of education is not the only problem faced by people in developing countries. Many problems (logistics in complex humanitarian emergencies, for example) can’t be solved by your mate with a physics PhD. Experience and relevant expertise matter. Which is why people are paid to work in development. Other than already wealthy financiers, most of us can only donate finite amounts of time. And time is needed to acquire the skills that are needed.

Also, because the skills required to work in complex humanitarian emergencies (to continue the previous example) take time to accumulate, while at the same time being reasonably transferable between emergencies, it makes sense to specialise around skill sets not just locations. The same is true with other skill sets such as evaluation or those used in community development initiatives. This is why you get international NGOs.

3. There is actually a lot of evidence that suggests that for the most needy even minor fees are a significant barrier to obtaining services. This is why a lot of development assistance is given for free; because it’s intended to help the poorest of people – people who can’t afford to pay.

For taking the time to go and help people in developing countries Mr Starr is a star. For assuming that, because he is running one small NGO that is producing positive outputs, he knows everything there is to know about aid he is the opposite of a star; he is a chump.


While we’re at it, Chris Blattman linked to this article saying: “Instructive approach to aid in Somaliland. But replicable on a larger scale?” Replicable on a larger scale? Dude. Replicable, and already replicated on as large a scale as possible. What Mr Starr is doing is merely the same volunteer sending work undertaken by VSA, VSO, AVI, the Peace Corps and a bunch of other similar entities. It works after a fashion but it’s no miracle, nor a secret.

I’m often taken aback by just how little academics working in development related fields actually seem to know about actual aid practice.


And while we’re still at it…it strikes me that one of the unintended consequences of Bill Easterly type “Aid Has Failed!” narratives is that, rather than leading to better aid, they often lead to worse. This happens because aid failure narratives often make it seem like aid fails for simple reasons, which in turn leads people to deduce equally simple solutions. But things really ain’t that simple.

Some aid fails because it’s bad. But a lot of aid is actually pretty good. And the reason why it still fails, when it fails, is only sometimes to do with the qualities of the people and organisations delivering it. More often, failure stems from the simple fact that the problems aid is being asked to solve are frequently close to intractable.

July 12, 2011

The News Man’s Burden

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 6:28 am
Tags: , ,

In between the whiff of saviour syndrome and the “OMG, OMG, RCT!” I can see why Nicholas Kristoff arouses the ire of quite a few aid bloggers. Yet by the standards of newspaper aid commentary he is actually very good. Or, to put it another way, he’s at least alright and almost everyone else is awful.

Take for example this effusion by Paul Murray in the West Australian. A classic of the genre. An exemplar of all the ugly things that follow when well-off white males with a sense of grievance and entitlement write about efforts to help people living in poverty.

1. Start with a claim that is bold, pumped up with populist angst and not actually backed up with any evidence.

“There is probably no better example of the disconnected political dialogue between Canberra and the nation than in our approach to foreign aid. Our spending on less privileged nations is one of those areas where the political elite – politicians, bureaucrats and most of the Canberra press gallery – have traditionally thought it is better not to involve the public.”

Ah yes, that must explain why the aid programme doesn’t have a website, never, ever, ever, ever, gets reported in the media, and hasn’t just undertaken a major review that was open to submissions from the public.

2. Then blame the UN

“Inside the Beltway there is bipartisanship and an implicit agreement to increase the aid from $4.3 billion to $8 billion or more within five years under urging from the United Nations.”

While ignoring the fact that most of the lobbying to increase the aid budget has actually come from Australian NGOs.

3. Then lose all sense of proportion

Though it represents only 0.5 per cent of gross national income, $8 billion-$9 billion is big money and demands majority public support.

Big money as in printed on bigger bills? The Australian Aid budget currently eats up all of 1.2 cents out of every dollar the Australian government spends. By the time the aid budget has grown to $8 billion dollars it will represent just 2 percent of government spending. In proportion to the actual amount of money available to the government the aid budget is tiny. I look forwards to Mr Murray’s subsequent columns demanding ‘major public support’ for each of the other 50, 2 percent chunks of Australian government spending.

In the meantime Mr Murray might want to dwell on the fact that, when they were surveyed in 2005, Australians were: strongly in favour of having a government aid programme, largely of the belief that it worked, and generally in favour of increasing it. And that more recent surveys by the Lowy Institute in 2010 and 2011 continue to find Australians in favour of an aid programme that is larger as a proportion of government spending than the current programme is. (See page 19 of this report for example.)

4. Then chuck in some random ad hominems that don’t actually add to your substantive argument but which may serve to stun your readers.

This has to be dealt with by our political leaders, not disregarded. Questioning of aid spending is too easily dismissed as redneck by those on the cocktail circuit.

These issues were addressed in a major review headed by former Sydney Olympics boss Sandy Hollway – a Labor insider.

5. Then invoke the flailing journalist’s favourite source “The Many”.

But that means, implicitly, more spending on the two areas of deepest concern – Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, already the two biggest recipients of our aid dollars. This implication was confirmed to me by the head of AusAid, the Federal agency that manages most of the aid programs. The prickly relationship with Indonesia, our biggest neighbour, has many people questioning what value we receive for the billions we give.

And PNG is regarded by many as a corrupt black hole into which we have similarly poured billions of dollars over decades for little or no perceived benefit either to us or the local population. [emphasis mine]

Far be it for me to argue with as authoritative source as The Many, but – brave soul that I am – I do wonder whether I couldn’t meekly point out that the length of the prickles in one’s relationship with Indonesia isn’t the only metric by which the efficacy of aid might be measured? And whether I might be able to suggest poverty reduction as an alternative yardstick of success? (Which, by the way, is an area where Indonesia is actually doing very well.) Also, I can’t help but wonder why The Many hasn’t considered the obvious counter-factual: that Australia’s relationship with Indonesia might be pricklier still were it not for aid?

And, though I’m loathe to mention it, I’m not entirely sure whether The Many has actually read the review in question, because here’s what it actually – explicitly – has to say with regards to aid to PNG (from page 11):

In PNG, Solomon Islands and East Timor, aid effectiveness is constrained by poor governance. The Review Panel recommends a low expansion. If efforts currently underway in these countries to improve effectiveness succeed, this judgement could be revisited. [emphasis mine]

6. Then suggest conspiracy…

“The Government does not have an effective communications strategy for the aid program,” the report said. “Fostering more informed public debate about and more community engagement is healthy and appropriate.”

What the report was too polite to say, but what I believe, is that the lack of transparency and failure to communicate have been the explicit policy settings of successive governments to keep this issue away from the public.

…while ignoring the obvious alternative explanation, that — for lesser mortals than Mr Murray — communicating nuanced messages about the complicated world of aid to a public with a limited attention span for the subject is actually quite hard to do.

7. Then make a hyperbolic claim…

As a result of this lack of scrutiny, the foreign aid program has become dysfunctional.

“The aid program lacks a clear and comprehensive overall strategy,” the report said. “This risks a scattered effort and makes an assessment of effectiveness difficult. The aid program is fragmented. In 88 countries, Australia has aid programs of more than $200,000 a year, compared to 69 countries five years ago. The number of projects has doubled. These trends are unsustainable.”

…while ignoring the fact that the review in question actually emphasised that overall Australia’s aid programme is pretty good.

8. Then finally stumble upon the truth.

Our political debate needs to grow up.

Yes Mr Murry it does. Starting with you.

June 3, 2011

Lost to the editor’s pen…

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

Well, my latest post on DevPolicy was going to start with the following (note that the link is not totally work safe)…

Learning to speak Australian has been an eye-opener for me. Barely a year ago I thought that ‘thongs’ were underwear, ‘schooners’ ships and ‘Budgie Smugglers’ the sort of people CITES was set up to thwart.

But, alas, my editor (quite rightly) thought better of it. Anyhow, my most recent post on the folly of seeking one’s comparative advantage in aid is up. With a must-read being the comment made by a former AusAID staffer here.

Also, I have a guest post up on the New Zealand blog Public Address outlining what’s gone wrong with our aid programme since the change of government in 2008.

May 29, 2011

3 Roles For Aid (and let’s stop kidding ourselves)

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 4:40 pm
Tags: , ,

Thinking about this earlier…

There are effectively three types of aid (excluding disaster relief), each with it’s own different type of success.

1. Development aid. In this, aid is a somewhat effective tool for sustainably transforming countries. For shifting them from a sub-optimal state to a better one. This is the aid of Jeffrey Sachs books and development agency rhetoric. This is the ideal.

2. Band-aid aid. This is aid that makes no pretence at changing societies. It’s simply about improving people’s welfare in the absence of systematic change. This is the sort of aid that might ensure that people get basic health care over many years, even as their country stays poor. I don’t use the term band-aid pejoratively here: if you’re bleeding, a band-aid helps. And, even if you never significantly change the development trajectory of a country, if you help its people, by reducing the number who die from disease or who are crippled by it, then you’re likely making the world a better, happier place.The improvements generated by this aid aren’t usually sustainable in the sense that they stop when the aid stops (although, arguably vaccinations fall into this category and their impacts can be sustainable.)

3. Keeping it together aid. This is aid which aims higher than band-aid aid, but which doesn’t pretend to be transforming anything. This is aid which tries to keep states together and functioning even if it’s not transforming them. It’s aid that works in the short term (when it works) and which may have a long term impact, not through developing anything but through providing at least a little bit of space for development to occur indigenously.

Imagine a person seconded from Inland Revenue in New Zealand to the tax department of a Pacific Island government. Let’s say, for the sake of the argument, that she’s not aspiring to build the capacity of her replacement. Rather she’s just tasked with getting the tax system working somewhat. She does it for 10 years, and her (New Zealander) replacement does it for 10 years and his replacement does it for 10 years. That’s 30 years in which life has been just that little bit easier for local businesses and when just a little bit more money has made it from domestic tax returns to the ministry of health and out to medical clinics. And over that time the growth of businesses has changed the economy, and with it the political economy. And ongoing provision of services has changed people’s expectations. (As well as increased their education levels and the like).

Like I said, it’s the first type of aid that most aid agencies and politicians talk about. This is also aid that rarely, I think, succeeds on its own terms. It turns out that development is too complicated, aid too cumbersome, and the ability of external agents to effect change too weak, for this type of aid to succeed often. Not often isn’t the same as never – it probably sometimes works. But success is less common than one would think from the rhetoric of aid. And I think we kid ourselves much of the time regarding the potential for type 1 aid to work, and end up wasting money.

I’m a big fan of the second type of aid. This, I think, can work — and it’s probably where aid has had its most major success in improving welfare. The main argument against it is that you have to give it in perpetuity, or at least for a long time. But, hey that’s what we do with our own welfare state. No one in New Zealand says “we’re funding a health service now so that one day we won’t have to have one”. I’m comfortable with aid as a global social safety net, as part of a global social contact of sorts.

I’ve never really thought about the third type of aid but, if we were being honest with ourselves, I’d say that much of our ‘capacity-building governance-strengthening’ aid, when it works at all, works — while it works — in this way. It holds things together. And by doing this probably improves people’s quality of life and enhances the space in which development can occur.

Success in aid type 1 would be ideal but success in aid types 2 and 3 does still help. And I think we’d be a lot more successful in aid across the board if we were much clearer, and realistic, in what we were trying to achieve.

Better, I think, in most instances, to concentrate on type 2 aid, and use the modalities most likely to make it effective. And maybe devote more time and thought to type 3 aid too.

Most of all though we need to be realistic. ‘Perfect,’ as the old saying has it, is often the enemy of ‘good’. Likewise, in development the ideal is understandably tempting, but it’s also too-often the enemy of at least getting something done.

May 24, 2011

Aid Flows

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 7:03 pm

Taken in Honiara recently…

PPP GDP per capita Japan: $31,266.74
PPP GDP per capita Solomon Islands: $2,030.56

Figures from 2005, via NationMaster.

April 27, 2011

Read About it Here First! The Next Big Thing in Aid!

Filed under: Aid,Development Theory,Social Justice — terence @ 12:55 pm
Tags: , , , ,

It’s hard to escape the fact that we development folks are, at times, awfully Charlie Brownesque. Like Charlie Brown, who was forever being fooled by Lucy’s promise to hold the football while he kicked, we keep falling for things we shouldn’t. We’re suckers for the Next Big Thing all the while forgetting how the last big thing left us in the lurch, or how the the big thing before it did the same too.

And so we have, Cash transfers (either conditional or unconditional – CCTs and UCTs) and Cash on Delivery Aid (COD) lining up as the latest Big Things offering to hold the ball for us. Micro-finance, the last big thing, is looking rather bruised, while ICT for development has got to be feeling even less loved these days.

I’m no fan of COD aid, but I’ve got nothing against CCTs and UCTs. They were introduced to South America by the Worker’s Party, who I still kindof idolise, and there’s good evidence that they really have worked well in some places. But I’m deeply sceptical of their potential as panaceas. Which is another way of saying I completely agree with Laura Freschi’s measured scepticism at AidWatch.

The good news here at least is that Freschi is making reference to recent DFID funded research. DFID, it would seem, have learnt a few lessons and seem to be systematically gathering evidence before hopping on the Cash Transfer bandwagon.

Which is kind of cool. Imagine if the next big thing in development wasn’t a thing at all, but rather an approach: move slowly based on the evidence you can use. And consider context before adopting stuff which worked elsewhere. Even this wouldn’t be unproblematic but it would surely have to be better than falling for the latest fad time and time again.

On a completely different subject, but linked by the theme ‘these are people are I don’t normally agree with’ I reckon Jonathan Glennie is almost word perfect in his critique of Zizek.

March 18, 2011

Good News Is No News, and that’s Bad News

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 5:55 am

I have a new post at DevPolicy on unintentional media bias against aid, and why it matters:

Good News Is No News, and that’s Bad News

February 1, 2011

Why Aid Doesn’t Work (that well)

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 5:26 pm

At Crooked Timber John Quiggin neatly summarises one of the essential facts of aid:

On the other hand, it has to be conceded that the record of non-military aid and public good promotion is not exactly one of stellar success either. The fact is that the world is a complicated and intractable place, and running your own country is hard enough – the fact that international efforts work as well as they do is more surprising than the fact that so many fail.

The shortcomings of some aid endeavours are beyond the pale – boomerang aid; aid that is used to buy influence with little concern for outcomes – and there are always ways that aid could be improved. But at the end of the day, many aid endeavours don’t work as good as you would hope simply because the task at hand is a difficult one. If developing countries were easy places to work they wouldn’t be developing countries.

January 2, 2011

The Penn Effect

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 10:49 am
Tags: , ,

Meanwhile, at Tales From the Hood J. tries to come to terms with Sean Penn. In the process penning (sorry, the pun was unavoidable) what ought to be known as the four styalised facts of aid:

  • Aid is harder, more complicated, and more expensive than you think.
  • It takes specific knowledge and skills to get it right.
  • There are no magik bullets, there are no fast solutions.
  • Many, many factors, utterly beyond the control of aid workers or aid agencies impinge on the success or failure of an overall aid effort.

To which I’d add.

  1. Like almost every other worthwhile undertaking from love to science, aid is a human endeavour, meaning that – just like everything else we do – we don’t do it perfectly. Human failings intrude. We make mistakes. We learn. We try to do it better. We still make mistakes.

And yet, despite all this – despite the difficulty and costs, despite the absence of magic bullets, despite the fact that there are simply some things that aid can’t do, and despite the fact that we sometimes stuff up spectacularly – when it’s done well, and well-intentioned, aid can work.

It’s a pity that reality isn’t less ambiguous than this. If it was, we wouldn’t have quite to deal with quite so much Celebrity Saviour Syndrome. Nor would it be quite so easy for the ideologically motivated Dambasa Moyos of the world to weave together mendacious ‘critiques’ of the ‘aid industry’. And, most importantly, the problem of global poverty would have long ago been addressed.

But that’s not the world we live in and so, for now, aid remains an imperfect and only partial solution to some of the problems our planet faces. But that’s still reason enough to support it.  And to be supportive of doing it better too.

November 24, 2010

Should we give aid — what does the public think?

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 2:49 pm
Tags: ,

Just a bookmark for myself really…

The following sites detail public opinion surverys (of developed countries) where people are asked their views about aid:


UK (recent)


NZ (and detailed here)

A couple of interesting points to note from the NZ stats:

1. 69% of New Zealanders surveyed in 2007 think aid should be targeted by need vs 25% who think it should be targeted primarily to the Pacific.

2. Most New Zealanders (by quite a margin) think aid should be given solely for moral reasons – not in our own strategic interest.

October 6, 2010

Meanwhile in an example of evil at work…

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 4:39 pm
Tags: , , ,

From Think Progress:

Last spring, the United States pledged nearly $1.2 billion in emergency aid to Haiti following its tragic earthquake that left hundreds of thousands of people dead and many more homeless.

Yet the Associated Press (AP) reports today that “not a cent of the $1.15 billion the U.S. promised for rebuilding has arrived” to Haitians who badly the need the aid. This summer, both the House and the Senate passed a bill that would make $917 million available for Haiti reconstruction aid. Yet Congress must also pass an authorization bill that directs exactly how the money will be spent, and thus far, the U.S. Senate has failed to do.

The AP conducted its own investigation of why the Senate has failed to pass the authorization bill, and it discovered that a single senator “pulled it for further study.” After calling dozens of senators’ offices, the AP discovered that the senator holding up the bill is Tom Coburn (R-OK). Coburn spokeswoman Becky Berhardt explained that the reason he is holding up the bill is because he objects to the creation of a senior Haiti coordinator — a position that would cost a paltry $5 million over five years — when the United States currently has an ambassador to the country…While Coburn continues to hold up much-needed reconstruction aid over a relatively meaningless objection, “just 2 percent of [Haiti’s earthquake] rubble has been cleared and 13,000 temporary shelters have been built – less than 10 percent of the number planned.” There are estimated to be 1.3 million Haitians still homeless as a result of the earthquake.

Lost. For. Words.

September 27, 2010

Fixed That For You

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 3:25 pm
Tags: , ,

I actually agree with the substantive point Lant Prtichett is making here (development is difficult, we don’t yet have a great handle on what really works). However the example he chooses to illustrate this point really doesn’t fit. Pritchett:

The fact that the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world has just spent eight years devoting fantastically high level of resources to “develop” Afghanistan (with security as one element of that) with results that range from mixed to shambolic should make it obvious that we need much greater openness within the development community to an approach of structured experimentation–on all fronts.


The fact that the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world, governed for most of this time by the neo-cons has just spent eight years devoting fantastically high level of resources, through its notoriously ineffective tangle of aid delivery bodies, for the putative purpose of developing Afghanistan (one of the world’s most fragmented, violent, poor and ungovernable countries, which also happens to be in the middle of several wars) with results that range from mixed to shambolic provides some weak contestable evidence that we need much greater openness within the development community to an approach of structured experimentation. More importantly though, it provides compelling evidence that when a bunch of dangerous, inept, ideologically-driven, chumps invade a country with no real concern for the welfare of its people, and tack on some development stuff as an afterthought, the results are probably going to be depressing.

FTFY Lant.

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