Waylaid Dialectic

April 23, 2014

Aid, blame and Rwanda

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 8:12 am
Tags: ,

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

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

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 8:53 am
Tags: , ,

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.

Meanwhile…

ELITE AND MASS PERCEPTIONS OF FOREIGN AID IN RECIPIENT COUNTRIES:
A FIELD EXPERIMENT IN UGANDA

Adam Harris (NYU), Helen Milner (Princeton),
Michael Findley (UT-Austin), Daniel Nielson (BYU),
April 4, 2013
Abstract
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.

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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