Monday, March 30, 2009

Because Bono doesn't recognize that "Aid to the Poor is not just Celebrity Fund-Raising"

Bono's ONE (David Grundy) organization attacks and outright lies (William Easterly) about Dambisa Moyo's book Dead Aid (Amazon). This is of course especially ironic considering Bono explicitly avoids paying the very taxes (Slate) he believes should be spent on his pet causes.

Perhaps this is a case the Bono's organization doth protest too much and the reason they resist calls for accountability is that they can't live up to the scrutiny.


alan said...

I haven't been following Bono recently, but a response from ONE blog addressing the issue of lies. I didn't fact-check, and haven't read any of Moyo, but I would buy their version as fair:

Also, personally, I don't think reducing one's tax burden is contradictory to saying tax money should flow to the poor. The way I see it, doesn't Bono spend way more than his "taxes" on his pet causes? And doesn't it require people taking advantage of loopholes to cover them up?

I remember I used to chide my friends were always late to the movies (back when movie-going was a group activity, and theatres were packed), and the one time I got there late, everyone cooed and cawed much more than I ever did. Why does the one who tries to improve the standard get held to a higher one? That kind of retribution makes it easier to just sit on our hands and arrive late.

Or blame the celebrity for protesting too much?

Clement Wan said...

Have a read of the entire interview in its entirety at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It is remarkable that ONE attempts to defend its attacks by cherry picking a few quotes within the context of a much broader message.

Let there be no mistake that Moyo's message is controversial - but also let there be no mistake that the defense from ONE is also self serving and parochial. There's nothing quite like the irony of an NGO talking about empowerment on one hand and then dictating the services they provide and the manner in which they are provided in another - but that in a nutshell is what we get with aid. We demand less by way of disclosure and accountability of large charities than we do our public companies. Moyo at in the very least adds to an intellectual framework in which private donors and should be asking a lot more questions about effective aid is - and is this, I wonder, the reason why they're concerned? I do wonder what percentage of what they raise goes into administration versus actual on the ground support.

If you can't live up to a standard that you set and encourage for others, that makes you a hypocrite. Does it detract from the message? Of course - it is calling into question the importance that you yourself place on the message. In the short run, we live in a world without infinite resources - and therefore we make trade offs. By arriving late, you decided that whatever you were doing before hand was more important than being on time for the movie and for your friends - which, frankly I don't have a problem with but it is rather silly for you to expect others to live up to a standard you can't live up to yourself.

Billions have been sunk into Africa with little to show for it. Even the ONE defense in its citation of funds for ARVs, denies the responsibility of individual governments for providing what are consistently described by researchers as "cost-effective" or ensuring that there are markets/economies that allow for the poor to develop. In this, aid agencies are quite culpable for reinforcing the power of bad governments and in turn justifying their own existence in its own little perverse reinforcing cycle of incentives. Certainly, relief and humanitarian aid should and can be distributed but to make the argument for Millenium funding goals is particularly foolish when the best form of aid isn't even aid at all - it's trade.

Clement Wan said...

I wonder if this is the type of scrutiny that ONE wants to avoid:

"The Washington, DC-based group - now known as One - took in an eye-popping $31 million in 2006 but spent just $6 million on its work"

alan said...

Hm, I'm a bit behind on all the details, what I see from ONE is this:

"We are in a dialogue with her...
"We also agree with her...
"We’re for the kind of smartaid...
"But we part ways...
"Let’s keep the conversation going! We all have a common goal...

AGAIN, it seems that ONE wants nothing more than a public debate about it. I don't see an attack.

On the point of hypocrisy, again, nowhere is there mention that what Bono is doing is actually ILLEGAL. What is actually fair, apart from idiot journalists, is that we know that Bono spends a not insignificant amount of his time advocating for the poor. Reducing his taxes, and calling taxes to be used for aid are not related. They are two different standards.

On the movie-going experience, you miss the point - it's the difference between people who trend down, versus a down tick. Arriving late is simply not evidence that the standard has been breached. The point is unfair criticism, which I am largely blaming you and Grundy for, irrespective of the ONE/Moyo debate.

As for the ONE money in 2006 - the same article leaves plenty of room for a better than 75% efficiency, not the 20% your quote suggests. Again, I think in this point (because otherwise your blog is fantastic), you're clearly looking for support for your opinion instead of having an opinion of the evidence. I just don't see how they are dictating.

At the end, I think this whole matter is stupid. Moyo's book sounds interesting enough that I will probably read it soon enough - I didn't even recognize that it was a reference to Live Aid. but both sides of this debate are stupid, Grundy, yours and ONE's. And I guess mine, because I just spent 25 minutes trying to figure out what is what.

Really, if we want to talk about Moyo, we shouldn't have referenced ONE. I already agree with Moyo. And if I wanted to support ONE, I shouldn't have cared what you posted. But I don't care for ONE, what concerns me is the petty posturing by what is usually an eye-opening blog for a non-economically aware person as myself. (and oh, how I hate comment boxes)

Clement Wan said...

Thanks for the comments Alan and compliments -

On the point of legality - no one is saying that what Bono is doing is illegal - I'm just saying it's hypocritical. Nevertheless, since we were both going off second hand info, I did a bit of digging.

For what it's worth, you can find the tax returns of One (Which is legally known as DATA now) as the IRS publishes the returns (I use I'm not exactly sure why, but what they do strikes me as a bit offensive.

They are purely a lobbying and "awareness" group. Of the 6+ million they spend, only something like 137K USD was spent in Africa - and of that, most of it was spent talking with governments to see what programs worked and didn't work. So instead of alleviating poverty itself, its goal is to extract funds from government and to talk about the problem. I am going to guess that most donors had no idea what One did - same with the issue of spending - they spent a great deal of that money in chartering a plane and taking journalists around. I think the question of whether or not One is approaching this issue with a vested standpoint is a fair one.

In retrospect, my criticism of Bono's One is also a biased one in that it irritates me greatly that there are those who call for greater amounts of taxation and government spending but are only willing to do so with other people's money. As for Bono spending time advocating for the poor, call me a pragmatist (or even an objectivist - I've been reading Ayn Rand lately), but there's quite a difference between advocating and doing.

Let's be clear though in One's criticism of Dead Aid - which they urge to be dismissed - Their header reads "Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo is thin on the facts, big on the hyperbole and reckless in its call to cut off all aid." Does that criticism succeed on its merits? No - given her explicit comments about short term humanitarian aid. Further, as a recap, if you have a read of David Grundy's post, in the original email out to African development specialists, his objection is that One's criticisms of Moyo's book are both unfair and untrue.

Indeed to read his response you see exactly what he has been talking about in that aid is often simply a very short term bandaid and not only does it not fix the underlying problems but often sustains bad governments makes things worse. This of course doesn't even consider the issue of structural efficiency of donations and how much actually reaches the ground. Indeed - given One's advocacy only goal, its push for government to government spending should be considered the *worst* form of aid in this framework and as such it is totally understandable as to why they would want to "mobilize" the aid community against Moyo.

Yes, they use flowery words, but looking at their approach you also get the sense that they would rather that Moyo just go away.