Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A look at Bill & Melinda Gates' essay on foreign aid

Chris Blattman does a review of the essay - which I would agree with the same two points he does, but also agree with him on the curious claims that foreign aid works because a few projects have worked (ChrisBlattman):

The basis of the claim is that aid projects work and we know it. I completely agree. Plenty of aid projects have huge impact.

There’s a paradox, though: even though so many projects work, aid in total doesn’t have the association with growth or development we’d expect to see. Some of the finest minds in development (like Angus Deaton) think aid is fundamentally flawed, with good reasons.

The evidence that aid projects are associated with growth is amazingly absent. This is frustrating for those of us (including me) who believe in aid. My guess is that we throw a lot of good money after bad, and most aid is much more wasteful than it needs to be. But I think aid basically works and can do better. See me challenging Deaton’s pessimism here. Bt make no mistake: This is a leap of faith not evidence.

One answer could be that projects work alone, but that the assembly of so many projects (and so many dollars) perverts or undermines stable, good governance. Here is a good summary of the evidence, and it’s not optimistic.

So the basic problems with B&M’s claim: they gloss over the paradox, the potential political problems, and the strongest evidence against their leap of faith. I found the whole section troublingly misleading compared to the rest of the letter.

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