The aid debate doesn’t work, but it can be fixed | 

Three weeks ago I joked of a broken ceasefire of words between eminent development economists Bill Easterly and Jeffrey Sachs. My attempt at levity regarding a protracted debate proved to be far more accurate than I intended.

Sachs replied to Easterly in Foreign Policy by also praising the latest Gates letter and then Easterly replied in turn. More debates were held on Twitter and another economist, Princeton’s Angus Deaton, joined Easterly in praising  a book critical of Sachs. For good measure, Easterly then responded to Bill Gates’s letter which, like Sachs, asserts the aid has worked.

Foreign Policy even thinks the debate is silly.
Foreign Policy even thinks the debate is silly.
Benjamin Pauker

To continue my previous metaphor of battle, the war over aid broke out this month. The problem is that the metaphor is wrong as is the conversation between economists.

The aid debate simply does not work. As someone who has been following it closely it is clear that opposing camps are unwilling to concede ground. The recent back and forth is not worth re-counting because nothing new is being said by any of the sides involved (if you have to know what happened, this is an excellent recap).

Easterly ended his Foreign Policy hoping that the debate is over, it would be for the best if he is right. Why? Because aid is not a single thing. Treating it as such lets proponents cast aside glaring problems and opponents ignore successes. Continue reading

Kenya Holds Historic Presidential Debate | 

Flickr, Albert Kenyani Inima


Kenya held its first ever presidential debate on Monday, an historic event.

The eight candidates* gathered in Nairobi to debate the most pressing issues in the first of two televised debates. The young country’s event was everything that the 2012 US presidential debates were not.

Candidates from minority parties with no chance of making a dent on election day stood side by side with the front runners. The event went over its scheduled 2 hours lasting near 3.5 hours when all was said and done.

However, it was not because the candidates were wasting time or talking too much. An efficient tandem of moderators, NTV’s Linus Kaikai and Citizen TV’s Julie Gichuru, moved the conversation along, kept the candidates to their time limits, interrupted them when the question asked was not answered and provided immediate follow-ups when necessary.

Easterly-GiveWell Debate Is Good for Aid | 

An interesting conversation took place in mid-July between Bill Easterly of NYU; Holden Karnofsky and Stephanie Wykstra of GiveWell; and an unnamed funder. Easterly and Karnofsky penned a pair of blog posts that shared some of the highlights of the conversation. It is interesting in terms of how the two sides perceived the conversation in light of their disagreement on whether or not to make recommendations based on academic research.

Easterly, who has emerged as one of the critics of the much lauded randomized control trial (RCT) explains his point of view at the start of the conversation.

As Angus Deaton has repeatedly emphasized, RCTs give an average result. Treatment effects vary a lot depending on the context. When we average over a lot of them it’s almost certain that we’re getting some negative treatment effects, even when the average is a positive and significant result. You want a safeguard against having one enormous beneficiary with everyone else losing. You want a safeguard against harming a lot of people unacceptably. Continue reading