The debate over aid does not want to go away, but it is moving away from general statements about whether it works or not. Regardless of who is right and what we believe, it is promising to see the conversation taking a far more constructive tone. However, the present discussions are not likely to convert people to the pro- or anti-aid camps.
The latest round of disagreement follows on the heels of NYU economist and aid skeptic Bill Easterly’s new book. In it, he argues that technocratic experts have undermined the rights of people around the world. Aid, at times, has been a tool to provide support for leaders that restrict things people can say and do in their countries. In the long term, that undermines advances within a country or region.
Easterly has been making the media rounds to debate whether foreign aid is on the wrong side of human rights. On Wednesday, Easterly joined CARE USA’s CEO Helene Gayle to debate foreign aid on Fareed Zakaria’s television show. Zakaria plays a moderator of sorts who seems a bit of an aid supporter.
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.
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 →
An approximate visual representation of the fierce Easterly-Sachs debate.
(The Aid World) – A strike from Bill Easterly on Jeff Sachs reignited the years-long aid debate at a time when the humanitarian civil war looked to have calmed.
Easterly’s article, which contended Sachs’ approach to fighting poverty has failed, appeared in the Libertarian news site, Reason, and has precipitated a skirmish on the hallowed grounds of Twitter.
Fighting has again taken over in the aid world between the ethnic Sachsians and the Easterlyites. Humanitarian organizations say that they are unable to gain access to aid world because of the fighting.
“The situation on the ground is still tenuous,” said Earnest Careworn of Aid for Aid Debates. “We are concerned that a protracted debate will lead to excessive cynicism and no changes to the aid industry.”
The Sachs camp suffered a difficult 2013 campaign with the publication of The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty by journalist Nina Munk. After years of reporting on the Sachs-led Millennium Villages Project (MVP), Munk assembled a critical book showing some of the shortcomings and failures of the program. Sachs, a professor at Columbia University, and his defenders dismissed the book as telling an incomplete story of the MVP. Continue reading →
You will remember from yesterday, that Bill Gates is not a fan of Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo (see below video). Responding to a question about Moyo’s book Dead Aid, which criticizes Western aid interventions in Africa, Gates claimed the book is ‘promoting evil.’
Well, it turns out that Moyo is not happy with what Gates has to say about her book. Moyo issued a pithy response to what she described as a personal attack by Gates.
“To say that my book ‘promotes evil’ or to allude to my corrupt value system is both inappropriate and disrespectful,” writes Moyo in a blog post this morning.
Dr. Dambisa Moyo
The short blog post makes two points to refute the remarks made by Gates. First, Moyo says that the book serves as a debating point on aid. She says that both she and Gates agree on the goal to improve the livlihoods of Africans in a sustainable way. Her goal was to raise concerns about the limitations of aid.
The second point made by Moyo addresses Gates’ claim that she does not know much about aid. Moyo is quick to point out her experience in the classroom, a PhD, and out, World Bank Consultant. She concludes that her experience being raised in Zambia provides her with a unique first-hand insight into poverty in Africa and the impacts of aid. It is the very same selling point that Moyo used in promoting her book.
“To cast aside the arguments I raised in Dead Aid at a time when we have witnessed the transformative economic success of countries like China, Brazil and India, belittles my experiences, and those of hundreds of millions of Africans, and others around the world who suffer the consequences of the aid system every day,” says Moyo.
Gates is not alone in claiming Moyo’s analysis is seriously flawed.
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 →