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NYTimes: How to Improve Foreign Aid? Just Improve it!

A somewhat circular argument, I know, but that’s how the latest “innovation” for foreign aid idea sounded to me.

In the NYTimes’ Opinionator blog, Tina Rosenberg bemoans the largely ignorance-based push by some in Congress to reduce the federal deficit by cutting the foreign aid budget (which amounts to only 1 percent of the budget, not the 25 percent most Americans think).

In her column “How to Improve Foreign Aid? Improve it,” Rosenberg then goes on to say that what will protect foreign aid from loss of political support is a “cash on delivery” approach. She cites the Center for Global Development’s Nancy Birdsall for suggesting the idea, as described:

“Instead of rich countries paying for all the little pieces that go into a poor country’s program, they pay only when something good comes out.  Aid would get transferred when there are measurable, provable result ….”

Rosenberg says that “paying for results is nothing new in the world of business, of course. But that’s not the way foreign aid has worked.”

Yeah, that’s because these countries are poor. This idea sounds promising — until you recognize that the whole “cash on delivery” strategy assumes these poor communities have the necessary seed money (not to mention infrastructure, talent base and other resources) need to start a health clinic, build a school or whatever is supposed to be delivered.

If they could do that already, without cash up front, why pay them later upon delivery?


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.