More and Better Aid – Bill Easterly Style

There is no inherent tension between reforming our aid system to make it more effective, transparent and accountable, and scaling up funding for projects that are making a demonstrable difference in the lives of the world’s poor.

More and better aid.

A focus on aid effectiveness alone ignores the very obvious point that there are numerous practical steps that can be taken immediately to be ameliorating the lives of the world’s poorest and contributing to poverty alleviation – a necessary foundation for development.

Why the single minded focus on aid effectiveness when we know that the limiting factor in many instances is financial.  Primary education, food production, disease control, health, infrastructure, are all in many instances limited by the funds available to be deployed on them.

Of course no one is saying that the primary barrier in all instances is financial, or that aid is a stand alone solution.  That, however, seems to be the focus of many of Professor Easterly’s writings.

His books, in many places, tell a very different story than many of the article he writes.  The short articles are, however, what many people with limited time and understanding of the issues base their opinions on to justify inaction.

It is all about your audience.

If Professor Easterly does not want to be facilitating a drop off of engagement in people who are just starting to be informed and involved in these issues he should be much more overt about it.

Squash the projects that don’t work and advocate for more aid going to the ones that do.  It is not one or the other, it is both.

More and better aid.

Finally, and I am repeating this because I have never seen a good answer to it.  Professor Easterly, in The White Man’s Burden writes:

“Put the focus back where it belong: get the poorest people in the world such obvious goods as the vaccines, the antibiotics, the food supplements, the improved seeds, the fertilizer, the roads, the boreholes, the water pipes, the textbooks, and the nurses. This is not making the poor dependent on handouts; it is giving the poorest people the health, nutrition, education, and other inputs that raise the payoff to their own efforts to better their lives.”

Is that planning?  No, it is just good common sense.  Why can’t we have more aid like that?

Why doesn’t Professor Easterly advocate for more aid to be spent like that instead of just focusing on aid effectiveness?  Has anyone heard a good answer for this?

More and better aid – Bill Easterly style.


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6 Responses to “More and Better Aid – Bill Easterly Style”

  1. Jon Custer Says:

    @Boris: He has written two quite good books on this subject, The White Man’s Burden and The Elusive Quest For Growth, both of which do highlight effective projects and programs. They are written in an accessible style designed to be read by businessmen read on airplanes (I believe this is where the Planners vs. Searchers meme comes from: publishers of these sorts of books require their authors to either divide the world into opposing camps with Capitalized Names or provide a list of <10 "rules" or "secrets" for doing something; c.f. Malcolm Gladwell).

    If for some reason you are really interested in the subject but don't have time to read a shortish book, and have access to a university library, you can also read some of Easterly's academic work, which has a lot more of the nuance this blog seems to be demanding.

    As Florian said, though, the first step is really to figure out what works and what doesn't. People are all "criticizing is easy," but when it comes to apportioning scarce resources, duh, you *want* to do the easy things first. The easiest thing to do is stop spending money on programs that are harmful and programs that you know don't work. Why would we do the more difficult thing (conjuring up large sums of money and determining where to spend them) when immediate improvements are staring us in the face? When my income declines, the first thing I do is cut back my drinking binges from, say, four nights a week to one or two — not apply for a second job at Goldman, Sachs.

    I think Bill devotes his blog/books more to the criticism side due to an (I believe) exaggerated idea that almost everyone thinks foreign aid works just great as is. In fact, almost every person I tell that I am studying International Development — after explaining what the hell this means — says something to the effect of, "Oh but isn't it basically proven that that doesn't work?" Still, not even the most dimwitted reader could possibly come away from any of his books or articles thinking he is advocating any kind of reduction or elimination of aid.

    Since Easterly is, to my knowledge, one of the only writers with any kind of stature outside the development world consistently advocating a highly critical approach to how we spend our aid dollars, I think we can let him live.

  2. Florian Says:

    So, what your blog is all about is really “read Bill Easterly in the long version”?

    Anyways, here’s some thoughts for your answer:

    You say we can scale up aid and increase effectiveness at the same time. That’s a bold statement. Careful evaluation of programs and agencies are the first step. Scaling up aid may be a second.
    Where do you want to put the “scaled-up” money when you don’t know what works and what doesn’t?

    A simple increase in aid funds does not mean anything if there’s no information on how effectively these funds are used. Only because something is costly it doesn’t mean it’s good – at worst, it may even be harmful.
    On the other hand, stopping harmful things is beneficial. To stop something, however, does not require extra funds nor an infrastructure nor much planning.

    Now you say, there’s a lot of programs which are proven to be effective and only limited by financial constraints. Then, I would ask, why are they constrained in the first place? Why is money wasted in so many other situations instead? Wouldn’t it be better to use just that money and put it into projects that actually work? But hey – that’s what effectiveness is all about.

    Obviously I can’t speak for Bill, but that’s why I would focus on effectiveness FIRST.

  3. Boris Says:

    Easterly’s style of aid sounds pretty reasonable and effective. Do you know whether he has any articles or blog posts that build upon the spirit of the passage you quoted here? Does he elaborate on where he believes the financial backing and infrastructure for such efforts should come from, or is his point simply that current resources are being frittered away?

  4. billeasterlywatch Says:

    Some good writing similar to our focus

    Cheers Jim.

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