July 03, 2005

Aid Is For Wimps

Slate is getting pessimistic about foreign aid, it seems. First, Jacob Weisberg says that lavish aid promises at the G8 conference next week will, if unfulfilled, only increase skepticism about the power of world governments to "do something" about poverty. (As LBJ apparently "undermin[ed] liberalism" with his over-promised "War on Poverty.") Plus he offers up the usual skepticism about debt relief, trade policies, and unconditional aid. Now the LBJ problem doesn't seem like a big problem to me—even if the G8 finance ministers promise the moon and only deliver half a moon, or a very large moon crater, that still seems like quite a bit of moon. Are OEDC countries really going to decide aid is worthless if it only lifts 3 million people out of poverty rather than 10 million?

On the other points: Weisberg's debt relief objection seems, if true, entirely trivial. (He claims that countries are already welching on their payments anyway.) Trade is a more complex issue—I'm not convinced that wholly open borders is the best path towards development, but this isn't an issue I'm an expert on. The corruption issue, though, is more important. There are perfectly good reasons not to offer aid to certain countries, like Zimbabwe, which is all set to pass a law giving the Mugabe government totalitarian control over NGOs working in the country. But those are special cases. It's worth noting that the international community has managed to eradicate smallpox and (almost polio), and that was done not just in "nations that govern justly," but in the worst and most corrupt hellholes on earth.

The larger point, though, is that Jeffrey Sachs really isn't naïve about the countries he wants to help; anyone who reads his actual proposals can see that he's perfectly aware of the need to foster accountability, make sure tinpot dictators aren't squirreling money away, stick with proven projects. It's not like Weisberg is the first to think of the corruption problem. I do wish people would at least read Sach's book—or the UN Millenium Project report—before spitting on the whole affair. These development experts aren't just starry-eyed buffoons standing around with their heads up their asses.
-- Brad Plumer 3:47 PM || ||