This is part one of a two-part post about the role of amateurs and professionals in aid and development. The other day, Develop Economies was asked to move to a different table at the iHub because a European government aid agency would be holding a workshop on gender equality. Grudgingly, he moved. Read more…
For those who do not know, Nicholas Kristof is an incurable optimist who writes a column for the New York Times on aid, development, foreign policy, and all things related. In a video posted to his blog, he took questions from readers. The author of one development blog point out that most of Kristof's articles follow a standard narrative that: "one that often focused on the foreign, typically American "savior" helping the poor Africans in need, to the exclusion of efforts of black Africans themselves to bring about change on the ground." It is a good question, since most of the development workers in this world making things happen are locals, not foreigners. Here is Mr. Kristof's response:
I do take your point. That very often I do go to developing countries where local people are doing extraordinary work, and instead I tend to focus on some foreigner, often some American, who’s doing something there. And let me tell you why I do that. The problem that I face -- my challenge as a writer -- in trying to get readers to care about something like Eastern Congo, is that frankly, the moment a reader sees that I'm writing about Central Africa, for an awful lot of them, that's the moment to turn the page. It's very hard to get people to care about distant crises like that. One way of getting people to read at least a few paragraphs in is to have some kind of a foreign protagonist, some American who they can identify with as a bridge character. And so if this is a way I can get people to care about foreign countries, to read about them, ideally, to get a little bit more involved, then I plead guilty.I think this is a pretty thoughtful and right-on response. (more…)
William Easterly is a development economist who runs the blog Aidwatchers. When I read his posts, I imagine an exasperated and pragmatic man who has had it up to here with people misunderstanding and oversimplifying the problems he has devoted his life to solving. His latest post, titled "The Answer is 42! Why Development is About Problem-Solving Systems, Not Solutions" fits this category well. He explains exactly why some things work and some things don't, and reveals the key to creating long-term solutions.
Here’s why direct solutions to problems cannot foster development. Each direct solution depends on lots of other complementary factors, so the solutions can seldom be generalized across different settings; Solutions must fit each local context. Solutions that generate the highest payoff in each setting should be a higher priority than the lowest payoff solutions. Since there is little or no feedback on how well each solution is working in each local situation, there is little possibility for any such adjustments. (more…)
On Monday, the Philippines will hold a national election. It is the first time the country will be using an automatic voting system, and nobody knows what is going to happen. It seems appropriate to include this post before the election is over. For more on the candidates, check out this BBC News primer. Over the last four decades, the economic landscape in Southeast and East Asia has shifted. After World War II, the Philippines had the second largest economy in Asia (behind Japan). Years of mismanagement, corruption, and poor government policies dragged the economy down during the 70’s and 80’s. The policies of Ferdinand Marcos, a strongman who imposed martial law on the country until 1981, depressed economic growth during his years in power. Isolated incidents, including a severe recession in 1984 and the Asian financial crisis in 1997, put further downward pressure on the economy, hampering progress after reforms in the 1990’s. Even now, the period of optimistic economic growth which President Gloria Arroyo has attributed to herself is, in reality, a result of remittances from abroad, which account for 11% of GDP. All of this has led to a national poverty incidence of 40%. Compare this with China. In the 1981 the poverty incidence in East Asia was 85%. Over the last 30 years, China has enacted economic reforms designed to drive the poverty level of the country down. As of 2005, the poverty incidence in East Asia had fallen to 16%. This decline of 600 million people is attributable almost exclusively to China. The chart to the right shows something amazing: when you remove China from the picture, the percentage of people living on $1 and $2 per day has remained essentially flat over the last 20 years. Since 1990, China has accounted for almost all of all of the poverty alleviation in the world. Why has China done such a good job of pulling its people out of poverty, while the number of poor seems to stay relatively consistent in the Philippines? The system of governance espoused by the two countries over the last 30 years is at least part of the answer. (more…)
The Obama Administration recognizes that the successful pursuit of development is essential to our security, prosperity, and values. In a world shaped by growing global economic integration and the fragmentation of political power; by the rise of emerging powers and the persistent weakness of fragile states; and the potential borne of globalization and risks posed by transnational threats, development is a strategic imperative to the United States. Our investments in development – and the policies we pursue that support development – can facilitate the stabilization of countries emerging from conflict, address poverty that is a common denominator in the myriad of challenge we face, foster increased global growth, and reinforce the universal values we aim to advance." - A New Way Forward on Global DevelopmentThis is an excerpt from the opening paragraph of a memo leaked to Foreign Policy magazine the other day. It is a draft version of the National Security Council’s Presidential Study Directive on Global Development Policy (PSD-7). The 7-page documents details plans for an overhaul of U.S. approach to development and foreign aid. I am still reading through the document and the commentaries that have already been posted, but the approval ratings from the development community have so far been positive. My first thoughts are that the document is classic Obama: simple and pragmatic, intuitive and ambitious. It proposes consolidating the fragmented government agencies to reduce waste, bringing more accountability to aid distribution by applying quantifiable metrics to programs and investing in those with a proven return, and building in-country capacity to produce sustainable solutions. In a world of limited resources and an industry with a reputation for squandering those resources, the report proposes selectively choosing sectors that yield the most far-reaching and broad results. Simultaneously, the U.S. will hold countries responsible for keeping up their end of the bargain by utilizing funds appropriately. The U.S. will take a multi-lateral approach, working with other foreign governments, NGOs, philanthropy organizations to divide the labor and financing according to sector expertise. Lastly, the U.S. will create a new "modern architecture" to ensure that government agencies are working in tandem. (more…)
In this essay, the author discusses the right approach to combating the problem of hunger - an attribute shared by closed to 900 million people worldwide. He takes issue with the arugula-eating liberal elites, like Food First, a California-based organization that opposes the technological advancements of the Green Revolution. Modern improvements in agricultural technology and sciences create higher crop yields. When land ownership is limited to a few hectares, it is critical to maximize the output on these small plots, which is what industrial improvements in agriculture enable. It is true that there are downsides to the Green Revolution, including further marginalization of subsistence farmers and, in some regions, a widening of the income gap in the agricultural community. But what cannot be said about this approach is that the food it produces is either inferior to organically-grown crops or that the process is any less sustainable. Industrial technologies, chemical fertilizers, and improved seeds generate more food, feeding more mouths, reducing malnutrition and generating income.
Poverty -- caused by the low income productivity of farmers' labor -- is the primary source of hunger in Africa, and the problem is only getting worse. The number of "food insecure" people in Africa (those consuming less than 2,100 calories a day) will increase 30 percent over the next decade without significant reforms, to 645 million, the U.S. Agriculture Department projects. What's so tragic about this is that we know from experience how to fix the problem. Wherever the rural poor have gained access to improved roads, modern seeds, less expensive fertilizer, electrical power, and better schools and clinics, their productivity and their income have increased. But recent efforts to deliver such essentials have been undercut by deeply misguided (if sometimes well-meaning) advocacy against agricultural modernization and foreign aid. (more…)
“If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose- because it contains all the others- the fact that they were the people who created the phrase to make money. No other language or nation had ever used these words before; men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity- to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created.” – Ayn Rand[caption id="attachment_822" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Wine on the beach tastes better when it's stolen."][/caption] I read this week that the victims of supervillains Bernie Madoff and R. Allen Stanford have joined forces to lobby congress to compensate them for their losses. There are few people I have less sympathy for than the wealthy victims of a Ponzi scheme. These are not people whose homes were destroyed in a flood. They are not women whose husbands have died unexpectedly, leaving them widowed and poor. Rather, they willingly gave their money to a crook who duped them into believing he could do what anyone with a basic understanding of the stock market knows is a mathematical impossibility. With consistent annual returns of 10-12%, why bother with a savings? Whether or not they were greedy, they participated in something called the market. And as sure as day becomes night, the market rises and falls. The victims knew this. When it all came tumbling down, I’m sure it was a tough pill to swallow. (more…)