Andrew Sullivan of The Altlantic writes a popular blog about politics, economics, culture, and anything else he finds interesting or relevant at the moment. With 20-30 posts today, it has the depth of a traditional blog and the breadth of a link aggregator. The relative exposure he gives a subject depends on how much he likes the people who are writing about it. He is a fiscal conservative and likes the idea of market-driven, bottom-up development. Over the past year, international aid and economic development have been getting a lot more play after he discovered Aidwatch and Texas in Africa, two popular blogs written by development economists. Most recently, Sullivan linked to an article in the NY Review of Books by William Easterly, author of the former blog, about the misuse of aid dollars to generate political support:
Human Rights Watch contends that the government abuses aid funds for political purposes—in programs intended to help Ethiopia’s most poor and vulnerable. For example, more than fifty farmers in three different regions said that village leaders withheld government-provided seeds and fertilizer, and even micro-loans because they didn’t belong to the ruling party; some were asked to renounce their views and join the party to receive assistance. Investigating one program that gives food and cash in exchange for work on public projects, the report documents farmers who have never been paid for their work and entire families who have been barred from participating because they were thought to belong to the opposition. Still more chilling, local officials have been denying emergency food aid to women, children, and the elderly as punishment for refusing to join the party.
This is a bit like saying that Miss Lippy’s car is green. This dynamic is not new, and it is certainly not undocumented. Easterly has been arguing for years that foreign aid in the hands of the local government is misdirected. But this is on Andrew Sullivan’s blog, which is generalist, and it may well be a new concept, or at least a new example, to his readers. But this is a concept I have seen in action and heard anecdotally often. Two cases, in particular, come to mind.