14 July 2009

Dominic Lawson's evidence free world

"It's certainly true that, judging by results, those in charge of our aid budgets have been consistently and phenomenally stupid for the past half century and more. Internationally, more than $1trn has been sent to Africa over the last 50 years, during which time the sub-Saharan countries in receipt of the bulk of those funds have seen their poverty increase sharply relative to those developing countries which have received least aid." says he.

I'm certainly no blind defender of aid. Aid is neither necessary nor sufficient for development. It can undermine recipient government credibility and legitimacy. It is only one of several development policy levers of which security, trade and climate may be more important. It is sometimes spent unwisely--like every other source of income, private or public.

But aid can and has been useful in spurring development. The kind of effectiveness test Mr Lawson subjects aid spending to can never be conclusive since we don't know if the aid recipients would have been even worse off without it. Like Mr Lawson's column, Dambisa Moyo's book, to which it refers, is an evidence free zone. The evidence is out there--but the aid industry has been complacent about using it to learn and in communicating it, partly because it does not offer easy soundbites about whether aid works--rather a whole series of "it depends" (see Roger Riddell's excellent book on this topic from 2007). The development community need to do better to be able to counter lazy but potentially damaging articles such as Mr Lawson's.

1 comment:

Mamunur Rahman said...

Thanks Mr. Lawrence for your nice quick comments over DFID’s new white paper. Like you I would like to admire UK’s 0.7 commitment by 2013 and hope US and other will follow it. The paper seems to us sound as it has rightly accommodated periphery people marking comments like ‘working together as one’ and ‘we will not turn away in fear or isolationism’ in time of the present crises. We are really feeling empower for being inclusive but feeling ‘tension’ to take this risk as you have apprehended.
Mamunur Rahman
Asstt. General Manager
Small & Medium Enterprise Foundation
Government of Bangladesh