A Revolutionary Idea

Courtesy of William Easterly (who, if there is any justice in the world, will be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics):

Too much of America’s foreign aid funds what I call authoritarian development. That’s when the international community–experts from the U.N. and other bodies–swoop into third-world countries and offer purely technical assistance to dictatorships like Uganda or Ethiopia on how to solve poverty.

Unfortunately, dictators’ sole motivation is to stay in power. So the development experts may get some roads built, but they are not maintained. Experts may sink boreholes for clean water, but the wells break down. Individuals do not have the political rights to protest disastrous public services, so they never improve. Meanwhile, dictators are left with cash and services to prop themselves up–while punishing their enemies.

Read the whole thing. The only time I might imagine advocating giving developmental aid to a dictatorship is in instances when the deployment of American soft power might help democratize the country in question, or when the deployment of soft power may serve American foreign policy/national security interests. In such instances, one might–might–have to dance with the devil. But those instances are very likely few and far between because, as Easterly notes, dictators withhold aid money from political opponents, thus defeating the purpose of aid money in the first place. So I freely admit that in the balance of things, my very slight amendment to Easterly’s advice is not much of an amendment at all, and development policy experts ought to incorporate his suggestions into their practices.

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