There has been a remarkable escalation in the scale and intrusiveness of aid interventions over the years (this was one of the major conclusions of my survey paper on aid to Africa). It seems to be reaching the reductio al absurdum in the current debate on whether to escalate US intervention in Afghanistan.
Let’s review the record:
|Aid Phase||Objective||Outcome||Time Period|
|Projects to improve infrastructure, health, education||Improvements in clean water, child mortality, school attendance, and literacy||Partial success||60s, 70s|
|Structural adjustment lending to fix economic policies||Change national economic policies to be pro-market and pro-development||Failure||80s|
|Institutional reforms||Clean up corruption and democratize||Mostly failure||90s|
|Fixing failed states, combining aid and military intervention||Peace/ Development/ Democracy||Failure||2000s|
A few questions about this record:
(1) Why did aid change after partial success? (2) Why did aid try to do something more ambitious after a less ambitious effort failed? (3) Was there good evidence (or any evidence) to support each phase of escalation? (4) Is aid going to keep escalating, like say in Afghanistan? (5) Should the well-documented aid failures in Afghanistan (see recent stories in the FT and the New York Times) sound the alarm about aid escalation? (6) Would it be better to do less ambitious things that work rather than extremely ambitious things that don’t work?