NYT's David Brooks on "What Works in Development"

An editorial in the NYT by David Brooks discusses "What Works in Development" (see our previous posts on the book) in the context of explaining why aid has thus far failed to achieve growth in Haiti.

In the recent anthology “What Works in Development?,” a group of economists try to sort out what we’ve learned. The picture is grim. There are no policy levers that consistently correlate to increased growth. There is nearly zero correlation between how a developing economy does one decade and how it does the next. There is no consistently proven way to reduce corruption. Even improving governing institutions doesn’t seem to produce the expected results.

The chastened tone of these essays is captured by the economist Abhijit Banerjee: “It is not clear to us that the best way to get growth is to do growth policy of any form. Perhaps making growth happen is ultimately beyond our control.”

(We should point out that the book has some positive messages to offer too, for example on how economists are reaching some consensus around using rigorous evaluation to study what does work.)

Read the whole op-ed here.

Also of interest in the article is Brooks' argument that Haiti's "progress-resistant" culture is largely to blame for the country's extreme poverty. This strikes me as overly reductive (although interesting recent economics research does point to the importance of values like trust in determining prosperity.)  Brooks' list of rejected explanations include slavery and colonial history, bad government and corruption, foreign invasions,  geography and climate. I wonder what others who have spent time studying, living or working in Haiti think of the relative weight of these explanatory variables.