When you might want a skeptic...

UPDATE 3:41pm June 7: see end of post.

I am a passenger in a car with my friend Owen driving...we're chatting.

Me: did you see that sign? I think we better turn around.

Owen: why are you always so negative!?

Me: but the sign said...

Owen: if people listen to you skeptics, there'll be no more funding for roads.

Me: I just think this time that...

Owen: why are you so negative when us drivers work so hard and have such good intentions?

Me: I really think we should turn around

Owen: instead of always being so critical of my direction, why don't you start your own Proper Driving Direction Promotion (PDDP) project?

Me: there's a truck coming toward us!!!!

Owen: you know, you're never going to be taken seriously if you can't have a more positive message

(sounds of screams and glass breaking)

Owen in the ambulance just before he loses consciousness:   next time I'll let the f&@$ing skeptic drive

Note: See Owen Barder's 'Open Letter to Aid Skeptics' on page 21 of the recent Africa issue of the International Affairs Forum - download the pdf file here.

UPDATE 3:41pm June 7: I said on Twitter that the above was "kind of a response" to Owen. If you are wondering why I didn't have a more direct response, it's because I thought his open letter reflected much more a generalized fear of aid skeptics than anything about my specific views. For example, I have never said we should eliminate aid or even cut aid, I argue we should shift the focus away from obsessive focus on aid spending to getting feedback on aid spent and holding aid agencies accountable for that feedback. This kind of argument has not had any negative effect on aid budgets, contrary to Owen's fears. On Cash on Delivery, I actually wrote a blurb promoting the original Cash on Delivery book:

The authors deserve a serious hearing for their very creative Cash on Delivery proposal. It would change aid in two welcome directions: emphasizing outcomes rather than inputs and giving recipient governments freedom to choose how to reach their goals.

Since Owen so badly misunderstood or misremembered my previous arguments, it was clear to me that he was reacting to the idea of aid skepticism in general and not to any particular argument of mine.  He seems to want to stamp out skepticism in general by some kind of foolproof test, which also seemed to me far from foolproof for either optimists or skeptics.

(By the way, despite our sometimes spirited arguments in print, I know Owen personally and like him a lot, so I was expecting him to take the above as  affectionate teasing and not in any way malicious.)