Yes, critics also appreciate a little sympathy every now and then

From Megan McArdle in a different debate:

The rest of her post puts me in mind of the phenomenon that William Easterly has described in development circles:  the recycling of ideas that have failed before, always unveiled with much fanfare, but no real explanation as to why this time is different.  Frankly, it makes me understand why Easterly sometimes gets a little testy.

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World Bank President starts brawl about development economics research

UPDATE 4:30 PM, Sept 30 -- debating Ravallion about World Bank censorship (see end of post) World Bank President Robert Zoellick gave a speech at Georgetown University today calling for the "democratizing" of development research.  Bob Davis at The Wall Street Journal reports some reactions:

Nobel Prize-winning economist Michael Spence, who led a commission on economic growth, said Mr. Zoellick's comments are "generally not only in the right direction, but very useful." Harvard economist Dani Rodrik.... also praised the World Bank president. "The speech hits all the right notes: the need for economists to demonstrate humility, eschew blueprints...and focus on evaluation but not at the expense of the big questions," Mr. Rodrik said.

But the reaction wasn't unanimous. New York University economist William Easterly...called Mr. Zoellick's comments "amazingly presumptuous." He says the current system of economic research, where ideas are picked apart by other economists, works well. If anything, he says World Bank economists are often the exception because their bosses pressure them "to reach the 'right' conclusions," Mr. Easterly said—meaning that World Bank loans are useful and foreign aid is productive.

The World Bank's chief of research, Martin Ravallion, responded, "I have never been told what conclusions I should reach, and I doubt very much that anyone told Bill Easterly what conclusions he should reach in his many years working for the Bank's research department."

That's OK, Martin, you must have been on vacation when the World Bank pushed me out the back door for not reaching the right conclusions on aid.

Mr. Zoellick, a moderate Republican who pushed for trade expansion as U.S. Trade Representative, also said that researchers should keep an open mind about whether countries can benefit from heavy doses of industrial policy.

That won praise from Mr. Rodrik, who has long pushed that view, and opposition from Mr. Easterly. "The most extreme advocates of industrial policy have lost the argument in the free and fair competition of ideas" Mr. Easterly argued. "Zoellick is trying to politicize it" by making it a bigger part of a World Bank research agenda.

UPDATE: see Martin Ravallion's comment below denying World Bank censorship, here is my response.

Martin, you are being disingenuous in what you do NOT say. Yes, I agree that if any given World Bank researcher sticks to publishing in academic journals, the findings do not spread to general public awareness, and, most importantly, the researchers themselves make no attempt to publicize their findings, then the researchers can say (ALMOST) anything they want (ALMOST because even then there have been exceptions and SOME politically sensitive findings would still be out of bounds). I myself did this for many years.

But once a researcher makes an effort to communicate with a broader audience beyond the tiny number who read academic journals, then any such statements are subject to censorship, as I found in my own experience personally, and others with whom I have communicated (unfortunately, they will not allow me to use their names) have verified similar experiences. So the World Bank researchers' participation in the "democraticized" debate, which President  Zoellick says he wants, is still subject to censorship. I can't believe you can really claim to deny this.

Moreover, the World Bank produces many public non-academic reports itself based on research findings. These reports' conclusions are politically influenced and censored. Again I cannot believe you would deny this.

But thank you, Martin, for taking the time to engage in a dialogue on this. I do believe the research done for academic journals in the World Bank has generally been of high quality and meets standards of academic rigor.

best, Bill

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Positives are popular, skeptics are digital

My print copy of today's Financial Times had this at the bottom of the oped page.

Yesterday's FT print edition had a column by Jeff Sachs. The positive gets the column, the skeptic gets the footnote.

Bitter, who me &^%$#@?

To be honest, I get more press space (both in print and online) than I really deserve, compared to other skeptics. But, in general,  positives get more way more press than they deserve than skeptics.

It's just simple human nature: all of us prefer inspirational stories with a happy ending to skeptical questioning that implies more work to do before the end. For-profit newspapers (currently struggling to survive at all) very understandably have to go with what's popular (the Sachs column is currently the 2nd most popular on FT Comment, I am way too scared to ask how way down the ranks my online column is)

I have the impression that the balance between positives and skeptics is much more even in the not-for-profit online world of newspapers, blogs, and Twitter (could somebody rigorously test this please).

I went last night to a meetup of development Twitter folks in New York and was very impressed by the knowledgeable, rigorously skeptical attitude of those with whom I got to chat (including those who worked for organizations who publicly side with the positives). Many of the development Twitterati get it more right in 140 characters than the old media does in long feature stories. (There are some really major exceptions in the old media, such as insert your name here.) One Twitterati I met complained about how badly even such an august publication as the New Yorker had botched a story on Somalia.

So OK positives, you've got the newsprint for now, but watch out for the revenge of the digital skeptics!

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Heated debate with John McArthur on MDGs and accountability

In 2000, nearly every country in the world made a promise to achieve a set of eight goals, including poverty reduction, women’s empowerment and universal primary education by 2015. How far have we gotten? Host Michel Martin speaks with two opposing voices about the progress made this far: John McArthur, CEO of Millennium Promise, and William Easterly, professor of economics at New York University.

Listen to the interview on NPR's Tell Me More. Once in the media player, the segment is called "UN Convenes to Assess Global Progress"- it's 12 minutes long.

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The Millennium Development Goal that really does work has been forgotten

UPDATE 12 noon: this  is a dueling oped with Sachs on, debate has moved on and even some agreement (see end of post) from a column in the on-line Financial Times today ; for ungated access and a picture of the handsome author go here. The Millennium Development Goals tragically misused the world’s goodwill to support failed official aid approaches to global poverty and gave virtually no support to proven approaches. Economists such as Jeffrey Sachs might argue that the system can be improved by ditching bilateral aid and moving towards a “multi-donor” approach modelled on the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria. But current experience and history both speak loudly that the only real engine of growth out of poverty is private business, and there is no evidence that aid fuels such growth.

Of the eight goals, only the eighth faintly recognises private business, through its call for a “non-discriminatory trading system”. This anodyne language refers to the scandal of rich countries perpetuating barriers that favour a tiny number of their businesses at the expense of impoverished millions elsewhere. Yet the trade MDG received virtually no attention from the wider campaign, has seen no action, and even its failure has received virtually no attention in the current MDG summit hoopla.

This is all the more misguided because trade-fuelled growth not only decreases poverty, but also indirectly helps all the other MDGs. Yet in the US alone, the violations of the trade goal are legion. US consumers have long paid about twice the world price for sugar because of import quotas protecting about 9,000 domestic sugar producers. The European Union is similarly guilty.

Equally egregious subsidies are handed out to US cotton producers, which flood the world market, depressing export prices. These hit the lowest-cost cotton producers in the global economy, which also happen to be some of the poorest nations on earth: Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad.

According to an Oxfam study, eliminating US cotton subsidies would “improve the welfare of over one million West African households – 10 million people – by increasing their incomes from cotton by 8 to 20 per cent”.

Brahima Outtara, a small cotton farmer in Logokourani, Burkina Faso, described the status quo to the aid agency a few years ago: “Cotton prices are too low to keep our children in school, or to buy food and pay for health.”

To be fair, the US government has occasionally tried to promote trade with poor countries, such as under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a bipartisan effort over the last three presidents to admit African exports duty free. Sadly, however, even this demonstrates the indifference of US trade policy towards the poor.

The biggest success story was textile exports from Madagascar to the US – but the US kicked Madagascar out of the AGOA at Christmas 2009. The excuse for this tragic debacle was that Madagascar was failing to make progress on democracy; an odd excuse given the continued AGOA eligibility of Cameroon, where the dictator Paul Biya has been in power for 28 violent years. Angola, Chad and even the Democratic Republic of the Congo are also still in. The Madagascan textile industry, meanwhile, has collapsed.

In spite of all this, the great advocacy campaign for the millennium goals still ignores private business growth from trade, with a few occasional exceptions such as Oxfam. The burst of advocacy in 2005 surrounding the Group of Eight summit and the Live 8 concerts scored a success on the G8 increasing aid, but nothing on trade.

The UN has continuously engaged US private business on virtually every poverty-reducing MDG except the one on trade that would reduce poverty-increasing subsidies to US private business. And while the UN will hold a “private sector forum” on September 22 as part of the MDG summit, the website for this forum makes no mention of rich country trade protection.

The US government, for its part, announced recently its “strategy to meet the millennium development goals”. The proportion of this report devoted to the US government’s own subsidies, quotas and tariffs affecting the poor is: zero. News coverage reflects all this – using Google News to search among thousands of articles on the millennium goals over the past week, the number that mention, say, “cotton subsidies” or “sugar quotas” is so far: zero.

It is already clear that the goals will not be met by their target date of 2015. One can already predict that the ruckus accompanying this failure will be loud about aid, but mostly silent about trade. It will also be loud about the failure of state actions to promote development, but mostly silent about the lost opportunities to allow poor countries’ efficient private businesspeople to lift themselves out of poverty

UPDATE: this was a dueling piece with an oped by Sachs today on

One of us also got a prestigious slot in the print edition of FT :>)

Surprising new agreement with Sachs, where he says:

{Bilateral aid doesn't work because it's} "largely unaccountable," "programmes are scattered among many small efforts," {and it creates mainly an} "endless spectacle of visiting dignitaries from donor countries."

Continuing disagreement with Sachs when he says:

The most exciting example {of success} is the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria. ...while a decade ago all three diseases were running out of control, now all are being reined in with millions of lives saved.

Jeff, could you clarify a bit what you mean saying that AIDS is "being reined in" when for every 100 people added to AIDS treatment, 250 people are newly infected with HIV?

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Statement from CARE on Bruckner FOIA request

AidWatch received the following statement from CARE regarding Till Bruckner's AidWatch post on USAID and NGO transparency:

Statement from CARE (Aug. 30, 2010):

Contrary to what Till Bruckner suggested in a recent blog, CARE did not withhold information in response to his FOIA request to USAID regarding certain projects in the Republic of Georgia. Our records indicate that CARE never received the request from USAID to review CARE’s budget information before USAID provided it to Mr. Bruckner. USAID’s email request to CARE went to two inoperative emails; one was for a former employee and one went to a current employee, but the email address was incorrect.  As a result, the CARE document that USAID sent to Mr. Bruckner was redacted without CARE’s knowledge.

We have since reviewed the document and will ask USAID to produce it in full without any redactions, including our indirect cost rate, which was the primary information that had been withheld.

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Africans do not want or need Britain's development aid

Editor's note: This letter was published in the Telegraph (UK) on August 22, 2010 with the title given above for this post.

SIR – The parlous state of the public finances in Britain provides the perfect opportunity for British taxpayers to end their half-century-long experiment with "development aid", which has, since its inception, stunted growth and subsidised bad governance in Africa.

As Africans, we urge the generous-spirited British to reconsider an aid programme they can ill afford, and which we do not want or need. A real offer from the British people to help our development would consist of the abolition of the Common Agricultural Policy, which keeps African agricultural exports out of the European marketplace.

It is that egregious policy, combined with the weight of regulations, bad laws and stifling bureaucracy, subsidised by five decades of development aid, which prevents Africans from lifting themselves out of poverty.

Andrew Mitchell, the Secretary of State for International Development, speaks about a "moral imperative" to combat poverty around the world. We could not agree more. The British have a unique opportunity to cut the deficit and help Africa: please, ask your new government to stop your aid.

Andrew Mwenda Editor, Independent newspaper, Uganda Franklin Cudjoe Executive Director, IMANI Center for Policy and Education, Ghana Kofi Bentil Lecturer, University of Ghana and Ashesi University, Ghana Thompson Ayodele Executive Director, Initiative for Public Policy Analysis, Nigeria Temba Nolutshungu Director, Free Market Foundation, South Africa Leon Louw Law Review Project, South Africa

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Did Gates and Buffett do more good as businessmen than as philanthropists?

Provocative case for "yes" in today's Wall Street Journal (gated link), by Kimberley Dennis,  President of Searle Freedom Trust:

Wealthy businessmen often feel obligated to 'give back.' Who says they've taken anything?

Full disclosure: DRI benefits from post-docs indirectly funded by the Searle Foundation.

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Am I useless? A critic needs to listen to critics

The whole idea of searching is that you never quite know if you are getting it right. You need constant feedback from the intended targets of your efforts, to keep adjusting and re-adjusting. This is my motivation for criticizing aid, to try to induce it to change in response to criticism on things that are clearly wrong. And this is why I myself need to listen to my own critics. The blogosphere has recently been a bit hot about my approach in this blog. Commentators on a previous critique strongly endorsed the critique of Aid Watch or strongly opposed it and supported Aid Watch. Another critique from a blog by Siena Antsis:

Perhaps Aid Watch was meant as an outlet for shallow satire among the occasional interesting link and comment. ...Whatever the reason, I personally (along with others and others) find this approach to critiquing the aid industry (which sometimes seems lazy) not terribly helpful and rather discouraging.

Alanna Sheikh offers her very welcome and judicious thoughts in a post "Is Bill Easterly useless?",

I see both sides. I think that Prof. Easterly is too quick to blame aid agencies and NGOs for problems that are systemic. He blames individual actors for doing things that are incentivized by the development industry. I would like him to write and think more about fixing the system than attacking the individual organizations. And I agree that his tone can be snarky to a degree that stops being funny and makes you tune the post out.

On the other hand, the system needs someone who will speak truth to power (or, in this case, development money.) And I know from my own experience that the blunter and snarkier you are when writing about development, the more people listen.

I'm listening.  First, while I believe a critic should use a variety of tools in a critique -- reason, logic, evidence, Economics 101, anger, humor, satire, snark, compassion, evaluation of individual projects and organizations, and systemic analysis -- it's also important to get the mix right. The feedback I hear is that I have recently gone too far in the satire/snark dimension and am not using enough the other dimensions, and I need to adjust.

Second, I need to make much more clear that I have enormous respect for aid workers in the field who do very hard work in very hard places. I agree with Alanna that dysfunctional aid is mainly the result of bureacracies with bad political incentives, and not the personal failings of individuals. Although I don't have rigorous evidence for this, years of casual observation suggest that field workers are more likely themselves to be Searchers, while it's the HQ executives who play politics and become ineffective Planners.

Keep the feedback coming, the search will continue...

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Jeff Sachs, welcome to Twitter!

As of 11 am today (2/26), Jeff Sachs has started posting on Twitter as @jeffdsachs. Here is some of the early traffic in which yours truly has a tiny stake (I have omitted who did the T for privacy): (anon): Just noticed that @bill_easterly is following @jeffdsachs but not vice versa / Hilarious

@bill_easterly: This hurts :>) RT  Just noticed that @bill_easterly is following @jeffdsachs but not vice versa

@jeffdsachs: Hello friends, thank you for the warm welcome.

@jeffdsachs: RT @EndOfPoverty: mobile phones and internet in Africa means changes to life in fields, in clinics,...

@bill_easterly: I agree w u on mobile potential RT @jeffdsachs mobile phones in Africa means changes to life in fields, in clinics,...

(anon): Pigs just flew!! RT @bill_easterly: Agree w u on mobile potential RT @jeffdsachs mobiles in Africa means changes to,...

(anon): WHAT? My entire belief system just corroded to nothing RT @bill_easterly I agree w u on mobile potential RT @jeffdsachs

(anon): Hell just froze over! RT @bill_easterly:I agree w/ u on mobile potential RT @jeffdsachs mobile phones in Africa (cont)

(anon): Ahem, @jeffdsachs where are you? The whole developmentgeek twittersphere is waiting for you to reply to @bill_easterly

OK let's remain calm. It's only been one hour, and Professor Sachs may have a less compulsive/healthier relationship with his iPhone/Crackberry than some of the rest of us.

*&^$#@%*()^% I just burnt the cookies, gotta go.

UPDATE: 3/1/10 8:16am: another T from Jeff:

@jeffdsachs: @uncultured Thank you so much for the kind words. Your project is amazing and your videos, truly inspiring. Keep up the great work! {about 21 hours ago via TweetDeck}

in response to:

@uncultured: The one who inspired me to believe we can end extreme poverty (and to start my project) is now on Twitter - @JeffDSachs #FollowFriday

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Arvind Subramanian replies to his (and our) critics

Today, David Roodman at the Center for Global Development responded to our guest blogger Arvind Subramanian's post (and forthcoming paper) on the effects of aid on manufacturing exports. Here, Arvind replies:

I cannot think of a more thoughtful follower of, and contributor to, the aid effectiveness literature than David Roodman (Aart Kraay is another). So, I am really very pleased with his bottom line assessment of my paper that he trusts this paper “more than most” in the aid growth literature.

That said, there is one point about his blog that merits a response. David gently chides Bill Easterly for his tweet where Bill interprets and presents our paper as showing that aid is bad for manufacturing exports. David’s point is that our paper strictly speaking only establishes a relative effect—that exportable sectors grow slower than non-exportable sectors —and not a total or overall effect: that aid leads to slower growth in exports as a whole.

But two points are worth noting. In a longer version of the paper, that I will post on my web-page, we do find evidence that aid leads to slower growth of the manufacturing sector as a whole. For methodological reasons, this result is less strong than our core result about relative effects. But, we certainly don’t get the empirical result that aid raises growth in all sectors that David claims (rightly) is theoretically possible.

Perhaps more important, Bill’s tweet does capture the spirit of our paper. Whether and how manufacturing exports can be an engine of overall growth is still debated. But the historical experience is strongly suggestive that if export sectors grow slowly or grow slower than other sectors, overall growth is affected. So, our paper could be interpreted not as a lament about the effects of aid on export sectors but as a celebration of its effects on non-export sectors. But, in my view and also in the historical record, between export and non-export sectors as an engine of growth, there is no contest.

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Our Critics Are Starting a Bill Easterly Watch

We received a request by Bryan Turner to submit a post on Aid Watch critical of this blog’s approach. Since we are in favor of debate, we accepted his proposal and here is the blog post he submitted yesterday--Eds. by Bryan Turner, founder and coordinator of Students To End Extreme Poverty and Youth Engagement Coordinator of Make Poverty History Canada

I actually agree with much of what Professor Easterly writes and he does some great things. I also believe that he could make more of a constructive difference in the debate on poverty alleviation than he is now.

Several colleagues and I from Students To End Extreme Poverty have launched a blog called Bill Easterly Watch: Just Asking that Bill Stop Blowing Over Straw Men. In our opinion, NGOs and governments should be accountable – and so should Professor Easterly.

Criticizing is at best one third of the equation, and typically the easiest third. Criticizing can be the first step in positive change. The next is figuring out – searching – what to do about it, the third is doing it, seeing what works and what doesn’t and if applicable how it can happen elsewhere.

The aid system is broken. That is the start, not the end. It’s easy to criticize, much harder to propose alternatives. If there were enough people focusing on the “solutions,” then criticizing alone would be sufficient -- but there are not. So unless you are proposing alternatives, evidence suggests you may be discouraging more people than you are encouraging.

If this is not the goal of Professor Easterly, then he should amend his approach.

I’ve spoken with countless people that cite Professor Easterly’s arguments as reasons for inaction, not just on aid but on the entire gamut of issues facing the world’s poorest.

We need internal and external emotional harmony to be happy people. If we believe we are good (which most of us do) we need to reconcile our actions with our exterior environment. What does this mean? Good people do not ignore 9.2 million children dying every year from poverty related causes. But if there is no infrastructure in place (which there isn’t) allowing people to make a difference, then people will become cynical about change. And if you criticize an approach without suggesting a feasible alternative, chances are people will give up on being involved.

We are concerned that some of Easterly’s arguments are not fleshed out, based on oversimplifications of complex issues and sometimes even miss the point.

For example: the dichotomy between searchers and planners is a false one and a lot of planning is born out of searching.

A second example: the criticism of celebrities. The transformation of aid that Easterly advocates won’t happen without a critical mass of informed citizens who are willing to take actions. Celebrity involvement can be crucial for getting people involved on an introductory level – usually the starting point for deeper engagement – facilitating a tipping point towards mass action.

A third example: You should not hold aid given for non development purposes accountable for development outcomes, but that’s what the $2.3 trillion ($15 per person per year) in wasted aid argument does. We want to talk about that.

Students To End Extreme Poverty is all about healthy debate, accountability, innovation, searching, and most of all, solutions. We believe, as is demonstrable, that aid can work, and there should be more of it that does work – more and better aid. We think this is something that, with a little bit more prodding, Professor Easterly can support as well.

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In which I don’t care about genocides that kill only .01 percent of the population

My WSJ review on Tracy Kidder’s book on the Burundian genocide survivor generated this comment from a reader (abbreviated here, the full version is posted as a comment on the blog): Mr. Easterly,

You point out that "only" 0.01% of Africans have been killed by war and genocide... each year... for the past four decades. This is only slightly higher than the percentage of Europeans who died in the Holocaust each year between 1940 and 1945, meaning that Africa has merely suffered something like a 40-year Holocaust.

In fact, 0.01% is significantly lower than the percentage of Americans killed each year in the second world war (0.08% or so, on average), a minor conflict barely mentioned in writings of the time. During the Vietnam conflict we were losing only about 0.002% of our population each year for about 16 years and people would barely shut up about it.

Thus I propose that we adopt 0.01% of the population as the Easterly Threshold, requiring that any discussion of a conflict failing to achieve this level of decimation include a disclaimer that most of the population has not, in fact, yet died. Where populations are suitably difficult for us Americans to distinguish from one another, this percentage will be calculated on an arbitrarily continental or sub-continental basis. This immediately puts the whole history of the 20th century in a much rosier light: using the Easterly Threshold, a group like the Khmer Rouge barely clears the hurdle, massacring just 0.012% of Asia's population in a year.


Jonathan Custer

Lakeland, Florida (soon Birmingham, England)

Dear Mr. Custer,

Congrats on your tour de force demolishing my argument that nobody should care about genocides that kill only 0.01 percent of the population or less.

You force me to admit that if a genocidal soldier killed one of my own loved ones, I myself would get only moderate comfort from the statistic that this corresponded to an American death rate of only 0.000000333 % (1 out of 300 million).

Your argument is so skillful, let’s not get pedantic that my article never made the “only” argument; it actually said that the .01 percent statistic is also “of no comfort to Africans today who are victims of still much too frequent horrors; bless anyone who can stop the horrors or help the victims.”

I was foolishly hoping the .01 percent number might induce the casual reader to re-examine his belief that the typical African family consists of a wife-beating alcoholic male and starving refugee females raped by child soldiers, soon after massacred by the janjaweed just before they would have died of AIDS anyway.

hortonwillie.gifOn correcting stereotypes, consider the Willie Horton ad of the presidential election of 1988 of the George Bush, Sr. vs. Michael Dukakis. A political group allied with Bush ran an ad featuring a scary picture of Willie Horton (see also the video), a black man in prison for murder whom Dukakis granted a weekend furlough. He then raped a woman while on furlough. The ad is partially credited with winning the election for Bush.

I would argue that white voters over-reacted in their fears of black crime. The propensity of black males to commit crimes is lower than the general public thinks, and other whites, not blacks, commit most crimes against whites. According to your interpretation, my attempt to correct a stereotype means I don’t care about the victims of Willie Horton. So this is a good opportunity to clarify I am not, in fact, in favor of rape and murder. I'm not that keen on genocide either.

Actually, I can do two things at once: (1) argue against exaggerated stereotypes and (2) care about the victims of crimes regardless of whether they fit stereotypical patterns. But thanks for your argument forcing me to clarify this.

Satirically Yours,

Bill Easterly

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Dani Rodrik responds to "How ethnic profiling explains Dani Rodrik’s fondness for industrial policy"

by Dani Rodrik Hmmm. I think you misconstrue the nature of the debate and the argument. If my priors were that no Moslems are terrorists ("industrial policy never works") and then I found that some are, I would think the evidence pretty compelling and alter my priors. (With apologies for the nature of the analogy, but I am following Bill's line of thought...)

My point is to get people beyond their refusal to accept that industrial

policy could ever work, so we can actually debate the conditions under which it can or does. Now that would be a healthy debate!

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Response to "Does God Believe in Jeff Sachs"?

I invited Jay Lawlor, the head of Millennium Congregations, and Jonathan Denn, the head of CountingPrayers.Org to respond to the blog post. I have not heard yet from Mr. Lawlor, but Mr. Denn responded. His letter follows: Dear Professor Easterly,

Thank you for notifying me of your blog, and the invitation to respond. I was most sorry to hear of your severe crisis of faith, hopefully this will be of solace.

A couple corrections, I am the author of the The Counting Prayer {EDITOR INSERT: “The world now has the means to end extreme poverty, we pray we will have the will.”} As of this morning almost 1.5 million Counting Prayers have been offered in The Prayer Vigil to End Extreme Poverty and on the Billion Prayer March (endorsed by the United Religions Initiative, I am not a clergy person but I have a deep and abiding spirituality about eliminating the suffering caused by abject poverty. I am, also, the author of the "sin against the Creator" quote. I believe we are unambiguously obligated to help our neighbors as evidenced by over 2000 mentions about alleviating poverty in the Bible. I also find common ground about poverty alleviation (if for slightly different reasons) with my secular humanist brothers and sisters.

I believe God believes in all of us, rich and poor, even economists with disagreements, and that God believes we will act to eliminate suffering. We may fail but we must not stop trying.

I live in a simple world. People trapped in poverty need a clinic so family members can stop dying prematurely of easily preventable causes. The next morning when they rise and illness is not crippling their family these folks can get on with making life better for themselves. To do that they need dependable access to fertilizer, seed, water, and then when they finally have something to trade, someone to do it with. Oh, and a road to get to market.

The world has long had the wealth and knowledge to lift up our disadvantaged brothers and sisters to clear this very low bar. We merely lack the will, and in the past the expertise.

In 2002, the United States entered into the Monterey Consensus to provide zero point seven percent of na tional household income to the poorest nations to help with developing these necessary infrastructures. Only Sweden, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands have kept their promise, the U.S. is tied for a distant last place with Japan. Relief work is essential but without development it is unfortunately eternal. Without development there can be no self-sufficiency.

I believe that if every person of faith (or conviction) made up their pro-rata share of their countries' shortfall, what I call the Millennium Tithe, that we would indeed soon see an end to extreme poverty, at least in the countries with relatively stable governments. And, that would be an incentive for other countries to enact stabilizing policies. I believe this to be a communion of humanity, secular and religious working together to end easily preventable, extreme poverty (misery).

Our Millennium Tithe would amount to about $15 per household per month (equal to two movie tickets), and I would suggest tithers find the highest yield development projects to fund, those with proven effectiveness and efficiencies and verifiable results. These are increasingly coming from secular NGOs, and there are most impressive results coming from the Millennium Village Project, of which I am a volunteer Ambassador. If I were to find an organization with a better poverty solution metric I would then volunteer my time to help them. If you have a better model, I would be happy to volunteer my time to you. For volunteer I must to the best action takers.

What is the theology of not vigilantly supporting and/or advocating the most effective poverty solutions available?


Jonathan Denn

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ONE Responds to Bono vs. Moyo, Round Two

By Edith Jibunoh, Africa Outreach Manager at ONE At ONE, we agree a vigorous public debate is needed on how best to combat extreme poverty in Africa, but your post suggesting ONE is trying to “discredit” and “misrepresent” Ms. Moyo is untrue and not particularly constructive. As anyone who goes to our website site can see, we aren’t trying to discredit her, we are responding, substantively, to her arguments. You suggest we aren’t addressing the merits of her proposals, but the first item we posted on our site was a seven page point-counter-point addressing the merits of her proposals. This document clearly lays out where we disagree with the arguments she is making.

In terms of the emails you refer to, yes, we emailed people in Africa who we work with to see what they thought, as many are involved directly with aid-funded initiatives. Their experience is very relevant in thinking through the impact of Ms. Moyo’s claims. So it wasn’t an attempt to shut a conversation down, but an effort to open one up. And it’s succeeded! We’ve also been in a direct and ongoing conversation with Ms. Moyo, before and after the book’s release. Our concerns are no surprise to her. We agree with your concerns about aid transparency and, as you know, we recently helped launch “publish what you fund”, an aid transparency effort. We share the goal of “asking that aid benefit the poor” (as you write on your website) and we campaign to ensure that it does.

Mr. Easterly, there is another thing we agree on: let’s make this a thoughtful and constructive discussion about the best policy for Africa. In that spirit, it would be good to know if you join Ms. Moyo in her belief that all aid to Africa (with the exception of humanitarian aid following emergencies) should be cut off in five years, and that Africans would not suffer as a result. As just one example, what do you think would happen to the 2 million Africans now on ARVs, funded by aid?

Lest you think we are misrepresenting Ms. Moyo's point of view on what aid should be exempted, see her own words below to Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

ABC News Foreign Correspondent: Is Aid Killing Africa?

Reporter: Philip Williams

Broadcast: 17/03/2009

WILLIAMS: And you're absolutely confident that removing that aid is not going to leave at least some people without food and medicine?

MOYO: I think the ones that will be effected most will probably be the African elite as opposed to the broader population.

WILLIAMS: What will they lose?

MOYO: I think they will lose possibly their bank accounts in Geneva in the worst-case scenario. But, I think beyond that they would also lose the ability to have leisure time and they'll be required to actually go out and start to work hard to find money to support their social programs in Africa.

WILLIAMS: If you cut off aid within 5 years, surely that's going to leave millions of people without the support they are now dependent on - food aid, medical aid - aid that really keeps people alive.

MOYO: I don't believe that's the case. Most Africans do not see any of the aid that you are alluding to. It's.... again, their best case scenario on some projects is 20 cents in the dollar that actually makes it to an African - and that's best case. Effectively, if we continue down this path, we will have many more Africans living in poverty in many... in a few years to come, and that is really the problem - that there are no jobs coming out of an aid model.

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NYU’s Aid Watch Initiative Held Conference on “What Would the Poor Say? Debates in Aid Evaluation”

By William Easterly During last Friday's conference, participants and speakers leveled a variety of criticisms at aid agencies for lacking accountability and transparency, but also suggested new ideas and expressed hope for a new way forward. Here are some highlights; check back soon for more details and some video footage. Click here for the full conference agenda.


Yaw Nyarko (NYU): “No nation has ever developed because of aid and outside advice.”


Esther Duflo (MIT): “Field experiments have a subversive power.” Find her presentation here.

William Easterly (NYU): The institutions of a free society make it possible to answer "what would the people say?" Can we imitate this in aid to know "What would the poor say?" Full presentation here.


Laura Freschi (DRI) on Aid Watch: “We want to act as ONE OF MANY catalysts in the open marketplace of ideas about aid evaluation: inspiring connections, and helping to convert good ideas into opportunities.” Find the text of the Aid Watch launch announcement here.


Andrew Mwenda (the Independent): “Aid money makes African governments accountable to the aid agencies rather than to their own people.”

The power of accountability for African governments is shown by some examples when political elites faced a threat to their very existence, like in Rwanda after the genocide or Uganda after Musevni’s takeover in 1986, when both governments instituted pro-development policies.


Nancy Birdsall (Center for Global Development): Cash on delivery aid “traps the donors so they are forced to have poor country governments accountable to them and accountable to their own people.” Find her presentation here.


June Arunga (BSL Ghana Ltd.): "Aid money is diverting African skilled professionals away from private enterprise to writing proposals for NGOs.”

When June pitched her idea of using cell phones to facilitate financial transactions to Western investors, one well-known philanthropist expressed disbelief that poor Africans (whom she had seen mainly in pictures begging and starving) had cell phones: “Who do they call?” she asked.


Dennis Whittle (GlobalGiving): “Put up a billboard in each community saying what aid money is supposed to be going towards.” Click here for his presentation.


Lant Pritchett (Harvard University): "Is this information you are gathering from us just to help you write your report or can you really be helpful to us?" - a woman in South Sudan.

Evaluation can help make politically successful development movements into effective ones. Find his presentation here.


Ross Levine (Brown University): “Aid agencies are insufficiently evaluated on advice…financial survival depends on distributing money.” The right advice often violates the imperative: “Don’t interfere with lending!” Click here for more.


Leonard Wantchekon (NYU): "We African professionals want to be the ones advising our own governments rather than foreign aid professionals!" Find his presentation here.


Karin Christiansen (Publish What You Fund): “In Afghanistan, the government does not know how one-third of all aid since 2001 – some $5bn – has been spent…Liberian civil society organizations couldn’t get basic information [which foreigners could.]” Find her presentation here.


William Duggan (Columbia School of Business): “I wasted 20 years of my life on aid efforts, but now I see some hope for change.” Click here for his short paper (co-authored with Lynn Ellsworth) on "Evaluation, the Poor, and Foriegn Aid."

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How Nice Should Aid Commentators Be?

I wanted to respond today to your very helpful comments on yesterday’s launch, but of course I have to be very selective. To summarize a few areas of agreement and disagreement: I agree with:

(1) Those who said they liked the new blog. You get a free cup of coffee made with my hand-powered $20 espresso maker next time you are in Greenwich Village.

(2) Lucas who said I do need positive examples of aid working. Yes! Please send me more documentation on the Filipino example you gave, and I am happy to feature it. Positive examples are welcome from everyone reading this (but some kind of evidence and documentation is required.)

(3) Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development on the counterproductive fixation with “0.7 percent of GDP” as an aid target. He is too modest – what he says is based on a killer article he did with Todd Moss also of CGD. The journal summary practically burns up the page:

First, the target was calculated using a model which, applied to today's data, yields ludicrous results. Second, no government ever agreed in a UN forum to actually reach 0.7 per cent – though many pledged to move toward it….The 0.7 per cent goal has no modern academic basis, has failed as a lobbying tool, and should be abandoned.

Clemens and Moss might have been a good reference to check before two opeds by Mr. Zoellick that mentioned “0.7” five separate times.

I disagree with:

(1) Jim, who said I was being too mean to Mr. Zoellick. First, I won’t be mean to YOU, Jim, I’m happy you gave me some tough criticism, debate is a GOOD thing.

Which is also my response to your criticism, which is that debate is a GOOD thing. Debate is good in academia, and it’s good in politics, and both kinds are usually fierce. It wasn’t a personal attack on Mr. Zoellick, it was a big disagreement about big issues.

We fiercely debate domestic spending bills that waste affluent taxpayers’ money with a few millions on a bridge to nowhere, so why should we be NICE when the head of the world’s premier aid agency outlines virtually zero accountability for helping the world’s poorest people?

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