Are the Aid Donors Un-Developing Ethiopia?

Samuel Lowenberg has an article in the Lancet:

The World Bank, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) have consistently failed to act on allegations of human rights abuses in Ethiopia, including ones that are tied to their aid programmes, according to new reports...

The reports raise troubling questions over alleged abuses—including beatings, rape, and murder—connected to the government's villagisation programme...

The report by the Oakland Institute documents how officials from USAID and DFID, who were investigating claims of abuse, heard first-hand accounts from villagers recounting brutal treatment by Ethiopian authorities under the villagisation programme. But even after these reports the two agencies failed to act.

One renegade former World Bank economist comments:

In view of the long-running problems documented in Ethiopia, “the impunity of the donors astonishes me”.... Human rights are essential to development, so when a foreign donor finances a government that represses these rights, it does not help a country develop, it sets it back, he says.

Please read the whole article, it is essential reading for anyone who cares about development.

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Today's mention of this jailed dissident is really one mention too many

From a letter just published in the New York Review of Books, signed by me and others:

On June 27, 2012, the Ethiopian high court convicted journalist Eskinder Nega and twenty-three others on vague terrorism charges, continuing a trend in which Prime Minister Meles Zenawi jails his critics as “terrorists” ...

Eskinder Nega, who received this year’s PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, has been a leading voice for press freedom in Ethiopia for almost two decades. He has been repeatedly detained, imprisoned with his wife Serkalem Fasil on treason charges.

Now Eskinder Nega is facing between 15 years and life in prison...His sentence will be announced on July 13, 2012.

We call on President Obama and all world leaders to condemn Eskinder’s imprisonment.

This site just mentioned Eskinder last week, and just this last January publicized a previous letter in the NYRB about Eskinder's case.

Let me be honest. I am tired of writing about Eskinder Nega. You are tired of reading about Eskinder Nega. This site really needs to move on from Eskinder Nega.

Let me consult Elie Wiesel on our major compassion fatigue:

Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.

Let's call on all to condemn the imprisonment of Eskinder Nega.

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Nation's Newspapers Have Banner Headlines About the Wrong Thing

On the day in which the Supreme Court announced some incomprehensible decision, the true story of the day was in the back pages.

This story was a sign that, however much you may be discouraged about political gridlock, a free society really is self-correcting anyway.  Heavily motivated Scientists have now solved the problem of the tasteless grocery store tomato.

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Why Women Can't Have It All; Why Development Can't Have It All

The hot debate that recently erupted in feminism from Anne-Marie Slaughter's problems with  "having it all" may have reached closure with this new piece by Lori Gottlieb,

There's No Such Thing as 'Having It All'

Ms. Gottlieb self-mockingly notes that her revolutionary insight is that there are TRADEOFFS between work and family (for both women and men)

I am curious how admitting tradeoffs got to be anti-feminist.

Development people will recognize a familiar theme. Anyone who points out tradeoffs between AIDS prevention and treatment hates people with AIDS.  If you point out tradeoffs between health and other development priorities, you might as well announce you want more children dying. So economists, who of course build their whole field around the concept of tradeoffs, have gotten the image of the  Gestapo accountants of development.

Perhaps the "debate" on the  existence of tradeoffs (undeniable! really!) is just a secret code that hides the real issues. Advocates see those who point out a tradeoff as having an agenda against one of the things being traded off. Advocates deny the tradeoff as a way of asserting an absolute right to the thing that you allegedly don't have to trade off.

There is a valid debate hiding there somewhere, which could make more progress if the debaters just spoke more ... honestly.

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How much do Europeans account for economic development?

From the Wall Street Journal, by Daniel Lippman:

European settlement had a longstanding positive effect on economic development in countries that were colonies, notwithstanding the terrible effects of Western diseases and political oppression that often resulted, according to new research.

The paper, titled “The European Origins of Economic Development,” was written by New York University’s William Easterly and UC Berkeley’s Ross Levine, who set out to build a new comprehensive database of the European share of the population in the early phases of colonization. It also looked at the impact of the settlers on the former colonies’ economic development today.

In an “illustrative exercise” that the two professors run in their paper, they find that “47% of average global development levels today are attributable to Europeans.”

What could accounts for that large number? The paper argues that it could partly be explained because “Europeans brought growth-promoting characteristics — such as institutions, human capital, connections with international markets, and cultural norms — that diffused to the rest of the population over generations.”

A large number of commentators generously congratulated the authors on being obvious, wrong, and racist.

You may find the NBER link to the paper above to be restricted. If so, here is an unrestricted link.

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You will not read this blog post today

There is widespread consensus that development in Africa is held back by the capricious policies of the government. I am referring, of course, to the US government. A crucial duty-free provision of the US African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) will expire in September, killing off the African textile export jobs on which 200,000 families depend.

US government policy on Africa is capricious because nobody cares.

The NYT has not mentioned AGOA in print since 2010 and virtually all of its mentions over the last decade were in Nick Kristof columns; the last regular NYT news story on AGOA was in 2003.

The Washington Post last mentioned AGOA in 2009 in a story headlined:

Clinton Pushes Kenyan Leaders to Follow Through on Promised Reforms

Don't blame the newspapers: they cover what their readers want to read. (The specialized business press, FT (already linked above) and WSJ have done better covering the current crisis.) We had our own bitter experience with this when we lobbied hard to save AGOA jobs in Madagascar, with an impressive lack of success. Apparently none of the three readers of those posts had much ability to influence US government policy.

So my prediction is that this post today will have no readers and will have no effect whatsoever, unless enough of you non-readers get outraged enough about this non-effect to use your non-influence to save the day.

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Rulers of the Twitterverse

Foreign Policy has just released its annual Twitterati 100. Here are the economists (gee I wonder why I got a small bump in followers yesterday?)

Other Twit 100 development favorites you should be following if you are not already: @charlesjkenny, @m_clem (Michael Clemens), @viewfromthecave, @africaisacountry, @AndrewMwenda, @lpolgreen, @BinyavangaV

Some personal favorites omitted: @cblatts, @wrongingrights,@alanna_shaikh (the latter two would have helped with complaints of underrepresentation of #FPWomeratti)

But aside from everything else, let us all express profound gratitude to @FP_Magazine for the omission of @NYTimesFriedman .

UPDATE 3:30pm EDT: Speaking as a well-known feminist, happy to see this Democratic Revolt of the #FPWomeratti : an online collaboration to nominate women left out of the heavily male Twit 100.

I am particularly glad to see recognition for {if you are a female friend, insert your name here}.

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The Roots of Hardship

Bill Easterly reviewed “Why Nations Fail” by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson for the Wall Street Journal:

Far too much intellectual firepower regarding the global poor these days focuses on the (small) things Westerners can do to help—obsessing about, say, how much money to spend on mosquito-blocking bed nets to fight malaria. The bigger questions—about why some societies prosper and others don't, about how to improve the lot of an entire impoverished class—are left by default largely to uncritical admirers of China's growth. The arrival of "Why Nations Fail" is thus a hugely welcome event, since economists Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson take on the big questions and in doing so present a substantial alternative to the dominant thinking about global poverty.

For Messrs. Acemoglu and Robinson, it is institutions that determine the fate of nations. Success comes, the authors say, when political and economic institutions are "inclusive" and pluralistic, creating incentives for everyone to invest in the future. Nations fail when institutions are "extractive," protecting the political and economic power of only a small elite that takes income from everyone else.

It is common among those who work in development to wish for a technocratic rule of experts unencumbered by politics. Messrs. Acemoglu and Robinson insist that getting the economics right requires getting the politics right. They support their thesis with evidence so comprehensive that it includes the rise and fall of medieval Venice, the colonization of the Americas, and the tribal politics of Botswana at its independence in 1966.

Read the full review here.  The authors also have a new blog; follow it here.

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Why Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Should Be the Next Head of the World Bank

By Lant Pritchett. This post is cross-posted with the Center for Global Development. The US had a chance to lead.  It abdicated that chance to play domestic politics and put forward in Jim Yong Kim a US nominee who is manifestly less qualified to be head of the World Bank than the alternative candidate nominated by African countries: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The World Bank is a full-service development institution that provides loans and grants and development advice to promote development, which is the transformation of countries towards prosperous economies that support broad based improvements in material well-being, democratic policies that respect citizen rights and respond to citizen demands, and capable administrations that allow governments to carry out their core functions—law and order, education, macro-economic management, health, infrastructure, regulation, security.

Therefore an ideal candidate should have:

  • some experience in government and the process of policy-making (as the World Bank’s clients are all governments),
  • some acquaintance with economic policy and policy making—including the tough choices like allocation of resources across uses,
  • some knowledge of finance (it is, after all, a bank that makes income from lending money),
  • perhaps some management experience in a multilateral organization,
  • exposure to the breadth of development issues.

Experience in Government.  Ngozi has been the Minister of Finance of Nigeria, twice.  If one had to name a tough job in the world, I think that would be it.  She did it first from 2003 to 2006 and by all accounts handled a very tough situation—including tackling entrenched corruption—in an admirable way.   Jim (to be fair we’ll use first names for both) has no experience in government.  He has been engaged in development as an academic and through NGOs.

Advantage Ngozi.

Acquaintance with Economic Policy.  Ngozi has had training in economic development from MIT.  Jim has been trained as doctor and anthropologist.  Ngozi has been a Minister of Finance making budget allocations and has dealt with the entire array of economic policies to promote growth and prosperity.  Jim has worked exclusively on health issues (rightly, as he is a physician) and has never been in a position of responsibility for economic policy.  Health was just one of many sectors for which Ngozi had to allocate budgets and promote performance.

Advantage Ngozi.

Knowledge of Finance.  Ngozi has been a Minister of Finance. As such, among other things, she led the Paris Club negotiations that led to billions of dollars debt relief for Nigeria.  Jim has no demonstrable experience in finance, banking, or the private sector.

Advantage Ngozi.

Management Experience.  From 2007 to 2011 Ngozi was a Managing Director of the World Bank.  She has therefore in-depth experience running a large and complex multi-lateral organization.  Jim from 2004 to 2006 was  director of WHO’s HIV/AIDS department and so has some experience in a multilateral organization.  Jim has also for two years been president of an American university.  But while Ngozi was near the top of a large organization dealing with all development issues Jim was responsible for one disease in an organization that does only health.

Advantage Ngozi.

Breadth of exposure.  There is a massive difference between doing development work and doing charity work to mitigate the consequences of the lack of development.  Ngozi has done development work in many settings and in many positions both in Nigeria and within the World Bank.  Jim deserves praise for having devoted his time, attention and expertise in medicine to improve health care for people in the developing world—which is certainly one component of development—but his development experience is limited to one sector.

Advantage Ngozi.

Passport.  Jim holds an American passport.  Ngozi is a Nigerian woman.

Advantage Jim.

In this day and age, is that still really all it takes?


Lant Pritchett is Professor of the Practice of Economic Development, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

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How I Would Not Lead the World Bank

Bill Easterly writes for Foreign Policy

I am gratified by the widespread support that my non-nomination for World Bank president has received. My quest to help end poverty has led me to the ends of the Earth. My accomplishments speak for themselves, having successfully offended every official or interest group in any way connected to the World Bank, even the head of maintenance.

I would not lead the World Bank by assembling an expert task force of my fellow social scientists, natural scientists, and random unemployed politicians. I would not ask such a well-qualified expert task force to answer the question "What must we do to end world poverty?" -- especially if we forget to answer the question "Who put us in charge?"

I would not lead the World Bank to ever use the words "civil society." I would not emulate my deservedly respected non-predecessor as World Bank president by giving a speech on the Arab Spring without using the word "democracy," even in a purely descriptive sense. I could not possibly attain a remarkable record of five years of speeches without ever using the word d_m_cr_cy at all.

Read the full article here.

[For someone who does want to lead the World Bank, click here.]

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LETTER: The Case of Eskinder Nega

By William Easterly, Mark Hamrick, Aryeh Neier, Kenneth Roth, and Joel Simon

Published in the New York Review of Books, January 12, 2012 edition

To the Editors:

On September 14, 2011, Eskinder Nega, an Ethiopian journalist and dissident blogger, was arrested by the Ethiopian authorities shortly after publishing an online column calling for an end to torture in Ethiopian prisons, a halt to the imprisonment of dissidents, and respect for freedom of expression. The charges against him are punishable by death, and carry a minimum sentence of fifteen years in prison[1], where both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch warn that he is at risk of torture.

Previous to his current arrest, Eskinder and his wife Serkalem Fasil, both newspaper publishers, were charged with treason following Ethiopia’s disputed 2005 elections, along with dozens of journalists, human rights activists, and opposition leaders, and spent seventeen months in jail. While in custody, Serkalem gave birth to their first child. Even after they were acquitted by Ethiopia’s Federal High Court, Eskinder and Serkalem were blocked from reopening their newspapers and the government continued to pursue civil charges against them.[2]

Eskinder also was detained earlier this year, after he published an online column asking members of the security services not to shoot unarmed demonstrators—as they did in 2005—in the event that the “Arab Spring” should spread to Ethiopia.[3]

Most of us would have fled into exile after such treatment—as have nearly all of Ethiopia’s significant opposition leaders and independent journalists since 2005. In all, eleven independent journalists and bloggers have been charged with terrorism this year, five of whom are behind bars. Ethiopia tops Iran and Cuba to lead the world in the number of journalists who have been forced into exile over the past decade, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.[4]

Having spent a large part of his childhood in suburban Washington, D.C., and being in possession of a US residence permit, Eskinder could have easily followed. That he has not is testimony to his commitment to democratic values that Western governments say they hold dear.

America and its Western allies have aligned themselves closely with Ethiopia’s government in the fight against radical Islamists in the Horn of Africa and in efforts to prevent a repeat of the 1984–1985 famine. Worthy as these goals are, we should not allow them to blind us to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s increasingly authoritarian bent—as exhibited by his regime’s 99.6 percent election victory in 2010 and most recently the decision to prosecute Eskinder as a terrorist, along with seven other dissidents.[5]

We therefore call on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and America’s Western allies to publicly repudiate Ethiopia’s efforts to use terrorism laws to silence political dissent. We also urge the US to ensure that our more than $600 million in aid[6] to Ethiopia is not used to foster repression.[7]

William Easterly Professor of Economics Co-Director, Development Research Institute New York University New York City

Mark Hamrick President National Press Club Washington, D.C.

Aryeh Neier President Open Society Foundations New York City

Kenneth Roth Executive Director Human Rights Watch New York City

Joel Simon Executive Director Committee to Protect Journalists New York City

  1. See charging document (Amharic), at
  2. See also "Ethiopia Reinstates Hefty Fines Against Publishing Houses," Committee to Protect Journalists , March 10, 2010,
  3. See also "Ethiopian Journalist Alleges Detention for Inciting Egypt-Style Protests,"Voice of America , February 17, 2011,
  4. "Journalists in Exile 2011," Committee to Protect Journalists. Available at
  5. "Ethiopia Charges Opposition Figures, Reporter With Terrorism," Voice of America , November 10, 2011,
  6. See US foreign assistance figures at
  7. See Helen Epstein, "Cruel Ethiopia," TheNew York Review , May 13, 2010, See also Human Rights Watch , March 24, 2010, "One Hundred Ways of Putting Pressure: Violations of Freedom and Association in Ethiopia," and October 19, 2010, "Development Without Freedom: How Aid Underwrites Repression in Ethiopia,

Read this article on the NYRB website.

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ARTICLE: Think tanks help alter public opinion

DRI postdoctoral fellow Claudia Williamson writes for The Oklahoman on December 9, 2011:

Voters aren't particularly thankful for government right now. According to Gallup, congressional job approval is tied for an all-time record low of just 13 percent.

Voter frustration stems from the fact that things at the federal level never seem to change; national debt grows while corporations get taxpayer handouts. But what about policy groups trying to improve government at the state or local level, such as the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs?

Research I recently completed with colleagues at George Mason and Duquesne universities suggests these think tanks have made some strides in changing the public's mind, but that their legislative impact is limited.

State-based think tanks are nonprofit research organizations that operate with two goals: educating the citizenry and affecting public policy. We looked at think tanks whose policy preferences included reducing the role of government and increasing the role of private markets.

Unfortunately, these groups don't appear to have a direct impact on policy. We analyzed data sets for each state between 1997 and 2010 and found little evidence that market-oriented think tanks lead to more pro-market policies such as lower tax rates or less government spending.

Evidence shows that, unlike think tanks, political lobby groups influence state public policy. For example, union lobbyist spending leads to more government employees and higher government wages. This finding may reflect the fact that lobby groups are legally permitted to advocate directly for policy changes. Think tanks are not. In other words, they don't need to engage the public to secure desired policy outcomes. Lobbying dollars trump public opinion.

Discouraging as this might be for advocates of better and smaller government, here is some good news: Spending and investment on the part of free-market think tanks between 1997 and 2002 led to an increase in pro-market attitudes between 2003 and 2008. These think tanks were particularly effective in shifting public opinion on issues regarding welfare policies and government intervention into the market.

For example, the OCPA increased its expenditures from $50 to almost $300 per thousand state residents over the past 13 years. During this time, the policy environment improved slightly from a free-market perspective. However, state employee wages also increased, as did government expenditures for education and welfare.

Yet the council's spending wasn't a complete waste; public opinion in the state regarding markets in general and welfare spending in particular shifted toward less government intervention.

The way any policy group potentially influences economic policy is by shifting ideology. But translating shifting attitudes into policy change takes time — perhaps decades — in sharp contrast to lobbying efforts that can have an immediate political impact.

These results suggest policy groups operate via the channel of ideas while lobbyist groups go directly to the source: politicians. Still, free-market advocates have reason to hope. Politicians ultimately respond to public opinion. And though free-market think tanks might not be winning legislative battles, they are winning a longer war of public opinion.

Read more on the Oklahoman

Read the working paper "Think Tanks"

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INTERVIEW: Raquel Fernández in Conversation with The Straddler

The Straddler interviews Raquel Fernandez, Professor of Economics and a DRI affiliated faculty member, on culture's impact on economic outcomes:

Economists essentially have a sophisticated lack of understanding of economics, especially macroeconomics. I know it sounds ridiculous. But the reason why I tell people they should study economics is not so they’ll know something at the end—because I don’t think we know much—but because we’re good at thinking. Economics teaches you to think things through. What you see a lot of times in economics is disdain for other's lack of thinking. You have to think about the ramifications of policies in the short run, the medium run, and the long run. Economists think they’re good at doing that, but they’re good at doing that in the sense that they can write down a model that will help them think about it—not in terms of empirically knowing what the answers are. And we have gotten so enamored of thinking things through that the fact that we don’t know anything needs to bother us more. So, yes, it’s true that the average guy on the street doesn’t understand economics, and it’s also true that we don’t understand economics. We just have a more sophisticated lack of understanding than the guy on the street.

Read more on The Straddler.

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BOOK REVIEW: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Professor Easterly reviews Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow for the Financial Times:

There have been many good books on human rationality and irrationality, but only one masterpiece. That masterpiece is Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Kahneman, a winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, distils a lifetime of research into an encyclopedic coverage of both the surprising miracles and the equally surprising mistakes of our conscious and unconscious thinking. He achieves an even greater miracle by weaving his insights into an engaging narrative that is compulsively readable from beginning to end. My main problem in doing this review was preventing family members and friends from stealing my copy of the book to read it for themselves.

Kahneman presents our thinking process as consisting of two systems. System 1 (Thinking Fast) is unconscious, intuitive and effort-free. System 2 (Thinking Slow) is conscious, uses deductive reasoning and is an awful lot of work. System 2 likes to think it is in charge but it’s really the irrepressible System 1 that runs the show. There is simply too much going on in our lives for System 2 to analyse everything. System 2 has to pick its moments with care; it is “lazy” out of necessity.

Read more on the Financial Times website.

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ARTICLE: Gates a benevolent dictator for public health?

Laura Freschi and Alanna Shaikh for Alliance Magazine, September 2011 edition The public health landscape today looks unquestionably different from how it did in the late 1990s when the Gates Foundation strode on to the field. To its credit, the foundation has brought about a resurgence of interest in global health issues at a time when the cause was running low on energy and funds. Before Gates, global health funding covered little more than HIV and emerging infectious diseases – a bare shadow of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Health for All vision of the 1970s. But Gates’ support for global health also raises questions: is it pushing us too much towards simple technological responses to multifaceted problems? With its influence so far-reaching, who will be willing and able to offer objective feedback?

The influx of serious new money (as opposed to the stirring of existing donor pots that often takes place at international conferences) and attention from the Gates Foundation have revitalized the field as a whole. Today, the foundation’s annual spending on global public health – about $1.8 billion – is larger than the WHO’s yearly budget. Donors have started thinking about global health as a broad and important discipline once again. With the launch of Gates’ Grand Challenges Initiative in 2003, some of the world’s best scientific minds turned their efforts to solving the problems of the world’s poorest.

>>Read More (Courtesy of Alliance Magazine.)

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ARTICLE: Inception Statistics Revisited

Professor Easterly and Laura Freschi wrote a letter to the Lancet Medical Journal criticizing the methodology in a 193-country study on stillbirths, in which researchers could obtain actual data on stillbirths from only 33 countries and twice modeled the stillbirth estimates for the other countries:

Many will argue that modelled numbers (or in this case, twicemodelled numbers) are better than no numbers at all. To this we ask, better for what, and for whom? We question the wisdom of creating policy based on fi gures with such a tenuous basis in reality. Could the irresponsible lowering of standards on data possibly refl ect an advocacy agenda rather than a scientific agenda, or is it just a coincidence that Save the Children is featured among the authors of the new data?

The correspondence includes a response from the authors of the original study, who argue that "improving data quality and quantity is a high priority but in the meantime modelling is indispensable."

They previously discussed the issue in an April 2011 post on the Aid Watch blog.

Read More: >National, regional, and worldwide estimates of stillbirth rates in 2009 with trends since 1995: a systematic analysis (The Lancet, April 14, 2011) >Inception Statistics (Aid Watch blog, April 18, 2011) >Correspondence published in the Lancet, with the authors' reply (September 3, 2011)

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