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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Does Aid Work?

I highly recommend Nicholas Kristof's essay in the NYRB about whether foreign aid works.  It is a very sober assessment of a series of books that aim to challenge the "cosmopolitan" assumption that rich countries owe poor countries fat aid checks to facilitate their economic development, to save the starving, and to promote good political practices.  Although cosmopolitans usually take the moral highground by highlighting that too many of us live better than we need to while others live in unnecessary destitution that could be alieviated with modest aid, the essay is helpful in reminding us that the debate about foreign aid must operate at the practical level, not merely the moral one.  We need to know when and how aid works and when and how aid fails; the essay usefully discusses strategies that work and strategies that don't.  In the final analysis, however, our moral requirements to help the poor remain substantial -- and they demand that we not give up the search for the most effective strategies to target our funds.  That aid sometimes fails is, ultimately, not a decisive argument against aid altogether; it only instructs us to be careful with our largesse.

Posted by Ethan Leib on October 10, 2006 at 12:44 PM in Article Spotlight | Permalink


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of course it's 'Opinio Juris'

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Oct 11, 2006 12:19:44 AM

And norm-entreneurship (is that from Posner or Sunstein?) is at bottom about moral psychology (a subject that has often suffered from the academic division of labor, although while virtue ethical theory has to some extent recovered its centrality for ethics, the apparent waning of humanist and existentialist psychologies seems to have left the topic adrift in the science of psychology). And thus I suspect questions of moral psychology are best addressed in the context of and through ideologies and worldviews (inclusive of religions), articulated at the individual level in Habermasian lifeworlds....

Peter Spiro had a post related to this at Opinion Juris:

'The Boston Globe is running a multi-part story on how the Bush Administration is channeling increasing amounts of foreign aid through faith-based organizations, allegedly breaching the church-state divide in the process.

However the constitutional doctrine applies (with the wild card of extraterritoriality), one can find an obvious silver lining here: creating a core Republican constituency for foreign assistance. That’s also playing out in the context of international human rights and religious persecution, Darfur, for example, with respect to which evangelicals have been pushing for more interventionist policies along of course with traditional human rights advocates. (In the immigration law context, one finds a similarly unusual alliance of right-to-lifers and ACLU-type immigrant advocates with respect to asylum claims by Chinese arising out of family planning policies.)

The Council on Foreign Relations posted a backgrounder on the subject in August; Walter Russell Meade has this thoughtful piece in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, which describes important differences between Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals (the latter taking on significant international agendas). Once these groups play the IL card, it will be tougher for them to deny its existence in other realms.'

For his post and the links included in it, see http://www.opiniojuris.org/posts/1160343594.shtml

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Oct 10, 2006 9:15:17 PM

O'Donnell bibliographies are must-reads! I have to say, the last time I seriously looked at this literature was in 2002, and I'm very happy to see how much it's grown. But as Posner recognizes, more than half the battle here is norm-entrepreneurship--getting people to actually do what they believe they ought to do.

Posted by: Frank Pasquale | Oct 10, 2006 8:35:26 PM

Frank (above) has a copy, perhaps he can tell others what he thinks of it, provided he's looked it over. ;)

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Oct 10, 2006 2:39:58 PM

I do have a bibliography available (on request) which lists works dealing with both the moral and practical issues here (and not just about foreign economic and development aid per se), should anyone be interested: 'The Ethics, Economics & Politics of Global Distributive Justice.'

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Oct 10, 2006 2:37:50 PM

Absolutely. I think the best part of the article is the series of initiatives Kristof mentions at the end which he has personally visited, and verified do a good job. I also recommend the site GlobalGiving.org, which does a good job of encouraging transparency and monitoring of projects.

Even if one believes that some aid money is wasted, that doesn't reduce the moral obligation to, say, give money to researchers that try to eliminate the waste.

Posted by: Frank Pasquale | Oct 10, 2006 2:34:26 PM

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