Friday, May 26, 2006

Easterly versus Sachs (and Bono)

I have been meaning to write something (and compile links) on the recent debate about international development between William Easterly and Jeffery Sachs.

After $2.3 trillion over 5 decades, why are the desperate needs of the world's poor still so tragically unmet? Isn't it finally time for an end to the impunity of foreign aid?


With that, you have the basic questions Easterly is posing to Sachs and development practitioners.

I will not hide my bias. I largely agree with Easterly's opinion that Sachs is overly interested in "poverty traps" and increasing aid levels in order to duplicate his model villages. But I would prefer if these economists worked together. Tragically, the problems they want to solve have no easy answers and some have misused critical analysis to oversimplify and sensationalize and difficult issues. (See this horrible clip from ABC news.)

For a concise overview of Easterly's book, The White Man's Burden, I recommend the online exchanges hosted by the Cato Institute and Easterly's own website, which links to many of the book's reviews, good and bad. If you only have time for one review, Amartya Sen's is especially thoughtful, as is Easterly's response.

I think Easterly is bringing up some crucial problems in the way international development is framed and presented. I applaud Sachs and Bono for raising awareness about global poverty, but I just do not think development happens with more money and we certainly can't spend away poverty as Bono's Red campaign is encouraging us to do. I am thrilled Bono's work will raise cash for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, but it doesn't engage sufficiently with the issues Easterly is bringing to our attention.

What I most appreciate about Easterly's book is his emphasis on the incentives making development work (or not). The challenge of incentives struck me again on Sunday while reading the newspaper. On page 26 was a story about Bono’s tour of Southern Africa. On page 34 was a story about the exodus of Kenyan nurses to Europe and the US. Their search for a better life has left many hospitals in a staffing crisis. Bono's trip may increase the likelihood that more people will give to the Global Fund. But it is the small and serious problems (like fleeing nurses) that are not being addressed by our spending sprees, even if world governments cough up as much money as they promise.

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ereifsnyder said...
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