Sunday, October 24, 2010

Optimism & realism in foreign aid, redux

Rieff's criticism of Bono and Bob Geldof (see yesterday's post) reminded me that earlier this year, Jagdish Bhagwati offered an interesting, brief overview of some of the historical motivations for foreign aid -- or, more precisely, development assistance -- including altruism, moral obligation, enlightened self-interest, and geopolitics. As someone who has been prominent in the fields of international and development economics for decades, Bhagwati has a valuable insider's perspective on the failure of so much aid to help promote growth and development.

His comments came in the context of a review, published in Foreign Affairs, of Dambisa Moyo's trenchant aid critique Dead Aid. Like Rieff, Bhagwati is critical of the influence of popular entertainers in the debate on economic development. His conclusion displays his exasperation with public aid debates quite nicely:

"Moyo is right to raise her voice, and she should be heard if African nations and other poor countries are to move in the right direction. In part, that depends on whether the international development agenda is set by Hollywood actresses and globetrotting troubadours or by policymakers and academics with half a century of hard-earned experience and scholarship."

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