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The Trouble with Foreign Aid
September 23, 2006 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Foreign Aid: Can it work? The conundrum facing the rich countries is that everywhere in the developing world, and particularly in Africa, you see children dying for want of pennies, while it's equally obvious that aid often doesn't work very well....But the pitfalls of aid tend not to be discussed among humanitarians, at least in loud voices, for fear of scaring donors. And now along comes William Easterly, in his tremendously important and provocative new book, The White Man's Burden, which asserts with great force that the aid industry is deeply flawed.
posted by storybored (63 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Credit to HawthorneWingo at Monkeyfilter for pointing out this article. Monkeys rock.
posted by storybored at 10:40 AM on September 23, 2006


Are we talking about actually aid or thinly disguised goverment subsidies for home industries?
posted by Artw at 10:42 AM on September 23, 2006


Aid doesn't work when it's a supply-side approach (just like the failed supply-side environmentalism, supply-side immigration, supply-side drug war, etc). The best aid would be to somehow place money directly into the hands of potential consumers without creating a distribution organization. It may not even need to be real hard currency, but tokens that are able to be redeemed as such by those who bank it.
posted by Brian B. at 10:47 AM on September 23, 2006


Brian B., this is touched on in the article. Apparently people who got mosquito nets for free threw them away because they didn't value them. But when they were charged 50 cents for the nets, many started using them.

Thanks for the post, storybored. I found it very balanced and thoughtful.
posted by A dead Quaker at 11:44 AM on September 23, 2006


It turns out that what developing countries really need is markets, not charity.

The single best thing that the US and Europe could do is to get rid of their farm price support systems and eliminate all barriers to import of food products. That would do more to help Africa than foreign aid ever has.

Guess who will make absolutely sure that won't ever happen: the French.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:54 AM on September 23, 2006


So the French are the ones holding back agricultural reform in the US are they?
posted by claudius at 12:14 PM on September 23, 2006


Guess who will make absolutely sure that won't ever happen: the French. the US politicians in big agricultural states.
posted by pracowity at 12:16 PM on September 23, 2006


Ask some people, and you'll be told that every problem in the world is always Frenchy's fault.
posted by clevershark at 12:25 PM on September 23, 2006


every problem in the world is always Frenchy's fault.

That damned, dirty Beauty School Dropout.
posted by ao4047 at 12:30 PM on September 23, 2006 [1 favorite]


Apparently people who got mosquito nets for free threw them away because they didn't value them. But when they were charged 50 cents for the nets, many started using them.

I agree, but I would say that by paying for the mosquito net someone has expressed their personal need for it, minimizing waste in distributing it to everyone (and minimizing needless items altogether). I think that tokens are probably superior to cash because they can be easily signed for by serial number and monitored for theft and redeemed centrally only after they function.
posted by Brian B. at 12:33 PM on September 23, 2006


Steven, under Clinton, a regime was set up that would have weaned US farmers off subsidies gradually, while at the same time opening US markets to imports. Then in 2002, Bush signed a new farm bill that raised subsidies to new heights of largesse. Bush's free trade rhetoric lost any potential substance the moment he refused to exercise his veto on a protectionist bill that benefited Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland at the expense of the poorest people on Earth.

Yes, Europe will strongly resist any attempts to eliminate farm subsidies, but the US is no less complicit.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:41 PM on September 23, 2006


Brian B., you are assuming that an infrastructure could/does exist to deal with such things as tokens, and that is simply not the case in most places where NGOs and other aid delivery organizations operate. Most of these places are strictly cash economies, or, in smaller locales, primarily barter.

I'm currently living in Kinshasa, DRC, with my boyfriend who works for a large, American NGO (after having lived in the rainforest in Cameroon as volunteers for two years -- and no, we're not just out of college, we're both pushing 40) -- and the bottom line is, Steven C. is right on. Stimulating the entire market cycle (manufacturer, distributor, seller, buyer) is clearly the way to go.

Re: free vs. give-a-way, I have seen what people do with free mosquito nets and condoms: I've been to weddings where people used insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets as bridal veils and have seen village children use free condoms as soccer balls. One of my neighbors in the village in Cameroon told me, proudly, that she had saved enough to buy her children mosquito nets, and that she didn't trust the ones that were handed out for free because, "why would someone want to give anything away for free if they could make money from it??? They must be defective."

Anyway, this is a huge, huge issue - and I'll be the first to admit, I don't see it being resolved any time soon. I am happy, however, that, regardless of the misgivings I have about some of Kristof's writings, he's at least reviewed these books, bringing the issue to light. There's a big story here, and at some point, an insider is going to do a massive "tell all" -- and it's not going to be pretty. We think African dictators are corrupt? If you only knew some of the shit that goes on behind closed doors in our so-called "humanitarian" western NGOs. It's revolting.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 12:55 PM on September 23, 2006 [2 favorites]


You visit an AIDS clinic there, and see the efforts to save babies by using cheap medicines like Nevirapine to block mother-to-child transmission of HIV during pregnancy. Then the clinic gives the women infant formula to take home, so that they don't infect the babies with HIV during breastfeeding. A hundred yards down the road, you see piles of abandoned formula, where the women have dumped it. Any woman feeding her baby formula, rather than nursing directly, is presumed to have tested positive for HIV, and no woman wants that stigma.

How is that the aid worker's fault?
posted by delmoi at 1:04 PM on September 23, 2006


Guess who will make absolutely sure that won't ever happen: the French. The United States.

Fixed that for you.
posted by delmoi at 1:05 PM on September 23, 2006


How is that the aid worker's fault?

Well, in theory, part of making international aid effective is understanding the culture and community where a program is implemented, and adapting the implementation to avoid such unintended consequences. It's not the fault of any individual worker, but more the failure of a "cookie cutter" approach to development programs.
posted by whatzit at 1:11 PM on September 23, 2006


delmoi, it's not necessarily the aid worker's fault that the women choose to dump out the formula, per se -- but what it does indicate is a lack of cultural awareness in terms of the best way to help achieve the desired end state, which is to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child. I'm no HIV expert, so I'm not going to suggest a different strategy to use here -- but what I will say is that this example clearly illustrates that the existing strategy is not working, so rather than dump good money (or formula, rather) after bad, the aid agency needs to figure out something else to do. At least that's the point I take away from this anecdote. And given some of the things I've seen in my two sojourns in Africa, I'd have to say, it sounds exactly like a lot of the crap I've witnessed myself: some person somewhere comes up with some idea they think will "save all those poor Africans" -- and because it sounds good on paper, they get some donor to give them tons of money to do it. But when the results come in -- assuming anyone even ever does measure results, which is far rarer than you might think -- and they don't support the program underway, it can take YEARS for a change in strategy to occur, at which point millions and millions of dollars have been wasted.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 1:15 PM on September 23, 2006


delmoi: How is that the aid worker's fault?

It's not. The point is that what sounds like a nice idea (preventing AIDS by giving infected women infant formula) eventually turns out to be a huge waste of resources, because the local customs and value system were ignored.
posted by sour cream at 1:18 PM on September 23, 2006


Brian B., you are assuming that an infrastructure could/does exist to deal with such things as tokens, and that is simply not the case in most places where NGOs and other aid delivery organizations operate.

A US dollar is merely a US government monetary token at large. I was envisioning a coupon book with serial numbers with a promise to the bearer redeemed at a cooperating bank or agency (eliminating some incentive to rob the field distributers and to faciliate monitoring). They would only be as valued as their reputation, just like any currency. The supporting market will appear only when there is profit to be made. I wasn't assuming it existed yet.
posted by Brian B. at 1:19 PM on September 23, 2006


Off topic: Had I a more solid internet connection, I would find and link to the 1984 economics paper that outlined the precise costs and income redistribution caused by the sugar tariff, and it's implications for the developing world.

For the moment, I'll have to leave that as an exercise for the interested reader. However, if i can remember correctly, it results in almost a 60% increase in tax burden for the lowest tax bracket here in the US, the vast majority of that money is a direct transfer of wealth to the sugar substitute industry (high fructose corn syrup). And we all know how good high fructose corn syrup is for the general health and wellbeing of the populace.

Back on topic: I recently remember the president of ethiopia, or perhaps zimbabwe speaking at a world health organization conference. He was of the opinion that would the first world simply purchase the agriculture of the third world, the third world would need significantly less aid, if any at all.
posted by Freen at 1:21 PM on September 23, 2006


The UN is not enough: universal communism might be called for. Bring on One-World Government!
posted by davy at 1:32 PM on September 23, 2006


Not enough attention is paid to garden-variety corruption and gangsters among the developing countries, which causes far more harm than anything else. In the 80s, there was always enough food in Ethiopia. You just couldn't get it off the boats, couldn't get it into the trucks, etc., without paying tribute to the guys with guns.

So, forget the farm policies and subsidies. The Third World needs more old-school law-and-order. So the only policy that needs to change in the First World is paying footsie with tinpot generals. They just had a coup d'etat in Thailand. Turns out this happens there quite a bit. So why do we talk to these people at all?
posted by frogan at 1:33 PM on September 23, 2006 [1 favorite]


frogan: So the only policy that needs to change in the First World is paying footsie with tinpot generals.

Well, how do you avoid doing that? Typically, the only ones strong enough to support who oppose the tinpot generals are either other tinpot generals or ideological rebel groups we like even less (communists or islamists.) Even democracies that form there tend to go the president-for-life route within 20 years, and often have policies equally stupid to the tinpot generals anyway.

Simple solutions don't work in Africa, because all the problems feed into one another and can't be fixed separately. You can't fix corruption without fixing hunger and poverty, for example, because desperate people don't care about law and order, and will undermine the system if it helps them survive. You can't fix poverty without creating a viable economy, of course. What do you need t form a viable economy? Law and order, first and foremost, and then probably education and infrastructure. Hopefully you see what I mean though; nothing can be fixed piecemeal or other elements will undermine it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:56 PM on September 23, 2006


Typically, the only ones strong enough to support who oppose the tinpot generals are either other tinpot generals or ideological rebel groups we like even less

What is important here, how much "we" like them, or how much the local people like them?

frogan is wrong, because he would just turn 20 more developing nations into Cubas, but the point is important.
I wonder, maybe 20 more Cubas would be good for the world.. They really wouldn't need what the USA has to offer anymore, but.. Well, it is all beside the point, the USA wouldn't ever tolerate it :P
posted by Chuckles at 2:09 PM on September 23, 2006


Chuckles: What is important here, how much "we" like them, or how much the local people like them?

What is important is how well the systems work for the people in the country, of course, but sometimes we dislike systems for valid reasons. Tinpot dictators suck, but I don't think creating more North Koreas or Irans is an improvement. In both cases you tend to end up with the tinpot dictator anyway.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:15 PM on September 23, 2006


Who gets to judge what works? What criteria are you going to measure it by?
posted by Chuckles at 2:19 PM on September 23, 2006


Great article. Amartya Sen has another good review, and Brad Plumer has a readable overview of the research into aid effectiveness at Mother Jones.
posted by gsteff at 2:19 PM on September 23, 2006


Nice article. I have often thought that the key was to build industry, farms, whatever slowly, without undue exploitation and people will have money which will stimulate the economy. The hard part is how. The World Bank seemed to hold promise but it has become quite harsh in its lending requirements.
posted by caddis at 2:29 PM on September 23, 2006


Guess who will make absolutely sure that won't ever happen: the French. The United States.

Fixed that for you.


Thank you for your help, but it wasn't necessary. (And if I need your help in future, please rest assured I will ask you for it.)

It really is the French who are the primary problem. French farmers are the biggest beneficiaries of the EU "CAP" program, and when in negotiations America has tried to propose that everyone reduce quotas and price supports for farm goods, it's been the French who have said, "over our dead bodies."

If the US were to unilaterally eliminate those quotas it would do some good, but it's politically impossible unless the Europeans do it too.

But it may happen, in a few years. The CAP is scheduled to run for another 6 years or so, and then it will expire and it would have to be repassed. I think that the next time it won't be the same.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:31 PM on September 23, 2006


Who gets to judge what works? What criteria are you going to measure it by? By the measurement of the standard of living of the people in the nation.

When poor countries have managed to find markets for exports, the standard of living rises. Some eastern Asian nations have done quite well because of that: Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea, and of course China.

However, right now it isn't really possible for Africa to compete in things like clothing manufacture or other relatively low capital investment areas. About the only significant products they can produce and export in quantity are agricultural, and right now they're locked out of the most lucrative markets for agricultural goods because of price supports and quotas in the industrialized world.

That affects South America, too. The best thing we could do for Brazil is to eliminate all government controls over the sugar market. That would be a big help for the Philippines, too. Certainly there are forces inside the US who would lobby hard against such things, but I think it would be politically possible -- if the Europeans did the same thing. But it isn't going to happen in Europe, and there's no way Congress will agree to do it unilaterally.

(Heh. Isn't "unilateral action" supposed to be a bad thing? Ain't we s'posed to be multilateral, and to act in concert with our closest allies, the Europeans?)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:36 PM on September 23, 2006


Why don't we just make joining the U.S. military more attractive to black Americans and use mostly black troop units to liberate certain African countries from their plutocratic oppressors and their machete-wielding "liberation fronts"? Talk about integrating Africa into the world market; we could even bring them generic AIDS drugs.

And no, I'm not totally kidding.
posted by davy at 2:46 PM on September 23, 2006


he would just turn 20 more developing nations into Cubas

Your overstating your rebuttal. Cuba is deliberately embargoed by the U.S. I'm talking about merely holding nations at arm's length until they shape themselves up from judicial and social perspectives, and provide aid to develop robust internal systems.

Either that or we can continue to pretend that, say, Zimbabwe isn't a mind-boggling obvious dictatorship and we continue to look the other way while U.S. companies extract what they can from the chaos.

I mean, Mexico is crazy corrupt and it's right here next to us. They're not all that economically important. So why do we bother?

Tough love, kids.
posted by frogan at 2:50 PM on September 23, 2006


It turns out that what developing countries really need is markets, not charity.

This statement is largely as true as the statement "What people really need is aid, not markets." It suffers from the exact same kind of panacea thinking that a lot of fluffy-headed aid advocacy does.

Markets are valuable institutions that can do a lot, but the fact is, there's still a lot of effort going into where they work well and what supporting social and legal factors make them work effectively. There's known cases where naive and even somewhat well-informed reforms have failed utterly, even to the point of making things worse. Inevitably this is followed up by "Well, you didn't do it right." Of course. Even in the sectors of the world where we've apparently gotten it mostly right, we may only be aware of some fraction of the factors that we got right, and we're likely giving some unintentionally bad advice along with the good when it comes to economics.

Not only that, but any careful reading of the article shows that aid, while at best questionable for providing general economic benefits for a country, clearly can make significant differences at an individual level: life and death differences. There are also real social and subsistence related differences being made by a wide variety of aid activities. I've personally talked with people who are very likely alive because they managed to walk dozens of miles post-disaster to a place where aid workers were providing help.

Now, every person I know who's done on-the-ground aid/development work abroad has serious questions about effectiveness and unintended consequences of any program. Some of them are aware of outright scams and more serious problems. At least one of my friends has had her life genuinely threatened for opposing an attempt to take advantage of well-meaning aid. But the funny thing is, almost all of them believe the answer isn't to pull out and cease any kind of programatic help, the answer is to get smarter about it.

Of course ultimately every succesful society comes about because of choices made by those who make it up. Of course African and other third world countries need to develop their own economies. And of course we can be smarter about aid: funneling money to ineffective governments is obviously, well, ineffective. This doesn't mean there aren't effective places to put the money, a wide variety of health, education, and economic initiatives that may well effect social and economic changes equip to function well and control their own destinies better.

The challenge is to move beyond the hedgehog like dichotomy of "aid vs. markets" and really apply keen thinking to evaluating and fine tuning both kinds of efforts.
posted by weston at 2:50 PM on September 23, 2006


Recolonization.

You're all thinking it, I'm just saying it.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 2:53 PM on September 23, 2006


What the world needs now...
posted by davy at 2:55 PM on September 23, 2006


I think in many cases these people are still pretty fucked up from the last wave of colonisation...
posted by Artw at 2:59 PM on September 23, 2006


nothing can be fixed piecemeal

Gotta start somewhere. There's plenty of food in Africa. Countries like Nigeria and Tanzania are rich in natural resources. But the bad guys control access to it all -- for example, both of these countries were under militarily-based, one-party rule for decades, until only very recently.

It appears that only a very few have the political will to stand up and point out the obvious. Or you can keep throwing money at the problem and hope some it trickles down to the right people.
posted by frogan at 3:02 PM on September 23, 2006


See, I'm finally hip to what the Right-Shactmanites are up to: use the U.S.A. to conquer the world, and while we do that, subtlely convert the U.S. Government to a socialist democracy. It's an insidious plot toward top-down Trotskyism. That's why they call it Neo-conservatism, and why their policies and explanations are unworkable and looney and bear little relation to old-fashioned conservatism: think "reverse psychology", and of all the intellectuals who got government jobs since "neo-conservatism" took off.
posted by davy at 3:12 PM on September 23, 2006


Markets aren't the solution. Underdeveloped countries have intractable problems that will prevent them from actually growing any kind of robust market economies, both internal (as discussed here) and external, in the form of capital as amassed in the hands of the first world country eliminates their ability to compete in the world economy. Local industry lacks the capital to use the most state-of-the-art equipment and the scale that industry in developed countries have access to; as such, they are basically easy to undermine. At best, these countries can be used as reserves of cheap labor, an alternative to industrialized countries where standards of living are considerably higher; unfortunately, since this quite literally depends on relatively low wages in the underdeveloped countries, it means that they are going nowhere fast.

At the same time, aid isn't the solution. It obviously isn't, because it's a "band-aid" solution that fails to address underlying problems. And aid groups have a built-in reason to only provide minimal success: while they need to show that they are doing something with the money given to them, if the problems were actually fixed, those aid groups would be out of business. This is a problem with charity as we know it.

An actual resolution to these problems would require the whole world economy to be changed, so that it is oriented toward justice and equality. But there aren't too many people talking about that these days.
posted by graymouser at 3:14 PM on September 23, 2006


It really is the French who are the primary problem.

Wait a minute. You have a Republican president, a Republican Senate and a Republican congress. Every reputable economist agrees that agricultural subsidies are bad for the economy, bad for tax payers, and bad for third world countries and it is the French who are the problem? That's hilarious.

And if the US unilaterally removes their subsidies, US consumers would have the benefit of picking the pockets of the French tax payers. But the Republicans won't do that. I thought you guys hated the French.
posted by JackFlash at 3:15 PM on September 23, 2006


To build on my earlier comment,"Let Freedom ring!" Remember Reagan's UN Ambassador?
posted by davy at 3:19 PM on September 23, 2006


davy:

Now, I'm partial to the left-Shachtmanites (I actually have a couple of books by Shachtman and Hal Draper, though I also approve of the Cuban government more than they did) but find right-Shachtmanism to be a despicable tendency. It took Shachtman's well-founded disgust at what the USSR became and followed it into the right wing. Right-Shachtmanism was less about radical politics and more about getting cushy jobs.
posted by graymouser at 3:26 PM on September 23, 2006


If women are more concerned about other people knowing they have aids than infecting their children with aids the best thing to do would be to take the children away from them. This is not merely a cultural difference but a failure of humanity.
posted by I Foody at 3:38 PM on September 23, 2006


Markets aren't the solution.

You say that as if those in favor of markets don't acknowledge the value of institutions and aid. We do. We just spend more time talking about the market because it's still the only thing worth a damn when it comes to creating wealth, and it's under fire from radically false statements such as "markets aren't the solution".

Markets don't exist in isolation. Markets can fail. Markets are not God. But for the problem we're talking about - chronic, grinding poverty - they are the solution.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 4:09 PM on September 23, 2006


hoverboards don't work on water writes "Markets don't exist in isolation. Markets can fail. Markets are not God. But for the problem we're talking about - chronic, grinding poverty - they are the solution."

No, they're not, and if you're going to say that I'm radically wrong, I'm going to call bullshit unless you actually say word number one about the reasoning behind that statement. What about markets is going to magically make the countries in Africa able to get out from the cycle of underdevelopment they're in? Markets are the problem, not the solution. As long as you have globalized capitalism, it's going to be impossible for markets to "create wealth" in Africa. It just does not make sense to say "Markets are the solution."
posted by graymouser at 4:41 PM on September 23, 2006


Whast if it's not the Right-Shactmanites? What if neoconservativism is all part of an insidious top-secret Communist conspiracy? For that matter what if the SWP manipulated Cointelpro to infiltrate the FBI et al., not the other way around? Consider that besides (seeming to?) split into a zillion barely distinguishable harmlessly-goofy-looking factions, the Trots are famous for "entryism"? Who better to infiltrate and take over than the right-wing chickenhawks! Maybe they succeeded where LaRouche failed. Imagine: "Forward With Bush For Socialism!" (Isn't it good/ Great Birnam wood.)

So anyway. What about liberating Africa?
posted by davy at 4:57 PM on September 23, 2006


It's worth reading about the Bubonic plague & the renaissance. Aid & markets wouldn't have worked in Europe either, not before the plage came.

China has the right idea: control the over population. India knows this too, but can't openly move forward. However, India could invest in industries whose polution reduces fertility.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:17 PM on September 23, 2006


I thought you guys hated the French.

Who's this "you guys"? I'm just me, all by myself. I'm not part of any "you guys".
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:36 PM on September 23, 2006


There is a long term problem with aid: it teaches people dependency. It becomes an addiction, and it totally distorts the local economy and even the local culture.

The reason that providing markets is better is that producing goods for export teaches self reliance. In the long run that is much better for everyone than dependency. And it sets up conditions to create internal markets, and increasing and sustainable prosperity.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:45 PM on September 23, 2006


It turns out that what developing countries really need is markets, not charity.

...

And it sets up conditions to create internal markets, and increasing and sustainable prosperity.

Without sane government there can be no capital formation.

Clearly dropping a sack of cornmeal somewhere is not solving the problem. But markets qua markets are a symptom of societal success, not much of a root cause.

here, hth.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 6:18 PM on September 23, 2006


What about markets is going to magically make the countries in Africa able to get out from the cycle of underdevelopment they're in? Markets are the problem, not the solution. As long as you have globalized capitalism, it's going to be impossible for markets to "create wealth" in Africa.

I don't want to concentrate wealth in Africa or anywhere. I just want to create a sense of organization that features the most honest, talented and bright people able to be elected by popular vote based on their performance and not their class, race, creed or gender (rather than having the talent wasted by starvation or tortured in prison by warlords who think in terms of power). I don't think that voting means anything witout a market economy, because voting is essentially the same idea in terms of feedback. Voting is the market of labor equality and the necessary correction to all markets, or they fail by blindly enslaving their consumers. There is no other alternative to democracy besides the combination of moralizing idealisms that delusionally trusts in concentrated power.
posted by Brian B. at 6:29 PM on September 23, 2006


What about markets is going to magically make the countries in Africa able to get out from the cycle of underdevelopment they're in?

There's no magic. And unfortunately, there do exist insoluble problems. I'm afraid that I think nothing can break the negative spiral most of them are in, for the forseeable future.

I don't like that answer, but the universe didn't promise to please me.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:01 PM on September 23, 2006


I'm just me, all by myself.

Sorry, shouldn't have lumped you in with "youse guys."
posted by JackFlash at 7:33 PM on September 23, 2006


You say that as if those in favor of markets don't acknowledge the value of institutions and aid.

There is at least one person in this thread who seems to be refusing to acknowledge said value.

There is a long term problem with aid: it teaches people dependency. It becomes an addiction, and it totally distorts the local economy and even the local culture.

This is not a guarantee, depending on the type of aid you're talking about, nor is this potential problem news to any serious aid/development worker.

There's no magic. And unfortunately, there do exist insoluble problems.

The problems Africa faces are probably not among them, since they're problems other human beings have faced and won out over.

What's more precisely true is that there are in fact severe problems and there's nothing an outside entity can do to guarantee success there.

There are things, however, that can be done make things more or less difficult for developing nations to do the things they need to do in order to get up, and there are good reasons to do them.

markets qua markets are a symptom of societal success, not much of a root cause.

That's an excellent way of expressing it.
posted by weston at 7:45 PM on September 23, 2006


There need not be an either/or. We can develop policies that harness market powers to achieve pubic ends. Emissions trading and microfinance programs are examples.
posted by egg meister at 8:07 PM on September 23, 2006


err... that would be public...
posted by egg meister at 8:08 PM on September 23, 2006


Weston, I see aid as being something like medicine, to be applied judiciously in emergency situations. But if aid is applied continuously, it eventually becomes a chronic problem, causing more harm than help.

I don't deny a place for aid in the grand scheme of things -- but I think that it can only ultimately be a secondary part of any solution.

I don't think that Africa is condemned to poverty and pain and suffering for perpetuity -- but I don't expect anything there to change during my lifetime, and as several have said, I don't think there's ultimately anything that anyone outside of Africa can do to change that.

I wish it were otherwise.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:22 PM on September 23, 2006


Robots are the answer.

Until they wake up, and kill us.

Keep your eye on the Toyota plants in Kentucky; those factories are filthy with robots. That is where the robots will rise first.
posted by kenlayne at 8:41 PM on September 23, 2006


'Recolonization.

'You're all thinking it, I'm just saying it.'


Right, because that worked so well the last time around. Read history, much?
posted by signal at 8:53 PM on September 23, 2006


World revolution leading to world-wide communism. Anything else is just half-stepping.
posted by davy at 9:17 PM on September 23, 2006


way to harsh the butt buzz, egg meister!
posted by rob511 at 10:40 PM on September 23, 2006


Right, because that worked so well the last time around. Read history, much?

In the future I will not mix jokes with serious comments.

But markets qua markets are a
symptom of societal success, not much of a root cause.


This is a good summary, but it's not the whole truth. The prosperity of Asia (and elsewhere) over the last 30 or 40 years is pretty directly attributable to liberal impetus from the top.

World revolution leading to world-wide communism. Anything else is just half-stepping.

It would be so much simpler if all the tweenage anticapitalistas just came out and said as much.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 4:57 AM on September 24, 2006


World revolution leading to world-wide communism. Anything else is just half-stepping.

Communism is half-stepping. It just looks whole when you imagine a perfect world by ignoring the other half of reality. It's a famous supply-side mentality where bureaucrats replace consumer demand, of all things. Reality needs to build a successful tax base, and tax it only above the average income line, then distribute key services that can't be wasted or defrauded, such as public housing, mass transportation, education, health care and gym passes. This is also the way to host business, by providing the employee benefits all the way down the line. Besides, central planning cannot work without supercomputers, making it impossible until they evolve into the role, and only then to replace money and optimize gains in efficiency--no revolution required. The most important thing an economy can do is to never once tax the poor, who are least able to fight it. Taxing poverty will insure economic and government failure and guarantee third-world results.
posted by Brian B. at 10:11 AM on September 24, 2006


I'm taking a class on political economies of Africa this semester, and this reminds me of few chapters we were assigned to read from a book by Peter Uvin, an aid worker who spent extensive time in Rwanda before the genocide. He discusses how the immense influx of aid there actually served to lay (or at least enforce) the conditions that led to the genocide. The money reinforced the government there, it provided well-paid positions for corrupt officials to hand out, programs were ill-advised and did not focus on the real social issues of the people, and a good deal of the money went to help the middle-to-upper-class population, solidifying the class differences among the population. This is a simplification, but it's good stuff.

The book was quite eye-opening. I had spent some time before reading articles on the problem of giving massive aid to Third World countries, but it was never spelled out so clearly. I'm a big fan of foreign aid, but I'd never realized a lot of the money is given away stupidly. Instead of handing millions of dollars over to the government, we need very specific programs with strict oversight that address the individual needs of the population.
posted by schroedinger at 2:04 PM on September 25, 2006


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