Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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Sunday, March 13, 2005
 
I wanted to give a wider airing to the eighteenth comment to this Samizdata piece by Brian Micklethwait, mostly, to be honest, because the comment is by me.
Jim, I read some way in to that "Counting Chickens Before* They Hatch" piece before semi-giving up and skimming the rest. Unimpressive, you may say, but we're talking 76 pages of highly mathematical text here.

OK, it looked a closely reasoned and serious piece of work. I agreed with its argument that different types of aid (emergency / long term / short term) must be disaggregated and that each type needs different assessment periods. But I don't intend to surrender my deep scepticism about whether most government aid works yet. Nor will I accept the idea that I should wait until I know what a regression analysis is before I dare comment.

For one thing, I'm pretty sure that there are equally mathematical and serious papers giving other messages. Indeed, they are mentioned.

More fundamentally, I think that "Counting Chickens when they hatch" suffers from something almost all aid literature also suffers from: not seeing the woods for the trees.

While it did try to compare what did happen to what would have happened without aid, by bringing in regional growth comparators etc., what I want to do is to ask what would have happened if this entire vast movement had not taken place? What if the whole mindset of Africa as recipient, Africa as pauper, Africa as guilt-sink, Africa as playground of anti-colonialist, nationalist and socialist dreams; this mindset confirmed by a billion separate interactions, had not got off the ground?

What if Africa had been like Taiwan?
I think you get a much richer Africa.

I can see that this is essentially unverifiable. I can't help that. But Taiwan is richer than the Sudan, when it wasn't fifty years ago.
*Actually it's "when they hatch" not "before they hatch." I did get the title right further down the page.

The great twelfth century rabbi Maimonides ranked eight types of giving in order of virtue. One could construct a ladder of international aid on the same lines. "UN-to-dictator, no strings attached" aid would be worst but I am not decided on the other internal rankings.

My Micklethwait links always come in flocks. Here's an earlier post dealing with why people had good reason to be more generous with money to help victims of the tsunami than with other causes. Aid that is intended to help the recipient to self-sufficiency may well be nobler than short-term aid, but the devil, especially when dealing with nations rather than individuals, lies in defining what actions will lead to self-sufficiency. Or what self-sufficiency actually is. God rest the souls of the myriad Africans and Asians who died demonstrating that tariff barriers and import substitution were the wrong way to go.

UPDATE: By the way, Jim replies later in those Samizdata comments.