What Good Is Foreign Aid? Ctd

Charles Kenny backs up Bill Gates’s controversial position, articulated in his foundation’s annual letter, that corruption isn’t as serious an obstacle to international development as people think it is:

As Gates suggests, there’s strong evidence corruption acts as a real tax in many countries—and not just on aid, but on all government transactions. But look at another question in the World Bank survey: “What’s the most serious obstacle facing the operation of this establishment?” Companies are given 15 possible answer choices, ranging from access to finance to regulations, infrastructure, tax rates, crime, and corruption. In less than 1 percent of countries was ‘corruption’ the most common answer. In only one out of seven countries did corruption even rank in the top three most common responses. Access to finance ranked first in 29 percent of countries, while electricity was the top concern in more than one out of five countries. Corruption ranked eighth out of the 15 obstacles, equal with customs and trade regulation and labor regulations. That put it below crime and disorder, political instability, informal sector competition, tax rates, and an inadequately educated workforce.

Meanwhile, readers continue the aid debate. One who works in military aid agrees with our jaded former foreign service officer that “much of what we provide is not particularly useful in terms of transforming or improving the target recipient institutions.” But, he adds, “that’s only part of the reason we provide the funding”:

I have worked in military assistance for over a decade – primarily Foreign Military Financing (money to buy US military equipment and services), International Military Education and Training (free military schools in the US), the Global Peace Operations Initiative (equipment and training to improve peacekeeping capability), and a variety of smaller but related programs falling loosely under the rubric of “security assistance.” In many cases, the millions we pour into these programs have done little to make the recipient country better, their military more professional, their institutions stronger, or their populations safer. Plenty will argue that our infusion of military equipment and training have often made them worse.

But making things better for the recipient is not the only reason we do it. We also do it to gain or enhance “access and influence” with the leadership and decision-making bodies running the country. And that part works great. Our military foreign area officers in our security cooperation offices, and our majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels, can pick up the phone and call the most senior generals in their respective partner nations. Within a day they can arrange a meeting with the Minister or Defense.

Is the amount we spend worth the access and influence we gain? I have no idea, and it’s a worthwhile discussion. But assessing the results solely on vague notions of “did we do good?” does not address the full picture.


Your reader who commented on Paul Farmer doesn’t seem to be too informed.  Paul Farmer and his organization, Partners In Health have been in Haiti for nearly three decades and have actually made a great impact on HIV/AIDS infection rates.  Without them, those rates would no doubt be worse.  Are diarrheal diseases a big problem in Haiti?  Yes, but not because of Paul Farmer.  The United Nations introduced cholera, which has now killed over 8,300 people and the UN refuses to accept responsibility or commit actual funds to clean up their shitty mess.  With over 10,000 NGO’s in Haiti, decades of foreign governments meddling in Haitian politics (supporting dictators and paramilitary organizations), and a weakened Haitian state, I fail to see how this is Paul Farmer’s fault or how fighting HIV/AIDS in Haiti is a “shenanigan.”  I guess we could just throw HIV-infected Haitians in Guantanamo.