[Book Review] From Aid to Trade: Lessons Learned from Haiti

Haiti is a country that has been almost “NGO’d” to death. In their new book, From Aid to Trade, Daniel Jean-Louis and Jacqueline Klamer (full disclosure: two former colleagues of mine) highlight this issue in a clear and meaningful way. They make the case that even with this vast abundance of NGOs, Haiti as a nation has not seen very much of an improvement in the last several decades.

The book begins with a vivid story of Laurent Auguste, owner of a local soap manufacturing company in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. After the cholera outbreak in 2010, bars of soap were being donated and distributed for free in Haiti by everyone from the United Nations to small churches across the United States. According to Daniel and Jackie, these donations effectively pushed Laurant and his soap company out of business.

This is just one anecdotal example of perhaps thousands of stories demonstrating the misallocation of good intentions in Haiti. More recently, in early March 2016 The New York Times Magazine ran a story highlighting a group of older Christian missionaries who volunteered their time in the hills above Port-au-Prince by “struggling with heavy shovels to stir a pile of cement and sand.”

They were there to build a school alongside a Methodist church. Muscular Haitian masons stood by watching, perplexed and a bit amused at the sight of men and women who had come all the way from the United States to do a mundane construction job… Imagine how many classrooms might have been built if they had donated that money rather than spending it to fly down themselves. Perhaps those Haitian masons could have found weeks of employment with a decent wage. Instead, at least for several days, they were out of a job.

One of the key lessons of these stories is that poverty alleviation and economic development always requires more than good intentions.

I, myself, learned this lesson while volunteering with a student organization in college. Our group was affiliated with an organization that facilitated trips for business and economics students to travel to Panama (and other countries) in order to perform microenterprise consulting and financial literacy training. I went on two trips, each a week long, in back to back summers. During the first trip, we worked with a microfinance institution (MFI) in a rural village. Through that MFI our group provided funds for the village to build a roadside stand to sell their hand-made crafts and souvenirs. Returning a year later, the materials that had been purchased with these funds were sitting—unused—in a pile on the side of the road.

This is a crucial lesson for anyone who possess the persistent desire to help the less fortunate, the oppressed, the poor, or the marginalized around the world. If you are new to the field of international development then this may be a worthwhile book for you. The stories told by Daniel and Jackie introduce the complexity of our world and exposes this inconvenient reality: that good intentions are necessary but not sufficient in our world.

If, however, you are more experienced in the field of international development, then continue reading because even this complexity is complicated. My remaining thoughts can be separated under two headings: ‘economies not economics’ and ‘war aid, what is it good for?’.

Economies not Economics

(Some may catch this as one of the key points of Morten Jerven’s book Africa: Why Economists Get it Wrong. It’s important, so I’ll expound on it a bit.)

In From Aid to Trade, Daniel and Jackie develop and present a strategy of economic development, what they call, opportunity-based economic development (OBED). This strategy is defined as the following (pp. 66):

As a comprehensive strategy, OBED means harnessing assets and capital through entrepreneurial opportunities to increase balanced transactions, a key activity to implement OBED, thereby meeting needs profitably and generating resources. It means that needs should be met through market-based opportunities and initiatives, not through projects or programs that do not generate profit.

To me, this sounds a lot like the so-called “Washington Consensus” policies of the late 1970s and 1980s. Here’s a brief summary of the goals of these policies: The term “Washington Consensus” denotes the ambitious agenda that considered developing nations as no different than economics 101 textbook cases of free-market economies. Basically, the agenda reflected an urge to “unshackle” these economies from the “restraints” of government regulation and in return institute “market-based” policies that “stabilized”, “privatized”, and “liberalized.”

Looking back on the outcomes of these policies, it’s not very controversial to state that they “didn’t work” – by that I mean they didn’t deliver the expected outcomes. Why? Well, in short, because policymakers, at the time, were studying economics and not economies. They treated the diversity of the developing world as being characterized by oversimplified stylized facts often found in an economics 101 textbook.

Never mind that the critical assumptions of a free and efficient market as presented in economics 101 (i.e. individuals maximizing self-interest, secure property rights, full information, no monopoly power, access to a complete set of markets) fail to hold in many, if not all, of the local economies of developing nations. Never mind the institutional underpinnings of market-oriented economics. Never mind that the very institutions that allow market-oriented policies to “work” – by that I mean create flourishing societies – in developed countries took decades, or perhaps even centuries, to form and mature. Never mind the intricacies of local contexts, of local history, of local culture that effect how people make decisions and behave. Never mind political interests that may make certain policies more urgent or feasible in a given country.

There is little doubt – or at least I’m not arguing – about the goal of developing countries to become self-sufficient, industrialized, market-oriented countries. I just want to suggest that achieving this goal is tricky. It’s context specific. There is no universal recipe. And the solutions almost certainly lie beyond the realm of economics 101 textbooks. I would have loved more specific details, from Daniel and Jackie, on when and where the OBED strategy works best and a discussion of the limitations of OBED as a strategy for the development of economies.

War Aid, What is it Good For?

The title of the book is catchy, and I’d say a bit jarring. Both words, “aid” and “trade” carry a lot of baggage and are difficult to wrap one’s head around. The idea of moving “from aid to trade” sounds nice on the surface. But what do we actually mean?

As I’ve written about before, painting “aid” as a singular thing uses a brush that is a bit too wide. Aid takes many different forms. There is humanitarian aid. Food aid. Aid for education. Aid for health. Aid for infrastructure. Aid for energy. Aid for the environment. Aid for security. Aid for political stabilization. Aid for economic reform. Aid for data collection. Aid for policy analysis. And on and on and on. Do all of these “not work”? Should all of these be replaced by trade? I’m not sure if that’s even possible, let alone desirable.

Next, lets relax the assumption that aid is altruistic. Instead lets allow ourselves to live in a world where countries give aid for purposes of their own benefit. In this case, countries like the United States give foreign aid primarily for self-interested purposes – i.e. for reasons explained by public choice theory. As much as I dislike this reality, I’d argue this is the world we live in.

If the reality is that the primary reason for countries like the United States giving foreign aid is for self-interested reasons, then it’s no wonder that lots and lots of foreign aid funded programs haven’t delivered growth or development. Additionally, if this characterization of foreign aid spending is true, then the bulk of the effort from those of us who actually do have so-called altruistic intentions should be to figure out how aid can be used most effectively. In a sense, we should move away from the “aid vs. trade” characterization and think more carefully about aid plus trade.

Now, this “aid plus trade” characterization is (I think) actually what Daniel and Jackie’s book is all about. So don’t let the title discourage you, From Aid to Trade is a book that (thankfully) moves us beyond the tired “aid debate” and is more about how aid can facilitate trade. This much is alluded to in the subtitle: “How Aid Organizations, Businesses, and Governments Can Work Together”. But remember, these are lessons learned from Haiti. Be careful when applying them to different economies.

[Film Review] Poverty, Inc.

poverty-inchPoverty, Inc. is a new documentary* that draws attention to the flaws in the modern global aid and development industry. The film itself is quite well-made and is high in production value. For a documentary about failed attempts to aid the poor and the development of societies it is actually a remarkably engaging film.

The documentary begins by calling for reform in the US global food aid system. The film demonstrates how food aid is distributed around the world in a way that largely contains the benefits within the United States. We package up our surplus (and subsidized) agricultural products, ship them across the world on US ships, and giving them out for free in countries that are primarily agricultural based economies. As I’ve blogged before, the evidence is clear: the most effective way to help hungry people around the world is by providing cash, electronic transfers, or by purchasing food locally.

The film then moves on to the most common critique of foreign aid: pointing out that aid that goes directly to corrupt governments does very little in the lives of the poor and (perhaps) makes the whole situation worse. By providing governments with revenue, the need for the government to be accountable to its electorate is diminished – causing a weakening of “the social contract” between governments and their people. This may be called the Angus Deaton critique of aid

Next, the film tells the story of the perverse incentives orphanages create for poor families in poor countries. Orphanages are numerous in countries like Haiti and they may be actually pulling families apart. By offering to care for children in poor areas, it may be in the best interest of a poor family to give their child up to the orphanage. This effectively exacerbates the problem those who run orphanages are explicitly trying to help solve. Although this reality is well documented, orphanages continue to be popular among rich “do-gooders”.

Finally, the film stresses that real and meaningful change occurs with the change of existing institutions (i.e. change in the “rules of the game” as Doug North would say). Most who work in development, when they are being most honest, would agree that the primary reason why some countries are rich and others are poor is due to political institutions: i.e. rule of law, authoritarianism vs. democracy, judicial systems, ect. 

By raising awareness of these flaws in the global aid system, I greatly appreciate this documentary, as these issues are presented in a clear and meaningful fashion. I do, however, have two key critiques: First, none of these flaws are all that novel to those who are actually working in the aid and development industry, and they actually fail to mention the flaw that (perhaps) underscores everything that is mentioned above. Second, the film focused only on the flaws of the current system and fails to mention what the aid and development industry (perhaps miraculously) has gotten right over the years.

TOMS Shoes: When Theory Doesn’t Hold in Reality

The film makes the case that aid doesn’t work, and may be hurting those it should be helping. This is a real concern, but the film doesn’t share much in terms of real evidence or rigorous analysis. This lack of empirical evidence allows for mistakes to slip into the film.

For example, the film takes quite a bit of time explaining why TOMS Shoes, while well-intended, actually damages the local economies where the shoes are donated. This explanation uses solid and well-developed theoretical economic logic: local shoe businesses can’t compete with free, so when TOMS Shoes gives away free shoes the local shoe market suffers. Although this theory is solid, it is worth actually performing a study in order to understand if this theory holds up in reality.

Three economists from the University of San Francisco performed such a study and recently published it in the peer-reviewed Journal of Development EffectivenessThe findings of the study are surprising, given the sound logic in the paragraph above. They find no statistically significant effects on the local labor market, in rural El Salvador, due to the donations of TOMS Shoes. There is a small effect, about one fewer pair of shoes demanded and sold locally due to 20 pairs of TOMS Shoes donated, but this effect is so small (and not statistically significant) that it hardly warrants the mass prevention of shoe donations.

The key take-away from this is that shoe donations, specifically, and aid, in general, ought to be targeted to those who actually need it. In the case of shoes, those who donate shoes should be careful not to give shoes to people who would otherwise pay the going market price for shoes. In many communities, however, there are lots of people who both need shoes and can’t pay the market price for shoes that would benefit greatly from the donation of good quality shoe donations.

Foreign Aid: A Simple Cost-Benefits Analysis

Although it may be easy to point out aid and development spending that may have not generated genuine economic growth and poverty reduction, the benefits from aid and development can be so huge, when it is spent well, that the benefits may still outweigh the costs using typical cost-benefit practices.

For example, the eradication of smallpox around the world. (An example brought to my attention by William MacAskill on a recent EconTalk podcast.) Suppose, just for the time being, that all forms of aid had no benefits except for aiding in the eradication of smallpox. Before smallpox was eradicated it killed a recorded 300 million people globally. Since its eradication, in 1973, roughly 100 million lives have been saved. To put that number in perspective, that’s more lives saved than would have been saved if we achieved world peace in 1973. Now, if you crunch the numbers, counting how many lives were saved in terms of how much money has been spent on foreign aid (remember, we are assuming there have been no other benefits of aid since 1973), you’d concluded that it cost roughly $70,000 per life saved. To put this calculation in perspective: standard cost-benefit analysis within the United States government rests on the assumption that a life is “worth” saving if it can be done with a price tag of $7 million or less.

The key take-away from this is there are huge benefits to foreign aid, particularly in the sphere of global health. To make the case against spending foreign aid, it is not a sufficient argument to simply point to projects or policies that seem to have not produced benefits. Like most topics in public policy or business administration, the benefits must be weighed against the costs. In the case of human development and poverty alleviation the potential benefits are so large that the seemingly high costs are often justified.

Innovation in the Aid Industry: Cash Transfers

When the film presents the current reality of the global aid and development industry (pictured below), the newest, and perhaps, most exciting innovation in the last decade is omitted: direct cash transfers.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 4.45.12 PM

Inserted into the figure above, direct cash transfers create a line of little green arrows from the yellow group of people (presumably rich people) directly to the red and orange people (the “people in poverty”). No taxes, no donor nation governments, no developing nation governments, no egotistical NGO development project. Through organizations like Give Directly you can send money from your bank account directly to the mobile money (i.e. MPESA) account of the extreme poor all around the world.

When thinking about the power of direct cash transfers consider the idea of diminishing returns. It seems wellbeing and income are related to each other, approximately, by the logarithmic function. Whereas no matter how much money you have, doubling your income will provide the same amount of gain in welfare. This means that for someone who makes $2 per day, giving this person an extra $2 per day will do approximately as much in terms of wellbeing as giving someone who makes $200 per day an extra $200 every day. 

The most remarkable detail about this omission is that (at least) the director of the film seemed unfamiliar with direct cash transfers when asked about them by Russ Roberts while a guest on the Econ Talk podcast. While this critique borders on ad hominem, this is not my intention. It is rather stunning and relatively disappointing that the director of a documentary about the modern aid and development industry, “hasn’t spent a lot of time thinking [about cash transfers]”. Particularly because talk about cash transfers has been so common in recent years. A couple years ago a large study was done on unconditional cash transfers in Western Kenya – paper here, media coverage here, here, here, here, and here. Additionally, the most famous cash transfer program is Mexico’s school attendance conditional cash transfer program, Progresa/Oportunidades  – one of the many papers here, more information here, here, here, here, and here.

The key take-away is that the aid and development industry is still evolving and improving. In fact, the increased use of direct cash transfers could help improve the flaws in the global food aid system, mentioned above. Some have suggested that direct cash transfers should serve as “index funds” of sorts for the aid and development industry. If your program is not doing as good or better than just giving all the money needed to run the program to the poor then, maybe, it’s time to make some changes to the program.

Conclusion: The Root of the Problem with Aid

To conclude this review, I’d like to highlight what may be the largest and most fundamental flaw in the aid and development industry as it was largely left out of the film: the extreme lack of evidence and rigorous feedback in decision making, program design, and management of NGOs.

The world is a complicated place. As is demonstrated above through the case of TOMS Shoes, well-developed theory and sound logic can only provide so much clarity about what will work and what won’t in various contexts. In order for aid to actually be effective data need to be collected, feedback needs to be heard, and impacts need to be measured. The problem with most NGOs, and the key reason why Haiti remains poor despite the overwhelming number of NGOs, is because these organizations often don’t do anything as far as collecting data, gathering feedback, or rigorously measuring impact.

I understand why very few NGOs spend time and money measuring impacts and collecting evidence. Doing so in any sort of rigorous and honest manor requires a lot of humility and courage. It is perhaps natural for us to want to live a (fictional) world where we know we know how things work. Admitting our own faults is often one of the most difficult challenges we face, but learning from failure and iterating through trial and error is simply the most effective problem solving strategy at our disposal. 

The Poverty, Inc. documentary tried to make the case for so-called market-based or business solutions to poverty around the world. This recommendation glosses over the primary reasoning behind the preference for the private sector over the public sector. The main reason why the private sector drives innovation and progress is because it is constantly receiving feedback vis-a-vis the market. The public sector, on the other hand, has a very slow (and sometimes nonexistent) mechanism for feedback and therefore lacks innovation and progress. Aid in and of itself is not bad or ineffective, it’s the lack of feedback caused by the lack of commitment to evidenced based management that makes much of global aid to be bad and ineffective. The challenge of poverty is that it often rests outside the scope of markets and private sector businesses. The poor can’t “entrepreneur” themselves around bad leadership or bad policies, rather it’s good leadership and politics that needs to create an environment for entrepreneurship to flourish.

In recent years, the idea that aid given to foreign countries is “bad” always seems to gain a lot of traction. I’ve never quite figured out why so many people are set on painting with such broad strokes when it comes to solving one of the world’s most persistent puzzles. The aid and development industry needs more evidence not less financial support. The last thing that is needed would be for public support of foreign aid to wane in years to come. In light of the flaws highlighted by Poverty, Inc. and the key points of this review, perhaps the most concrete task to be done would be to call your member of congress to voice support for the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act.

* A disclaimer: I personally know many of the people who were interviewed in and who were involved in making this film. While in college and for a year after, my work was affiliated with Partners Worldwide, who assisted film-makers for this project. During this time, I assisted with some preliminary research for a book about Haiti with two administrators, worked for a few months with several of the folks in Ghana (I’ve actually been to the pineapple plant shown in the film), and spent a year in Kenya working with the organization full time. Although I remain friendly with many of my former colleagues, I’ve tried to keep this review as objective as possible.

By not measuring impact, NGOs are abusing their power

That’s the title of a recent article over on The Guardian’s “Secret aid worker” blog.

Needless to say, endless evaluation is an impossible idealism. Funding is tight so why should NGOs invest precious revenue in costly impact evaluation when nobody is paying attention and flimsy statistics can be passed off as watertight findings? Eloquent websites and lengthy annual reports allude to responsible practices but often offer little substance. Many NGOs state a focus on “breaking the cycle of poverty” and report “a lasting impact” on families’ lives without any evidence to back up such claims.

Other NGOs may assert that X% of families have crossed the poverty line over the past couple of years. Often these figures are based on passing the World Bank’s $1.90-a-day threshold or using tools such as the Progress Out of Poverty index (PPI). However, neither NGOs, nor the families they serve, exist in a vacuum. Yes, these families may no longer technically be impoverished, but attributing an extra dollar a day to your NGO’s recent microloan or an extra couple of points on the PPI to your workshops on family planning is inaccurate and unprofessional. Correlation is not causality.

Then there’s this:

Frustratingly, while our own evaluation gap grows, more focus is put on the experience of volunteers. Interestingly, they are surveyed at the end of their placement, unlike the families who leave our programme. Positive feedback provides a flashy quote to excite future volunteers, while negative feedback is largely ignored.

There is no substitute for a robust impact evaluation of your programme. This does not have to be done annually; mixed-methodology research, where you compare a group working with your NGO with a group that is not, can be achieved in a relatively small time frame.

Finally:

None of this is to question the goodwill of many NGOs but goodwill is not, nor will ever be, sufficient. NGOs that are unable or unwilling to provide strong evidence of the impact they are having are, at best, a considerable waste of time and money. What seems a lot more certain is that many NGOs are continuing to provide noble career paths and selfless volunteer placements for the more fortunate, while simultaneously servicing the local population with untested and meagre programmes.

Any change of approach will have to originate from within the international NGO community, otherwise for as long as this status quo rumbles on, so will the ugly questions of neo-colonialism and white privilege that often circulate around this kind of work.

Yikes! As Paul Niehaus said on Twitter, “This took courage to write…“.

But, I have to agree with the point the author is trying to make. The majority of the international NGO industry is built and supported by a system that is devoid of rigorous evaluation. It’s largely predicated on feelings rather than facts, simpleton good intentions, and hubris rather than humility. This is not to say that every NGO or individual who works in the aid and development industry doesn’t care if their work is worth the time or money. I’ve worked with several great individuals who were willing to put the value of their work on the line by measuring impact.

Also, there is change in the wind. A new bill is actually moving through congress (!) that could (maybe) change all this for the better. The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act would drastically increase the standard of evaluation within the aid industry. (Well, just within USAID, but they are the largest aid and development donor in the world, so it’s a good place to start.)

Additionally, yours truly will be spending this upcoming summer in Washington DC at the U.S. Global Development Lab within USAID working with the Office of Evaluation and Impact Assessment. I’m not sure I’ll have a huge impact, but I’m determined to make it worth the time and money.

Thoughts on Foreign Aid

Matt Collin, a research fellow over at CGD – Europe, has a nice quick and dirty video on the issues and reality of foreign aid.

He brings up a good point that is often hastily brushed over in the aid vs. trade debate. (Which apparently is still a thing, because my post on ‘The Great Aid Debate’ is still constantly one of my most viewed blog posts.)

It seems to me (at least in the public realm) we’ve lost track of the long-run vs. short-run dynamic.

In the long-run economics 101 tells us that markets are efficient, profits converge on zero, price equals marginal cost, etc. etc. In the long-run aid is, ideally, not a thing we want to be dealing with. Here’s where it gets tricky.

J.M. Keyens (yes, the Keynes v Hayek guy) has this quote that is often said in jest: “In the long-run… we’re all dead.”

The sad reality is for too many people around the world this is not a joke. And THAT’S why we need to ditch this meaningless aid vs. trade debate and focus on three things:

  1. Advocating our national governments to budget for more foreign aid.
  2. Invest in organizations and agencies who are committed to using aid most effectively. (i.e. elevating the most poverty per dollar spent.)
  3. Learn how aid can be used in ways were it doesn’t harm long-run development, but also doesn’t forget about those who are currently trapped in grinding poverty.

The Aid Debate is Growing Up

Last week was “aid week” on Oxfam’s From Poverty to Power blog and one thing is clear: the aid debate has grown up. No longer are we arguing over the efficacy of distributing insecticide mosquito nets for free (thanks J-PAL), we are now actually moving somewhere productive and confronting real issues.

Nicola Mclvor lists some of the issues at stake at last week’s first High Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. Some issues include:

–       The voice of the vulnerable to drive their own development

–       What is the role of the private sector?

–       What will our post-2015 goals be?

Duncan Green, author of “From Poverty to Power” (the book) and editor of From Poverty to Power (the blog) recently articulated his qualms with Angus Deaton’s attack on aid found in his own recent book “The Great Escape”.

Green summarized Deaton’s opinion on aid in Deaton’s own words:

‘Economic development cannot take place without some sort of contract between those who govern and those who are governed…. It is the need to raise taxes, and the difficulty of doing so without the participation of those who are taxed, that places constraints on the government and to some extent protects the interests of taxpayers…. One of the strongest arguments against large aid flows is that they undermine these constraints, removing the need to raise money with consent.’

In other words, bunging aid money to governments means they no longer have to listen to their citizens and opens the door to all kinds of bad practices.

Green correctly points out why we’ve had so much trouble coming to answers about aid effectiveness.

The aid discussion follows the classic pattern of…

1) A blizzard of cross country regressions reaching contradictory findings, eg one IMF study finds ‘aid improves revenue performance significantly’, while another asserts with equal certainty ‘tax revenue declines by 9 cents for each grant dollar.’

2) Baffled researchers then revert to ‘priors’ and political theory, to argue that aid does indeed undermine institutions. Eg see this 2006 CGD paper.

Green goes on to point out that while Deaton’s theory of aid undermining political connectivity within recipient countries is on the right track, Deaton’s claim that we need to take a hatchet to aid budgets goes a bit too far. Today aid donors and recipients are making commitments to ‘country ownership’ and ‘inclusive development partnerships’. So while aid has seriously undermined political process in the past there are evermore-serious efforts in place to ensure these errors do not happen again.

Angus Deaton was given the chance to respond to Green’s allegations. Deaton summarizes his opinion in three points:

Here is my take-away: (a) controlling for the factors that usually appear in growth regressions, aid as a share of recipient GDP is negatively correlated with growth, (b) similarly controlled, the change in growth is positively related with the previous period’s change in the aid to GDP ratio, where periods are several years long, and (c) the share of aid in GDP is larger for small recipients than large recipients, but the latter grow more rapidly than the former.

So why does aid often fail in aggregate? Deaton says, “Money and know-how are not the issues; power is the problem, and politics the solution.”

With a government in control, it is impossible to reach those who are powerless without paying the powerful, and paying the President and the government will make them less interested in listening to their people. Instead of having to raise money through taxation and deliver services in return, they can instead use their people to extract money from donors. They can enrich themselves by keeping their population poor; such aid is an instrument of inequality. Some governments may be more benevolent, but large, prolonged amounts of aid ultimately corrupt benevolent rulers, or cause them to be replaced by exploitative rulers.

Deaton ends by recalling the argument of Amartya Sen who made the claim that “the components of freedom are also instrumental in producing it: we make trade-offs between different freedoms at our practical and ethical peril.”

As it happens there was an incredible debate of sorts (somehow they both won) at the Center for Global Development a couple weeks ago between Professor Bill Easterly and Owen Barder. They weren’t intending to talk about aid, instead opting to debate the role of rights in development and the responsibilities (if any) of development “experts”, so naturally they talked about aid.

The debate is quite good. The thoughts and observations of BOTH Bill Easterly and Owen Barder deserve to be considered and scrutinized. A few highlights:

–       Owen Barder, an admittedly non-religious man, ends his opening statement with a call for the need of humility within the work of development experts and used the words (prayer) of Reinhold Niebuhr as a useful posture:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

–       Gary Haugen’s (President of IJM) newest book, “The Locust Effect: Why Ending Poverty Requires the End of Violence” (which I reviewed several months ago) getting some play in the development mainstream.

Just as Sherlock Holmes is able to learn something from asking, “Why didn’t the dog bark?”, it seems we can learn something by asking, “What typical aid debate contributor is absent from this whole discussion?”

A Week in Rewind: ‘The Great Aid Debate’

This week has been kind of a blur for development economics. The publishing of the annual letter on aid and development by the Gates Foundation sparked the dry kindling that is “the great aid debate” (or perhaps better known as Jeff Sachs vs. EVERYBODY else).

If you happened to miss all of this (a.k.a. if you don’t have a Twitter account) or if your head is spinning and you don’t know what to think; allow me to (try to) make some sense of the letter, articles, blog posts, and tweets that have been published and republished this week.

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13 Lessons 2013 Taught Us About [Aid and Development]

I recently wrote an essay and sent it in to RELEVANT Magazine. I enjoy doing this for several reasons. (1) It kinda makes me feel like I’m still in college–meaning somebody is actually going to read and critique my writing. (Sorry to all those who think it is “fun” to read my blog, I love you, but I enjoy more criticism.) (2) It challenges me to continue to improve the quality of my writing. (3) It is fun to actually have a professional editor edit my writing. (4) It just seems cool (I concede this last reason is totally vain.)

Anyway, I wrote about some of the lessons we have learned from the books, academic studies, and events of 2013. The first draft was nice and consisted of flowing prose forming well formed paragraphs. Since RELEVANT Magazine is what it is, the editor wanted the ideas in the form of a list. I agreed to rework the article. 

When my article was finally published I was a bit disappointed as to how much substance had been stripped away. Apparently the word limit is strictly enforced. 20-somethings must lack enough attention to read anything longer than 1000 words. (A platitude I and many of my friends reject.) Here is the article published by RELEVANT. But for the benefit of my readers, the deeper and meatier (Chicago style) version is below. 

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