28. June 2005 · Comments Off on On Aid To Africa · Categories: General

After Timmer’s earlier post, I thought it might be enlightening to post some excerpts from the NYTimes’ David Brooks’ Sunday column:

Jeffrey Sachs, as you may know, is the Columbia University economist who has done more to put poverty in Africa atop the global agenda than anybody else. He has hectored and lobbied the developed world to forgive debts, set goals and increase aid to ameliorate the suffering of the extremely poor.

But Sachs is a child of the French Enlightenment. At the end of his new book, “The End of Poverty,” he delivers an unreconstructed tribute to the 18th-century Enlightenment, when leading thinkers had an amazing confidence in their ability to refashion reality so that it would conform to reason.


Sachs is also a materialist. He dismisses or downplays those who believe that human factors like corruption, greed, institutions, governance, conflict and traditions have contributed importantly to Africa’s suffering. Instead, he emphasizes material causes: lack of natural resources, lack of technology, bad geography and poverty itself as a self-perpetuating trap.

This gives him an impressive confidence on the malleability of human societies. Though $2.3 trillion has been spent over the past 50 years to address global poverty, without producing anything like the results we would have hoped for, Sachs is sure that with his insights, and most important, with more money, extreme poverty can be eliminated with one big, final push. “We can realistically envision a world without extreme poverty by the year 2025,” he writes. “Ending the poverty trap will be much easier than it appears,” he declares.


Instead of Sachs’s monumental grand push to end poverty, the Bush administration has devised the Millennium Challenge Account, which is not dismissed by Sachs, but not heralded either. This program is built upon the assumption that aid works only where there is good governance and good governance exists only where the local folks originate and believe in the programs. M.C.A. directs aid to countries that have taken responsibility for their own reform.

It has the faults of its gradualist virtues. I recently sat in on a meeting in Mozambique between local and American officials. It was clear that the program, while well conceived, has been horribly executed. The locals had been given only the vaguest notions of what sort of projects the U.S. is willing to finance. After two years of trying they had received nothing.

Nonetheless, the Bush approach, when reformed, at least builds on the experience of the past decades, while Sachs, as reviewers have noticed, repeats the 1960’s. If, à la Sachs, we assume money translates easily into growth, if we pour aid into Africa without regard to local institutions, we will do little good, we will exhaust donors and we will discredit the aid enterprise for years to come.

No, ending poverty in Africa will not be easy. There are entrenched interests there dedicated to continuing the impoverishment of the people. For Africa to prosper, those interests must be eradicated. And history tells us that seldom happens without the expense of blood, as well as treasure.

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