Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Kristof on Foreign Aid

Nicholas Kristof has a great column in today's NY Times about what we can expect from foreign aid. The short answer: Not much, but not nothing. Kristoff gives a nice plug for Bill Easterly's book, The White Man's Burden, as well as for a lot of other economic research.

Here are a few excerpts from Kristof:

I disagree with many of Professor Easterly's arguments, but he's right about one central reality: helping people can be much harder than it looks. When people are chronically hungry, for example, shipping in food can actually make things worse, because the imported food lowers prices and thus discourages farmers from planting in the next season. (That's why the United Nations, when spending aid money, tries to buy food in the region rather than import it.)...

It's well-known that the countries that have succeeded best in lifting people out of poverty (China, Singapore, Malaysia) have received minimal aid, while many that have been flooded with aid (Niger, Togo, Zambia) have ended up poorer....

But cheer up....whatever the impact on economic growth rates, aid definitely does something far more important: it saves lives. For pennies, you can vaccinate a child and save his or her life. For $5 you can buy a family a large mosquito net and save several people from malaria. For $250, you can repair a teenage girl's fistula, a common childbirth injury, and give her a life again.