The Samaritan's Dilemma: The Political Economy of Development Aid

By Clark C. Gibson | Go to book overview

1 What's Wrong with Development Aid?

1.1 RETHINKING DEVELOPMENT AID

Development aid is under increasing scrutiny. Many policymakers, aid practitioners, and scholars have called into question the effectiveness of development aid to increase economic growth, alleviate poverty, or promote social development (Adam and O'Connell 1999 ; Burnside and Dollar 2000a ; Cohen et al. 1985 ; Dollar and Easterly 1999 ; Easterly 2001 ; Martens et al. 2002; Tsikata 1998 ; World Bank 1998). At the macro-level, only tenuous links between development aid and improved living conditions have been found. At the micro-level, only a few programs appear to outlast their donors' largesse, mocking aid agencies' goals of sustainability and ownership (Catterson and Lindahl 1999 ; Edgren 1995 ; Elgström 1992 ; White 1992 , 1999). And while critiques of development aid are not new, the new chorus of criticism now includes officials of the agencies themselves.

What's wrong with development aid? Almost every part or process of the aid system has been criticized, from the geopolitical agenda of donors to the distributive politics of recipient countries; from the ties that bind aid to procurement from private firms in the donor's country to the constraints on aid bureaucrats' decision-making power; from the type of aid given to the type of accountability demanded. Over the last four decades, hundreds of researchers have identified hundreds of problems.

A number of macro-level studies in the 1990s found little consonance between aid levels and desirable changes in macro-level indicators (Boone 1994 ; Burnside and Dollar 2000a ; Devarajan and Swaroop 1998 ; Dollar and Svensson 2000 ; Easterly 2002b ; Feyzioglu et al. 1998 ; Pack and Pack 1993 ; White 1992 ; World Bank 1998). Not all macro-assessments have been negative, and many micro-assessments remain positive. Nevertheless, the widespread perception of aid ineffectiveness has challenged both aid agency officials and scholars. 1

Donor governments and multilateral financial institutions—many freed from a bipolar geostrategic world of the Cold War that had traded aid allocations for allies—have now begun to demand new, more productive delivery systems for aid. As a result, new concepts have emerged in the day-to-day vocabulary of the post-Cold War development aid agencies. “Development” as a goal of aid has most notably become “sustainable development” (e.g. Government of France 2002 ; Government of Japan 2002 ; United Nations 2002 ; WCED 1987). Sustainable development appears to demand a different logic than traditional efforts such as road

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