Thursday, December 22, 2005

Radelet and Birdsall take Theroux on 

Nancy Birdsall and Steve Radelet of the Center for Global Development respond to the Paul Theroux op-ed at the CGDEV blog, laying out a defense of Bono and the Gateses, in the process.

Nancy Birdsall:
Bono is a savvy policy wonk (despite the glasses and the cowboy hat). He understands perfectly well the twin challenges of rich countries first doing no harm (he urges rich countries to open their agricultural markets for example, and put trade into the name of his organization, DATA: Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa, and of poor countries being more accountable to their own citizens. Bill Gates, moreover, probably agrees with Theroux's skepticism about aid flows improving governments' behavior. His foundation supports programs, such as the development of vaccines against AIDS and malaria, that save lives even where governments – like Malawi's – aren't working well.

Birdsall also addresses a factual problem in Theroux's piece that I caught when I first read the op-ed.
Several years ago, Bill Gates said putting computers in villages would be a silly idea. Oddly, Theroux claims that Gates has called for just such a program. If he has, I never heard of it. I'm more inclined to believe that this assertion shows Theroux's readiness to be cute as opposed to being right.
I still remember the offence Gates caused to "digital divide" enthusiasts when he suggested that poor people needed health and education before they need computers.

Steve Radelet:

Theroux sets up the usual straw man, asserting that people are arguing for more resources blindly disbursed in the same old way. But of course not a single soul is arguing for that strategy. The question that all are struggling with is how to make it work more effectively. Even our friend Jeff Sachs, perhaps the best-known advocate for more money, is calling for dramatic changes in how the money is used -- witness his Millennium Villages Project which is anything but "the same old way." Theroux also makes the usual mistake of citing Botswana as a country that succeeded without aid, when in fact it was one of the largest recipients.
I am not sure about the volume of aid that Botswana received, so I'll take Radelet at face value on that. On the Millennium Village Project however, I think Radelet is wrong. Jeff Sachs has yet to demonstrate how the MVP will scale up (from 1-2 villages to country-level or regional level), which in a lot of ways is the key problem with most development models. And if the MVP cannot scale up, I don't see why it is any different from earlier failed development projects.