The Foreign Service Journal - November 2017

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | NOVEMBER 2017 55 Today, foreign aid is evenmore robust than it was in 1974. Official development assistance (ODA, in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development parlance) provided by the advanced industrial countries to the developing countries has grown steadily since 2000, with a record high of $142 billion reached in 2016, and it involves scores of bilateral and multilateral agencies, hundreds of large international nongovernmental orga- nizations, foundations old and new, and private contractors—all employing hundreds of thousands of professionals. Now, too, at the dawn of its eighth decade, with aid funding at historic highs, the likes of Tony Blair, Bono, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Jeff Sachs and others call for yet more aid money, convinced that the problem of world poverty can be solved if only we’ll direct more money toward it. Yet the call for more aid is still based on an act of faith, a belief in defiance of the evidence, that it makes a significant difference in fostering development and sustainably reducing poverty. Those countries that have made real progress in reducing poverty (the Asian Tigers, China and others) have done so for myriad and complex reasons having to do with culture and changes in the political economy, but not with foreign aid. In fact, foreign aid, particularly the big ideas of prestige players like the World Bank, has often proved harmful. A long history of the rise and fall of the next new big idea, fad or buzzword (e.g., structural adjustment, community-based development, micro- finance, participatory development, capacity building)—each of which amounted to saying “we were wrong before, but nowwe’ve figured it out”—has failed to produce even a sign of embarrassed self-consciousness. Instead triumphal declarations of success, as we’ve recently seen with the United Nations’ millenniumdevelopment goals (never mind that at least half of them failed to be achieved), mark the aid industry. And always, there is a call for more money. As Bauer pointed out in 1974, “either progress or lack of progress can be used to argue for more aid. Progress is evidence of success, and lack of progress is evidence that more must be done.” Indeed, all of Bauer’s criticisms remain valid today except one: his claim that foreign aid has had “virtually no adverse criticism.” Since 1974, the criticism and questioning of foreign aid has steadily increased. The Steady Growth of Questioning Amix of semi-scholarly critiques of the aid systemhas appeared in the decades since Bauer. These included Judith Tendler’s Inside Foreign Aid (1976); Eugene Linden’s The Alms Race , (1976); Francis Moore Lappé, Joseph Collins and David Kinley’s Aid As Obstacle (1981); R.J. Parkinson’s edited volume, Poverty and Aid (1983) and Pascal Bruckner’s Tears of the White Man (1986). Then came a few bittersweet insider critiques, like Leonard Frank’s essay “The Development Game” in Granta (1988), GrahamHancock’s Lords of Poverty (1989) and Timothy Morris’ The Despairing Developer (1991). During the 1990s, there were major feature articles like “The Twilight of Foreign Aid” in the Financial Times (1992) and “Why Aid Is an Empty Promise” in The Economist (1994), as well as book-length studies such as Compassion and Calculation: The Business of Private Foreign Aid by David Sogge, Kies Biekart and John Saxby (1996) and journalist-cum-insider Michael Maren’s The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and Interna- tional Charity (1997). The new century saw the momentumpick up, with Ha- Joon Chang’s Kicking Away the Ladder (2002), my own Despite Good Intentions: Why Develop- ment Assistance to theThird World Has Failed (2003), Wil- liamEasterly’s The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (2006), Roger Riddell’s Does Foreign Aid Really Work? (2007), Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid (2009), Derek Fee’s How to Manage an AID Exit Strategy: The Future of Development Aid (2012) and Ben Ramalin- gam’s Aid on the Edge of Chaos: Rethinking International Coopera- tion in a Complex World (2015). There is also the work of economists and historians who sup- port the thesis that development is too complex to be engineered by outsiders. A prime example is David S. Landes’ The Wealth and Poverty of Nations (1999). Virtually all critics point to the creation of dependency and suggest that in this way foreign aid works against its own long-term goal—the day when developing countries themselves take the lead and foreign aid won’t be necessary. Sogge et al., for example, put the issue of self-interest at the heart of this contradiction: “The hope of ending charity, of making the helpers answerable to the helped, and of establishing something like mutuality, remains an Despite the evident truth of contextual complexity, aid agencies continue to be wedded to preconceived recipes for how to “implement” development.