William Easterly and Jeff Sachs make a living by disagreeing with each other, though it seems that there is actually quite a bit of common ground. The Los Angeles Times has a head-to-head (free registration required). So far, Easterly is beating Sachs in the readers’ poll 2:1.
Here are the money points:
The end of poverty will come as a result of homegrown political and economic reforms (which are already happening in many poor countries), not through outside aid. The biggest hope for the world’s poor nations is not Bono, it is the citizens of poor nations themselves.
Instead of pointing to failures, we need to amplify the successes — including the green revolution, the global eradication of smallpox, the spread of literacy and, now, the promise of the Millennium Villages.
My views, for what they are worth, are as follows:
- Easterly is right to challenge central planning – there are no examples in which it has worked.
- Sachs is right that aid can, and does, work. Saying – as Easterly does – that we know that aid doesn’t work from the fact that Africans are still poor is like
saying that modern medicine is ineffective as people still get sick.
- Though central plans are not the answer, there is too little coordination – we could do better if we reduced duplication & contradiction, learned more from success, and maximised synergies between interventions.
- Sachs’s villages will prove nothing, even if they are successful. They simply cannot be scaled. Easterly’s label of "Potemkin villages" is on the mark.
- Easterly is right to complain about the corrosive impact of corruption. But very little of the corruption in developing countries is fuelled by aid – most of it flows from the private sector (for example, in kickbacks for oil contracts). We all want more private sector involvement in developing countries; but Easterly is kidding himself if he thinks this will be less corrupt than aid.
- Aid agencies are "devising specific, definable tasks that could actually help people and for which the public could hold them accountable" as Easterly thinks they should, and using the money for medicines, clean water, bed nets, text books, and improving the environment for business. But there is too little aid money to do enough of this. Three million people die each year of vaccine-preventable diseases alone. That is why the agencies also have to run a "glitzy but unrealistic campaign to end world poverty".
- Sachs may well be right that "An African green revolution, health revolution and connectivity revolution are all within reach." Now that would be something.